FRANCE: Hitchhiking Was Not As Scary As I Thought It Would Be

France, Hippy, Backpacking, Van
Hitchhiking to Seix in the back of a van.

The owner of your bed and breakfast has a spread of maps on his lap. “Transport around here is a bit shit, ” he says, leafing through an area guide. “You might want to try hitchhiking.”

“How long do you think that would take?” You ask tentatively.

“Not too long. We had a  guy hitchhike to St Girons and people do it all the time around here.”


He seems quite earnest. You decide to give it a go.

After half an hour, two of your friends pass you in the backseat of a jeep. Eventually (another hour having elapsed) a small black car pulls up.

“St Lizier?”

“St Girons?” He offers.

There’s a twenty minute walk between the two towns. You get in and spend the next fifteen minutes gripping the upholstery as he takes the tight looping roads of the Pyrenees at 100km/hr. French dubstep blasts from the car and the ‘breeze’ from the fully open window starts giving you wind burns.

You thank him breathlessly when he drops you off and helpfully points out the way to St Lizier.

France, Hippy, Backpacking, Van
Hitchhiking to Seix in the back of a house van. Just visible: the snake skin nailed to the wall.

The next trip you take is to Seix (pronounced ‘sex’), a beautiful little medieval town which was recommended by the driver who picked your friend up.

“So we’re going to get into a stranger’s car and ask for sex?” she clarifies.

Two of the drivers who picked you up spoke very good English and talked a little about themselves and the local area. Others spoke none at all and tried hard to decipher your garbled and accented French.

Surprisingly enough, vans were the most likely to stop. One  was equipped with a bed, a small suitcase stove, sink and chairs (including one constructed from bungee cord and an old clothes rack which slid across the floor at each turn); and the other was a work van with a floor covered in dust and plaster, and sitting in the back of it may have been a little bit illegal*.

Hitchhiking in the back of a work van
Hitchhiking in the back of a work van. I sometimes forget that I am not indestructible.

The Ariège region (in the very middle of the Pyrenees/south of France near Spain and Andorra) was a very gentle introduction to hitchhiking. Public transport options are expensive and limited, and the area is full of eco-minded individuals who are used to picking up extra passengers.

It’s fun so long as you give yourself plenty of time. Wait times will be longer elsewhere (think several hours), and it feels significantly more dangerous than getting on a train, but it’s cheap and you meet so many interesting people. Being mature, good-mannered and having a travel companion will reduce the risk- www.hitchwiki.org has plenty of information on all of this.

*Travelling in vehicles without wearing a seatbelt is a stupid and unnecessarily dangerous thing to do- accidents do happen and you are not invincible!

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11 comments

  1. I’ve yet to try hitch hiking yet- as a solo female I think I imagine the worst. I use couch-surfing a lot though and I’m sure that’s not much safer haha cheers to unusual travel!

  2. Rather eager to try this myself. I have a few friends who have gone cross-country in both Canada and America multiple times with no issues. I think it’s safer than people think.

    • I imagine statistically you’re more likely to die in a crash than get murdered by whoever picks you up (and no-one gets into a car thinking: I have a 1 in 240 chance of being killed do they?).

  3. aha i don’t drive like that but i know people who do so i totally understand. I don’t hitchhike though, i share a car with someone but it’s planned in advance so i don’t have to wait for someone to pick me up :p

  4. I’ve always wanted to try hitchhiking but I’d be scared to do it on my own! Ahhh French dubstep…reminds me of working a ski season in Les Arcs 🙂 Thanks for sharing! Bex

  5. The only time I ever hitchhiked (so far) was in Switzerland. It was fun! A couple of my friends have apparently played an all-day game to see who could hitch the farthest. The winner made it through four countries!

  6. […] We hitchhiked successfully  for the first time, explored the beautiful (and sleepy) medieval towns of Saint-Lizier and Seix, almost went kayaking (the owners disappeared down the river just as you arrived), swam in the bone chillingly cold river that flowed down the mountain and past the gite, ate a lot of cheese and sausage, did plenty of hiking, and stumbled across a festival with firecrackers and giant papier-mâché housewives in Toulouse. […]

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