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A couple of days before our Workaway ended in Bretagne, our hosts suggested we hitchhike to our next destination. So we did.
In France’s mild mid-autumn weather, we took to the roads to hitchhike from Brittany along the west coast of France, ultimately ending up in Bordeaux.
This article will chronicle that adventure, and tell you all you need to know about hitchhiking in France.
What You Need to Hitchhike in France
Before you get on the road, there are a few things you’ll need to have for a successful hitchhiking trip in France.
How else will people know which direction you’re headed?
For optimal results, it’s best to write down the next biggest town in the direction you’re heading.
Write your destination as big and as bold as you can! Drivers won’t pick you up if they don’t know where you’re going.
Besides a sign, the only thing you really need when hitchhiking in France is a smile!
Even if you’re cold, tired and cranky, having a smile on your face and a friendly demeanour will up your chances of hitchhiking success (and it might lift your mood too!).
With a smile and a sign, your chances of being picked up hitchhiking in France could be quite high. In the very least, you’re sure to get some interaction from passersby.
Note: Know a Bit of the Language
Once you’ve been picked up, you’ll likely have to communicate who you are and where you’re headed.
While most of our drivers spoke a bit of English, things went a lot smoother when we were able to practice our French.
Other Helpful Things to Bring When Hitchhiking in France
- Appropriate Clothes: No one wants to be left out in the cold. While it took no longer than forty-five minutes at each stop for us, you never know how long it will take until someone stops.
- A Map: I prefer a digital map like Google. If you have data, it will be hard to get lost with a map app. If not, you can still download a specific area to get you through. Maps are helpful in the obvious ways: finding where you’re going, finding a hitchhiking spot, getting directions etc.
- A Backup Plan: In the odd chance that your hitchhiking adventure is unsuccessful, have a backup plan. This backup plan may be a tent, cash for a bus ticket, or at least a place to sleep in town until you can try again. No one wants to be left out in the middle of the road in the middle of the night.
Wondering what backpack is best for hitchhiking? We travelled with this one – here are all the details.
And here’s how to travel using just a backpack!
Is Hitchhiking in France Safe?
From my experience? Absolutely. Not only is it safe, but it’s also actually quite common!
After telling our hosts about our plans to get from Brittany, France to Galicia, Spain, they were the first to suggest we hitchhike.
What surprised me was that they suggested hitchhiking as casually as a New Yorker would suggest hailing a cab.
Truth is, if our older, much wiser hosts hadn’t been so confident about their suggestion, I would have never considered it. And after getting the same recommendation from other locals (some who have picked up hitchhikers themselves), I figured it wasn’t a terrible idea.
And it wasn’t! Hitchhiking in France was far from sketchy, and I actually preferred it to taking buses or trains. We were picked up by all walks of life, from young girls to families.
Is Hitchhiking in France Legal?
Yes, hitchhiking in France is legal.
You’ll have no trouble from the police, and you won’t even get funny looks from passersby.
That being said, there are rules on where pedestrians can go. Walking on highways is illegal in France, so hitchhiking off a highway isn’t possible.
Hitchhiking To and From Metropolitans
A hitchhiking route to Paris is probably a popular one. And while I haven’t done this route myself, getting to and from big cities in France while hitchhiking is something I am familiar with nonetheless.
In my experience, it’s best to get out of the big city altogether.
Depending on the city, big towns usually have a number of places where you can start hitchhiking from.
That being said, getting there from the city centre can be a quick trot or a long endeavour, so plan accordingly (it took us two hours to walk from our host in Nantes to our selected hitchhiking spot).
Where to Hitchhike in France
There are actually a number of places to hitchhike from in France.
Autoroute On/Off Ramps
This is where I have the most experience with hitchhiking in France, along with the roundabouts mentioned below.
Most autoroutes (highways) have on and off ramps where cars have to slow down before hopping on to the motorway. These are great spots for hitching a ride since you’re easily seen and people have to slow down anyway!
Try and stay further toward rural roads than the motorway, or near a light near the on/off ramp for added convenience to drivers, and easier access to cars.
Roundabouts On the Edge of Town
Roundabouts work in the same sense of on/off ramps. Again, drivers have to slow down making it easier for them to see you and pick you up.
Don’t stand in the middle of a roundabout; stay closer to the road that leads to your destination and opt for a part of the road that has space for drivers to pull off.
The less hassle for drivers, the better.
While hitchhiking in France, we were often dropped off at gas stations while our drivers went on.
This was nerve-wracking since it meant approaching random strangers for a ride (yes standing on the side of the road soliciting strangers for a ride was somehow less of a big deal to me).
That being said, we lucked out every time we hitchhiked in France from a gas station. Our method? Be friendly and approach as many people as you can and hope for the best!
Selecting the Ideal Hitchhiking Spot
Do your research! Whether that be by word of mouth or via the internet, you’ll be able to find places that other hitchhikers have found success.
Even with the locations highlighted above, the best places change depending on location.
Ask questions, dig deep, and you’ll save yourself some time in the long run.
I relied heavily on Hitchwiki, Reddit, blogs and the advice from my local friends and hosts to plan each step of the route.
How to Eat While Hitchhiking in France
You won’t go hungry hitchhiking in France. It’s hard to with boulangeries, corner stores, and small grocery stores scattered throughout the entire country.
Many delicious French staples are incredibly cheap outside of big cities, making them great food for hitchhikers.
Items like bread, cheese, pastries, and other quick snacks are commonly available and are great at quieting your rumbling tummy on the road.
We often opted for a quick baguette and small wheel of brie, and it felt like quite the luxurious hitchhiking trip.
Great budget grocery stores in France that I often saw while hitchhiking include LIDL, ALDI, and U Express.
Where to Stay While Hitchhiking in France
When hitchhiking in France, we made sure to make it to major cities to ensure that we had a place to sleep. But even outside of big cities, there are a number of options open to hitchhikers from sleeping bags to hostel beds.
Couchsurfing was our number one option when it came to finding a place to sleep while hitchhiking. While it’s easy to plan ahead on Couchsurfing, it’s great when it comes to finding a last minute place to sleep.
Depending on your host, you’ll have access to a sofa, bed, or your own bedroom for an allotted amount of time. Couchsurfing is all about sharing so be sure to bring something to share with your hosts.
We offered cooking, wine, and a bunch of Canadian treats, but give what you can. Even some stories from your home country count!
Staying with a CouchSurfing host is also a great way to get insightful information on the area you’re in.
I haven’t tried camping in France yet, but according to some travellers, it’s easy to find a place to camp while hitchhiking in France.
In fact, a lot of travellers head to France specifically for the chance to hitchhike at some beautiful locations.
This site will give you better details than I can about finding campsites in France.
Paid Accommodation Options
If you have some cash to spare, you might find it easier to find paid accommodations depending on your situation and where you are.
Fortunately, there are plenty options while hitchhiking in France.
Hostels can be found all over France, even in small communities. Even though hostels are rising in prices, you can still find cheap accommodations depending on where you are.
Check out these options for hostels in France.
While Couchsurfing is my number one resource for finding a place to sleep while hitchhiking, Airbnb is my number one back-up.
You can use Airbnb to find super cheap rooms, shared spaces, and even entire apartments. Depending on where you are, Airbnbs are usually much cheaper than hotels and sometimes even hostels!
Use this link and you can tuck away some money in case you need an Airbnb while hitchhiking.
Bed & Breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts are a great alternative to hotels and are often cheaper.
You’ll probably find cheaper B&Bs in rural areas but you can check out these options for planning ahead.
Here are some options for Bed and Breakfasts in France.
Hotels and Motels
And of course, if all else fails a hotel or motel won’t be too far away. You can even ask a driver to drop you off along the way.
Check out these options for cheap hotels and motels in France.
Tips to Remember When Hitchhiking in France
- Pick a spot that’s easy for drivers to see you and to stop.
- Have a big clear sign.
- Try to be full of smiles!
- Know a bit of the language.
- Plan your routes before leaving.
- Pack some snacks to ward off the hanger.
- Dress appropriately (It’s better to overdress than underdress. You can always take off layers).
- Stay off autoroutes! It’s illegal to walk on autoroutes in France so it will be illegal to hitchhike!
To Wrap This Up
There’s no reason to fear a hitchhike in France. It’s quite common and a popular way to tour the country for backpackers.
Prefer renting a car instead of hitchhiking? Save some cash off your next local car rental here.