(Note – Most of the pictures in this article expand if clicked on, to get a more detailed view)
What is this Spanish Pilgrimage called the Camino De Santiago?
The Camino De Santiago is a 30 day plus long Spanish pilgrimage on a trail that stretches from St. Jean Pied De Pore all the way to Santiago. There are a few different trails that all end up in Santiago, but take different paths. It is attempted and finished by the majority of people that do it, and if I am correct almost 300,000 people did it in 2015. Depending on when you decide to embark on the Santiago pilgrimage, you could be faced with hot weather, cold weather, rain, sun, snow…etc. And it’s 800 kilometers of walking!!!!
Why should you take my advice?
I completed the trail from early October to early November in 2015, and I got a very good grasp of what it takes to complete it, and who are the types of people who should even attempt it. I went through the ups and downs that accompany such a long trail that tests you physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I want to give you some tips that I think will be beneficial to not just completing it, but making it more enjoyable for you.
Before partaking in this Spanish Pilgrimage, take my advice on these topics.
10 things to consider for the Camino De Santiago Spanish Pilgrimage
Are YOU cut out for long walks and physical adversity?
The biggest question you need to ask yourself before making a decision to walk the Camino De Santiago, is “Am I physically able to walk 20-30 kilometers a day with a backpack that weighs anywhere from 10-20 pounds?” Because if you are like most people, you have never done anything like this. I will first let you know, that the intensity of the trail is all up to you. Some people walk 15 kilometers a day and take 40 days to walk the whole thing. Some people walk 35-40 kilometers a day and finish in 25 days. It’s a personal journey, so it doesn’t really matter how fast you can do it. But there are a lot of physical factors that come into play. But if you believe like I do, that your physical body is connected to your mind, and you are able to positively change your mindset, you will be fine.
You are most likely going to get blisters on your feet. You are going to have sore legs, pretty much every day. Some nights you won’t be able to sleep. Your diet will be a lot different than you are used to. Can you handle this type of adversity? I know I am making it sound miserable, but it’s actually the opposite of miserable, if you can adjust your mindset. And if you are prepared correctly, with a good mindset, most of these obstacles will be avoided. But then again we all have different body types, some people are more athletic than others, and some people are constantly wanting the easy way out. If you are really serious about walking 800 kilometers, really ask yourself if you are prepared to go through an experience that will stick out in your mind as one of your greatest accomplishments. An experience of adversity that will change you forever.
How should you take care of your feet? What types of shoes should you wear?
When I began this Spanish pilgrimage, I was cocky and thought I would be able to wear Jordan’s for 30 days walking on rocks, through mud, and throughout mountains. That didn’t last long! I wore them for about 5 days until I got to Logrono. My feet hurt like hell, and my achilles felt like it was ruptured on my right leg. The problem was the sole of my shoes were so flimsy that I was basically walking on my bare feet when I stepped on any rocks. Yea, Jordan’s really aren’t made that well. That’s why they only cost 5$ per pair to make. Anyway, I decided to get some hiking shoes. Best decision I made. I was still sore after I began wearing the hiking shoes, but I could tell that I was going to be able to walk through anything and not have a problem. Don’t underestimate this question, because from my experience this might be the most important aspect to consider. If you keep your feet in good shape, everything else will be a lot easier.
What brand is best?
My suggestion is for you to look into the brand of shoes that I got. The brand is Salomon. They are actually European hiking shoes and are made extremely well.
Sleeping Rules? Can I go to sleep when I want?
Every night while you are walking on the Santiago pilgrimage, you are going to be staying in Albergues. Albergues are similar to hostels, but different in the sense that many more people are staying in one large room. For example, one night I stayed in a “Donativo Albergue” in which 90 people (Yes 90!) stayed in one room. There were 45 bunk beds, and two sets of beds were connected to each other. On the contrary, you could stay in an albergue that has 6 people in one room and has many rooms. It all depends on how much money you spend and where you are at on the trail. But in MOST of the albergues, lights are out at 10 PM and lights come on around 6:30 AM. So can you handle sleeping in a large room full of people, where most likely you are going to have at least a few people snoring? And can you handle having to be in bed by a certain time, and up at another? When I first started, this part sucked! But I eventually got acquainted with it and enjoyed it, because I was able to start walking by 8 AM at the latest, and get to the next town no later than 4 PM. Technically, yes you can go to sleep when you want, if you want to lay in your bed and look at your phone while the lights are out. But you aren’t going to be able or want to be walking around the town at 12 or 1 in the morning. You will want to be on the schedule that everyone else is.
Are You a Clean Freak?
Can you handle wearing the same clothes for a couple days straight, that haven’t been washed? Can you handle being dirty in general? Can you handle taking a shower in the same spot that thousands before you have? What about going to the bathroom in the same stall that everyone else has used? Can you handle sleeping in the same bed that thousands before you have? I’m not trying to scare you away from doing the Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage, but I am trying to be real with you. You will be wearing dirty clothes. You will have a chance to wash them at pretty much every place you stay at, but are you really going to want to spend 5 euros every day to wash clothes? Can you handle showering in a shower that will probably not have hot water, and you might have to push a button every five seconds to keep it going? I know, I am making it sound terrible! Let me give you some suggestions so that you can get around all of these aspects!!
How do you stay cleaner?
Wash your clothes with other people combined. That a way you can wash your clothes more frequently and spend less money. For taking a shower, make sure you bring sandals. Do you know how dirty it feels to walk barefooted on a floor that thousands of dirty people have showered on before you? And the MOST important point for staying clean throughout the whole trail is to bring bed bug spray! I can’t tell you how many people got bed bugs during the trail. I didn’t though. And the only difference between me and the rest of the people was, I had bed bug spray.
High School All Over Again
I remember my first day of high school when all of the middle schools that were funneled into the same high school, converged. It was like starting all over again and meeting a wide range of new people. That is EXACTLY how the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage feels. When you leave St Jean Pied de Pore, you will meet a lot of different people. And since you are leaving around the same time, you will probably be in the same general towns throughout the trail. Not always, but for the most part. When I started I figured me and my friend would probably be walking together the whole time, and would meet some cool people. But it was totally different than I expected. I met other people who I ended up walking with and so did he. We were in the same group, it’s just we preferred walking with people we had just met, rather than with each other, because it was something new. As you get farther and farther into the trail everyone starts knowing each other more intimately, and it becomes really interesting. This is how I experienced it. You can always not interact with everyone, and walk on your own. But in general you are going to be walking with a group that will all know each other extremely well by the end. And to think that you can make life long bonds with people over 30 days, is amazing.
Is the food as good as you have heard?
The food in Spain was nothing like I expected it to be. I had heard that the Tapas were amazing and that everything was really quality. In my experience, this wasn’t true. Northern Spain actually had some of the worst food I had in Europe. Maybe it was because I was comparing it to the amazing food in Italy, but either way I didn’t like it. Every day I ate bocadillas and tortillas for lunch and dinner. And before this for breakfast, more tortillas. If you aren’t familiar with bocadillas, they are basically a piece of ham inside a loaf of bread. A whole lot of bread with a piece of meet, and no condiments. You can only eat so many. And a tortilla is not the same thing as a tortilla in America, but rather eggs and potatoes. That was my go to meal, a long with candy bars and chips. If you wanted to have anything besides these two foods, you would have to go to the store and make your own food. Which we did a lot of the time, but while you were walking it was just tortillas and bocadillas. Rarely, did I actually eat tapas which were generally only in the bigger towns that we stayed in. However, there are a few select places where I had amazing food. The picture above was one of them.
Nothingness? That sounds boring.
I loved most of the walk, but there is a stretch about a third of the way into the trail, where you walk on a straight path through nothing but fields. This has been noted as being one of the most boring parts of the Camino Pilgrimage. On top of being extremely boring, it has tons of bugs that hit you in your face while you are walking. I assume this comes from the fact that you are walking alongside dirt and fertilizer on farmland. It seemed like as soon as I got away from these areas, the bugs went away. My advice is to bring some headphones or make sure you are walking with a group of people. Otherwise, you are going to get into the mindset that you are walking forever and could get frustrated. On the other hand, some people love this part because they are able to get in tune with themselves and into a meditative state. For me, this was a pivotal point of the Camino, as you are just beginning to get in a habit of walking continuously everyday. And if you get through this stretch of walking, it only gets more and more fun from here. This is by far, the part that sucks the most, but it only lasts for 4-5 days.
What to Bring? What type of backpack?
Let’s start with the backpack.
I have no complaints with an Osprey backpack. It has everything you need. Tons of straps, tons of compartments, and easily adjustable.
I’ll give you an idea of how I packed my backpack.
1 Pair of shorts, 1 pair of under armour sweatpants, a hoodie, a few t-shirts, and two long sleeve shirts.
4 pairs of boxers and 4-5 pairs of socks. Although I ended up using one pair the most, which were heavy duty from REI. By the way, go to REI, they got what you need.
A sleeping bag and padding to put under the sleeping bag if we decided to camp.
Two pairs of shoes, my original basketball shoes and my hiking shoes
Passport, wallet, phone, charger, headphones.
Toothbrush, Deoderant, soap, Shampoo. And a notebook which I was going to journal in.
However, once you begin walking, you start to realize what you ACTUALLY need. And over packing at the beginning is typically okay. Because soon enough when you are really tired of carrying your pack, you will start to consolidate. During the trail, I got rid of both my padding and my sleeping bag! Yea, the sleeping bag might not have been the best idea, but I was able to get blankets at every albergue that I stayed at. And I noticed that everyone that got bed bugs, typically got them in their sleeping bags, and then it just followed them to wherever they stayed at next.
Point is, you will tend to bring things you don’t need at the beginning, but once you get going, you will naturally let things go that aren’t needed. It’s a great lesson to learn. We tend to think we NEED way more than we actually do, which can cause clutter and bring unwanted stress.
By the end of the trail, I was showering without a towel and without shampoo. I would just use soap in my hair and when I turned the shower off, would stand there for a moment and let the water trickle off my body. Or use my hand to knock it off. As you can see, you adapt as you get farther and farther into the trail. That’s the beauty of it.
What’s your timetable?
This is important, because you have to give yourself enough time to finish the trail, if that’s your plan. If you don’t want to do the whole trail then that is a different story. But typically I would say it takes you about 32 days on average to finish the trail if you are physically able to walk 20-30 kilometers a day. It took me a total of 31 days. I started on October 9th and finished on November 9th. But halfway through, I decided to book a flight for the 11th to Barcelona, and so at the end of the trail I walked a few 35-40 kilometer days, to be on schedule. Not very smart. However, my advice on this is, to do the whole trail. What are you going to get out of walking for ten days? Some beautiful scenery and a little exercise. But you won’t actually get the experience of becoming a pilgrim until you stay on the trail for at least a month.
What time of the year should you embark on this Spanish pilgrimage?
The time period that I decided to do the Camino De Santiago was when it was starting to get a little bit cooler, and when there would be less people on it. But consider a few factors. What is the weather going to be like during the time that you do it? How many people are going to be doing it at that time? How will this affect finding places to sleep? How will this affect what I bring with me in my pack? For example, if you go during the time that I did (October 9th-November 9th), you won’t have to worry as much about getting sun burnt then if you go a month or two before that. Also the summer time is going to have way more people, and is probably going to be a lot dirtier. Imagine walking for 6 hours straight and then having 50 people using a couple showers, after walking in 80 degree heat. Compare that to less people walking in 60-70 degree weather, and having more options of where to stay. There will be less people, and there will still be enough to have an amazing experience. In fact, I believe the time that I did it at was the perfect amount of people, because literally everyone on the trail I became friends with. That wouldn’t be possible during the summer time. And, if you do it later than I did, there probably won’t be hardly anyone in the winter. Especially, starting from St Jean Pied De Pore, as you have to go right through the Pyrenees in the winter. Not smart.
The point of this article was not to push you away from doing this Spanish pilgrimage, but rather to alert you of what you need to know before you partake on this unbelievable adventure that is life changing. It’s nice to have an idea of what to expect, rather than going into it like I did, and having to improvise on the fly. If you consider these ten different points before you go on the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage, I guarantee you will have a better time, because you will be prepared. And if you are prepared, you can focus on following the yellow arrows and socializing with your fellow pilgrims, which is what the Camino pilgrimage is all about. Check out these photos that will make you even more interested in embarking on the Camino!
In the future, I am going to be writing more about this Spanish Pilgrimage in more depth! So look forward to more articles about different aspects of the trail. I will be writing a post focusing on if the Camino De Santiago was what I expected. I wrote Walking the Camino De Santiago earlier with my expectations.
If you have any questions or comments about my reccomendations for partaking in the Camino, leave me a comment below! I would love to give you any advice I can to help you with your journey!