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Calais is a port town in the north west of France at the English Channel. with just 34 km from the British port of Dover, Calais is the closest port to mainland Britain and one of the busiest cross-channel ports on continental Europe. Regular ferry services operate from Calais to Dover (P&O and Seafrance, each with over 20 crossings per day). The best alternative for Calais is Dunkerque.

Hitchhiking out

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North-West towards Dover, England

You can get to Dover for free if you find your lift before you board the ferry - tickets are paid for by vehicle and not by passenger. The limit is two for a lorry (more if there's more seats) and several with a car. While looking for a lift, tell people about this possibility, many don't know about it.

It is definitely best to hang around in the parking lot near the ticket office, and ask people who have just bought tickets if they can take you. This is good because you can show that you're not a drug smuggler, and can explain that there's no charge for extra passengers. The drawback is that many people parked here will just be waiting to pick up foot passengers due to arrive on a boat. Also, most drivers will have bought their tickets in advance and will not come through here. Experiences with waiting by the side of the road are mixed, some people getting picked up after ten minutes, others waiting the entire day without success. Ask around the parking lot before trying to thumb your way through. A good place to stand is next to the speed bumps that cars go over as they are approaching passport control. Stand between the two lanes and you'll be visible to cars going straight to the ferry as well as those going to the ticket office. Keep on your toes, though; this isn't the safest place to stand.

You can easily change lifts in the harbour terminal, after ticket and passport control and before boarding the ferry. Find a lift before coming to Calais, and you might well have some time before the ferry leaves, especially so if you've come with a lorry. Use this time well, walk around the huge parkings (which is perfectly fine) and talk to as many people waiting for their ferries as you can. You'll often be able to get a better lift, especially one going past London if you're going north. There might be an issue if the number of passengers coming into the harbour isn't the same as coming onto the ferry. However, Zenit followed said strategy successfully in May 2011 - P&O don't check the tickets again as you enter the ferry (only as you enter the port), Seafrance might. It might be a bad idea to let the vehicle that brought you into the port in the first place cross without you. If somebody tries to give you shit, you won't be able to "prove" that you'll be crossing etc.

You can also get across by tunnel. Cars and lorries get loaded onto a train which takes them across. The price is the same for each vehicle as well, no matter how many persons there are in the car. However, it is very difficult to get a ride at the tunnel entrance itself, because the road has about 15 lanes coming directly from the motoway, the cars are going quite fast and the drivers will concentrate on finding their correct lane, so most of them won't see you. The staff is quite unfriendly and you will be sent away (remember though that this also applies if you try to hitch too far in the port. Most people are being told that hitching by the tunnel entrance is illegal (which is probably doubtful). Also, as of 2011 there have been reports of the eurotunnel company refusing people who are identified as hitchhikers by the drivers. Tell your driver not to mention that you're hitchhiking.

All in all, the ferry is definitely the much better option, but however you plan on handling things, it's best to find somebody to take you across (or at least into the ferry terminal) beforehand.

Apparently on some ferries (not all), the trucks park so close that it's not possible to open the doors. That would mean that you'd spend more than 1.5 hour closed into a box with a stranger and most drivers can only take one person legally - so if you mind this, think about the possibility beforehand.

If you do have to buy a foot passenger ticket, bear in mind that it has tripled in price in the last year (!) and is now 39 euros.

Important for Non-EU Nationals (including US citizens)

There are UK passport controls in Calais and if you do not have the proper papers (depending on your nationality even if you do have the right papers), you will encounter a lot of hassle, including being denied entry. Worse, the friendly driver who gave you a ride might also face delays and even fines. As with any border crossing, it helps if you look respectable, even if you travel on a EU or similarly accepted passport and have money (or better, a credit card) to support yourself.

Upon arrival in Dover, UK customs also have a tendency to check far more cars than any other EU country. The UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement, so you might consider leaving the ferry as a foot-passenger to save your driver a potentially substantial delay! (This is not possible if you arrived using Norfolklines.)

Personal experience: I tried in August 2011 to hitch a ride onto the P&O ferry to Dover, and I had no problem getting a ride. I checked the US Dept. of State webpage beforehand to see what was required for entry into the UK, and it says only a valid passport. However, the Home Office agents denied me (a US citizen with a valid passport) because I didn't have set travel plans with addresses/reservations where I would be staying (including for that very night), a ticket out of the country, proof of employment, or bank statements. I'm not sure what of that would have sufficed, but having none of it and being a hitchhiker definitely did me in.

South, East towards everywhere

To get out of the ferry terminal, the best trick is to follow the signs for the motorway to Lille and eventually you'll get to a big roundabout with the road leading uphill with a bay where vehicles can stop next to the "no pedestrians" signs that all the other hitchers have written all about :) stand by the signs and you'll get a brave trucker to stop for you. Almost all car traffic heads south Paris way, and it's a nightmare getting back onto the motorway if you come off there, so try to flag down someone with a sign saying D or PL. Standing at the roundabout itself is quite tragic as you will be watching migrants trying to get into England constantly running up and down trying to sneak into a truck.

If you're going far and/or don't care about speed so much, there a huge lorry park on the motorway a few kilometres from Calais from where you can easily get direct lifts to many places all over Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, England, Germany, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic, Austria and Turkey should easily be possible). Be aware that a truck is legally only allowed to have one driver and one passenger (except if there's more seats), so it's a lot harder to find a ride for two people hitching together. If you are just hitching into Belgium you're probably better off finding a ride while on the ferry, to a petrol station in Belgium.

Turkish lorry drivers are often very kind and help you searching for a lift. You often ask one of them and he talks to all his fellow countrymen – you often ask all of them by asking one and end up having dinner with them :-). Their German is often better than their English but they really try to do their best to communicate.

There is also a service station with free showers.

Extra information

  • When on the ferry try to find the Commercial Drivers Restaurant on one of the floors. If you can get in, you'll 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 onto an earlier boat or to a better destination. Just walk around asking people that have an earlier leaving time than yours. Since you passed the passport check, they should not be afraid to take you. You can see the departure time 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. Hurry, though, you don't want to be left on foot when all the cars are leaving.