Dover is a busy port in East Kent, in the South of England. For hitchhikers this is likely the best possibility to cross the English channel, though you're even better off if you can get a ride to France before you get to Dover. Because it is the closest port to continental Europe on mainland Britain with just 21 miles from the French port of Calais, Dover is the busiest cross-Channel port in the UK, with 18 million passengers every year and thousands of lorries (trucks) each day. Regular ferry services operate from Dover to Calais (P&O) and Dunkerque (DFDS Seaways). For timetables, check the external links at the end of this article.
Crossing the English channel (to France)
- Drivers pay per vehicle, so bringing an additional passenger will not change the costs. If they already have their ticket, they will need to amend it (for free) and add another passenger. A foot passenger ticket will cost you about €40.
- The border police do not like hitchhikers. It's completely legal to hitchhike, but makes them suspicious. Whether you catch a ride for the tunnel or the ferry, ask the driver politely not to mention that you're hitchhiking. Explain the situation so that the driver realizes you aren't doing anything wrong.
- If you want to take the tunnel/ferry, It's best to find a lift before Dover, at Maidstone Services on the M20 or Medway Services on the M2. Don't go to the Ashford Truckstop; hitchhiking seems to be very hard there and hitchhikers aren't allowed near the drivers, many of whom can't take anyone anyway. (This is correct as of Feb 2018; if things have changed, let us know!)
- It's very difficult to find drivers for the tunnel, who're able to pick you up, because they had to book the ticket and give all their ID-details for the booking before and it's impossible to add another passenger spontaniously, a lot of drivers told me (Feb 2018; If this is just a non-sense-legend, please tell us and change it here!)
- The ferry, as opposed to the tunnel, has the advantage of having 1.5 hours to find a ride to your next destination. Do your best to find the next ride on the ferry - even if it's for a short distance (though many people will be going far!) since hitchhiking out of Calais isn't fun. Many drivers don't speak a lot of English, but try all your languages (or a map) and something might work. Polish, Romanian, Russian and German are particularly useful. You can also ask people when they're queuing up to leave upon arrival, but it might be risky to wait so long.
- If you're changing rides, it's a good idea to bring your backpack to the ferry instead of leaving it in the vehicle. But keep in mind that you're not allowed to leave it unattended and if you do, they will panic and look for you. If you don't want to be hauling it around, maybe ask someone who isn't moving around much to keep an eye on it, or pick it up from the car upon arrival (requires more logistics with the old and new drivers).
- Ferries from Dover go to both Dunkerque and Calais. If you are trying to hitch down to Paris or further south then make sure your ride is going to Calais as you will find it difficult to find a lift otherwise. However, if you are hitching to Belgium, Germany etc. then you should get the ferry to Dunkerque.
If you have reached Dover without a ride across the Channel, go to the BP petrol station (51°07'06.1"N 1°18'25.0"E) and catch a ride from the bus stop just outside it. Your sign should say FRANCE (or FRANCE (ferry)), not FERRY, otherwise people will be offering you rides to the ferry port. This road is swarming with drivers on their way to the ferry. Stay here and don't go to the ferry port! There's no point since you won't be allowed on the premises of the port (confirmed 2017).
On the ferry
- If you can find a Commercial Driver, who takes you on the ferry, you probably receive a free-dinner-ticket ( + 2 free drinks) for the Commercial Drivers Restaurant (top floor), when you entered the ferry with the truck/lorry, because they thought you're driver, too. When you're on the ferry without a Commercial Driver at least you can get a free drink (hot chocolate, tea, coffee, soft drink), however if you wish to buy food it will cost you.
- Commercial drivers also have better rates for currency exchange, so if you're hitching a truck, maybe the driver will agree to change your money for you.
If you are super stuck
- check the English channel page for more options on how to hitchhike across the channel.
- If hitchhiking doesn't work, carpooling can come in really handy. There are People on Blablacar going every evening to Calais. I paid 5 GBP for the ride. Much better than:
- A two way ticket (return) for the same day costs GBP 18 (as opposed to GBP 30 for a one-way ticket). But be careful, when you go to buy the ticket go without backpacks because they won't sell you the ticket, because they'll say you won't come back. Act like you are going for the ride with the ferry Also when you go on the bus, if the person who sold you the ticket is there, try to give your backpacks to someone else until you are on the bus, from there you won't have any problems no more.
- If all fails you might have to stay for the night. The cheapest place to do so (as far as I'm aware) is the First and Last Pub. Although named a Pub, there are bunks inside for customers to stay for £15 per night(breakfast usually provided). But its reception is located at Russell street, in the The Castle Inn/Dover Backpackers.
- If the ferry terminal is closed, go to the train station instead, it is not too far from the ferry terminal and even if it's locked, you can ask the staff to open it for you. There are also several pubs in the city centre that are open up till 2:00, if you want a drink.
North towards Canterbury along the A2
For leaving Dover, you probably have a better chance of a lift if you follow the Main road out of town. After about 20 minutes when you start to walk up a hill, there is a good place for vehicles to pull in.
North and North East towards Folkestone and London along the M20
One option is to walk out of the terminal building, through the car park, and follow the road signs pointing cars towards the M20. Unfortunately there isn't really a safe place to pull over until the first bus stop, about 500m away. By this stage traffic is often going quite quickly, and some of it is now local traffic, but it is mostly port traffic, and you should be able to convince someone to stop. A sign would be useful (such as 'M20').
- I waited over an hour here, and walked further to find a better spot, but only found the next bus stop, another 500m or so further down the road. Conditions were no better, but I got a ride in about 5 minutes -Nomad Kat
West towards Brighton
Here you can try to get a lift onto the M20 and follow the motorways up and over. Another option is to get onto the coastal road (A259) all the way to Brighton. From my experience I would seriously advise skipping the romantic idea of the coastal road and keep yourself on the motorway. After Folkstone it's largely local traffic, a long walk out of the town and you sit there wishing you had of kept to the bright lights of the motor way!! However of course it led to a rich experience!