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Camino de Santiago

Tips for walking the Camino de Santiago

Tips for walking the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago has undergone a revival over the years with the number of pilgrims walking this ancient route to Santiago de Compostela growing considerably.  With numbers flourishing, the growing popularity, at times, can put a strain on the system.  While there are countless churches and villages along the way that are dedicated to the pilgrim’s journey, the race for beds can become tedious.  Differing purposes and demographics of the pilgrims can further add to the strain.  In spite of this, I am so thrilled that I had the opportunity to walk the Camino in it’s entirety.  I learned a lot as I walked my 800 Kms across Spain and hope you find my perspective and my travel and preparation tips useful.

Tip #1:  Know what you are walking for!

philosophy

I know that sounds a little silly…but it is so true.  If you are looking for the physical challenge of walking 40+  Kms per day, you are looking at a completely different walk than the person who is on a spiritual or religious quest.  Try not to get off track as to what you are setting out to accomplish.

I met one pilgrim on the way that was walking for the second time.  She suggested that her first time walking, she had been caught up in the race for beds and urgency of others walking for different reasons.  She lost her purpose and assimilated the purpose of the pack!  This time, her goal was to take her time, go at her own pace.  I met her when she found herself cut down by blisters.  She had fallen into older habits and felt this was the universe’s way of telling her to slow down and do her own thing.  It was a valuable lesson for me – I had struggled with blisters and body pains, as well as the race for beds on the Camino and can’t say it enough – I let everyone else change how I was walking.  My Camino was not unfolding the way I wanted it to and she gave me the reminder I needed to get back on track.

Tip #2:  The internet is filled with websites and information dedicated to how to walk the Camino, but at the end of the day…I believe the best tip anyone can give you is to listen to your body!

sin dolor, no hay gloria

I spent countless hours researching, reading and asking questions of those who had walked before me.  This wasn’t my first hike either.  I had trekked in Nepal and a done a number of day hikes in many hiking destinations around the world.  I thought I knew what I was in for.  Beyond the hiking, I had done a solo, self-supported voyage across Canada by bike.  With so much Camino information out there, I felt more than prepared when I set out on my journey.  Having trained in the hills in my hometown, carrying a full pack and walking in the heat of the day, I thought I was ready.  As a cycling enthusiast, I felt my general fitness would carry me through what ever my training may have been lacking.  It turns out, I was not prepared and this shocked me!

Tip #3:  Less is more!

Less is more - packing your bags for the Camino de Santiago

There are formulas, anecdotes and conflicting theories on what a pilgrim needs to take and what that weight should be.  Should it be 10 kgs or 10% of your body weight?  Carry the absolute minimum or pack things you will want for a rainy day?  Clearly, there will always be differing factors for everyone.  What is your purpose?  Will you be carrying your own bag?  How much time do you have?  I met a man who was carrying an exorbitant volume of camera equipment (he put me to shame!).  The weight of his pack was substantial and it showed.  I only ran into him the one day – I never found out how he fared but my knees hurt just thinking about it!  Seeing him struggle, I was happy to have eliminated some of my equipment before I set out.  In spite of this, I still posted things home or ahead on 3 different occasions and dumped a few more items along the way.

Every ounce on your back is magnified as you walk.  My bag was heavier than most – I wanted to photograph my trip so I carried multiple lenses, a tripod and a laptop.  In the end, I was often too tired to use my various lenses – I stuck mostly to my “all-in-one” which is so versatile for a trip like this.  At one hostel, the owner took pity on my tired soul and offered to carry my bag upstairs.  Half way up, he stopped, turned to me and asked if I had another pilgrim in my bag!  I agonized over what to pack and I really thought I was bare bones.  Clearly, I was mistaken.  I met some minimalists who carried less than some women carry in their purses!  By the end of my journey, my knees, ankles and one hip hurt.  The wear from the weight on my back was magnified as I walked day after day after day.  In the end, I used bag carrying services on a few days.  I just couldn’t handle the weight!

TIP #4:  Take time to enjoy the smaller moments!

making friends on the Camino de Santiago

This is a personal journey – don’t let others push you along.  I wanted to take the time to think.  As I had written in a previous post, this was a period of transition.  I also wanted to take the time to indulge in my passion for photography and keep a journal.

I walked for 43 days and found much of the time I got wrapped up in what others wanted.  Not surprisingly, when I got caught up in everyone else’s Camino, I stopped taking the time to enjoy the things I wanted to do.  At one stage, I even got an email from a friend at home asking if I was actually enjoying myself!  I slowed down.  One day, I walked only 2 hours.  I finished walking by 9 am and savoured the moments at the Ermita de San Nicolas.  It was my first personal epiphany.  It still took me until Galicia to really come into my own.  That’s nearly 600 Kms to figure to figure it out!  Needless to say, Galicia was my favourite region on the Camino.

Tip #5: Be prepared for the onslaught!

Pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela

I once read that the Camino de Santiago’s Way of St James, also known as the Camino Frances, can be likened to “a spiritual commuter on a conveyor belt to salvation”!  Perhaps a little cynical but the fact that this has become a major tourist route was not lost on me as I walked along.

The historical and spiritual significance of the trail has gained world recognition.  As such, people from all walks of life will be there and no doubt, you will be challenged.  I was.  Repeatedly!  Ultimately, the Camino is what you make of it!  You will be living in close proximity with others and patience will become a valuable virtue.  I struggled at times with what I perceived as the rudeness of others.  Perhaps they felt the same way about me.  At times, I booked into private rooms along the way to get the space I needed.  I highly recommend it!  (See related links below for tips from the road.)  It was a welcomed bit of alone time and great for sanity along the trail.

I was not ready for the onslaught of people for the last 100 Kms, even after having read about it.  The numbers exploded, and with so many only walking the last section, the atmosphere changed drastically.  Pilgrims who had walked the distance grumbled about those who were there for a week long vacation….graffiti against “Touregrinos” became prolific.  Bed shortages became a daily reality.  The system was strained.

In spite of that, walking the Camino was an incredibly rewarding experience.  I met so many wonderful people who have had a lasting impression on me.  Will you be walking the Camino?

Living in the moment

Take the time you need in your preparation, during your walk and after as the journey does not finish when you finish walking.  Buen Camino!

Related Links:

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About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!

Discussion

47 thoughts on “Tips for walking the Camino de Santiago

  1. Cheers for carrying all that extra stuff in your backpack to share photos with us! Geez that’s one heck of a walk though! Even I’m not sure If i could pull that off :D

    Posted by andy1076 | March 8, 2013, 9:30 am
  2. What an AWESOME Life Experience – Great Tips!!! Happy Friday:)

    Posted by cravesadventure | March 8, 2013, 11:56 am
  3. What a fantastic post. Congrats and eternal respect. I read Bill Bryson’s book about walking the Appalachian Trail and was tired just going thru the pages. What an amazing, incredible experience it must have been.

    Posted by Ryan | March 8, 2013, 7:09 pm
    • Thanks Ryan. I was reading Bill Bryson’s book right up to the week before I walked the Camino. He certainly has a way with words! Conveniently, the Camino is infinitely easier – there are places to lay your head every night, food generally appears every 5 – 10 kms with the exception of morning challenges! It was incredible – I am so glad I did the walk. Was worth every blister and noisy neighbour. The private rooms on occasion helped a lot. Even though you could hear through the walls in some places, it was nice to have your own space. Highly recommendable on a trip like this!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 9, 2013, 10:17 am
  4. I had never heard of the Camino walk before, but I will look into now. it sounds like an incredible experience

    Posted by drishism | March 9, 2013, 2:26 am
    • It was amazing. It seems that there are many throughout Europe that finish at Santiago. The route I took, the Camino Frances, is the most popular, but I have heard the Camino Norte, which follows the coast, is even more beautiful! Hard to imagine as I loved the scenery and spectacular landscapes as I walked along.

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 9, 2013, 10:19 am
  5. Super minimalist and all in one camera … I like the sound of that.

    Posted by Tracey | March 9, 2013, 3:57 am
    • It is my go-to lens. Not sure why I insisted on carrying the others. Lessons learned!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 9, 2013, 9:43 am
      • HI Anita I like you carried my camera gear, and laptop, I found that I used one lens most of the time! but I wouldn’t give up the laptop for storage of images and blogging! you have provided some great tips and reminders for those considering the walk. we took 42 days to complete the trip and I still feel like we missed so much! lessons learned, pack light, walk in the daylight, private room occassionally for a good night sleep, I would add; take a day off once in a while to rest, we took a day off in each of the cities, to see them rather than just pass through….
        again, another great blog post. thanks for sharing your travels, and your insight with us.

        Posted by jmeyersforeman | April 13, 2013, 9:57 am
  6. Great post, Anita. I love that last photograph of you – it expresses so much of your love of life and the journey. Beautiful!

    Posted by drawandshoot | March 9, 2013, 10:14 am
  7. Great read, really enjoyed it :)… I would really struggle to reduce my camera equipment, I struggle with this every time I go on a hike… I just hate not having my camera to capture the moment but I think at times I forget to enjoy the moment!

    Posted by Bashar A. | March 9, 2013, 11:23 am
    • You nailed it right on the head Bashar! That was why I bought the all in one lens in the first place, but then I started playing with depth of field and more artistic shots, and the other lenses started to creep back in! Luckily, I didn’t have my flash then. A new acquisition post Camino! Still working on my system. Glad that I had plenty of time to remind myself to slow down. It was the inner dialogue in my head on many occasions. At least the views were so beautiful, it was easy to stop!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 9, 2013, 11:31 am
  8. What a great read! I would die if I had to lug around a pack like that big ole yellow one. What were they thinking? It looks like you had a great time on the hike! The last photograph of you is gorgeous!

    Posted by Elle | March 10, 2013, 5:04 pm
    • That big pack was crazy….it was outside one of the outfitter’s shops in Astorga. Wish I had had someone take the picture with me in it so that the sheer size of it was evident! Luckily, mine wasn’t that big, but it was misleadingly heavier than it looked! Thanks for the compliment….I like that last shot too. A culmination of emotions at the end of the journey, and what an amazing journey it was.

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 16, 2013, 12:06 pm
  9. Awesome experience Anita, I was on the Camino, but never walked it. It is a really nice area and seems to be an incredible personal journey. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Andy | April 6, 2013, 2:16 pm
  10. Wow!.. I’ve heard about the Camino walk but knew very little about its pilgrimage and history. I think I’d be so annoyed with the onslaught of tourist that last leg too, especially if I did the whole walk for more than just tourist reasons.. Great for you for doing it all!

    Posted by Kieu ~ GQ trippin | April 6, 2013, 7:55 pm
    • It was pretty amazing! There is so much history …. I was lucky to be able to walk the entire distance in one shot….even with all the tourists at the end, it still somehow felt more real that way!

      Posted by Anita Mac | April 7, 2013, 12:02 am
  11. What an incredible experience! I can’t believe your lugged around your camera, lenses, tripod, AND laptop. Props to you. This is something I would love to undertake some day. I’ll have to pick your brain even further int he future!

    Posted by Chris & Tawny (@CaptainandClark) | April 6, 2013, 8:39 pm
  12. I have always wanted to do the Camino but that struggle for beds seems beyond what I am interested in doing… Maybe the mountain hikes I have begun doing are best for me!

    Posted by ilivetotravel | April 7, 2013, 9:09 am
    • The struggle for beds was a huge hurdle for me! I did get a bed every night, but let myself get caught up in the stress of it when I should have just let it go! The toughest night I had, I thought I was going to have to walk another 12kms to find a bed, and by a stroke of luck, managed to find something just as I was about to head out. It was quite different than the mountain hikes – I wouldn’t discount it so fast, but by the same token, the Camino is not for everyone. I am hoping to tackle some of the mountains you are doing – Kili is high on my list!

      Posted by Anita Mac | April 7, 2013, 8:54 pm
  13. Great tips! I guess, I’ve been getting prepared for this walk in my own way, so maybe I should do it! :) I learned about this only a few years ago, and love learning more about it, thanks for sharing your story!

    Posted by The World Wanderer (@TheWrldWanderer) | April 7, 2013, 8:10 pm
  14. I love it that you had your little epiphany and had that special day – the Camino is something quite personal, and not just a journey to tick off a bucket list. Galicia is a magical place – I love it.

    Posted by Ana Silva O'Reilly (@mrsoaroundworld) | April 8, 2013, 8:22 am
    • You are so right Ana. Although, I do think it is becoming a bit of an item on the bucket lists of many people. I met some tremendously spiritual people walking, and also some people who wanted to tick it off the list! I like to think I fell in the middle – it was a transformative walk for sure, but it was also a walk that I wanted to do for non spiritual reasons. To each their own at the end of the day, but it was a challenge at times when people’s views differed so much!

      Posted by Anita Mac | June 24, 2013, 1:16 pm
  15. i love that you did this. i actually think i would consider doing it as well but the fight for beds is something that might keep me from doing it. i want to book & know i’ve got a place to sleep that i like. haha!

    Posted by lola | April 8, 2013, 11:01 am
    • The race for beds was one of my least favourite parts of the trip, but there are many people who book ahead or use a tour company. I did like the freedom of deciding where I would stay based on how I felt. You can’t always pre-plan for that. I also liked having rooms booked, especially towards the end when it got really crazy!! I had no interest in staying in the cheapest places with hundreds of beds, so the ability to book in a private place was well worth the cost of buying myself a disposable tourist phone!

      Posted by Anita Mac | June 24, 2013, 1:18 pm
  16. I’m leaving in a few weeks to walk my camino. Thanks for the tips! I’m doing it solo and a bit scared about it. I don’t ever do stuff like this. I’m a bit of a redneck American.

    Posted by massagingmonkey | April 27, 2013, 12:20 am
    • You must be finished walking by now…I hope that you had an amazing time out there and quickly realized that there was nothing to be scared about, even if you are a bit of a redneck American as you said!!!

      Posted by Anita Mac | June 24, 2013, 1:19 pm
  17. I am planning for next 18 months, sometime, and will decide when by this fall. I’ve been plotting this for a while. I will either go early or late in the season to avoid worst of the crowd. For me, it is spiritual, my long time friend, lover and wife was from Spain and passed away in January. I’ll be back, reading more of your posts.

    Posted by robert87004 | June 22, 2013, 6:58 pm
    • I opted to walk in the fall, hoping to see less crowds. I think the best is to decide what you want out of it. There is a lot of beauty to go in the spring, and I met a few people who started even later than myself and loved it! Whatever time of year, I think the experience will be an amazing one! I would gladly do it again in September/October, however have an interest in seeing the spring flowers…so a May start would also be beautiful. Good luck to you what ever time of year you decide upon.

      Posted by Anita Mac | June 24, 2013, 1:22 pm

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