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Luggage Transfer Correos

From one first-timer to another

Camino Badges

Cormac Quinn

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2016)
Camino Finisterre (2016)
Camino Muxia (2016)
Camino Portugues (2016)
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
 
Camino(s) past & future
(2017)
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. I didn't walk as far as you, but I totally agree with you on your observations and recommendations. Your post will serve well as 'recommended reading' for new pilgrims.
Thank you for sharing!
 
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Camino(s) past & future
(2009): Camino Frances
(2011): Sevilla-Salamanca, VdlP
(2012): Salamanca-SdC, VdlP
(2014): SJpdP-Astorga
(2015): Astorga-SdC
(2016) May Pamplona-Moratinos; Sept.:Burgos-SdC
(2016): August/Sept: Camino San Olav (Burgos-Covarubbias), Burgos-Sarria
(2017): May: Portuguese; Sept: Pamplona-SdC
...I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back...
You have noticed the motto of this forum? "Where past pilgrims share and future pilgrims learn". You have done exactly that.

Your generous post should be put up as sticky somewhere in here for newbies.

I did my first Camino at age 55 (too late, but better late than never). I am very happy on your behalf that you did your Camino at a young age: It has obviously given you a headstart regarding what is important in life, and how easy it can be. I wish more young people did the same as you have, because I believe that it can transform their perspective on life, what is important, and thereby set a different course for the rest of their lives, preferably getting out of the conformity.

I salute you. I set out on a new CF in a few weeks (3 or so), and I am sure, someday not too distant you will too.;)

Buen Camino & life!
 

Bala

Veteran member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
Beautifully said. I am a 65-year-old woman, you are a 19-year-old guy, but your words and experiences speak across the decades. Thank you for your insights. They are enriching. May you have many more years of thoughtful journeys through life.
 

Mark T17

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Kumano Kodo 2012
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
Great Work Cormac, I'm counting down, 4 weeks to go and your post was so inspiring ! Its amazing how taking away the TV, social media, distractions of everyday life and simply talking to people face to face can be so enjoyable !
 

Mike Savage

So many friends to meet . . . so little time
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Francés,Inglés
Muxia/Finisterre
Português Coastal
Português Central
Sanabrés
Well done Cormac. I wish I would have done this at your age. I salute you. Wonderful job on your write up and I'm sure it will be very helpful to many people.
 

Greig

Queuejumper
Camino(s) past & future
CF 25th Aug to 25th Sept( 2017 )
Hello Cormac,
Great story. It has really lifted me as my little niggly doubts roll around in my head. I start from St Jean on the 25th. If i capture half the essence of your experience i will be more than happy.
Regards,
Greig
.
 

CaminoDebrita

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances SJPP to SdC Oct/Nov 2015
Frances Burgos toSdC March/April 2016
W. Highland Way August 2016
Camino Somewhere September 2017
It sounds to me like you are going to have a life full of adventures, but you also have a good head on your shoulders and know how to observe and communicate.

I anticipate that you will be a pilgrim for life!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Plan to walk The French route starting September 9, 2017
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
A beautiful written and very informative article. Many thanks for sharing your insights. My husband and I start walking on Sept. 10 so your suggestions game just in time. Hoping you have many more Buen Caminos
 
Camino(s) past & future
(2009): Camino Frances
(2011): Sevilla-Salamanca, VdlP
(2012): Salamanca-SdC, VdlP
(2014): SJpdP-Astorga
(2015): Astorga-SdC
(2016) May Pamplona-Moratinos; Sept.:Burgos-SdC
(2016): August/Sept: Camino San Olav (Burgos-Covarubbias), Burgos-Sarria
(2017): May: Portuguese; Sept: Pamplona-SdC
Great wisdom on young shoulders. Gives me hope for our future. May you walk many more Ways!
An old Roman, Marcus Tellius Cicero, 2000 years ago, said: "As I approve of a youth that has something of the old man in him, so I am no less pleased with an old man that has something of the youth. He that follows this rule may be old in body, but can never be so in mind."

Would like to walk and talk with you one day, @Cormac Quinn.

http://www.ranker.com/list/a-list-of-famous-cicero-quotes/reference
 
Last edited:

Pamea

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Sept 2017
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
Thank you so much. I leave in less than 3 weeks! It seems surreal! You are beyond your years to do this at 19. I am just beyond in years! I am walking every step of the way to Santiago! And your thoughts will help the travel jitters I'm sure! Here's to the adventure of choosing to get out there and live life!
 

Jimmy dublin

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Only planning my first one
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
Your comprehensive list of your experience has given me more hope to do it,, my first camino at 63,,,,
 

MadonnaF

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
September (2017)
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
Thank you for posting your experience, I enjoyed reading about your pilgrimage! you put my mind at ease, I was feeling a little nervous about my first Camino, I leave Canada August 31 and depart St. Jean September 4!!!!! I'm truly looking forward to this live changing adventure.
 

Banjo&Matilda

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances October 2018
what an inspiring write-up, thank you for sharing. I like that you shared your opinions and experiences without belittling anybody else's journey or life choices. i only hope I can come out of my first Camino in 2018 with such wisdom.
 

Juspassinthrough

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, May-June (2017)
Ingles, June (2019
Leon-Sarria, June (2019)
Le Puy-Santiago (2023)
Well said. I'm only 90 days off my Camino and I miss it and look forward to my next opportunity to walk. I hope many others read your post and take it to heart. Buen Camino Cormac.
 

Jomas

Member
Camino(s) past & future
C.F. april-may 2018
C.F. or Primitivo in september 2019
thanks for this infinite reportage. I liked it
ciao
 

bsnyder105

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances June/July 2018
I just read this today, and I SO appreciate your insight at such a young age. My husband and I are doing our first Camino in June 2018 at the ages of 56 and 58. Your words give us comfort that it will be fine plus, it makes us excited to walk our own walk and make our own memories. Buen Camino, Cormac!
 

Robi

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances May/June 2018
Shoes and socks are most important. The socks must be of good quality so that the feet are always dry. I didn't get any blister because I had good shoes and socks. It is advisable that they are made of synthetic materials to be quickly dried. My shirts, pants, underpants and towels were also made of synthetic material so that my skin would be dry and that it would quickly dry out after washing. Also all the equipment was very light so I could have four pieces of each type except the pants and still keep the weight of the backpacks below nine kilograms. I had one vest made of fleece and a very good windbraker. I had spare lightweight shoes for the afternoon and in case I got a blister. The backpack should not be cheap, should have well-padded belts and you should be able to adjust it to handle most of the load on the hips.
 

blisschick

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2019)
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
Thank you! What a great overview of the spirit of the Camino!
 

ackab

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Plan to walk on june 2019
Thank you Cormac, an informative and pleasant read
 

John mc glinchey

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Planing to the camino in july
As I approach the one year anniversary of my journey along the Camino, I find my mind drifting back to the crunching of the rocky sand path under my shoes; the repetitive, meditative beat of a boy trekking across the emptiness of the Spanish plains. A boy who never expected to do embark on such an expedition, who never expected to meet a variety of wonderful strangers; the same boy that by the end, was trying to think of ways to delay his flight back home so he could keep walking.

I did the Camino for my first time in the summer of 2016. I used this forum to gather information about preparing for the Camino, now I feel a need to give something back. The hope is that this is the most comprehensive explanation of what you’ll need and what to expect on the Camino. It is quite lengthy, so I put headings at the start of sections for looking up specifics. From one first-timer to another, buen Camino.

For context, I was a 19-year-old boy, not necessarily sporty but in good stock. I was born in Ireland but lived in the United States, that summer I was lucky enough to spend it living with my uncle in Cambridge. I had a room, a job, and a three-year-old cousin to keep me occupied. It felt as if I’d left my life in America and started a new, slightly more boring, life in England. I could’ve sworn that’s how life always was. I’d go to work, make myself dinner, and pay my bills; the life we all tend to lead at one point or another. This feeling of the mundane, the simple existence without the spark of living life, could be tolerated no longer. I was on my summer holiday goddammit. I wanted to do something worth talking about, I wanted to do something different because at least then, I’d have something to compare my current life against; the Camino did not disappoint. I would walk the Camino de Frances, the Camino Muxia, the Camino Finnisterre, and part of the Camino Portuguese over the course of 33 days, covering 1150km, or 715 miles. This is an important note, as many of you won’t embark on such a long journey, or will take a different route that has vastly different terrain. I can only make this as comprehensive as I experienced, hopefully I can update this in the years to come with information on different routes.

Equipment

Everything you bring with you will become part of your life while on the Camino, each sock will seem so precious and every pound will seem so cumbersome. Being geared out the latest lightweight gear will likely make the journey easier, but this is not necessary. Most of what I brought I already owned, or could find at a secondhand shop. Since I am young and chipper, I’m well aware that many pilgrims have seen a few more years than I, so I will also provide insight and opinion on other pilgrim’s techniques.

Shoes are important to say the least. Most pilgrims are already walking by 6am and generally stop around 1-2pm, before the afternoon heat takes over. Shoes need to be comfortable, worn-in through previous use, and have a bit of strength. There are two main options when deciding on shoes: hiking boots and tennis shoes. I chose the latter for their flexibility, comfort, and ventilation. The flexibility helped tremendously, walking all day every day for many days will wear away at your feet; allowing the foot to contort as necessary is vitally important. The soles of my shoes were around an inch thick broken into hexagonal pieces, this allowed it to bend easily but had the unfortunate side effect of stones getting stuck in between the hexagons. A worthwhile trade-off in my mind. I bought an additional gel insole to reduce the impact of my steps; which, in combination with the ventilation of the shoes kept them from becoming too stinky. The hiking boots had the advantage over the rocky parts, those who have worries about their ankles should consider boots for the ankle support tennis shoes don’t offer. The Camino is generally smoothed through thousands of years of pilgrims, but the mountainous areas can remain jagged. My shoes survived the journey, and for months afterwards it shed dust every time I tied the laces.

While shoes are deathly important, keeping your feet in good condition is the most important. Horror stories resonate through the pilgrim population of blisters of varying sizes and severity, crippling their enjoyment and the progression of their journey, sometimes permanently. Each pilgrim has their own technique to avoid them with varying degrees of success, yet each one claiming theirs is the “right way;” I am no different. Blisters are formed by constant friction and are aided by moisture, so any method to reduce your feet slipping in your shoes and keeping them dry will help. I used liner socks, these are designed with a double sock layer that wicks moisture away. Additionally, I wore my normal socks over the liner socks because that’s how my basketball buddies combatted blisters on the court. Despite these precautions, on the third day I had a few nickel sized blisters developing. Luckily, the pharmacists are very intelligent and used to pilgrims. They recommended talc powder to dry my feet every morning, and athletic tape to create a barrier between my toes that rubbed together. I have discovered I’m not alone in having a pinky toe that curls under my ring toe, spots like these are of grave concern when avoiding blisters. Making this a part of my morning routine for the remaining month of walking, I never developed another blister.

The iconic figure of the pilgrim has a long cloak, big hat, and carries a wooden stick. We’ve advanced technologically since then to have adjustable metal poles for hiking, but I opted for none of the above. I imagine this has partly to do with my youth and exuberance, but having free hands helps with the natural function of walking: swinging your arms provides a counter-torque to the legs that centers the body as it walks. There were times I wished I had poles due to the constantly changing gradient of the path. Poles help propel you up or lessen the blow going down, which there is a lot of, aiding the ankles and knees. There were moments when my knees would ache with every step going down a hill, and the only solution I found without poles was walking downhill backwards; which has its own plethora of problems. I thought poles were overly cumbersome, I saw many pilgrims using them on flat terrain for no other reason than they didn’t think to put them away. Wooden sticks are available in many towns for purchase, providing a more authentic aesthetic for the pilgrim looking for a great Instagram picture.

The clothes you carry will be the only options you get to be fashionable in front of the other pilgrims; luckily, there’s absolutely no need for fashion. I brought two outfits: one for walking, and one for the evenings. Each was a simple t-shirt and shorts combination to remain lightweight and breezy; anything else is overkill. I brought pants leftover from journeying through France, and only wore them once because of the sea breeze. My walking clothes were an athletic shirt and shorts; they were comfortable and provided good ventilation. Walking clothes should be chosen carefully, as you will end up living in these clothes for most of your trip. The evening wear should be something light with sandals, something to wear while you wash your walking clothes. Some swim trunks are an option for the occasional swim, but I found myself too tired to do much of that. Some pilgrims brought a nicer set of clothes to enjoy themselves in Santiago at the conclusion their journey, a way to celebrate their accomplishment and reintegrate into real-life. But, at the end of each day, pilgrims are hot and sweaty, tired from a day of walking, and will give no notice if you class things up a bit.

Most toiletries are provided by hostels, so they are not of grave concern. It is wise to carry some toilet paper in case of a mid-walk emergency, or for the occasional hostel that has run out of it. The soap you carry should be multi-purpose so it can wash your clothes and yourself, hostels won’t even have soap at sinks for washing your hands. Some band-aids and antibiotics are never a bad idea, I never got injured but it’s good to keep the blister covered after you’ve popped it to avoid infection. Sunscreen is a must have, and despite the intensity of the sun I was able to retain my fair Irish skin amidst the endless hours of trekking through the scorching heat.

Your backpack is the closest thing you’ll have to a home during your journey. It is the bridge between the comforts of modern life and the pains of walking with added weight. I brought a 30-liter bag with one compartment so that I could arrange the items inside however I wanted. I kept most things in a big garbage bag lining my bag in case I got wet, but the only water that threatened to soak my stuff was my own partially opened water bottle. Chest straps are very helpful in distributing the weight from your shoulders; my bag had two, a large lower strap and a smaller higher one which broke twice on the way. The best bags distribute the weight onto your hips and should become an additional appendage that doesn’t swing around every time you turn. They say the bag should only be about 10% of your body weight, and the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port had a weighing station; but in the pursuit of bliss I let ignorance prevail, hoping not knowing would help it feel less heavy.

Sleeping

Sleeping is incredibly enjoyable after a day of walking through the hot Spanish sun, but it can be difficult. Ear plugs are a must have along the Camino, the roar of the snore of one hundred pilgrims in the same room makes falling asleep a challenge. I struggled most nights to get a full night of good sleep, which I compensated for by taking a siesta after arriving at a hostel. If you opt to avoid the hostel by bringing a tent, there are designated camp sites to set up, but how you find a map of them is beyond me. In the more rural areas, hostels may let you pitch a tent in their backyard for a reduced price, sometimes permitting you to use their facilities. The one night I slept in a tent was at a donativo at the base of a mountain, and I never slept so good through the whole trip. But be warned, that’s more weight to carry.

Siestas are an easy way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture, and it’s usually best to trust the locals. The afternoon heat is dominating, walking through it should be considered with caution; so, most pilgrims arrive at a hostel around 1-2pm and nap through the worst of it. You’ll be tired after waking up early to walk all morning, but it can take a few days for your body to get into the new rhythm.

Money

If you’re like me, most of the payments we make day to day are on our credit or debit card. You’re going to have to shake that habit in Spain. Most places won’t accept any card payments, so cash is king. Withdrawing a couple hundred euros every few days is the recommended method since ATMs are few and far between. You’re good for a few days before needing to withdraw more, giving you some wiggle room for the unpredictability of ATM presence. This isn’t the costliest experience; I was able to walk the Camino for a month for $1000 US dollars. Hostels cost between 3-15€, fluctuating depending on the location. Food can be extremely cheap if you pack a lunch; I had a chorizo and cheese sandwich for breakfast and lunch for weeks, ending my night with a generous portion of pasta. Hostels often provide kitchens to prepare meals, some will even provide a meal as part of the room cost.

Navigation

I came to Spain without a map, a compass, or a travel guide. I saw a commercial company’s itinerary, giving me an idea of which towns I could stay at if I went the suggested distance of around 20km a day. Fortunately, the pilgrim’s office in Saint Jean Pied de Port provided a list of towns with hostels along the Camino Frances and the distances between them. Even better, it gave a list of the hostels in the town with a few detail like: the amount of beds, if they have an ATM, and if they serve a dinner. Other than that list, I simply followed the yellow arrows to the next town. You will pass through a few towns that don’t have hostels, so don’t assume just because there is a town there’s a place for a pilgrim. There are murals or the occasional sign post that tell how many kilometers until Santiago, they aren’t always accurate but provide an idea of how far you’ve got to go.

In general, the bigger the town, the easier it is to get lost. The yellow arrows can get lost amidst the signs for businesses, while the general bustle of a metropolitan area can overwhelm the senses. The biggest culprit are yellow arrows promoting a business related to the Camino, either a hostel or restaurant, and the occasional historical site off the main path. The security around the Camino has been buffed in recent years by the Spanish government, so there’s a smaller risk of arrows leading you to peril, but staying diligent is important.

I put my complete faith in these arrows, they will lead you to Santiago, guaranteed. Sticking to the arrows can be confusing at times, but this basic rule of thumb will help you avoid any extra walking than you already are doing: if you haven’t seen an arrow in an hour, you’re probably going the wrong way. At any intersection where there’s the possibility of going down multiple paths, there will be an arrow to indicate the correct route. Sometimes the signs aren’t immediate, and requires a few steps down the path before they appear. Other times, the bollard has been covered by vegetation making it difficult to immediately see. If you’re ever in doubt, ask someone around you. Locals of small towns are used to pilgrims asking, in the bigger cities they’re less predisposed. The best people to ask are the businesses along the road, the cafes or restaurants.

Security

Years ago, there was an incident on the Camino where fake yellow arrows were painted to lure pilgrims off the trail to be robbed and killed. After this incident, the Spanish government reacted by having officials walk the trails often to ensure there aren’t any diversionary arrows and to make sure the path is “clearly” labeled. At hostels, they started recording passport numbers along with names to help the international community track the last known location of a lost pilgrim, as well as a designated time when the hostel closes its doors and locks up for the night. Occasionally, you may see a car with some lights on top and a sign in the window reading “Friends of Pilgrims.”

In the beginnings of the Camino, pilgrims were robbed and killed by highwaymen. Since then, they have learned, pilgrims have nothing of value. If you’re worried about being robbed, consider what in your bag has much value. Maybe expensive REI clothes, but travelling as light as pilgrims do generally means robbers won’t waste their energy. I never had anything taken or felt threatened during my month on the Camino. On the lead-up to my trip I told those around me I was going to Spain to do the Camino, and unfortunately they all had assumptions or stories that the Spanish are pickpockets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared, but as far as the Camino is concerned, I can discredit the assumption.


Companions

Having spent the summer alone in Europe, it was hard to convince any of my college friends to pay for a flight to Spain to join me. Not having a friend has the disadvantage of not being able to talk about the journey as much as you’d like (you’re going to love talking about it). No one will ever be able to understand the Camino without doing it, telling stories to friends and family back home will give them an insight but never the empathy that we pursue. Yet, if I were to do it again (which I plan on doing), I’d still do it alone. You learn a lot about yourself when you have only yourself, we’re not accustomed to spending that much time alone. After sorting through all the trifling matters I’d left behind, I could clear my mind.

There’s a connection unlike any other between pilgrims; a shared common experience of physical and mental endurance, the enormity of walking such a distance, and the realization that you’re doing it for fun. Hostels are never short of conversation, regardless of age, gender, nationality; those don’t exist on the Camino, you and everyone else around you is reduced to being a pilgrim. There’s no fancy clothes or fancy cars to assert material wealth, there’s no children whining day and night, all we become are two legs and a backpack. This shedding of the life we’ve built for ourselves, taking off our white or blue collars and embracing the sweat lined athletic shirt, can help you find out more about yourself; you aren’t even aware there is more to learn until you get out there. Our histories are no longer shaped by the fear of having our personal stories come back to haunt you. You can be completely honest and true with these people; and after a day of walking you’re usually too tired to expend the extra energy to think of a lie. If you enjoyed someone’s company at the hostel, you can carry that friendship with you the next day, since you’re probably heading the same direction. It was uncanny how many groups I met where I assumed they had all been best friends for years, they were easy-going around each other referencing past events and laughing at inside jokes. It was only after I asked that I learned they had only known each other for a day or two!

Not all companions need be human. Taking a dog on the Camino has been growing in popularity, with specific routes set up to rest at dog-friendly hostels. I even saw cats being carried, although I’m not sure how that worked out. If bringing Lassie interests you, keep in mind that dog food and other pet supplies will be carried in your backpack along with your own equipment. Additionally, humans are built to walk long distances over long periods of time whereas dogs are more akin to short periods of fast movement.

Concluding Thoughts

This has been a journey taken by pilgrims for centuries, each epoch with a new set of equipment and cities. Despite the daunting task of walking across a country, the Camino is not a hard trek to accomplish. You pass through towns where food, equipment, and lodging can be found; there’s plenty of other people around to stop you from veering too far off course; and walking is a natural human function. If you have the determination to reach Santiago, then you will. The arrows act as bumpers on a bowling lane keeping you rolling towards the goal, all you must do is maintain the momentum.

The grandiose views from the tops of mountains, the mind-numbing plains of the Spanish desert; I can’t get these images out of my head because they were some of the most majestic sites and many of my most philosophical moments. It was my favorite experience thus far, but that’s only because I haven’t gone back to do more yet.
What a brilliant read thank you.
 

EmmaR

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
planned walking in July 2019
So amazing and honest what you have written. I am embarking on my very first Camino on July 14, travelling from Perth, Australia.

Thanks so much for sharing.
 

Davybhoy

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (August 2019)
Cormac, this is quite easily the best post I have seen on this forum. My wife & I 54 & 56 are embarking on our Camino at the start of August traveling from Melbourne Australia. Your words are a great help - I have suddenly realised I won't need 5 shirts & 3 pairs of shorts!
 

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