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Tesla and the Future of Road Tripping

As electric cars become more popular, how will this new technology affect a classic American experience?

A black Tesla on a road in a forest.

Earlier this year, my husband and I were road tripping to the Pacific coast when I spotted one of the most intriguing things I’ve ever seen on the road: a Tesla with a tiny trailer engulfed in solar panels in tow. I can’t say with certainty why a Tesla would have been towing a miniature solar panel farm on a long-distance trip; the only plausible explanation I could think of was for a more convenient method of charging on a long trip.

Up until that moment, I’d never considered the possible complications of traveling long distances in an electric vehicle. However, in a world where long-distance electric vehicle travel is becoming increasingly viable for the average American in the near future, it’s a discussion worth having.

An American Icon

Described by Time as the “signature adventure” of American culture, road trips aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The first transcontinental American road trip took place in 1903, before automobiles were even commonplace; in following decades, with the expansion of interstate highways and the increasing commonality of car ownership, the road trip was cemented as a classic vacation.

The accessibility and affordability of the road trip has continued to perpetuate its popularity more than a century later. However, in an increasingly environmentally-cautious world, and with developing technologies influencing the way we travel, we may soon see this American icon begin to evolve.

Electric Long-Distance Travel

So how feasible is long-distance travel in current offerings of electric cars, and how might that improve with future technology?

In recent years, long-distance travel in electric vehicles has become more and more realistic. Newer vehicle models have increased driving range, and Tesla’s SuperCharger network has boomed, with nearly 1,000 charging stations available in the United States, making traveling long-distance even more accessible. (In a pinch, electric vehicles can even be charged at RV campground hookups using special adapters, although Tesla’s SuperCharger stations are strategically placed to meet most travelers’ needs.)

Websites and apps like PlugShare and ABetterRoutePlanner can help travelers plan out their road trip routes to accommodate charging needs.

Pros and Cons to Long-Distance Electric Travel

We’ve established that road-tripping in electric vehicles is perfectly viable, but is it a worthwhile method of traveling? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Plenty of storage space for suitcases, snacks, and other supplies
  • Ease of electric vehicle travel, including autopilot settings
  • Electricity cheaper and more environmentally friendly than gas

Cons

  • Additional planning required to maximize travel efficiency
  • Minor detours and short periods of time necessary for recharging

For travelers who want a more leisurely approach to road tripping and who want to make the method of travel an experience in itself, travel by electric vehicle could be the perfect option. For travelers who view road tripping as a means to an end rather than the end, it might be best to wait for electric vehicle technology to advance enough to eliminate its current disadvantages.