We drove 2,400 miles and juiced up at 14 charging stations in August on a round-trip journey from New Jersey to Florida, and back. Our experience and my diary of that trip hopefully serves as a playbook for the companies that are still innovating for this still-nascent way to travel.
When Covid-19 entered our lives, people started re-thinking how they vacation and some are choosing alternative modes of transportation. My family has switched entirely to road-tripping post-Covid-19. To date we’ve driven to Florida, Georgia, and Minnesota twice with plans to drive to Cape Cod and Georgia later this year — all in an electric car.
Why did we switch? I’ve always dreaded flying with kids. Two young kids, two car seats, a stroller, plus all the luggage. And it’s expensive — four plane tickets plus a rental car can easily cost over $2,000.
If you’ve ever driven a long distance with young kids you know that you need to stop often for bathroom breaks and the stops take some time — with my family these stops can last 15 minutes if we move as quickly as possible or over 30 minutes if we need to eat a meal. It so happens that this is about how long a Tesla takes to charge at a Supercharger — stops average to about 25 minutes each every two to three hours. In our 8,000 miles of road-trips in a Tesla we have had to wait for the car to finish charging a handful of times and when we do have extra time we run around and stretch our legs or boot up Disney+ on the car’s screen and watch something for 10 minutes.
If you are traveling alone or with another adult trying to get to your destination as fast as possible the car will slow you down — but this will change soon as chargers get faster. The new Lucid Air is capable of adding 100 miles of range in only 5.5 minutes and 200 miles in 12 minutes on a 250kW charger.
Adoption in the U.S.
Electric vehicle adoption in the US is still in its early days. According to Yaa, in Q2 2022 BEV (Battery Electric Vehicles) had a 5.6 percent market share, up from 2.7 percent in Q2 2021. In 2021 BEV made up 10.6 percent of new vehicle purchases. Tesla’s market share dropped for the first time from 75 percent in Q1 2022 to 66 percent in Q2 2022 despite selling more vehicles (129,743 and 130,047 respectively) indicating an interest in competing BEV. While the sector is still a small percentage of vehicles on the road it is growing fast. Ford came in 2nd place in terms of vehicle output in Q2 2022 with 15,273 but that is still only 11.4 percent of Tesla’s output. When other manufactures are able to ramp production to even one quarter of Tesla’s output we will see a massive new wave of EVs on the road.
Electric Vehicle Market Share in the U.S.
Tesla plans to open their Supercharger network to other EV manufactures later this year which will pour gas on the fire and allow Tesla to expand even faster than they already do – roughly doubling in size year-over-year. Competing networks like electrify America are undergoing growing pains but will no doubt expand to meet the growing demand as well.
Much has to happen still for electric cars to become mainstream, and a lot of growth needs to happen first. But the miles we logged, and our story (see below) offers some important reminders on why this will be the norm sooner rather than later. Enjoy our journey.
Our latest trip was to Florida from our home in north New Jersey. We drove our blue Tesla Model Y dubbed Elsa by our five-year-old daughter. It has an EPA range of 326 miles and has an average efficiency of 300 Wh/mile. My family consists of my two-year-old son, my five-year-old daughter, and our chihuahua (another benefit of driving is we don’t need to pay for a petsitter) along with my wife and me. We’re based in Bloomfield, New Jeresey, which is about a 30 minute drive from Manhattan.
We left home at 7 a.m. — early enough to get a long day of driving in but not much earlier than we normally wake up so we aren’t overly tired. I put our destination in the Tesla navigation along with a stop at our hotel in Yamasse, South Carolina, and the car told me exactly where to charge and for how long. The first leg of the trip was to Baltimore. We charged the car to 90 percent (the highest recommended state of charge to maintain a healthy battery) and hit the road! The first leg is one of the longest since you have a full battery and this one took exactly 3 hours.
We arrived at the Baltimore Boston Street Supercharger at 10 a.m. with 19 percent state of charge (SOC) and plugged in. This stop was longer than normal since in addition to the usual bathroom breaks and diaper change we also had to go to Target to buy some things that we forgot (oops). Thankfully this location was right by a Target, a grocery store, and a mall. There were good food options too — Shake Shack, CAVA, and Chick-fil-a but this wasn’t a food stop for us. Since we were slow the car was ready to go well before we were and actually charged all the way back to 90 percent by the time we left at 10:38 a.m.
Electric Vehicle Market Share by Automaker
|Automaker||Q1 2021||Q2 2021||Q3 2021||Q4 2021||Q1 2022||Q2 2022|
|Total US EV sales||98,832||118,233||106,562||147,799||173,561||196,788|
Since we had another full battery the navigation re-routed us to a charger farther away. My wife and I switched places and she drove us to our next stop in Petersburg, Virginia, at a Sheetz. We hit some traffic so this leg took just over four hours including a stop at McDonalds to pickup lunch for the kids (they get it once a trip!). Unlike an internal combustion car an electric car doesn’t waste energy on the drivetrain while sitting still since the motors only use electricity when you are accelerating so traffic doesn’t cause issues with range (of course you do use electricity to run the HVAC system and the infotainment system). We arrived at 2:39 p.m. with 15 percent SOC. The wife and I grabbed a salad at Sheetz and we ate quickly to get back on the road. We left at 3:10 p.m. with 83 percent SOC.
I drive us to our next stop in Smithfield, North Carolina where we arrived at 5:10 p.m. with 27 percent. It was another Sheetz so we decided to wait until the next stop to eat dinner. We did a quick “pit stop” — I change the two-year-old’s diaper and walk the dog while my wife takes our daughter to the bathroom, then we switch places. We got back on the road at 5:32 p.m. with 75 percent SOC.
Just one more stop in Florence, South Carolina, before our overnight stay. There was a Chipotle close by but too far to walk to so we ordered ahead using their mobile app and picked up our food on the way (we used their bathroom as well). This stop was at a mall with great up front parking — I feel guilty when the Superchargers use good parking spots and there was a Tesla parked there not charging taking advantage of them — not a good look. We arrived with 21 percent and charged to 75 percent while we ate. I booked our hotel on hotels.com and we left at 8:11 p.m.
One “hack” in electric car road-tripping is finding hotels with destination chargers. Some hotels install level 2 charges that are often free to use if you stay at the hotel. At the moment it’s a great perk and gets people through the door but in the future hotels will be able to use these as ancillary revenue and in essence become energy providers. I consider myself lucky in that I have never encountered a charger that was broken, in-use, or worse — blocked by a car that isn’t charging. Seeing as this is a a risk I always find a hotel with both a destination charger and a close-by Supercharger just in case. With a recent update hotels.com added a filter to find hotels with an EV charger which helps significantly particularly since I am also looking for a hotel that allows pets. I use both the Plugshare app (a crowd sourced app with the goal to show every charger in the world) to find a destination charger close to a Supercharger and hotels.com to see if they accept pets. I usually find two hotels so we have options if we need to stop early or if one hotel is booked for the night.
We arrived at our hotel — a Best Western in Yamasse, South Carolina — at 10:18 p.m. with 24 percent SOC. The hotel has three plugs — two Tesla and one J1772. To my surprise none of them were in-use and nobody was parked there. We plugged in and started charging at 7kW which is enough to get a full charge overnight.
We woke up at 6 a.m., ate the free breakfast at the hotel and were on the road at 6:45 a.m. My daughter is a continental breakfast connoisseur and was pleased with the frankly sub-par breakfast. We try to structure our two-day trips so we do the majority of the driving on day one and arrive at our destination in the early afternoon. Only two stops today!
We arrived at the first stop in Kingsland, Georgia, at 9:28 a.m. with 29 percent after a stop at Starbucks and charged for 17 minutes to 68 percent. This charger was at a very strange location — a police station with a hotel across the street. My son had a blast looking at all the police cars but we chose to use the hotel for our bathroom break. This brings up the topic of bathrooms at the chargers — you are at the mercy of the location to provide a bathroom and if the location is closed there is no bathroom available. This isn’t usually an issue but there was one time we charged at 2 a.m. and the gas station was closed. We only had 1 percent battery remaining and were in the middle of the Poconos and the only other option was a Wendy’s which was also closed — this was the only mistake I’ve made road-tripping in an electric car.
We left Kingsland at 9:45 a.m. en route to our final charge in Ocala, Florida. This leg includes our first freeway change of the entire trip (you take I-95 all the way from New Jersey to Tallahassee) and annoyingly the majority of this leg is on a county road with constant slow-downs and traffic lights. Despite this we arrived in Ocalla, Florida, at 11:58 a.m. with 13 percent SOC. This was our lunch stop at a Wawa so we ordered curb-side in their app and the food was delivered to the charger. We ate at the picnic tables and took some time here — we wanted to arrive at my Mom’s house with some battery left so we didn’t have to immediately find a charger. We charged all the way up to 90 percent and hit the road for our final leg. We arrived at my Mom’s house in Brandon, Florida, at 2:10 p.m. with 55 percent SOC. The kids were in the pool before we finished unpacking the car.
When we arrive at our destination people usually ask if we’re tired from the drive and our response is always no. Our car has Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot which is designed to be self-driving from freeway on-ramp to off-ramp and while you do need to be alert with your hands on the wheel the whole time it requires significantly less mental energy and you arrive less tired.
At the Destination
Usually when owning an electric car you don’t think about battery level. Ever. Most owners install a level 2 charger at their home which can delivery between 5 and 12 kW of power depending on your home and what’s available in the electrical panel. When we bought our Tesla we had a 7 kW charger installed in my 1931 Colonial which is more than enough — at 7 kW it takes about 8 hours to get a full charge. The only time you think about your battery level is when you need to go somewhere that exceeds your range. That sounds daunting but the car knows how far it can go and with the extensive Supercharger network the navigation will automatically route you to a charger if necessary.
Of course there is electricity everywhere and even if a plug is not intended for a car you can still charge if you have the right plug. I’m a planner (and a worrier) so I travel with the full Tesla NEMA adaptor bundle which allows me to plug into almost any plug in North America. At my mom’s house I plugged into two different outlets — for most of the trip I charged on a standard level 1 household outlet (you know, the one you use to charge your iPhone). These plugs are painfully slow with charging time is measured in days, not hours but since we were going to spend most of our time at my mom’s house this was enough most of the trip. Another great place to plug in is the clothes drier outlet — as long as the drier is electric and not gas it will have a 240v outlet and at least 30amps. This is level 2 territory and my mom’s drier is within reach of the garage. I plugged in there a couple times and was able to pull 5.5 kW which is a huge improvement over the level 1 outlet which only supplies 1.4 kW.
We went on two day trips that required a full battery. The first was a date night to Anna Maria Island for the night. My mom recommended a restaurant on the beach and there just happened to be a free level 2 charger close by at a little boutique. We stopped in partially out of respect for the free charge and ended up buying a gift for my mom — turns out the building runs on solar and is carbon neutral. We walked the half mile to lunch and gained 12 kWh (about 15 percent) for free.
After lunch we headed to our Airbnb in Bradenton, just over the bridge from Anna Maria on the mainland. The garage at the Airbnb had two clothes driers with the perfect power to charge but I didn’t use them. In my opinion this falls into a grey area ethically — the owner didn’t say I couldn’t use them to charge but it’s also not listed as an amenity for this particular Airbnb. I did recommend in my review to add this as an amenity for future EV owners as a typical charge would only cost the property owner around $5 in electricity it’s a great way to stand out among the other listings.
The second trip was a day at Disney World. Tampa to Orlando would use about 30 percent of the battery so we would have enough to drive there and back but since the car will be sitting in the hot sun for 8 hours running the security system and cabin overheat protection it would be close. We could stop at one of the many Supercharges along the route home but better yet Disney has EV chargers and they’re conveniently located among the handicap spots for close parking. These chargers aren’t free but they’re reasonably priced at $0.30 / kWh which is about double what I pay at home but less than most Tesla Superchargers. The only catch is a $5 / hour idle fee if your car finishes charging and doesn’t unplug. I knew roughly how long we would be there (5 year olds only last so long in the heat) so I throttled the amperage the car was pulling with the Tesla app and set it to take about 8 hours. Thankfully after a fun day we arrived to a fully charged car for about $7 (no idle fees for me!).
During the trip we drove our car exclusively since it has seven seats and moving carseats is a pain. We never had to use the Supercharger in-town, the outlets at my Mom’s house were sufficient. We had a great trip but as it came to an end we plugged into the drier outlet one last time to get a full charge before heading home.
The Drive Home
When we leave to go home we wait until after lunch, drive until around midnight, sleep somewhere, and arrive home around dinner. We left at 1 p.m. and stopped to pickup salads for dinner at a place we liked while we were there. One of the complaints my wife and I have while road-tripping is the lack of healthy food options so we plan ahead and bring food when possible, we have a car fridge in the trunk filled with food and drinks.
The drive home was more or less the same as the way down. We found a great hotel with a destination charger and a Supercharger in their parking lot that allows pets. We drove until 12:12 a.m. the first day and arrived home at 5:25 p.m. the following day. Day two was the first time we have traveled on a holiday (Labor day) which worried me slightly. I have seen the photos of lines at Superchargers in California but thankfully I have never experienced this driving on the eastern half of the U.S.
Tesla makes this experience very easy — you just follow what the car says and you won’t have any issues with range. This is one of the biggest reasons to buy a Tesla over another electric car — Tesla’s charging infrastructure is years ahead of their competition. It’s also a relatively inexpensive way to travel. We had 1,000 miles in Supercharger credits from the new car which got us to FL for free but even without those it would not have been expensive, it would have cost $180 in electricity round-trip. An equivalent gas vehicle would cost around $260 in gas for the same journey (based off 35 mpg and $4 / gallon).
Despite Tesla mass producing cars for over 10 years, I still consider us in the early days of electric car travel and I don’t believe free chargers at hotels and businesses will exist long-term. The change is accelerating and I expect the infrastructure will look very different in the next five years focusing on building from the ground up rather than adding chargers to existing gas stations. At the moment the Superchargers are usually shoved to the back of parking lots sometimes requiring long walks to bathrooms. Soon they will be a full parking lot of 50-plus chargers with dedicated cafes and bathrooms.
The amenities are inconsistent — some chargers have tables and garbage cans, some have nothing — and there often isn’t grass or shade to have a picnic. These are just small annoyances that don’t ruin the experience overall. The important note is I have never once been worried about running out of battery or worried that a Supercharger will be broken — something that is unfortunately not the case for other charging networks. This is critical — even a 90 percent up-time is not enough, it needs to be close to 100 percent like Tesla.
The Charging Data
|Location||Arrival time||Departure time||Charging time||Arrival SOC||Departure SOC||kWh gain||Cost|
|Bloomfield, NJ||–||7:00 AM||–||90%||–|
|Baltimore, MD||10:00 AM||10:38 AM||38m||19%||90%||58.22||$15.14|
|Petersburg, VA||2:39 PM||3:10 PM||31m||15%||83%||55.76||$18.96|
|Smithfield, NC||5:10 PM||5:32 PM||22m||27%||75%||39.36||$17.32|
|Florence, SC||7:46 PM||8:11 PM||25m||21%||72%||41.82||$9.96|
|Yamasse, SC||10:18 PM||6:45 AM||–||24%||90%||54.12||$0.00|
|Kingsland, GA||9:28 AM||9:45 AM||17m||29%||68%||31.98||$6.40|
|Ocala, FL||11:58 AM||12:42 PM||44m||13%||90%||63.14||$26.52|
|Brandon, FL||2:10 PM||–||–||55%||–||–||–|
|Brandon, FL||–||1:15 PM||–||–||81%||–||–|
|Ocala, FL||2:49 PM||3:12 PM||23m||49%||85%||29.52||$12.40|
|Brunswick, GA||5:55 PM||6:25 PM||30m||19%||83%||52.48||$15.00|
|Santee, SC||8:52 PM||9:25 PM||33m||14%||75%||50.02||$17.60|
|Fayetteville, NC||11:32 PM||11:40 PM||8m||15%||32%||13.94||$4.76|
|Benson, NC||12:12 AM||7:00 AM||20%||90%||57.4||$0.00|
|Halifax, NC||8:38 AM||8:55 AM||17m||55%||80%||20.5||$9.24|
|Woodbridge, VA||11:52 AM||12:27 PM||35m||20%||52%||26.24||$7.80|
|Aberdeen, MD||2:08 PM||2:36 PM||28m||24%||73%||40.18||$18.00|
|Bloomfield, NJ||5:25 PM||–||–||22%||–||–||–|
|Round trip total||351m||27m||634.68||$179.10|
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Linden is the senior engineering manager of Skift. He has a long history with the evolution of electric vehicles, well before the technology made regular headlines. His father, Nigel Linden, is a “fatigue and durability” consultant in the automotive industry with over 40 years of experience. He has worked with more than 40 original equipment manufacturers, including Lucid Motors.