How to plan an electric car adventure

I often get asked to give tips and advice for people looking to take their electric cars further afield or abroad. Road trips are not just the stuff of grainy movies and music videos. The road trip popularity growing, with enviable Instagram lifestyle-types setting the bar high.

But electric road trips and long-distance adventures are still not that common. I have travelled all over Europe in electric cars and people are always surprised to see an electric car with foreign plates.

Constantly travelling between the UK and mainland Europe, I would hazard to guess that I have crossed the channel in an electric car more than anyone else. In fact, my Fluid Black BMW i3 was the first electric car to ever charge on board one of the DFDS ferries. Ok, it was only a standard socket and I got 11% charge from it in total but it felt like an achievement of sorts.

Fluid black BMW i3
Fluid black BMW i3 drove 30,000km in 3.5 months – pictured here in Brussels, Belgium

My 3 top tips

  • Range is not a fear, especially with preparation
  • Embrace your charging breaks
  • Take the scenic route and enjoy it

One journey I undertook this year involved driving from London to Monaco (attend the Monaco ePrix ) to Paris (attend the Paris ePrix) and back to London. We travelled through 11 countries, stopping to visit several places as part of the trip over 10 days.

I have seen that other people are starting to venture further afield in their cars. It’s very encouraging to see the community of EV drivers really come together to share their advice and tips for travel. I thought I would start by putting together some ideas on preparation that you should be thinking about if you are planning your first long-distance or overseas electric road trip. In future articles I will go into more specific details about what I do on the road, experiences I have had in different countries and answer any other questions you send to me on twitter.

Planning

Decide where you want to go and how quickly you want to get there. If you are planning a vacation abroad with your electric beast then maybe instead of just deciding you want to go to “South of France” or “Berlin” or wherever, you consider also doing a few stops on the way, true roadtrip style. This makes any journey more pleasant, no matter the vehicle you are travelling in. You can also think about planning sight-seeing into charge-stops if you like.

Rain

Silver BMW i3
Silver BMW i3 (and me!) in Milton Keynes, UK

Work out a route and the charging implications for that route. I have to be really honest here, I have very frequently just decided to wing a journey and hope for the best, but this is mainly because I am constantly travelling for work. If you have the time to plan, you’ll thank yourself for it. I’ll go a little bit deeper into route planning and charging in the next section.

Download all the charging apps that you think you might need for your trip. These can be difficult or sometimes even impossible to download on the go if you are data roaming.

If you need any specific RFID cards, make sure you get these in advance too. Don’t assume your card will work abroad. For example, my i3 is from BMW Belux, therefore its Charge Now card is from Belux too. It works all over Europe… except when I am in the UK (which, of course is a lot). I was really surprised by this and it took me quite a while (+ lots of confused phone calls to charging companies) to work out what the problem was.

Don’t forget to put together a great playlist for your trip. The silent drive of an electric car is a real plus for listening to music.

Plan your route:

The easiest route is normally the motorway of course. Motorways are usually fantastic for charging. Particular credit to the UK, France and Germany for having excellent motorway charging points. But of course motorway driving isn’t the most efficient driving and it certainly isn’t the most pleasant. Consider, in particular if you are travelling through somewhere with beautiful scenery, taking the smaller roads.

By changing my attitude to driving and taking some of these routes, I have experienced some of the most satisfying driving and beautiful views of my life. Switzerland and Austria stand out as being places with absolutely incredible scenic routes.

Enjoy the scenic route

Plan your charge stops:

I always use multiple maps and apps to decide where I want to stop for charging. We all know that these apps are not necessarily perfect or 100% accurate. Plenty of occasions I have turned up to charging points that are only suitable for Teslas, or charging points that are not yet built, or broken, or vandalised etc. etc.

Whilst I’m sure even as I write this, the infrastructures are getting better and the apps/maps more accurate, this is still something I take into consideration when planning a long trip. My advice is, for stress-free travel make sure you ALWAYS top up your charge rather than run down to the bottom of your battery. What I mean by this is, decide on a percentage, maybe 20%-30% percent and never go lower than that. On top of that, research maybe 2-3 charging spots in crucial areas so that if one is not usable, you have a backup. This way, you know you won’t get stranded.

BMW i3 Charging in Austria

Tip: If you are planning to cross the channel, I would really recommend using Le Shuttle. The car-train has multiple charging stations at both Folkestone and Calais. Plus, they are usually more than happy to let you take a later train if you want to charge a bit longer- just make sure you let them know at the information desk.

Often I am rapid charging, which is just about enough time for a quick workout (yes, really!), coffee, snack, stretch or toilet trip. In fact, if you are driving really long distances you should be giving yourselves adequate breaks in order to stay safe.

If you are stopping for a slower charge, plan an activity around it. Charging speeds are only getting faster and faster as technology improves. I am a big advocate for making this activity something fitness related, whatever your ability. Travel takes a toll on your body, so some light stretching (especially focusing on the legs), a body-weight workout, or even a walk or run is a massive help.

erod electric car in Zurich, Switzerland
erod in Zurich, Switzerland

Considerations

Get to the car wash! Keep your car clean to maximise your range. It really makes a difference.
Let’s talk about the weather. Remember you will get a better range in warm and dry weather. If you are travelling through different weather make sure you are aware of implications on your range.
Don’t forget that luggage and extra passengers will of course affect your “usual” range as well, just as it would in a petrol/diesel car.

A word of warning: Be aware of altitude. I nearly ran out of power in the middle of the Swiss mountains once. I just hadn’t allowed for such a steep drive. It was a close call, but luckily I made it to my next stop with a 1km to spare. It was stupid and totally my own fault. Don’t do what I did!
Research in advance if you need specific apps/RFID cards in order to charge. This can be really frustrating to deal with once you are on your journey, trust me.

In my next article on this topic, I’ll be talking more about what to expect on the road and my experiences being on the road in an EV across Europe. If you would like me to answer any specific questions about experiences in particular countries, feel free to send me a tweet!

Article originally posted to bethlilyrace.com

Beth Lily

An Electric Vehicle Ambassador and Motorsports Operations Specialist living and working across Europe.

Beth drives a BMW i3.