In the UK you’re not likely to come across a toll road on your average cross country drive. The M6 is the only notable motorway toll in the UK. Even this is avoidable by taking the slightly longer standard M6. The others are either tunnel or bridge crossings that are few and far between.
This being the case, I was well and truly caught out when travelling across France. The majority of artery auto routes in France carry a toll charge and they aren’t cheap. Travelling from Metz to Tours cost me €54 in toll charges. Add this to the extortionate mark up on French motorway fuel and you’re looking at an expensive journey.
Why not avoid the toll roads? You could do that but I wouldn’t recommend it. To start with the routes are often longer in time and effort. If you’re not in a hurry, by all means take the single lane route to where you’re going. Be warned these roads are a lot of effort, roundabouts every mile or so, 50kph towns (Some are even 30kph with mountainous speed bumps) and constant traffic. Secondly given these constrains you’re going to use a lot more fuel in the process. Constant stopping and starting is a killer of fuel economy. Given most of you are not travelling around Europe in a 1.2l Renault Clio you’re probably looking to save fuel where you can. I tried it for around 100 miles before I gave it up as a bad idea then headed for the nearest motorway.
The best thing you can do is plan your trip for a balance of time and economy. The Via Michelin route planner is a great resource. It provides the cost of the toll roads plus an estimation of fuel costs for your selected route. I wouldn’t recommend using the Avoid Toll option in Google Maps; it makes some strange road choices.
Another issue to note is the payment method. The majority of toll machines take debit and credit cards but they can have issues with foreign debit cards. Don’t make the same mistake that I did. Trying to use my German and English debit cards it spat them back at me and refused to take payment. I had no cash and my English credit card was buried deep in my gear. As the cars mounted up behind me I was forced to use the call button and shout each number of my English debit card down the intercom to a girl that spoke very little English. Beginners’ mistake I know, I now carry enough cash for tolls and fuel hidden in the car.
As in most places the fuel on French motorways in extortionate. I’ve seen diesel prices be upwards of 30% more. I make sure to fill up both of my jerry cans with cheap supermarket diesel before I set off… it’s alright stuff after sieving out the twigs and gravel.
As always there is an upside to the Auto routes. The road themselves are great, smooth surfaces, few road works or traffic jams. The rest areas are also exceptional, well kept, toilets are super clean and there are grassy areas reserved for campers. You get what you pay for I suppose.