Using electric vehicles while on holiday

Electric vehicles mean less disturbance to tranquil settings. No more clanking jeeps belching their way through the bush on safari. No more roar of the snowmobile through pristine Alpine wilderness. No more juddering hum of passing ferries in lochs and fjords. Noise pollution isn’t just bothersome to people of course. It has a range of negative impacts on wildlife and is known to affect breeding patterns. So beyond the obvious environmental benefits, more electric vehicles equals more breeding, equals more wonderful wildlife for us all to enjoy.

You won’t encounter many electric vehicles (EVs) on your holidays just yet though. While electric cars are becoming much more common in driveways, they make up only a small part of car hire fleets. The gentle purr of an electric battery is still a rarity on the plains of Africa, and it will be a while before the silent glide of electric boats replaces the putter of a petrol engine in the Kerala backwaters.

Much of the reason for that is cost – though the savings on fuel can massively outweigh the price of an EV over time, they still require a big investment. There’s also the fact that there simply aren’t many EVs available yet. Electric snowmobiles and ferries don’t have the mass market appeal of electric cars and bikes, or the glamour of electric planes, so there is less investment going to them. Demand for some types of EV far outstrips supply. “The most difficult part about buying an electric van was getting hold of one,” says Zeljko Kelemen, founder of our partner Huck Finn Adventures. “We were told to expect up to a 400-day wait for some models! And the technology is still being developed so we had to settle for a smaller vehicle than we wanted for now.”

But, many of the amazing companies that we partner with are looking into how they can get their travellers from A to B more sustainably. Already we’ve been able to remove most jet flights of under an hour from our holidays. From Iceland to Albania, Morocco to Sweden, our friends can help you get to your holiday conveniently and comfortably over land, without ever setting foot in an airport. And some, such as Huck Finn Adventures, are going electric.

“The biggest attraction of the places we visit in Croatia is that they’re so clean and green, and we want to keep them that way,” says Zeljko, who named the company after his boyhood hero. “Part of how we do that is by investing in electric vehicles. They don’t pollute as much, they’re quiet, and they’re convenient because everywhere we go we only have to make short transfers, so we don’t need to worry about charging.”

While those of us who try to go greener at home might find it harder and more expensive to stick to those principles on holiday for the time being, there are lots of very interesting, and innovative, things going on with EV development. Give it another five, seven years, and some of these might start to become commonplace.

Electric boats

Electricity… and water. Is that such a good mix? Well, ensuring safety is part of the reason why the electric boat revolution has barely cast off and is still bobbing around in the harbour. But with charging networks unfurling along coastlines and technology such as hydrofoil (which lifts the hull out of the water, reducing resistance) improving efficiency, things are picking up speed. How long before island-hopping around Croatia, Greece and Scotland can be done in all-electric boats?

Currently the longest range for electric boats is just over 100km, so electrified fishing fleets and ocean-going cruises are still years away. But there are plenty of signs that show the direction of travel. The intention is for all of Amsterdam’s sightseeing canal boats to be electrified by 2025. That probably won’t do much for congestion on Prinsengracht, but at least the queuing will be quieter and less polluting. And since 2020 all of the famous Maid of the Mist boats at Niagara Falls have been electric too, the better to appreciate the awesome roar of the falls in full flow.

In Croatia, Huck Finn are adding electric motors, batteries and solar panels to their cruising catamarans. “At the moment we have a hybrid catamaran, using diesel and wind power,” says Zeljko. “But now we have EU funding to add electric motors which we can charge using solar power when at sea. We’ll be testing them this coming season. Obviously solar is not enough to fully charge the batteries, but it should be enough at least that we can split the power between solar, wind and diesel.”

Electric jeeps

You can’t buy electric safari jeeps yet; they must be converted, which comes at significant cost. That this is going on at lodges from Botswana to Kenya and South Africa is an indication not only of a commitment to more sustainable transport, but also an awareness that this is the kind of thing that travellers are looking for.

There are plenty of advantages to electric safari jeeps, not least economical. One Botswana lodge estimates that from the start of its conversion project in 2014 it has saved more than 38,000kg of CO² emissions and nearly 15,000 litres of diesel across its fleet of jeeps and boats. And running costs for an electric jeep are so much cheaper than for those with diesel engines that the investment can be recouped within five years.

Another big advantage to purring, instead of roaring, across the savannah, is that electric jeeps are less intrusive for the wildlife. Noise pollution can affect breeding and other behaviours. More peace and quiet means calmer animals. And hopefully more sweet, sweet loving, which will lead to greater biodiversity on display.

Electric snowmobiles

One day soon those ski resorts at a high enough altitude to keep their snow in the face of a warming climate will be tended by electric snowmobiles, instead of petrol powered. Then the pistes will echo only to the gentle swoosh of skis and boards, and the occasional “Oi!” as someone is hit by a snowball thrown from a passing lift. Taos Ski Valley, in New Mexico, is already using electric snowmobiles for its ski patrol and trail maintenance staff, and plans to use an electric machine for piste grooming soon.

They’re big in Lapland too. Quiet, eco friendly and attractively speedy for zooming along those long smooth trails, electric snowmobiles have been in use in the far northerly reaches of Scandinavia for some time. But at present their small batteries and the climactic conditions mean you can’t go very far. Extreme cold takes a heavy toll on machinery, and batteries run down faster. (Lapland has often served as a testing ground for car manufacturers studying the effects of below-freezing temperatures on their products). Batteries take longer to charge as well.

We may well see electric snowmobiles being used for short tours such as those featured in many of our winter Lapland holidays in the near future. But their potential for exploring deep into the backcountry, or for multi-day snowmobile safaris, is some way off yet.

Electric ferries

Norway’s MS Medstraum is the world’s first fully electric, zero-emission fast ferry, a project that received funding from the European Union. Ugh – we’re so sick of the EU driving positive changes for the environment, good job Britain’s left it. Currently servicing the routes between Stavanger and the many inhabited islands off the coast, the ferry will result in annual carbon emissions reductions that are the equivalent of taking some 30 buses off the road.

And Norway has form for this kind of innovation. In 2021, it launched the world’s first all-electric ferry on a route crossing the Oslo Fjord, capable of carrying some 600 passengers and 200 cars. That allows people to savour the peace and calm of this beautiful seascape without it being blighted by the grumble and fumes of a diesel engine. Siemens Energy, makers of the ferry’s fast-charging propulsion system and batteries, estimates that if just four countries: Germany, Italy, Greece and the UK, were to electrify their own ferries, then the total emissions savings could be as much as 800,000 tons.

Meanwhile, plans to build a prototype electric ferry in Cornwall also received a boost in early 2023 with the announcement of funding from the UK government. It will use a powered mooring buoy that allows passing electric vessels to recharge from a wind turbine. And gives tired seagulls another place to perch.
Travel Team
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Electric tuk tuks

Eeeeeee – eeeeeeeeeeeeee

The buzzing of tiny tuk tuk forms a never-ending soundtrack to life on the city streets of Thailand, Bangladesh, Nigeria and India. Otherwise known as auto rickshaws, tuk tuks are ubiquitous throughout Asia and parts of Africa – we even had a small fleet of them here in Brighton, UK for a while. But while they might be the most exciting way to get around sightseeing in Bangkok, Cairo or Delhi, tuk tuks have small, gas-guzzling engines that make a racket and belch out fumes that pollute the air.

Now, however, travellers in Thailand can enjoy fossil fuel-free fun. Urban Mobility Tech, the makers of the Muvmi brand, say they already have 500 electric tuk tuks purring along the roads, and they plan to increase that to 5,000 by 2028, complemented by the growth of a kingdom-wide charging network. Given that Thailand often suffers badly from air pollution, that’s brilliant news.

Electric vans

Zeljko and Huck Finn are not the only ones to see the benefits of using electric vans to get around. The Big Apple has been getting a lot greener recently, with a state grant that helps a New York City start-up fund a new fleet of electric dollar vans, or ‘jitneys’.

These cheap, no-frills vehicles are like the American version of the tuk tuk, used daily by thousands of people, often from poorer communities, to get around in areas that aren’t well-served by public transport. And they’re not always entirely legal. So introducing electric vans is a great move for two reasons. Firstly, poorer communities tend to suffer from worse air pollution which can cause a huge range of ailments. And secondly it will help currently unlicensed drivers earn legitimacy and increase their income.

Our partners use vans for many purposes on holidays, from group airport transfers to support vehicles on cycling trips, and shuttling luggage from place to place. The fact that there is such demand for them is a sign that this is one area where EVs can make a big difference very quickly.

Electric cruise ships

The challenge with electric cruise ships is their sheer size. In 2022, the all-electric Yangtze River Three Gorges 1 took its maiden voyage (no prizes for guessing where). But even though the ship is powered by one of the largest battery packs in the world – with an incredible 7,500kw/h of charge – its range is still just 100km. Which is still a big step in the right direction.

Several other cruise lines also have electric ships in operation, though they are hybrids, only switching to electric propulsion when looking for a smooth entrance to harbour, or to avoid disturbing the peace of a tranquil Norwegian fjord. Some have been built from scratch, while others have been retrofitted.

It will be years before gigantic cruise ships that carry thousands of passengers can cross the oceans powered only by electricity, which is a shame given how polluting they are. But at Responsible Travel the only cruise holidays you’ll find have a maximum of 250 passengers on board, meaning a better experience for you, and the communities that you visit. If the Yangtze River Three Gorges 1, which carries 1,300 passengers, can travel for 100km on one charge, then electrification holds a great deal of potential for smaller ships in the near future.

The electric vehicle revolution is well underway. It might not be obvious quite yet, as cars and bikes grab all the headlines, and right now you have to be a pioneer to seek out EVs on holiday. But it won’t be long before electrification changes the way we get around which will not only be better not only for the environment, but will make travel itself more enjoyable.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Blomst] [Intro: Zeljko / Huck Finn Adventures] [Electric boats: Zeljko / Huck Finn Adventures] [Electric tuk tuks: Crcolas]