Tips for Driving in France, Episode 138

Tips for Driving in France


Tips for driving in France, Dawn at the wheel

On today’s show Annie and guests share tips for driving in France. You’ll hear from Stephanie and Dawn from Canada who drove between Bordeaux and Paris and my friend Jeff who drove around Provence and the south-west. All of us together share great tips for driving in France. If you are considering driving yourself in France, also listen to Episode 16 of the podcast which explains more of the rules and the gotchas. Both of those episodes should have you well-prepared for driving in France.

There are times when driving is so much easier than taking the train or even the bus. For instance, if you want to visit Loire Castles, well, you will either have to join a tour or rent a car because all of those castles aren’t exactly in the middle of a city with a train station. Same with Normandy. A lot of the highlights are in the country far from public transportation. If you want to explore the south-west where I am, it’s so much easier with a car!  I am not saying that it’s impossible to visit those areas without out car, but it’s quite difficult. So yes, if you’re a do-it-yourself traveler, you need to become familiar with these tips for driving in France, so keep listening!

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.
 Episode Highlights
  • [4’00”] Areas of France that are hard to visit without a car
  • [5’35”] French tip of the week at the end of the episode today
  • [5’45”] Consider joining the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook where you can also ask your own questions
  • [7’05”] Start of conversation with Stephanie and Dawn
  • [8’00”] Stephanie was against driving because she’s “risk averse”
  • [8’30”] Dawn found driving in France very navigable, roundabouts make it easier
  • [9’00] Gotcha: if you miss your exit on the freeway in France, you may need to keep driving for a long time before you get to another exit
  • [11’00”] Use either a GPS App or get a stand-alone GPS
  • [12’00”] Don’t forget to edit the settings on your GPS
  • [13’20”] Should you get an international driver’s license?
  • [15’30] Don’t bring too much luggage or it won’t fit in the car!
  • [17’00”] Having a car brings freedom
  • [18’40”] Waze, Google Maps, and Maps work well in France
  • [19’45”] Apps and GPS Make It Possible to Anticipate
  • [21’15] Start conversation with Jeff
  • [22’39”] What if you want to take day-trips from Paris?
  • [23’00”] What out for the speed limit!
  • [25’50”] Roundabouts Behavior
  • [26’50”] Is driving in France stressful?
  • [27’40”] What about paying for tolls?

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Tips for driving in France

Areas of France that Are Hard to Visit without a Car

If you’re going to stay in Paris, do not rent a car, you won’t need it, and parking it will quickly become expensive. But if you want to visit the Loire Valley for instance, you can either do it with a tour or with a rental car because most of those castles are not in the middle of a city with a train station. The same goes with Normandy. A lot of the highlights are in the countryside and you either need to join a tour or rent a car. This is also true in the south-west of France, Burgundy, and other places in France.

If you want to be a do-it-yourself traveler, you need to become aware of the ins and outs of driving in France. It’s not rocket science, but it helps to be warned about details that often surprise folks who’ve never driven in France.

Use a GPS App or Get a Stand-Alone GPS

One of the best tips for driving in France is to bring either a GPS or use a driving App (such as Waze or Maps or whatever you are used to)–will only work if you get a data plan in France and if you have good reception! Or get a stand-alone GPS such as a Garmin or Tom-Tom. In that case, make sure to load the appropriate maps before you come to France.

Dawn used a Garmin Nuvi but reminds us that it’s important to edit the settings when going to a different country because you don’t necessarily want to visit every town center along the way. You  also need to change the time and the miles to kilometers setting.

International Driver’s License

You don’t absolutely need an international driver’s license, but it won’t hurt if you have it. Police officers in France will make sense of your license. If you are staying in France for a long time, it’s probably a good idea to get the international driver’s license.

French Cars are Tiny, Don’t Bring Too Much Luggage

Pack light because French cars are tiny. If you have 4 people as they did, you need to travel with your carry-on and that’s it. Even if you can afford a bigger car, how will you park it on tiny French roads? You also don’t want to leave anything in plain view in the car. Pack light!

Having a Car Means a Lot of Freedoms

When you rent a car, you suddenly get a lot of new freedoms. You are not tied to a train or bus schedule, you can adjust your hours to your needs, it’s a lot more pleasant that way.

Apps and GPS Make It Possible to Anticipate When Driving

Driving Apps and GPS make it possible to anticipate what’s coming when driving even when you have never been to that country. That’s worth a lot and will bring you some significant level of safety people didn’t have when they drove with paper maps.

What If You Want to Take Day Trips From Paris?

If you are thinking of renting a car in Paris because you want to take a day-trip outside of Paris, do yourself a favor and only rent for that one day and turn the car in at the end of the day. You do not want to mess with parking in Paris.

Mind the Speed Limit!

In California you can drive 10 over the speed limit and never get a ticket. Not so in France. You have to drive the speed limit and not go over. There are speed cameras in a lot of places. Some of them are announced by a sign, but more and more they are not because the law changed.

What About the Roundabouts?

There are few roundabouts where Jeff lives, so he thought he was supposed to stay to the right until he was ready to pull out. French drivers expect a different behavior. If you stay to the right, they assume you’ll take another exit. Car body language is different in France. Observe what other drivers are doing and try to imitate them.

It Driving in France Stressful?

Driving is mostly not stressful in France, but at the end of a long day of visiting it can be a little challenging to get in the car and drive back to the hotel for an hour or two because you have to be on the look-out for road behaviors that are slightly different. But this would be true if you drove in a different state in an unknown place. It is more taxing to drive places that are unfamiliar.

What Was It Like Paying for Tolls?

Automatic teller machines will not necessarily take US credit cards, you can go to lanes where you can feed the coins into the machine. For details on how to get around the toll problem, see Episode 99.

Conclusion

When driving in France, the biggest gotcha is the speed limit. There are lots of automatic radars in France and you cannot go 5 or 10 over the speed limit. So, if you don’t have a lead foot, you should be OK. The car rental company will forward the ticket to you BTW, don’t think just because you’re not home they won’t find you. Don’t let your fears stop you and get a car in France if you want to visit places that are hard to get to without a car.

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