France is a member state of the European Union as well as the Schengen Agreement. It is usually a great country for hitchhiking. There are many friendly car and truck drivers. Drivers have to pay toll on motorways (except in Brittany), and you can get a ride quite easily at some barrières de péage (toll stations). When hitchhiking on local roads, you might face some difficulties sometimes, though. One of the commonly known barriers for traveling in France (as in any foreign country) is a language - you might wanna learn some basic phrases before you off on the road in France.
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Like everywhere in Europe, walking on the motorways is illegal and thus it's also illegal to hitchhike there. If you are picked up the police you may be fined, however the Gendarmerie are likely to simply give you a lift to the next toll stop. Use service areas, peages and on-ramps. Moreover some experience shows that French people will more often stop in a place where it is not normally allowed than in other countries.
It may also be helpful to write S.V.P. on your sign with a destination name - it is short for s'il vous plaît (sih-voo-play) which means please in French.
On Sundays, only trucks with frozen goods are allowed to drive. Keep in mind though that trucks are not allowed to go more than 90 km/h and the driver must stop for a 45 min break every 4 hours, which can make the trip much longer.
The "Michelin 726 National" map of France is a good choice for a hitchhiker in this country. It shows all the major barrières de péage and service stations. You can get a free map in péage offices.
Autoroutes, péages and barrières de péage
In France, most of the motorways are toll roads which are the fastest way to hitch across the country. There are two types of toll stations on péages. First, there are big ones where all traffic has to stop to pay a fee (or to get a ticket) - these are barrières de péage and usually they are excellent spots to get a long-distance ride and make it really easy to hitchhike during the night. They are often located near big cities on the autoroute. Another type is a side barrier situated on all exits in the toll part of the motorway. On latter ones traffic is much smaller, therefore one can expect a longer waiting time, although sometimes congested toll stations (the first type) can be a difficult place to hitch from, too.
To reach the barrière de péage, you may need to walk along the motorway; with a help of a proper map check if the distance needed to be walked is not too long. It is actually illegal to walk on a side lane of the motorway (same is valid for some parts of national roads (voie express) in France); if police sees you, you will be driven somewhere safe and may be fined for ~90€. Péage toll stations are considered a part of the motorway, and legally you do not have the right to solicit rides there. You may be asked to wait in the parking area which is after each barrière de péage. In practice, this is rarely enforced (maybe 5% of the time), most toll station employees simply want to make sure you're not endangering yourself or others. Having a sign with your destination (or the next city) is recommended and will distinguish you as a serious hitchhiker, and not a vagrant.
The fastest way to travel on a péage is from one barrière de péage to another. Hitchhiking options are:
- You can thumb immediately after the barrière de péage
- If you prefer a direct approach you can dash across the lanes one at a time until you're at a busy lane, stand next to the toll machine and talk to the drivers when they stop to pay (usually it is not allowed to hitch from the toll machines but it is generally tolerated).
- You can wait before the barrière de péage, just where the drivers choose their lane - there is often enough of space for cars to pull over to stop for you.
Some barrière de péage are really good, some are not. If you've been waiting for a while using a destination sign, drop it and try thumbing.
While on a toll road, you can always try hitchhiking from one petrol station to another, either asking drivers while they refill, or thumbing at the exit of the service area. The staff usually doesn't mind hitchhikers.
French number plates end with a number of the département the car is registered in. For example, Parisian cars end with numbers 75, 78, 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95. See Wikipedia articles on French vehicle registration plates and Arrondissements of France. New number plates are in use since mid-2009. They have an optional reference to the department on the blue stripe at the right side, but they technically are not part of the plate, and do not necessarily refer to the owner's address - one may for example choose to put the number of the department where he/she was born. Cars that belong to companies, including rental ones usually bear "60" or "76" since tax on corporate vehicles is the lowest there. The existing old plates will be still in use for a while.
French bakeries are by law prohibited from selling bread that is older than a day, so it pays to go around bakeries (boulangerie) and asking for old bread, or simply checking bakeries' doors/backyards after they close.
- In my experience it's pretty much impossible to go hungry in France. While hitching I almost ALWAYS get 10 or 5 euros thrown my way, and once even 60 euro! The key is to imply you have no money (helps the guilt if you actually don't have any like I did). Ask where you can use the internet or a phone, but WITHOUT PAYING, and 90% of the time they'll tell you "I'll drop you off at the station/road/town with 10 euros, alright?"
- It's not really possible without having a good standard of communication though, so either hope they know English or learn some French!
- I also wouldn't recommend doing "it" if you have no money or already had access to the internet or a phone, solely because of guilt. Even though I was genuine in my requests I didn't feel happy taking their money, but food is food!
- Mappy is a good online map service for France in case you want to know where certain public transport goes to.
- Le Réseau ASF, a PDF file that shows all barrières de péage on major routes in Southern France.
- Service Stations Network, a pdf file that shows all service station on major routes in southern France.
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