Surviving the Thanksgiving Road Trip: Five Tips for Thanksgiving Plug-in Trips

For a large part of the U.S. right now, it gets dark by 5pm, there’s snow on the roads, and the temperature is well below freezing. To put it bluntly, it’s the worst possible time of the year to be making any sort of road trip.

Heading somewhere for Thanksgiving in a plug-in car? Read these handy tips before you go.

Heading somewhere for Thanksgiving in a plug-in car? Read these handy tips before you go.

Like every year before it however, millions of Americans will pack up their cars and head out on their annual Thanksgiving road trip, heading to spend Turkey Day with their nearest and dearest. This year, more Americans than ever before will be making that trip in a plug-in car.

Thanks to increased rapid charging infrastructure and cars like the the Tesla Model S, long-distance road trips by plug-in car aren’t the nightmare they once were.

But with more plug-in owners making long-distance trips over the coming few days than ever before and weather looking bleak in much of the Great Plains, South and East of the U.S. for Thanksgiving week, we’re here with five tips to help you be prepared and ready for your trip.

Acknowledge there are alternatives

It might feel counterproductive in an article about surviving the Thanksgiving road trip to advocate you consider taking an alternative, but unless you have a Tesla Model S 85 kW with Supercharging capabilities and access to Tesla Supercharger stations en-route, any mid to long-distance electric car trip is still something you should think long and hard about taking.

For a start, the majority of electric cars on the market today weren’t designed for long-distance trips. While they can be used for such, it takes a lot of planning an patience to make them a fun and enjoyable adventure.

If you’re willing to trade low fuel costs for extra time travelling or the adventure of the unknown, then read on. If you’re worried about your own abilities or the abilities of your car, consider making alternative arrangements.

If you've got a BMW i3, you can borrow a gas-guzzler if you feel safer making the longer-distance trip that way.

If you’ve got a BMW i3, you can borrow a gas-guzzler if you feel safer making the longer-distance trip that way.

To start with, you’ll find some plug-in car manufacturers offer loaner gasoline-powered vehicles for the occasional long-distance trip, allowing you to leave your plug-in at home and focus on the holiday rather than the next charging station.

You might also find local car clubs where you can rent a car for a few days, or a traditional car hire company. Although you’ll not be able to enjoy the feeling of being fossil-fuel free, those of a nervous disposition will find it far more comforting leave the plug in at home for just this one time.

Be conservative about your car’s range

Still want to take the plug in? Okay. Well done. But now there are some things you need to know about the trip you’re planning, and the first one is about your own expectations of the car and yourself.

You might think after months of ownership that you’re already familiar with how far your electric car can travel on a single charge, but it’s worth remembering that you’ve probably gained that experience from a daily, predictable commuting route.

When you’re driving further afield — especially if you’re driving a route you’re unfamiliar in colder weather with a fully-laden car — you should be prepared for the chance that your car will travel less far on a charge than it does normally.

Stop-and-go traffic won’t help either, zapping more power every time you accelerate than you’ll be able to recapture when you brake.

Expect your range to be less than in everyday driving.

Expect your range to be less than in everyday driving.

As a consequence, we advise expecting a range of around 80 percent of your usual personal average, giving you extra power for diversions, heating, and peace of mind.

Have a backup plan for charging

Although it’s not always possible, you should always have a couple of earmarked for charging at every stop on your Thanksgiving route.

For example, if you’re planning on stopping in a particular town or city, use something like Plugshare or the OpenChargeMap to find backup places to charge nearby. While you may not find another charging station that is as quick as the one you plan on using, it’ll help you get out of a sticky situation if you happen to have problems using your first choice.

Not only that, but having a couple of alternative routes and charging station options planned out also makes it possible for you to adjust your route in case of poor weather or heavy traffic.

Plan extra time for your trip

It’s something all of us have done at some point in our lives: programmed in our destination using Google Maps or in-car GPS to discover that our trip will only take five hours when the reality is nearer ten.

Know where you can charge -- and when.

Know where you can charge — and when.

At a busy time of year like Thanksgiving, miscalculating journey time is a problem for all drivers, regardless of their car’s chosen fuel. But when combined with heavy traffic, poor weather and extra high demand at charging stations, a Thanksgiving road trip in a plug-in car will take longer than you might expect.

That’s not to say electric cars are slow. Even if you keep up with traffic, you should calculate time for charging and queuing at each charging station en-route. To keep stress low, we advise adding a healthy 20 percent buffer on each stop and each leg to account for traffic, weather, and charging woes.

Be prepared

In the best Boy Scout tradition, if you’re taking a plug-in car on a Thanksgiving road trip well beyond the car’s original range, you should be prepared for unexpected things to happen.

Be prepared for bad weather

Be prepared for bad weather

Just like you’d pack up a can of fuel for a winter cross-country trek in a gasoline car, it’s always advisable to have a nice, long, sturdy power cord that can be used as an emergency charging solution if things go wrong. Again, we’re not insinuating that things will go wrong, but when dealing with winter weather, it’s always best to be prepared.

Similarly, make sure you’ve got some warm blankets and flasks of drink in case the worse happens and you get stuck in bad weather. Just like a gasoline car, you can keep your plug-in running to keep the interior warm for many hours without a problem from a relatively full battery pack — but if you’re running low on power, you won’t want to waste it.

Tell us about your trip

Are you heading on a longer-distance plug-in trip this Thanksgiving? Where are you going, and what will you be driving? And how have you planned for poor weather?

Leave your stories and thoughts in the Comments below.


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