Here's some useful information about driving on French Autoroutes, including route planning and calculating the autoroute tolls.
If you're planning on driving any distance in France you'll need to tackle the Autoroute.
Unlike UK motorways the majority of Autoroutes in France are toll roads.
Autoroutes with tolls will be indicated with a blue sign with white letters and the word péage. This means ‘toll' and should be pronounced ‘pay-arje'.
When you enter the autoroute you take a ticket (press a button at the barrier). The ticket is used to track your distance. You then pay for that distance when you leave the autoroute. (Sometimes there are also toll booths when a section of autoroute finishes).
Many French drivers have an automatic system for paying called a Telepeage. You can get these in the UK (at a slight premium), but to be honest, most holiday makers won't need these.
Instead you can pay by cash or credit card (the easiest) at the toll booth.
As you approach the toll booth lanes will be open (green arrow) or closed (red cross). For paying by credit card find lane with the blue credit card picture.
If you see cars slowing and driving straight through they will be using a lane with an orange ‘T'. That lane is for vehicles with the automated Telepeage system.
Toll Costs & Route Planning
You should budget into your holiday the cost of the toll roads.
You can get a complete route plan and cost breakdown at autoroutes.fr.
The example below shows calculating a route from the port of Dieppe to Camping Les Fontaines in the French Alps.
In this example, when I ran the costs, the autoroute toll charges were 50 EUR for a car and 75 EUR for a car with a caravan.
The website also calculates fuel costs, and the map highlights hazards.
Of course, you could travel through France and avoid the tolls.
For some routes, this may make sense as an opportunity to take in the scenery. However, take into account the fuel cost, and you'll save money by taking the toll road if you are travelling any distance in France.
Avoiding the Traffic
France is less populated than the UK, and the autoroutes are generally quieter than most UK motorways. However, there are some areas to avoid.
Traffic around Paris will generally always be heavy.
If travelling to the South of France, you can avoid Paris by taking the A26 motorway via Reims if travelling from Calais.
The height of summer and traffic travelling to and from the South will also be busier, especially on Saturdays.
Rest Stops and Fuel
On the Autoroutes, the services alternate between full services with fuel and restaurants and just rest stops with some toilets.
Some toilets may not have toilet paper or decent hand wash facilities, so I recommend you take some loo roll and sanitiser gel.
And just like in the UK: fuel at motorway services will be expensive.
Use your Sat Nav and locate a supermarket petrol station. Most of these will have pumps that you can pay with a credit card directly at the pump... so you can practice speaking French at some other opportunity 😉
French Driving Law
France's law is different from the UK, and you need to become familiar with it and the speed limits.
There's also something that may come as a surprise: you now have to carry disposable breathalyser kits.
These aren't that expensive. You can find out about driving in Europe, speed limits, and things you might need here.