The Six Best & Cheapest Ways to Travel in France

You like sticking to a schedule? Always being on time? Me too. But that's not what this post is about. In fact, you can't really do that when you’re committed to traveling on a budget...So unless you want to learn some Chowgypsy travel secrets, this post isn't for you.

OK, so who’s left?

I see you, there, standing all alone. Don’t cry, this is a good thing. It’s fun setting your sights somewhere and just letting the wind take you there however it pleases; Peter Pan was right! I’m not sure what he said about anything I’m talking about, but I think something about believing in something and then it comes true…shit, was that Cinderella? Whatever.

So here are some tools to guide you on your way:

1.    Hitchhiking/Auto-stop (as it’s called in France)
This option usually worked greatfor John and me, even as we were carrying backpacks the size of obese children on our backs. Just grab some cardboard and a big marker and write “[destination] S.V.P.” (which means s’il vous plait/please), then hold that baby, stick out your thumb, and start smilin’ (really, try not to look like a creep).
autostop france
Get out there early!
auto stop france
Destination + S.V.P. (s'il vous plait)

Hitchhiking is legal in France, but stay away from roads with high-speed traffic or the cops might ask you to move. Traffic round-abouts and on/off ramps are nice spots to wait. Bring some food and weather the storm, someone is bound to pick you up eventually. If you're trying to cover a lot of ground, consider making a couple signs for towns that would be good connecting points along the way. If on the off-chance you get totally rejected, have a backup sign that simply says “Gare” and someone will presumably be kind enough to take you to the nearest bus/train station.

2.    Covoiturage (carpooling)
Such a beautiful idea. We typically used this to get around as it was super cheap and more definitive than hitchhiking. Just type in your desired cities, and voilà! If there are no results, it’s a good idea to search for routes that would travel through your city. For example, if I’m in a small town and I want to go to Paris, I would search for a route to that begins in a larger town, but passes through my town to get to Paris. You can also set your search radius to an area 20-50km near your destinations so that you can hitchhike or take a bus to a place through which the driver’s route passes (it’s extra effort, but the lower overall price is usually worth it). I used google translate in order to send most of the requests in French, but typically it turned out that the driver spoke English, so we could go from there.
goat france
Carpooling with goats is a much more dubious method
We also had success with this Carpooling site (make sure it’s the uk address). Karzoo looked promising as well.

3.    Eurolines
It ain’t high-class, but it will get you from A to B with little suffering. Sometimes it’s dreadfully late, and sometimes the driver is so set on making a deadline he won’t even want to stop to let people use the restroom (but fight, I say!) Always check, because sometimes last-minute fares from this company are even cheaper than those you find with carpooling! Just keep an eye on that driver if he looks tired… :/

4.    Talk to people
This seems like a no-brainer, but never underestimate the power of letting others know about your travel plans (unless said “others” happen to be stalkers and/or house robbers); you never know the way fates will align. When  John and I were leaving Missillac, we had to be in Nantes—an hour away—by 7am one morning to catch a bus, but we couldn’t find a way to get there that early, nor a place to stay if we hitchhiked there the day before. We mentioned this to a friend and it just so happened that her mother was heading to Nantes at 5am on the morning we had to get there!
old covnertible
Sometimes this might happen when you make friends...
5.    When you’re in a city with a subway/metro/bus…take it.
That’s a no-brainer. If you’re going to be there for a few days, buy a package option for tickets, think long-term savings. If you’re in Paris, SNCF has a great route planning option for the subway. If in Lyon, use this site, and if in the Bretagne/Finistere area, this one.

If there’s no metro, consider the bus. Although this can be intimidating (and hot…and/or smelly), it’s not as bad as those colorful lines on a route map make it seem. When in doubt, always say the name of your destination to the bus driver so he can give the yes or no.

6.    Don’t rent a car
The expensive tolls outweigh the cost benefits a car rental might have, so to avoid this you must have a top-notch navigation system and be completely comfortable driving on curvy back roads. Unless, that is, you’ll be driving in the Brittany/Bretagne region, where they’ve masterfully made it so all roads are toll-free (a decision made in the 60s to open up tourism in the area).

If you’re committed to car rental, this site has a pretty extensive coverage of what you need to know, and some links on routes to avoid tolls. I strongly suggest renting a GPS navigator with the car. Nearly every French person has one because, well, they’re super handy.

To calculate tolls before heading out, visit one of the following:
Autoroutes (in French)
Mappy (in French)
french children
Riding in cars with kids, another great alternative
And always remember: things happen when you’re a friendly, open person. Sometimes the best way to travel on a dime is just by making friends. A woman we hardly knew drove us an hour to our next destination simply because she was absurdly nice. Said angel also took it upon herself to give us a tour of the Brittany region. No carpool/hitchhike/subway is gonna do that. And I guess it’s just because she liked us…::contented sigh::

If you do end up deciding on that train, SNCF is usually the most cost-effective. And you’ll even make that deadline.

Happy trails, you money-saver, you!

So, what did I forget--How do you like to save money while traveling??

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