Eight important tips to consider before walking the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago, probably the most famous pilgrimage in the world, runs through Northern Spain with thousands of pilgrims taking on the journey every year. After completing the 800-kilometer trek on the Camino Frances, here are my tips and recommendations:
- Beware of planning too much
Ok, so it is important that you plan your entire trip and read up on the important stuff, however it is vital not to approach your Camino with a pre-existing idea of what it should be like. The magic of the Camino is the ‘not knowing’ part. When you do not know what to expect, where to sleep, how far to walk on a particular day, where to eat, etc. the Camino has a pretty awesome way of providing. I took care of the major arrangements such as flights in and out, luggage storage etc. however, once I started my walk, I was ready to just be and take it as it comes. This was the best decision I could have made.
- Know why you are walking
When you embark on a pilgrimage, I think it is vital that you know exactly why you are doing so. It is important to sit down, deliberately determine, and write down the reasons for going on your pilgrimage as well as the questions you would like to have answered. Once you have these, you are more focused and open to finding the answers to your questions as opposed to just walking without any purpose. Do not overthink it; just know why you are there.
- Choose your timing carefully
Knowing when to go is also a very important factor to consider. Some people prefer the hot summer months; others enjoy cooler weather while some are determined to walk in the icy snow when there is no one around. The choice is ultimately yours, however considered the following:
- If you are walking the Camino Frances, the Napoleon route will most likely only open towards beginning to mid- April, depending on the weather.
- If you go during the high summer months, you will most likely have to book your accommodation in advance as most people embark on their journeys during this time.
- Northern Spain generally receives a lot more rain than the rest of the country with October to March being the wettest time.
I walked the Camino during the month of April and I must say, I was very glad I did. Albergues still had interesting people staying over but never overly crowded, except for major cities and towards the end of the Camino. The weather was perfect with only one day of light rain during the entire month that I walked. Mornings were cool but always ended with highs around 22 degrees Celsius.
My theory is, the best time to walk the Camino is during the change of the seasons. .i.e. April – May or August – September.
- Do not be afraid to go alone
So many people told me I was crazy to walk alone. Some were concerned for my safety; others said that I would get bored and that it would be less fun. Walking alone was probably the best decision I made. The thing with the Camino is that even though you are walking alone, you are constantly surrounded by people with tremendous respect for you and your journey. You are free to be as close to people as you chose to be and this is where the magic lies. When you want to be alone you can and when you need to talk and share a moment you will be able to do so as well. You will make contacts that will stick with you for the rest of your life.
- Take out half of what you packed
I think this was an issue for every single person I met on the Camino… we pack too much. We pack things that we do not need and that will ultimately make our journey that much tougher. The Camino is the perfect place to let go of the ‘stuff’ and to be ok with the little that you have. During the first week, I saw so many people looking for a post office in order to ship their extras ahead. When you have packed, repack and take out anything you are hesitant about. Most of what you need can be bought along the way anyway.
- Your shoes will make or break you
During my time on the Camino I found two types of people. The hikers and the people that tried really hard to look like hikers; these are the people with the over the top brand new trekking gear. One mistake that I saw the non-hikers with the proper gear make repeatedly was with their shoes. Some of them had brand new hiking boots, straight form the box, made to conquer Everest. Most amateur hikers with hiking boots that I found along the way had really bad blisters and the people with trainers walked the entire way without any problems. Maybe I was lucky, but I did not have a single issue with my Nike running shoes.
Here are my tips when it comes to footwear:
- Keep it light, durable and simple. Don’t over complicate things with the most expensive hiking boots that will end up torturing your feet.
- Double layer socks will save your life, no matter what the weather. Your feet will be hot anyways, so wear socks that will add an extra layer of padding.
- Avoid any of the Camino foot hacks unless you need them. I found that people with the special rituals like pantyhose and Vaseline etc. ended up with more aches and pains than those of us that just walked and treated any problem we encountered. If you know you are prone to getting blisters then yes, do what needs to be done, otherwise just leave it and walk.
- Do not expect it to be easy
I found many people along The Way ready to give up; as it was not the idyllic ‘walk in the park’, they imagined it to be. The Camino is hard work, you will be tired, you will get frustrated, and you will get overwhelmed by the kilometers you have to walk. Is it achievable? Yes it is. You do not have to be an athlete or the fittest person in the world as you can walk at your own pace. Just do not expect this to be some sort of movie scene where you are skipping through mountain valleys on your way Santiago de Compostela.
- Expect to be changed forever
You will probably not see this while you are walking, however one day you will look back and realise how this journey changed your life. I remember getting back to Namibia after two months in Europe wondering if anything had changed. Soon I felt that nothing did and that everything was still the same, however looking back after two years I now realise how that was the beginning of immense change in my life.
I wrote another article on my life lessons learnt if you want to read up on that.
If you are planning on walking the Camino, well done, I wish you all the best. If you are still deciding, do not hesitate for a second. GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!