Unique Culture & Community – Both the AT and the Camino offer a unique sense of community. On the AT you will hear people talking about their “bubble” which is when you get caught up hiking with a group for hours, days or weeks. On the Camino you will hear it referred to as your Camino family. Either way, there is an amazing sense of camaraderie. And even if you don’t form deep lasting bonds, there is something amazing about stumbling into camp or a town at the end of a long day and recognizing those around you. Additionally, bonds are formed faster without the pretenses and labels of daily life. You will interact with people you would have never met otherwise.
Local Community Enthusiasm – As a rule, I found the towns along the Camino much more accepting and even enthusiastic about pilgrims than those along the AT are about hikers. Many towns along the AT don’t even realize the AT is there or rightly hold a grudge as a result of the impact the trail has had on their town. Towns along the camino have supported pilgrims for centuries and it is woven into the fabric of the town. They understand the heart of a pilgrim and it is not unusual for a local to wish you “Buen Camino.”
Food – Hands down food is better on the Camino! You can eat 3 meals a day in a café / restaurant or you can “rough it” by buying supplies daily at a grocery store. On the AT you carry what you eat, will rarely have more than one good meal in a row, and what you buy in town is often sugar laden convenience food.
Nature vs. City – While there is some nature on the Camino, especially in the first few days out of SJPP, the walking is mostly through small towns and country side instead of forests and mountains. That said, the miles are easier on the Camino but also more exposed to sun light and heat.
Demographics – Those walking the Camino range in age from early 20s through 70s and even older. The majority of the AT is a much younger group with the next largest representation from recent retirees. The Camino is much more international coming from all walks of life and countries. However, on both trails, regardless of age and background, most people are walking for a reason, are searching for something and have a story.
M&Ms – M&Ms (or candy of your choice) fill the same basic need on both trails – to help motivate you over the hard miles or for the last few miles of the day. Perfect for an emergency.
At the end of the day, and why I love them both, they both have the same simple battle rhythm – get up, eat, walk, reflect/talk to new friends, eat, sleep, repeat. Stop when you are hungry or tired. View the world through a new set of eyes at the pace your own feet can carry you. Live simply with only the things you can carry.
Buen Camino! Hike your own hike!