Intense budget backpackers and broke runaways who desire to travel from England to France or vice versa, are in luck. Despite increased immigration procedures, it is still possible to hitchhike across the English channel and avoid the 30 pound foot passenger fare. However, as you can imagine, hitchhiking onto a car that is boarding an international ferry is a little bit trickier than regular domestic hitchhiking. Though it does require some new strategies and will take a bit longer to find a lift, when you’re riding high atop the ferry for free and with new friends, it is totally worth it.
While initially I was planning on hitchhiking out of London, given it’s wide circumference, I decided it would be a lot easier just to catch a budget bus. So, after a 3 hour ride on the National Express and 14 pounds later, I arrived in the Port city of Dover.
I asked one of the port employees, ” Do you know which road is for cars boarding the ferry?” Knowing that I was a backpacker she suspiciously asked, “Do you have a car?” To which I seamlessly responded, “No, but my friends do.” It wasn’t a total lie though. I did have friends with a car, I just hadn’t met them before. At least that’s how I justified it to myself.
After discovering the right road, I got right to it. I stuck my thumb out while smiling as unthreatening as possible. Some people laughed, others frowned, but most just ignored me. Hitchhiking is a lot like an audition, and the key is to not to take it personally.
After a few minutes, the port police arrived. “O shyzzer” I thought as I tried to keep cool. “Mate, you can’t be here,” said the officer, “but if you go outside the port, you can hitchhike there.” Relieved that I wasn’t being arrested and stunned at his helpful suggestion, I thanked him cordially.
After an hour at my new location, at the side of the road just before the port, I realized that this wasn’t going to work. “I need to be able to talk to people,” I thought. “They need to know that I am not trying to smuggle drug filled Cornish pasties or commandeer their cars but that I am just a regular backpacker.” So, despite the officer’s warning, I decided I would head to the car park at the ticket and travel information center. “If I am discreet and just talk to drivers as they walk in to get their tickets, it shouldn’t be a problem,” I thought.
It was there that I met Ivo, the coolest and most intense budget backpacker from all of Czech Republic. Like me, he hadn’t had any luck at the side of the road. So together, and for the rest of the day, we asked every driver walking in for tickets for a lift onto the ferry.
It soon became clear that there was another reason why drivers would not take us. That being, all car reservations must specify the number of passengers in advance. It was not to charge for additional people, because the car-fare is fixed at 40 pounds regardless, but more so to inform immigration.
Despite asking at least 40 people, the night ended without a single bite. Luckily, the port arrival terminal made a warm and quiet place to sleep, and none of the guards gave us any trouble.
After a solid nights rest, I awoke at around 7am to the sounds of a bus load of Romanians. I brushed my teeth and headed back out to the car park. With High hopes and a stomach full of my beef jerky breakfast, I got to it.
But Before I knew it, it was midday, and the rain and rejection was beginning to take a toll on my morale. “Man o man, maybe I should just see what money I can pull together and buy a ticket,” I contemplated. Then I turned to Ivo and said, “I will give it 2 more hours and then I’m gonna buy a ticket.” Though I didn’t realize at the time, I couldn’t have bought a ticket even if I had wanted to.
Just as I was ready to give in, the clouds dispersed, and Gods warm rays poured upon us. “The sun!” I exclaimed. Re-energized, I got on the offensive. I walked over to a young couple getting out of a range rover, and told them of my plight and ambitions.
At first, and to my delight, the Dutch couple agreed to take me. But after consulting with the ticket agent, who warned them that they would be responsible should I be trying to smuggle something into France, they decided not to. They did however give me 10 pounds to match my 20 pounds, in order to buy a ticket, to which I was extremely grateful.
Later, on board the ferry, I found the Dutch couple having a smoke on the top deck and I joined them. We talked for almost the entire hour and a half ferry ride. The guy, it turned out was originally from Nigeria and he told me of his struggle to get to Europe and of the people who helped him along the way. He was extremely wise and well traveled and it was a privilege to hear his stories.
When it was time to depart, he handed me another 20 pounds, but I refused to take it. He insisted though and ended up throwing the note on my chair while walking away.
Though hitching a ride took longer than usual, and I had to adopt a new strategy, I managed to make it across to France for free.
However, in the end, the great thing about hitchhiking is not the money you save, but the people you meet. So, if you’re on a tight budget, have the time and the patients, and have good social skills, hitchhiking from Dover to Calais is the way to go. For general hitchhiking tips, check out A Guide To Hitchhiking.
Let Me Know What You Think!
It is a lot easier to get the rides on the gas stations along the high-way before the port. I have hitchhiked both ways – Calais – Dover, had some trouble over there. But the other way was quite easy, got a lift from a gas station.
The Runaway Guide says
I think so too. When I did it from Calais to Dover, I waited near the gas station. I didn’t have to deal with any port security, so it was much easier and less stressful. From Dover to Calais, I tried waiting all along the road before the port but found that the parking lot was best as most people would actually stop there and I had a chance to talk to them.
I’ve been reading your blog and despite the drawbacks, it sounds like an amazing way to live. I would love to do something like that, but I still haven’t worked up the courage.
Sounds fun and stressful that mate, can’t beat it.
You’re spot on about the best part of doing all this, “it’s the people you meet” It’s unreal how many people are so forthcoming with help when you’re on the travels, I’ve had money handed to me for doing nothing other than what I’m enjoying, it’s quite amazing.
Unfortunately due to financial commitments back home here in England, I’m forced to mix travel with work, so whilst I do the extreme budget travelling, I also have to stick around long enough in a place to work to pay money back each month, makes things even harder but all the same in terms of the people you meet. Working in Switzerland despite the expense of the place was amazing. Just getting some money together and am off somewhere again.
Get on couchsurfing as well mate.
Good luck mate.
Leif, you’re amazing! Good luck and don’t forget to keep in touch! Wishing you the best~ <3
The Runaway Guide says
Thanks Steph, you too!