The spiritual travel trail. The Camino De Santiago. I call it this because out of all the experiences in my life, it was one of the most rewarding. Not just physically. It was rewarding mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. If you are looking for spiritual travel that doesn’t just skim the surface, the Camino is the travel that will truly change you as a person.
How does it change you though? This was one of the questions that I definitely had before I started walking the Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage. The reason I had this question in my mind was that I had heard so much about the Camino being “spiritual”, “physically daunting”, and a complete life changer. And I had never done anything like this before, so I was really curious as if this was true.
When you know the history is so vast, and that thousands of people have walked the Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage before you, it almost brings a certainty that you will be transformed as a person when you reach Santiago.
(Note – Most of the pictures in this article expand if clicked on, to get a more detailed view)
The Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage Spiritual Travel Process of Change
The changes are gradual while you are walking on the Camino. But you deal with a wide spectrum of changes that for me seemed to go through a process. And this is why I think it does feel like a spiritual pilgrimage. For me it went Physical >Mental>Emotional>Spiritual. You will see what I mean by “spiritual travel” in the following paragraphs.
Breaking down the Physical
The first part that is transformed when you begin walking is your physical body.
When you first start out on the trail, you don’t have a clue how much you are going to break down at some points physically. I immediately felt it in my feet, my achilles, my knees, and my shoulders.
One of the reasons was I was wearing unnecessary shoes, that I ignorantly thought would be able to make it through the whole trail. But the main reason was, I just threw myself into walking 30 km in one day with little to no preparation. Check out Spanish Pilgrimage – Camino De Santiago – 10 Vital Questions you Should consider for tips on how to prepare.
But this is how you are initiated into the trail. Not to mention, immediately you are walking up the Pyrenees and down hill to RoncesValles (which is terrible for your knees), and it makes you question how you are going to survive the next 30 days?
This is the first step of how you are transformed.
Breaking down the Mental
As you are broken down physically, it naturally leads to your mental process. Am I going to make it? Will my physical body hold up? Do I really want to keep on walking? Are we there yet? And then there are other questions you ask yourself. Am I going to get enough sleep in an albergue? Is there hot water? Do I like who I am walking with? Do I want to walk by myself? Am I carrying the right items in my pack?
The physical completely leads to the mental. They are definitely connected. But that is why when your physical breaks down, it challenges you mentally.
There were times when physically I should have stopped walking, but mentally I wanted to keep on going, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, so that I could stay in certain towns or if I was planning on meeting someone in a town ahead. But not only does the physical test you mentally, the Camino tests you by putting you in situations you have never been in.
A good example of a situation that happened to me on the trail that tested me mentally and physically, was we were walking to a town that was about 20 km away. When I arrived in this town with a few of my friends, we all decided that we would like to go ahead a little farther to make the next days walk, a little bit shorter. What ended up happening is we got to the next town and the albergue was terrible, with no wif-fi, and no markets to buy food. So we looked at the map to find the next town, and decided we would like to keep on walking. Since I did the trail in late October and early November, a lot of the albergues were closed since it is more of the off season. So after we walked 30 km and decided to go the next town, for the next 10 km all of the albergues were closed. Not only did we end up walking in the dark, we also ended up walking 45 km to find the next town that had an albergue! This tested all of us not only physically, but mentally as far as being adaptive to what we had no control over. These types of scenarios happen in many different ways throughout the Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage, which is the beauty of the journey.
Breaking down the Emotional
This is the biggest step and I think where I got to about halfway through the trail. It’s when you start totally letting go. You have survived physically this long, where your body is used to walking everyday. Mentally you have gone through every question you had going in and the pain of the physical body, and you are still able to continue. And now emotionally you start feeling relieved. Not that I was uptight the first couple of weeks, but more just trying to get a grasp of what I got myself into. But at this point it’s like it broke down the emotional barriers of any resistance I held towards the trail in general, and I was now open to everything. You really start feeling like this.
And this even gets reflected in a lot of people, by how they start getting rid of items in their pack they don’t need. For me, I got completely rid of my sleeping bag and padding, which carried more weight than I wanted. I also was carrying protein powder in my bag, and I subconsciously left it at one of the albergues. As soon as it was gone, I remember thinking, why the hell did I bring protein powder anyway?
So when you really start feeling the transformation is when you start letting go more and more. It’s like an emotional cleansing. It might happen at different parts of the trail for different people. But you are definitely going to feel it at some point.
Acceptance leads to Spiritual
This is where it does start feeling like a spiritual travel pilgrimage. You start to feel free. You start really enjoying EVERYTHING about the trail. At the same time, when you are starting to feel free, this is the time when you start knowing everyone you are walking with at a deeper level. And from there on out, it becomes one of the best times of your life. This is where you start getting those feelings you call “spiritual”.
Think about it. You are walking outside 8 hours a day. You have physically, mentally, and emotionally gone through any challenges that have arose (and there are many). And you are enjoying every moment with a group of people, where all you are doing is walking and socializing.
You will feel like an entirely different person. You have accepted the obstacles on the trail and let them diminish in their resistance to a point you feel free. Acceptance is the key. That’s what the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage teaches you in the end.
How did it change me specifically?
When you get in the flow of walking you realize, that to be happy, you don’t really need anything. We are convinced that we have to have certain things in order to be happy, and that is truly not the case. Just walking with a group of people from town to town, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. Also, being in nature for 8-10+ hours a day is refreshing. Moving your body for that long everyday puts you in a great state of mind.
And even better, these people that you are meeting are from all around the world, all speak different languages and have a different perspective on life. You absorb these differences and learn to look at everything different than before.
What about the people that think the Camino De Santiago is terrible?
There are these people. I met some people that really thought the trail was horrible! But the thing about the trail is, because of the fact that you are put through so many different situations, whether you perceive the overall experience as good or bad, doesn’t matter. You are changed as a person, regardless. The perception a person individually has doesn’t change the fact that they had to navigate through many different obstacles on the trail, that they normally aren’t accustomed to. And for that reason, even if they hated it, it was transformational. When they look back they will undoubtebly believe that the trail was a great character builder, even if they wont admit it. For example I came across this article “10 reasons why the Camino De Santiago Sucks”, and I am still sure that even though this person thought it sucked, they still learned a lot about them self in the process.
Transforms Your Core
Now you know you can walk 800 km in 30 days.
You know you can live entirely in nature, with little exposure to technology.
And you know that you have created bonds with people from all around the world.
You know that you can handle any challenges that are presented to you, and adapt to them easier.
And something that I realize when I reflect back on that month, is that you can experience more in one month, then you can in ten years. I’m not joking. That is what it feels like.
The experiences that I gained in that one month are more than some people experience in 20-30 years of living. This is the peak of spiritual travel. If you haven’t seen the movie, I encourage you to watch it. It is called The Way and it is a very spiritually oriented movie about a fathers Camino Pilgrimage.
Not only did it make me want to continuously travel, but it makes me question if I will ever be sedentary!
Because traveling really is abundance of not only getting to see new exciting things, but of experiencing yourself in infinite different ways than you ever would ordinarily.