(CNN) The road trip-meets-camping experience afforded by camper van travel is having a moment.
Interest in these compact recreational vehicles, typically outfitted with home-away-from-home comforts like sleeping spaces and kitchenettes, has surged in recent years, bolstered by social media streams flooded with images and videos depicting idealized, nature-immersive #vanlife travel scenes.
Plus, at the pandemic’s height, such self-contained vans – a sort of hotel room on wheels – were perceived to offer a means of travel that cut away at health risks.
Yet, for the nature-loving travelers who tend to gravitate toward these outdoor adventure-ready vans, there’s a crisis of conscience at play, given that the oversize, gas-guzzling vehicles are known for spewing out carbon emissions, as a worsening global climate crisis unfolds.
Just as movement toward electric vehicles (EVs) has swept the automobile industry—with fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engines being increasingly replaced by battery-powered electric motors—the dawn of a new electrified camper van age is emerging, as well.
“We are indeed starting to see some momentum from the RV [recreational vehicle] industry towards designing and building electric camper vans,” says Kraig Becker, digital editor at RV.com/RV Magazine, citing such projects in the works from big brands like Winnebago and Volkswagen. Those will soon join a niche contingent of DIY custom electric camper van conversions that are already on the market.
Becker says that consumer demand for these electrified camper vans is being driven largely by younger generations who are “looking for a more eco-friendly way to go camping.”
“Given that EV camper vans produce zero emissions at the tailpipe, they also allow a sense of environmental consciousness that will be especially appreciated when passing through fragile natural habitats or urban areas,” he says.
Becker says that while barriers like underdeveloped charging infrastructure and limited EV driving range remain, customers are further drawn in by the fact that an electric camper van “is quieter than a gas-powered model, and makes it easier to camp off-grid.”
Other customers, like Montreal-based Nicolas Moreau, 35, who recently traveled through Quebec with his family in an electric camper van rental from Bromont Campervan, says he was most motivated by the savings at the pump.
“We were aiming to not have to spend too much on gas,” he tells CNN Travel.
Indeed, high and fluctuating global gas prices, particularly in European destinations, can tack on considerable expense to any road trip vacation. Recharging a camper van with electricity, rather than fueling up a gas tank, can translate to significant savings on travel costs.
Currently, the Quebec region is one of just a handful of North American destinations where electric camper vans are available. Europe has more, though still limited, inventory.
Camper van rental agencies like Europe-based Goboony and Outdoorsy in the U.S. each offer some electric camper vans for rent. Or, these six pioneering electric camper van rental companies around the globe each promise the benefits of a camper van vacation—all-in-one appeal, nature immersion, and the freedom of unbound travel—minus the hefty carbon footprint.
California, United States: Simple Campers
The Company: Rental company Simple Campers, based just north of San Francisco, has taken hold of the world’s very first batch of rentable Grounded electric camper vans. The Grounded brand, a Detroit-based start-up helmed by former engineers from Tesla and SpaceX, has been garnering buzz for its vans’ highly customizable modular interiors and comparative affordability; Grounded says more rental camper vans will be available across the U.S. in months to come.
The Vans: Simple Campers now offers a trio of two-passenger Grounded G1 camper vans, which are based on converted Ford E-Transits and inspired by Scandinavian design. Features include solar panels, queen-sized bed, outdoor shower, toilet, fully outfitted kitchen, and various app-based controls (like remote start for heating or air conditioning).
The Journey: Simple Campers recommends heading up California’s Pacific coastline along famed road-trip route Highway 1, just miles away, with nearby highlights like Point Reyes National Seashore and Bodega Bay. Dip into the Russian River Valley, loaded with Sonoma’s top wineries, before spinning back down to the company’s base in Mill Valley, on a roughly 220-mile journey, best done over three days.
Washington State, United States: PacWesty
The Company: Five-year-old adventure camper van company PacWesty, based on Bainbridge Island in Washington State (under 10 miles from Seattle), launched its zero-emissions initiative with a trio of electric vehicles in 2019. (The company shop is additionally electrifying four VW Westfalia vans, anticipated for 2024 delivery to Bainbridge Island and the company’s new outpost in Palm Springs, California.)
The Vans: PacWesty currently has two four-passenger converted Ram ProMaster 1500s on offer, pop-top models which come with two sleeping areas (an upper tent bunk and convertible sofa bed), kitchenettes, and lots of storage. For longer trips, try their newest two-passenger, off-road-ready Rivian R1T electric pickup truck, tricked out with a rooftop tent and camping kit.
The Journey: PacWesty recommends a 405-mile, 10-day journey round-trip from Bainbridge Island that strings together several nature-immersive stops along Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, including mountains (hike Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park), beaches (swim at Rialto Beach), lakes, waterfalls, rain forests, and hot springs.
Quebec, Canada: Bromont Campervan
The Company: Starting this summer, camper van rental company Bromont Campervan, based in Bromont, Canada (an hour outside of Montreal), is offering two electric van rentals. The company aims to convert its entire 14-van fleet to electric by 2025.
The Vans: Bromont rents two converted Ford E-Transit vans on a weekly basis, configured for either two or four passengers. Vans feature appointments like a retractable bed, kitchenette, toilet/shower, fridge, and four-season insulation.
The Journey: Try a weeklong, 450-mile road trip from Quebec City, catching nearby Quebec-region attractions like towering Montmorency Falls, the glacial valley at Jacques-Cartier National Park, or bucolic Ile d’Orleans.
Norway: Norway Overland
The Company: Norway is leading the world in EV ownership and charging infrastructure, with the camper van rental options to match, including several such companies based in Bergen, the Lofoten islands, and beyond.
For something especially unique, check out Norway Overland, which launched this year in the village of Tonstad and rents out fully electric overland pickups fitted with camper shells. They’re well-suited to more rugged off-roading in the Norwegian wilderness, famed for its mountains, fjords, and glaciers.
The Vans: While not exactly vans, Norway Overland rents two Maxus T90 pickups, topped with truck-bed campers. Each vehicle, outfitted with a roof tent for sleeping, shower/toilet, kitchen area, and assorted camping gear, can accommodate up to five passengers.
The Journey: Norway Overland recommends a 380-mile, weeklong journey round-trip from the city of Stavanger, which takes in several fjords, top hiking spots (like to the Pulpit Rock cliff), traditional Norwegian towns (like those in the Setesdal valley), and interior highland scenery.
England: Wild Drives
The Company: Founded in early 2022, Brighton-based Wild Drives offers two upscale, fully converted electric camper vans for outings in the English countryside.
The Vans: The company rents out a converted, two-passenger VW ID Buzz cargo van, as well as a four-passenger Citroen e-Dispatch, each touting sustainably-sourced bamboo finishings, natural fiber insulation, and solar panels, along with kitchenettes and seating/sleeping space.
The Journey: Wild Drives has designed a 155-mile, 7-day itinerary round-trip from England’s hopping Brighton Beach, with loads of suggestions on best charging points, eco-friendly campsites, and nature-immersive attractions and activities, including a sustainable wine tasting, foraging excursion, and stop-off at prehistoric Stonehenge.
Scotland: eDub Trips
The Company: Pioneering electric camper van rental company eDub Trips launched way back in 2013, when it began converting classic 1970s Volkswagen camper vans from standard engines to electric motors. The two-van company (with plans for a third underway for 2024) is based out of England, but launched service in Scotland this year.
The Vans: Book a five-passenger 1979 Volkswagen T2 electric camper van out of Glenfinnan, Scotland, complete with two double beds, kitchenette, and ample storage space.
The Journey: The company suggests exploring the Scottish countryside round-trip from Fort William on a 5-day, 340-mile trip that includes stops in Glenfinnan (chockfull of Harry Potter film scenes, including its famed viaduct), a car ferry to the Isle of Skye, a boat trip on Loch Ness, and more. Bonus: Daily distances on this route are short enough that no additional charging stops would be required beyond the overnight campsite plug-in.