Is there any other destination that’s as polarizing as a trip to France?
Talk to anyone who has visited the City of Light, and you’ll either get a glowing review or a scowling condemnation. But those in the latter camp may have left with a rosier view if they knew a few things beforehand.
So, my best advice to you is to arrive prepared. Know exactly what you should expect during your road trip to help avoid any unnecessary blunders.
What To Expect
Here are 6 tips to help you prepare for a road trip in Southern France.
1. Expect motorway tolls as you exit
In most areas of the states, we’ve gotten used to a simplified process where you don’t have to stop and pay tolls. You’ll simply get a bill in the mail for every checkpoint you pass.
Things operate a bit differently in France, especially for tourists.
On French tollways, you can expect to take a ticket when you enter the highway and stop to pay the toll when you exit. So be prepared with cash or the right credit cards to pay this fee.
You can pay with Euro or card, but don’t expect to pull out your Discover or Amex. It’s Visa or Mastercard here.
There is another option that’s more like what we’re used to in the states, and that’s called télépéage. Unfortunately, this option isn’t practical unless you’re a French resident. So if you see a sign that’s only marked with the télépéage sign, choose another lane.
2. Learn at least some French
Much like when you travel to any developed country, you’ll encounter many people who can speak fluent English.
But here’s the thing that stands out about the French.
Even though they can speak English, most people in France don’t like to. So if your French isn’t at least passable, you may have some trouble getting around. You may even find some people to respond rudely when you try to communicate with them in English. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but if you want the best chance for positive interactions, you should try to communicate in the native language. This is true for any trip abroad, but it’s especially true in France.
Try a language program like Rosetta Stone or Babbel.
Even if you don’t get it quite right, most people will appreciate your effort.
And at the very least, if you don’t know any other French words, say bonjour instead of hello. If it’s after 6 p.m., change that greeting to Bonsoir. This means “good evening.”
3. Know what to do in case of emergency
Naturally, you’re going to do everything in your power to avoid trouble on the road. You’ll get an oil change, check tire pressure, and even check your AC filter (on a summer trip).
But as we all know, things happen.
And if the worst happens to you, it’ll help to know exactly what to do.
If you have to make a stop along the motorway, pull over to safety, get out of the vehicle, and walk to the nearest emergency telephone. In France, you’ll find an emergency telephone every two kilometers.
After you call for assistance, wait for the tow truck. The driver will take you and your vehicle to a designated area where you can meet your service provider. Unlike in the states, you cannot call to have an auto repair shop send a tow truck.
4. Carry the right documents
Naturally, you will need a valid driver’s license on you at all times. You’ll also need proof of insurance. If you have a rental, the rental company should provide you with this proof. You’ll also need your passport and the vehicle registration document (V5C Certificate).
To recap, you’ll need:
- Valid driver’s license
- Proof of insurance
- Vehicle registration document (V5C Certificate)
5. Don’t leave valuables in your rental
Even if you think you’re making pitstops in a safe area, never leave valuables in your rental. This may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to forget when you’re on vacation.
Get into the habit of locking any valuables in the trunk and out of sight. If you must keep something in the car’s interior cabin, make sure it’s nestled under the seat and out of sight.
There’s almost nothing worse than dealing with auto or personal property theft on vacation. And in this case, it’s not just the car or private property. Now, you have to deal with the car rental company on claims. There goes all the fun you had planned for this trip.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
6. Learn French culture
If you visit France without first learning the culture, you’ll probably have a terrible time and leave thinking everyone is rude. We’ve all known someone who had this experience. Don’t let it be you.
In reality, it’s not that the French are rude. In most cases like this, tourists haven’t taken the time to learn French culture.
Etiquette is extremely important in French culture, especially when dining. When you sit down to eat, immediately place your napkin on your lap and your hands on the table (elbows off).
And this is worth covering again: Always start every conversation with, “Bonjour” – Unless it’s after 6 p.m. In that case, it’s “Bonsoir” (not Bon nuit).
If you’re invited to someone’s home, bring a gift, like a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers. And when you sit down to eat, wait until your host says, “Bon appetit!” It may seem silly, but you run the risk of appearing rude if you don’t follow these rules. The French are known for being very particular about their customs, so try to follow them.
Are you excited about your Southern France road trip yet? You should be! Now that you know all the dos and don’ts, all that’s left is to enjoy yourself and make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.