OP here. I’m surprised at how many responded with comments to the effect that they arrived on the Camino with no expectations or pre-planning. And, further, that this is preferable and more liberating.
Really? You didn‘t have any expectations regarding climate, terrain, distance, language, history, geography, food, or culture? You didn’t pre-plan clothing, equipment, or footwear?
Anyway, all responses are appreciated.
I did it in 2001 and am planning a return this coming spring, but taking a couple of the variant routes, so there actually won't be too much overlap. The first time, I did do SOME research (this was in books, mostly -- there weren't a zillion YouTube videos and blogs) to decide which sections I wanted to do, since I was somewhat limited in time. I chose them based on the pictures in the books -- picked the sections with the most beautiful landscape. Somehow it didn't occur to me that that was mostly because there were mountains involved and it would be tough going in those parts! I was living in Spain for research purposes that year and already spoke Spanish and knew a lot about the history (I'm a historian of Spain), food, culture, etc. Other that deciding on the parts to do, I didn't do much research. Went to an info session at the Madrid office of the Friends of the Camino, and that was it. I was a grad student at the time and had no money, so I didn't shop for or buy any certain clothing, equipment, footwear, etc. I posted an ad somewhere asking if anyone had a backpack I could borrow, and someone actually loaned me the backpack I used. I wore my regular walking/running shoes and regular old clothes (sometimes in 2 layers of it when it was chilly, but basic sweats and things, not high-tech). I had really no expectations except that it would be different from any other travel I'd ever done. I went mostly because I was curious about what it would be like to walk that far.
THIS time I have been doing much more planning, however. For one thing, I really want to avoid Covid, so that means planning to stay in hostales and pensiones as much as possible and favoring the albergues that have smaller rooms over the ones with dozens in the same room. Since I also want to do some of the off-the-beaten track variants, I do think it's important to have an idea of that because some of those don't have as much lodging or food. It takes more planning. And some towns have much better budget options than others, too. I'm not reserving them all ahead of time, but would like to start off with an idea of the places to aim for as stopping points. I have also invested in a backpack with a hip strap (not one of the uber expensive ones, though) and some gear that I think will be helpful, including some toe socks that I read about, and some hiking poles. And last time I had not even a flip phone with me. Now there's the smart phone issue and apps and things like data plans and wifi to look into. I want to avoid being online unnecessarily and thought about just not bringing the phone (or ditching it in a friend's apartment in Madrid beforehand), but I do think it'll be useful, and without it I'd be unable to transfer any money, etc. in my bank at home. So that's another frickin' thing to research.
And I admit that I've done a pretty serious amount of reading and blog watching about blister prevention. I was doing fine with everything the last time until slipping on some loose rocks and twisting an ankle and then hobbling on it, which made me develop blisters. That happened pretty late in the game, but I was truly in miserable pain by the time I walked into Santiago, and I would really like to avoid that happening again. I'm optimistic on that front and this time will be much more deliberate about blister prevention. I have a plan for that! Another change I'm making is that last time I had to be back in Madrid by a certain date because a friend was coming, and this time I am going to avoid having a tight deadline and will take my time. And I'm going to allow some quiet processing time at the end, too. Not sure where that will be, but I'm not rushing back home or into normal responsibilities for a little while afterwards.
Other than that, I'm trying NOT to do the kind of research that would give me a mental picture of all the places I'll be walking through, other than the mental picture I already have from knowing the medieval history and some of the major monuments and styles.