How many days of walking did you take? Pilgrim's Guide by Brierley recommends 33. I am 62 years old and generally do 10-mile training walks. I will increase it to 15 once a week shortly. I will start on August 27. Will not be carrying my pack because of an old rotator cuff injury and will instead use a service. I am trying to figure my return flight. Thanks.I sure hope you clicked on this because you're set to hike, because the Camino Frances -- which I finished last Sunday -- proved to be one of the most valuable, special experiences of my life.
I looked a bit at this forum before I hiked and got a whole lot of wonderful advice from the kind folks who post here, so I am writing now hoping to share anything I've learned that I might've liked to know before I hiked. A bit about me, before I start listing off thoughts: I am a 23 y/o, physically active man. I hiked from mid-April to mid May and started in St. Jean. Keep all that in mind if you read here -- I am only speaking to my experiences and I'm sure yours will be quite different. I'll also add -- please reach out if there's anything you think I might be able to answer! El Camino provided so much to me, and I'd love to pay it forward if there's any way to help. No question is bad
-- How to get to St. Jean --
I spent a few days in Paris before going to St. Jean. I didn't see a ton of super clear and updated advice on this forum describing how to get to SJPP before I got to Paris. I took a TGV train (the French fast train, really your best option) from Paris to Bayonne. It was around $70 when I bought it two days before I left. I could've gone to Biarritz for the same price. From Bayonne, I took a cheap local train that connected with a cheap local bus (those two parts were ~$10, it seemed that plenty of people didn't get tickets ahead of time, and the connections were also possible from Biarritz. All very easy. And if you're on the fence about Paris, I couldn't recommend it more! So different than big Spanish cities and certainly radically different from the experience you'll have on El Camino.
-- How much do you need to plan? --
There is no strict truth on how much you need to plan, and you should do what you are comfortable with and excited about. I chose to plan as little as possible. I didn't buy a guide book and I barely used the planning app I downloaded. I wanted to listen to my body and heart as I hiked and react to the people I walked with and the spaces I walked through. I really think that was the right decision for me. I recognize too that I could do that because I am able-bodied, financially solid and have extremely low standards for food and housing.
The older people I walked with seemed to plan much more, with books and reservations. I think that for many of them that was a great decision. I also loved going to them for advice on which albergues to pick, restaurants to check out, sellos to get, cathedrals to scope out, alternate routes to take, etc. The people who plan hold a wealth of information.
The Buen Camino app was great for scoping out alternative routes and albergues. Gronze was the best site for Albergue reviews, and I had mostly good experiences when I used it. Halfway through, I used the albergue sheet and stage map the officials gave me in SJPP to mark where all of the donativo albergues were -- I strongly preferred staying in them because they had community dinners that I enjoyed and attracted people who, like me, were hoping to talk with others and learn from them. I enjoyed relying on the preferences I developed to do some planning.
The last week I hiked, I stuck with a group. They were calling ahead the night before to book albergues and did so for me. I don't know if it was necessary, but it definitely took stress out -- I didn't think about where I was staying once that week.
I do think that part of the joy of El Camino is that even the plans you have will sometimes fall apart. Love that chaos and learn within it.
-- What gear do you need? --
The answer is less, in my opinion. If you're carrying your pack, pack less. Pack less. Pack less. Pack less. I had three shirts (two athletic tees and one long sleeve cotton shirt), a pair of trail pants, a pair of shorts, a fleece, some disposable plastic ponchos, four underwear and two socks (plus a Kindle, some shower flops, cosmetics, a sleeping bag, and some other odds and ends). I could've done without the compression sack I used for the fleece and sleeping bag. I could've packed one less t-shirt and gone without the kindle. I generally was thought to have a very light bag compared to the people I hiked with. I couldn't really imagine carrying much more -- it would've stunk.
Make sure you bring great ear plugs. The snoring is real.
I would recommend a sleeping bag that isn't too tight / isn't cone-like. I like to move around when I sleep.
I used Brooks Cascadia 16s. I didn't go water proof and heard many complaints from the folks who did (the water can't go out / the shoe can't dry). I only used one pair but they were toast by the end. I went one half size up from my normal size and would have been fine with a full size up too. I really recommend using trail runners instead of hiking boots -- the other trail runner folks seemed to get less blisters (I suspect because the shoes aren't as rigid). I only got two blisters!
I would recommend getting a reusable lightweight plastic poncho. It rained quite a bit (though lightly) when I was in Spain. One day hiking through the snow with a plastic poncho that broke apart in heavy winds stunk.
I used an REI 40L bag. It was more than enough. Anywhere between 35 and 45L is enough. For me, 38 would be perfect. Anything will work. Get a bag that you like the feel of. Doesn't have to be too expensive. Front pockets were a really nice feature, as was a top pocket.
I couldn't recommend hiking sticks more. I got mine in SJPP at 7 am before I started on the day I started. They had clasps, which made them easy to size and also allowed me to pull them apart and put them in my carry-on on the way back home. They cost like $40 total. I recommend cork grips, smooth ties and buying better rubber tips (got some good ones in Pampalona after mine busted in two days).
-- What is it like to be a young person on El Camino? --
If you're a young person and aren't sure if you want to hike or not, I want to be very clear in saying that I think you should do it. The vast majority of the people who hike from St. Jean (and who join the trail further along) were much older than me. Most, I found, were between 50 and 70 (though there were plenty 35+ too). Still, it was easy for me to find plenty of young people to spend time with. There were probably around 15 of us between 20 and 35 in my roving band. I had plenty of opportunities to do young people stuff, (reach out for recommendations on where to go out in Pamplona, Leon, Burgos and Santiago, and how to work around albergue closing times, lol).
All that said, the wisdom of the people older than me, made easily accessible by the unique setting that allowed us to talk so intimately, was surely one of the most valuable parts of El Camino. Age doesn't really matter here because everyone exists in this space in a radically equal way, but if it does matter, it gave me the opportunity to learn about life from people who have lived more life, all while I have the space and time to think about how I want to live and what I want to care about before I get started in my career.
You have a lot of power as a young person to shape your own Camino. You have access to phones and such to plan easily with others (get an AirBnB and stay in a city easily!). You can go out more easily and become friends with locals (one of my favorite things to do!). You can maybe more easily walk ahead a stage or two, or wait for others to come. Lean into those strengths to do whatever you want.
Anyways, get ready to have some great food, open space and unlimited wine at the very least. PS -- donativo and municipal albergues tend to attract more young people, and young people tend to leave last to get on the trail.
-- What to do on your Camino? --
I intended to work on my Spanish and reflect on my spirituality on my Camino. Both happened (woohoo!).
I spent the first week or so generally walking and chatting with other folks about whatever. I found that I had more space to listen to audiobooks on spirituality halfway through on the Meseta. It was somewhat hard for me to find time and energy to journal as much as I wanted to, but I finished with 130 pages written, so it all worked out. I listened to 8 books and walked with dozens upon dozens of people -- you can do everything all at once, there's time, lol. The last week I stuck with a group of three young folks who spoke Spanish, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to practice language (my Spanish is okay... I lived in Argentina for four months but lost a lot of my Spanish since).
I really recommend having a few things you want to think about. There's space and tons of wonderful minds on El Camino. Take advantage of that and follow whatever thought path emerges.
The one thing you must must do is spend time with other people. Ask people to eat with you. Ask to pull up a chair. Ask how someone's hike is going when you pass them on the trail and try hard to start a conversation. Be attentive and kind and thoughtful and loving. You will learn so much about them and life and yourself. The other people are the best part.
You should definitely hike! I feel so much peace and strength and joy because of my Camino. I am so grateful for this time. Reach out if you have any questions!!! Buen Camino )))))))
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