Traveling in France - My Personal Tips

Posted on 27. Apr, 2012 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, expat France, France, Travel Tips

After spending almost a year living in and gallivanting around France, I have come to learn a few things - some of them the hard way. Whether it’s when I had to fork over 30 euros for having the privilege to park in Paris, or when I was involved in a car accident, there are definitely things everyone should know before embarking on a pan-Hexagonal journey.

 

traveling in france

The French are very bad drivers

I tried to find a kinder, more gracious twist to this point but despite my best intentions there simply isn’t any other way to say it. French people are awful drivers, period! They’re impatient, unfocused, selfish, impolite (when driving, of course - I would never dare to imply that in a general manner…). The worst part is the criss-cross habit they all have - it seems like they physically cannot stay in the same lane for more than two full minutes. I wonder what would happen if I made them.

French roads are very different from North American ones

The basic speed rules are quite easy to comprehend: 110-130 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h on national roads, and 50 km/h within cities (with frequent 30 km/h zones). That’s the simple part.

But when it comes to other topics on driving in France, that’s a whole other story. The infamous yield to the right, the roads that are barely wide enough to fit one car let alone two, cars that park nose to nose on one-way streets, the lack of railings in precarious zones… all this definitely takes a while to get used to, when coming from the new continent!

Not all Google Maps itineraries are optimal

With France being one of the countries with the most expensive toll roads in Europe (70 euros to get to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand!), make sure you take a close look at your itinerary before leaving. More often than not, by opting for a slightly longer stretch on a national road instead of the motorway, you could save a little fortune in tolls. Maybe I’m rotten cheap, but I’d choose the extra hour drive to keep my euros - it’s all about the scenic route, right? The absolute best reference tool for your itineraries in France is undoubtedly Via Michelin - not quite as pretty than Google Maps, but much more efficient.

Etap Hotels are probably the best quality/value hotel chain in France

I’ve stayed in many different chains but I’ve favored the Etap Hotels lately. They’re cheap (around 45 euros for a double with private bathroom), they’re everywhere, and they’re modern. The only downside is that they’re usually located a bit out of the center and reachable by car only, but if you plan on going on an epic roadtrip, I strongly suggest these hotels if you are budget-strapped. You don’t get a whole lot for your 45 euros but hey - it’s still just 45 euros.

traveling in france

There’s no point in driving to/in Paris

With so many trains getting to the city in record time, and a metro station at every other corner, who actually needs a car in Paris? Having one is mostly an annoyance, and a costly one at that. Unless you like to frolic around and throw money our of your pockets (if this is the case, let me know where you’re at this weekend), you’re much better off getting to the capital by train and relying on public transportation to move around. And, let’s be honest here - no matter how thrilling the Arc de Triomphe roundabout sounds (because apparently for some people it is), no sane person would want to actually be sitting in a car there. On either side of said car.

Picnics are the way to go…

Despite the quaint charm of bistros and terraces, if you are budget-minded, taking every meal at the restaurant can be quite costly and could impact the quality of your trip. There are many ways to save money on food while on the road, and one of them is to pack a picnic. Find a grocery store, get a fresh baguette, cooked meats, smelly cheese, a bottle of rosé, and for less than 10 euros you have a quintessential French meal on the go. Killing two birds with one stone, really!

… and if you must go to a restaurant, ask for the Menu du jour

Pretty much every bistro or restaurant in France will have a daily menu for a set price, usually pretty cheap for the value. If often consists of a main dish, a small appetizer and a coffee for less than 10 euros. Your taste buds don’t get much of a choice, but if the suggested dish is to your liking, it’s a seriously good option to consider.

Total gas stations are the most expensive ones - always

That one I don’t really understand. Regardless of the location, I noticed that Total gas stations are always more expensive than others (BP, Casino, etc.) - and by several centimes. Keep that in mind when you need to fill up - it’s absolutely worth it to drive a few kilometers more and save a few euros to cheaper gas stations. If you can manage in French, this is an excellent website to plan your pit stops or see where is the next cheap gas station on your itinerary (and they have a mobile version, too!).

If you plan on traveling by train extensively, get a discount card

Probably the best thing that happened to French transportation since, well, ever. If you are eligible for one of them, you could save up to anywhere between 25% and 60% off your fare, every time you use it. They do cost a little bit of money, but it pays itself very quickly. I have saved hundreds of euros with my 12-25 youth card!

 

France is probably one of the most amazing countries I have been lucky enough to visit. I know very few places that could compete with it! And if your trip is planned the smart way, it could make it even better.

What are your tips for traveling in France? Do you prefer to drive, take the train or a mix of both? What are your favorite roadtrip destinations?

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21 Responses to “Traveling in France - My Personal Tips”

  1. Ele

    27. Apr, 2012

    You can buy a public transport day card instead of single tickets, so then you are free to take any transport you want. Also, do not sit down in a cafe in a touristy place, e.g. by Notre Dam cathedral because you will be paying for the view- it’s wonderful but expensive. Sleeping over in hostels can also save on accommodation costs as some have really good deals and include breakfast, free guided city tours, happy hour, etc.

    Reply to this comment
    • Alexandre

      02. May, 2012

      I have to agree with the “paying for the view”.

      If you really want to lay back at that coffee place with an awesome view on Eiffel Tower, limit your spending by ordering only a coffee, sit back and enjoy the view. However, refrain from having the full lunch there!

      Reply to this comment
      • Marie

        14. May, 2012

        Very good tip indeed - no need for a full meal when all you want is the picture and the experience ;)

        Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Hostels are always a great deal if you are into that kind of accommodation. However, I find myself a bit too cozy for it, nowadays :-P

      Reply to this comment
  2. Katherina

    27. Apr, 2012

    Haha I agree - driving to/in Paris is ridiculous! I did this one with a group of friends… it took such a long time to get into the city, driving around and finding a parking… we almost had no time to visit the city. Plus, roundabouts are crazy!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Laura

    29. Apr, 2012

    Great tips. We also used Etap Hotels all over France and found them great and they are usually in a great and accessible location. :)

    Reply to this comment
  4. Kirsten

    02. May, 2012

    These are *really* good tips!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Thanks Kirsten! Hopefully you’ll be able to put them to use in your next French odysseys!

      Reply to this comment
  5. Katrina

    02. May, 2012

    I’ve only been to Paris and Bordeaux, but I didn’t notice anything especially crazy about the driving. That’s probably because I was coming from Naples, Italy, though, and compared to Neapolitan driving, the French are masters of calm. ;)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      Haha I’ll give you that - if there are worst drivers than the French, it’s the Italians!

      Reply to this comment
  6. Alexa Meisler

    04. May, 2012

    70 euros for tolls? Wow. Thanks for sharing that it’s definitely gave me a heads up. Sorry about their driving as long as you didn’t get killed right?

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      14. May, 2012

      It came close to that more times than I can count, haha. The French will either be responsible for my car crash or my heart attack.

      Reply to this comment
  7. John

    04. May, 2012

    Really good advice in this post Marie. ViaMichelin gives you the cost of tolls and tells you where the speed cameras are!
    Etap are good, cheap in France and Germany, but I was disappointed in Switzerland as I thought they were overpriced there. Often have free WiFi as well. Find one on the outskirts of Paris near the RER and stay there.

    Which 3G service provider do you use in France? Costs?

    Reply to this comment
  8. Great tips! I havn’t travelled that much in France yet…. just only to Paris so far.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Karen

    10. Jun, 2012

    Hi Marie,

    Thanks for the tips. These are very useful. Do you know if there is a discount card that can be used throughout France for someone between 27 and 59? I’ve been here a year, expect to be here two more, and would like to reduce the cost of traveling inside France. I don’t have a car.. I’m using the trains, primarily. Thanks so much for any help you can give.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Rachel

    16. Jul, 2013

    Some great tips Marie. My parents have moved to Brittany and the journey down from Calais costs over €40 each way in autoroute tolls. I think next time we’re getting the ferry to St Malo for a more comfortable journey but I’ll definitely look into Via Michelin in the future.

    With regards to food the costs really can mount up if you’re not careful. I went to Paris in 2009 and couldn’t believe the prices. At the time the Pound and Euro were pretty much 1 to 1. I pretty much lived on croissants. Not exactly the healthiest option but certainly cheap! My parents actually introduced me to the workers’ lunch. In Brittany most workers get luncheon vouchers from their employer so all the local bars are full at lunchtime with blokes filling up on a €12 3 course lunch with wine and coffee! Take a look at my post about it for more info http://www.thehumbletourist.co.uk/2012/10/french-food-on-the-cheap.html
    :)

    Reply to this comment

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