Over the past three summers, our family of four has driven around 12,000 miles, across 20+ states, on our now annual electric vehicle road trip.
After many days on the road, we can confidently say that one of the most important strategies (if not the most) for a successful multi-day, multi-state EV adventure is to charge your vehicle overnight wherever you’re staying. This might seem obvious, but it’s enough of a change in travel planning compared to gas-fueled road trips of the past, that it deserves its own post.
Overnight EV road trip charging generally means plugging into a Level 2, 240-volt outlet or charging station. Trickle charging at a 120-volt outlet is great once you get to your destination and plan to stay a couple of days, but it likely won’t provide the same benefits as Level 2 when you’re hitting the road day after day on a long trip.
Why is Overnight Charging Crucial?
The obvious beauty of overnight charging is that your battery fills up while you’re sleeping. It saves 20–30 minutes at a fast charging station the next day. If you’re doing a full day of driving, this typically means two charging stops instead of three. It also allows you to hit the road with a full battery so your first stop is 2–3 hours into the drive rather than a few minutes after you leave your lodging.
An overnight charge fills your battery to 100%, while a fast charger most likely gets you to somewhere around 80% (since charging slows significantly after 80%, drivers typically don’t waste the time on the remaining 20%).
Overnight charging is also almost always free and thus saves money on fuel. It’s not uncommon for us to charge 50 kWh at an overnight charger, which would cost more than $20 at a Tesla Supercharger. Overnight road trip charging can thus cut your fueling expenses by up to a third.
Finally, overnight charging allows you to venture to the now rare places that might not have conveniently located fast chargers. There are still some fast charging deserts out there (though, they are quickly disappearing), and if you plan to stay somewhere with overnight charging, you can still go off the beaten path and not worry about having a Level 3 charger nearby.
How to Find Overnight Charging
Overnight charging does require a bit more planning, but you’ll make up that time with a faster, smoother EV road trip. We rely on a combination of Tesla’s destination charging map, Airbnb’s EV charger filter, and PlugShare.
Tesla’s destination charging map is a fantastic resource for the 60% of US EV drivers with a Tesla (and soon for the many additional vehicles moving to Tesla’s NACS charging standard). It lists all the hotels and bed and breakfasts with Tesla Level 2 destination chargers in dark gray.
On this summer’s road trip from Washington, DC, to South Carolina, we scanned the map and found a Quality Inn en route. We planned our hotel specifically based on charging access. Clicking on the map’s dark gray electric bolt showed three Tesla destination chargers at a hotel off the highway, making us confident there would likely be one available for our use. There’s nothing like the feeling of pulling into a hotel with less than 20% battery and plugging into a charger knowing we’ll wake up with a full charge for free.
Airbnb recently added an EV charging filter that allows guests to search for a rental that can provide your vehicle with some sweet electrons while you sleep. But it’s not the easiest filter to find — click on the filters button and then, under “Amenities,” click “show more” to find it.
On a cross-country, southern road trip in 2021, we drove from Fort Worth, Texas, to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where there were zero fast charging options at our destination at the time. But thanks to the Airbnb filter, we stayed in an apartment with a 240-volt outlet that gave us 300 miles of range by morning and allowed us to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park and reach our next fast charger far down the road. We offer our home’s 240-volt charger as part of our Airbnb rental and just had our first guest request to use it. (Hosts, take note: as the EV revolution gains steam, you’ll have a competitive advantage if you offer EV charging.)
Finally, we also use the PlugShare app to find other Level 2 charging options near hotels and Airbnbs that don’t offer charging. PlugShare offers a lot of helpful information, including the cost to charge a vehicle and a rating system so you know how likely chargers are to work or to be free. In Boise, Idaho, for example, PlugShare led us to an incredibly generous car repair shop, within two blocks of our Airbnb, that had four chargers for the general public. In Savannah, Georgia, we found a city-owned parking garage where we could charge overnight for the $10 parking fee. In Springfield, Illinois, we found a highly rated auto body shop that again kindly let EV voyagers charge gratis. At the Oregon coast, we stayed at a Glamping resort that had Level-2 Rivian chargers at a speedy 12 kW per hour.
For the few travel nights we haven’t stayed in a place with overnight charging, the next day’s drive was more challenging. The car battery was cold in the morning and didn’t have time for Tesla’s automatic “preconditioning,” which meant it charged at half the speed.
As EVs begin to take over, Level 2 charging will become standard in homes, apartments, and hotels, which will make overnight charging and EV road trips even easier. But until we arrive in the promised land of ubiquitous EV charging, take it from us: On your next EV road trip, make sure to stay in places where you can charge while you sleep! You’ll travel farther and faster and spend less money on clean, electric fuel.
This article is part of a series called Decarbonize Your Life. With modest steps and a middle-class income, our family has dramatically reduced emissions and is sequestering what remains through a small reforestation project. Our life is better for it. If we can do it, you can too.
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