Dover is a busy port in East Kent, in the South of England. For hitchhikers this is one of if not the best possibility to cross the Channel. 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 lorrys each day. Regular ferry services operate from Dover to Calais (P&O) and Dunkerque (DFDS Seaways).
As of 2011 there have been reports of Eurotunnel refusing people who are identified as hitchhikers by the drivers. Tell your driver to not mention that you're hitchhiking.
Also, if you are not a fan of riding with truck drivers then it is best to try to get ride on the Channel Tunnel instead, because most commuters will now (as of 2011) prefer the channel tunnel to getting the ferry.
Hitchhikers can cross the channel for free because drivers only pay for their vehicle and a certain number of passengers, up to seven with a car and two with a lorry, the same holds true for the Channel Tunnel.
To get a lift to France, you may prefer to stop at Maidstone Services on the M20, where you have the possibility to talk to truck drivers that might be crossing. Many more trucks stop at Ashford Truckstop on the M20, but there is security here and if they see you asking for lifts they will tell you to leave. Update January 2012: The security in the Ashford truck-stop does not allow anyone near the trucks, and there were not so many trucks stopping there anyway, only British truck drivers who are not allowed to take hitchhikers for some insurance issues. We tried to hitchhike at all possible spots on the big roundabout and before it, but no one stopped for Dover. Ended up taking the bus, which is only 5 pounds day ticket for the whole region.
If you have reached Dover without a ride across the Channel, you have a few options,
- you can try to get a ride on the road leading to the port. Difficult as there is no hard shoulder and very few breaks in the flow of traffic allowing anyone to stop.
- you can try hitching after the last round-about. Unfortunately it's illegal to hitch on port property (i.e. after the Port of Dover Authority sign) and although you might get away with it sometimes, the police is known to enforce this rule and send you away.
- you can try your luck inside the Travel Centre or on the car park in front of it. The problem is that both are nowadays very quiet as most people book on-line. If you speak to people here, you might have to convince them that they don't pay anything extra for taking you across and possibly that you are not an illegal immigrant. Grégoire was told by a person working at a ticket office that you can also directly ask to the people making the queue if they have room in their car before they buy the ticket, so that they can verify it is legal. He found a car in ten minutes, but thinks it should be done discretely. Pete the Temp found some leads by approaching cars but there was much suspicion and many people coming to buy tickets were crossing as foot passengers.
- you are allowed to stand at the rail of the last roundabout leading into the port, i.e. before the port property. You'll be standing at the height of a truck driver who can see you clearly and can pull aside just in front of the Port Police building after the roundabout. This is far from ideal.
- much better are the normal bus stops on the main seaside road with a sign that says France.
- if you're really stuck you can also try at the Western Docks, there is a truck park where drivers carrying certain types of goods or from outside the EU have to stop to complete some paperwork.
- There is a petrol station very close to the ferry ports where it should be easily possible to find a lift.
- If you are feeling rich or you are desperate, a one-way foot ticket to Calais will cost about GBP 40 (September 2010, as said at the ticket office) with P&O, the only company that operates with foot passengers. A two way ticket (return) for the same day costs GBP 13. 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.
Disputed information: "the trucks park in the ferry so close that it's not possible to open the doors. That means that you'll spend more than 1.5 hour closed in a box with a stranger and the driver can only take one person legally - and they check your IDs etc on the entrance so none of them will take the risk of a fine there. I don't know if it is like this on every ferry and all the time, but it's not recommended to go with any trucks on a ferry!" -EDIT - This experience must be an exception...many hitchhikers have taken trucks without problem and get out easily. -EDIT- as far as i have seen everybody is required to get out of their cars and go upstairs and then staff lock the parking area, so nobody stays in their cars/trucks while at sea. also, truckdrivers have their own rest area on the ferry with free tea/coffee + shower facilities. lots of truckdrivers know each other, so it's a good place to ask around for rides and information.
Near Calais, there is a huge lorry park with great possibilities for hitchhikers to continue their journey once the crossing is done!
It is useful to be aware that ferries from Dover go to both Dunkirque 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 Dunkirque.
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!
- When on the ferry try to find the Commercial Drivers Restaurant on one of the floors. From there you can get a free drink (hot chocolate, tea, coffee, soft drink), however if you wish to buy food it will cost you.
- Whilst waiting in the queue for your time to board the ferry, after the passport check, you can try to change rides in order to get on an earlier boat. Just walk around asking people that have an earlier leaving time than yours. Since you passed passport check they should not be afraid to take you. You can see it on the paper that is usually on their car or truck windows. This can save you a lot of time.
- You can also change rides inside the ferry, especially when it has arrived in the port and people are getting to their cars and waiting to exit. Just go around looking at number plates and asking around.
- Although the ticket buying place in the ferry terminal closes during the night, you can still find the arrivals building open all night long in case you need somewhere to sleep.
Update January 2012: The ferry terminal is not open during the night, it closes around 23:00, so you cannot spend the night there. Go instead in the train station, 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.