I’m a commercial photographer based in Disraeli, a small town in Quebec. In 2020, I drove my Ford F150 pick-up from Quebec to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to shoot some resorts for a client—a 5,000-kilometre, seven-day drive. My wife and three kids flew down to meet me there for vacation. When COVID struck and international air travel shut down, we piled everyone into the truck and made the return drive all the way from Mexico back to rural Quebec. It wasn’t the most relaxing road trip. Worried about border closures, we rushed home, only stopping to sleep at night. But once we were back, I started kicking around a new idea: could I recreate that three-country, transcontinental road trip in an electric vehicle?
I’ve wanted to get an electric vehicle ever since Tesla introduced its first model back in 2008. But I held off: few electric models had enough space for a family of five and two car seats in the back. I made the jump in April of 2022, purchasing a roomy, five-seater Hyundai Ioniq 5 Long Range for $52,000. It has a 77-kilowatt battery and can travel up to 488 kilometres on a single charge.
In those first few months, I drove my EV almost 20,000 kilometres in Quebec in those first few months. I knew it could make a longer trek—it drove as smoothly as my pick-up truck and I could sleep comfortably across its backseat in a sleeping bag. With an adapter, I could use electricity from the vehicle to charge my computer and edit videos during long road trips.
And so I decided to drive alone from Quebec to Puerto Vallarta in the fall, camping out at national parks in Utah and Arizona along the way to film VR footage for my business. My wife and kids would fly to and from Puerto Vallarta, while I would take a straight shot back to Quebec.
Driving an EV on such a long trip required a lot of planning. It takes nine hours to charge the car from 10 to 85 per cent on a Level 2 charger, which you can find at public charging stations, shopping centres, hotels, airports and restaurants. But with a Level 3 charger—available at some highway rest stops, public parking lots, city centres and commercial areas—I could charge it the same amount in just 25 minutes. I just needed to plan my trip to hit Level 3 charging stations, which I found using a route-planning app called ABRP that showed me all of the charging stations along my route. I realized I could drive up to 1,100 kilometres a day, gassing up around mid-day when I stopped to stretch my legs or get food. There would be one near-dead-zone on the 400-kilometre stretch between Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, but I was able to find a Level 2 charging station about 40 kilometres off the main route. It would be an inefficient detour, but I had no other choice.
I kicked off my trip in early October of 2022, with an eight-hour drive from Disraeli to the outskirts of Hamilton, Ontario. At night, I camped along the 401. On these kinds of long road trips, I do a type of camping called “boondocking,” which involves parking the car in an open space and either setting up a tent or sleeping inside the car. I brought a V2L—or “vehicle to load”—adapter that let me use the car battery’s electricity to power my computer and electric stove. If it got too cold at night, I put the car in utility mode and raised the temperature up to 20 degrees—a nice perk of driving a non-ICE. It only uses about 10 per cent of the car battery without turning on the engine.
Over the course of the trip, I set a goal to drive roughly 900 kilometres a day. I usually left around 7:30 a.m. and drove until about 4:30 p.m. I stopped roughly every 320 kilometres to walk around, grab some food or use the restroom, and I had to charge the EV up to two to three times a day. An average charge cost me between $15 to $20 at Circuit Electrique ports in Quebec and Petro Canada stations in Ontario. In the U.S., charging cost between US$25 to $35 to get to full battery, usually at Electrify America and Charge Point charging stations. I often stopped at Walmart, most of which have super-fast 350 kilowatt chargers that can juice the vehicle up from 15 to 85 per cent in just 20 minutes. They were never hard to find.
I spent the five days driving through Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska before arriving at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. I visited other national parks—Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Grand Canyon—over the next few weeks, stopping to sleep in full-service campgrounds with electric charging ports. I filmed VR content during the day and edited at a picnic table at my campsite in the evening, drawing power from an extension cord connected to my vehicle. I was able to plug my equipment in at night to get a bit of energy for the next day. On October 31, after 27 days on the trip, I set out for Puerto Vallarta.
I drove from the Grand Canyon to Nogales, a city near the Mexico-U.S. border. After crossing into Mexico, I drove south to Hermosillo, then Los Mochis, then Mazatlán. Driving an EV in Mexico is harder—charging stations are far and few in between, so I could only travel up to 450 kilometres a day. I found an app called Plugshare, which showed me charging ports at car dealerships and hotels like the Fiesta Inn and City Express where I stayed. It’s too dangerous to boondock in Mexico because of high crime rates, so I slept in hotels.
On November 3, after 31 days on the road, I finally met my family in Puerto Vallarta. We rented a condo for a couple of months, where I plugged my car into a 110-volt wall outlet. It was more than enough for enjoying the city. The following January, my family flew home and I started the drive back north. I drove from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, then Guadalajara to San Potosi, all in two days. That’s when I ran into a bit of trouble.
During the 460-kilometre leg from San Luis Potosi to Monterrey, I had mapped out two spots to charge along the route. Both were close to El Leon, a small town about an hour’s drive outside of San Luis Potosi. The first was a Tesla Level 2 charger, which didn’t work with my adapter. I drove a little further to a nearby car dealership. But it was a Sunday, and the dealership was closed. That’s the danger of driving an EV: finding yourself in a remote location, with no charging stations in sight.
I still had 250 kilometres to get to Monterrey, with only 260 kilometres of range left on the battery and no L2 or L3 charging points in-between. In a worst-case scenario, I knew I could find a home and hook up to their 110 kW charger—a common outlet found in homes. It would take up to four days to fully charge my car using one of those, but just a few hours of charging could get me out of a jam.
I had no choice but to try and make it. If I drove too aggressively, or faced a steep incline on the way, I ran the risk of draining my battery in the middle of nowhere. So, I got creative: I knew I could save on fuel if I drove behind a big truck. It’s a trick used by bikers in the Tour de France: following another biker reduces headwind and limits the energy needed to move forward. I drove my EV right behind a semi-trailer, trying to do the same thing. It worked: I made it to Monterrey with about seven per cent of my battery left. After another charge, I drove to Dallas, then Springfield, Illinois, before crossing the border into London, Ontario, staying in hotels along the way because it was too cold to boondock in January. My charging stops were more frequent this time around because of the cold: in warm weather, I was using 16 kilowatts per hour, but when I approached Detroit, in January, I was averaging around 22 kilowatts per hour. I finally made it home on January 19, completing my 15,700-kilometre trip.
There’s a lot of misinformation around EVs. People think they take a lot of time to recharge, but you can get a full charge in 20 to 25 minutes with a Level 3 charger. And taking an EV on a road trip makes financial sense too. When I drove my pick-up to and from Mexico in 2020, I spent roughly $2,000 on gas. Charging up my EV cost $630 both ways. That’s big-time savings. Driving an EV also limits your ecological footprint, which feels good.
Drivers might have a bit of anxiety about getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, but the cost and environmental benefits of driving an EV outweigh the risks. I’m already looking forward to my next trip.
—As told to Mathew Silver