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Would you drive an electric car to Australia?

Travelling
Long read

Georgina Wilson-Powell

15 May 2017

This man would. Dutchman Wiebe Wakker set out from Holland in March 2016 to try to get all the way to Australia with an electric car and no money, reliant only on the kindness of strangers (and their plug sockets).

Wakker’s route has been determined by people logging onto an interactive map and offering charging and couches. In return he’s making a documentary about different countries’ attitudes towards sustainability. We caught up with him at Bangladeshi customs.

“Holland isn’t as green as you’d imagine,” he says. “We still rely on coal and only 5% of our energy comes from sustainable sources. But we do have a lot of knowledge around environmental issues. After travelling through lots of different countries I believe this is critical for becoming a more sustainable country. By living more sustainably you inspire others and demand that your companies and organisations do the same.”

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Wakker received a warm welcome in Iran

Wakker is nearly three quarters through his journey in an electric car. It’s taken him over 400 days to get as far as India but he’s vlogged a lot of his journey, the good bits and the bad.

Wakker meets an electric car driver in Russia

After his university course in event management Wakker used his skills in storytelling and branding to create the idea of Plug Me In. He wanted a theme for an epic roadtrip, like the kind he used to read about in travel books and to spend time meeting people.

“I wanted to travel around the world in a unique way and in 2015 I thought why not do it in an electric car.”

The practicalities of trying to cross the world in an electric car, when many countries aren’t don’t have the infrastructure lead him onto the issue of sustainability and how efforts and awareness change from one country to the next.

“I’ve found the UAE the most interesting so far,” he says. “Most people just see it as where oil comes from and it's not well known for its sustainable efforts but I was amazed by Masdar City, a carbon neutral city that’s been built out in the desert. It’s a big accomplishment."

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Wakker spent three months in Dubai helping to organise the first Emirates Electric Vehicle Road Trip

Across his 25 counties so far he’s had some interesting moments. He’s been to an Arabic wedding, visited car factories in Iran, waste recycling factories in Poland, spoken at endless groups and social enterprises and been interviewed in many different languages.

“Romania was quite difficult. It’s 1,200kms between Moldova and Bucharest and no one had put themselves on the map to help me so I had to ask random people to help charge the car. One day I stopped at a fuel station with an almost empty battery and a local who didn’t speak any English understood what I needed and drove me (while being fairly drunk) to his house and let me charge the car and sleep on his sofa. There are good people everywhere.”

"Even electric car drivers call me crazy and they might be right"

Despite the leaps and bounds being made by electric cars and technology, the average distance an electric car can go on a single charge remains around 100 miles or 160 kilometres. That’s a lot of plugging in to get to Wakker to Australia.

“I’ve driven 45,000 kilometres so far,” he says. “Obviously this isn’t the quickest way of getting from A to B but that wasn’t the point of the trip. In countries with no electric car charging infrastructure, it takes me 12 hours to charge the car using a regular 220v socket in people’s homes. It means I can meet people and talk to them about sustainability.”

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Wakker spent time in India investigating the biggest challenges in swapping to electric cars

The trip has meant Wakker can connect with people on an individual level to talk about their environmental concerns and how they differ in each country away from the headlines and global initiatives that we see in newspapers. He’s met everyone from the Green Sheikh of Ajman to co-working space owners in Mumbai.

“India for example is a country of such huge contrasts. There’s waste everywhere and there’s no knowledge of the effects on the environment from our actions but electric cars are coming in, the government wants to only sell electric vehicles by 2030 and they have the second biggest solar park in the world,” Wakker says. “But there’s a long way to go before they can be considered sustainable, the government has ideas but no way to execute it.”

Once he finishes his trip, he’d like to stay working in sustainable mobility - there’s lots to be done.

“I’d like to start a social enterprise. I think these kind of companies are helping to move sustainable policies away from their dull hippy image to make them more cool.”

But first he’s got to figure out how to get around Bangladesh after a problem at customs and get through Asia in monsoon season.

“Even electric car drivers call me crazy and they might be right.”

Follow Wakker's progress or offer him a bed for the night here.