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Trip Report - France - Driving in France

We just returned from a 12-day trip from France.  Leading up to it I peppered this forum with many questions.  The responses were always insightful, thoughtful and generous.  We greatly benefited from it. This trip report is paying it forward — my thanks.  Here you will find our impressions, our opinions. Hope you find them of use during your trip.  The observations below are from an American’s viewpoint)

This is one part of a multi-part trip report. See intro for the other sections

Driving in France

  • Stick shift (manual transmission) is the norm.  If that is not your cup of tea be sure you specify that when you make your reservation

  • City streets in France — and Europe in general — are narrower than in the US.  Be careful before renting a large vehicle (if you can find one).  Parking it on the streets or parking decks will be a challenge

  • When parking in a deck take time to understand how you pay.  Many places suggest taking the parking ticket with you and paying at a kiosk in the parking deck.  Then you just use the payment receipt on your way out of the deck. I found this to be a little less stressful especially when the payment machine only “speaks” French.  It’s easier to take your time to figure out what its complaining about when you don’t have cars piling up behind you!

  • Call the hotel(s) you will be staying at ahead of time and find out their nearest parking location. 

  • I have found that looking at street view in Google Maps of places I plan to be helpful.  When I actually get there I recognize the place rather it being all new.

  • Before you get to France — and especially if this is your first time driving in Europe — take some time to familiarize yourself with their common street signs and road markings.  There are countless websites explaining it.  Despite having driven in Spain, I found the one at the talking suitcase very helpful.

  • When you pull off at a highway-side gas station, the right lane will take you to truckers’ pumps.  You will want to take the left lane! Got burnt by this one twice

  • Not all gas stations will accept your credit card.  Haven’t figured out the indicators.  Maybe someone else on this forum can chime in.

  • Avoid driving in Paris unless you must.  As organized as things are outside of Paris and on the highways, Paris is not.  Drivers are aggressive, in some places lanes are non-existent (ya, I’m looking at you - the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe)

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