I recently completed my pilgrimage by walking 400 miles from Burgos, where I left off in 2018, to Santiago de Compostela. Unlike my last journey, I don’t have any vignettes to share or many revelations. But I do have some thoughts and practical advice.
Have a packing list: Every item in your pack should have a specific purpose. And ideally every item should have more than one purpose. The final list will be different for everyone but make sure anything you bring is quick drying. Do you want something to wear in the evenings? Do you want to sleep in your walking clothes or something different?
Pack for Extreme Temperatures: We know that the weather is unpredictable. Even if you are monitoring the weather closely, it is not unusual for there to be a heat wave or a cold front. During the three weeks of my last trip, Spain saw some of its hottest temperatures ever on record and the following week it was so cold that I slept in my coat and ended up buying both a fleece shirt and a sweatshirt. Think layers!
Booking Ahead: If and how much to book ahead is a controversial topic. I booked everything out months ahead of time. I wanted to walk longer miles each day and I had a set date I had to be home. For me, it was definitely the right decision. Some people only book 1-3 days ahead of time so they can see how they are feeling and adjust. For me, I didn’t want to spend my evenings planning the next several days and there were some cool places that I knew would be booked if I waited until just a few days prior. Others like the spontaneity of seeing what the day brings. I think the big point here is to know the tradeoffs.
Where to Stay: A future post will be devoted to my favorite places but for now, for the most part, don’t stay in the larger towns. They lack personality and the Camino spirit. Some obvious exceptions to this are SJPP, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and Carrion.
Poles: This last trip was the first time I ever hiked / walked with poles. I am glad I did. They made a huge difference for my knees but also my hands and upper body. Of note, you cannot bring poles as a carry-on but if you start your Camino at SJPP or a large city, just plan to stop by a Decathlon store to pick up what you need. Their prices are very affordable.
Shoes: I wore boots for the Pyrenees but probably didn’t have to. I don’t think boots are needed for the rest of the Camino and trail runners are more than appropriate.
Socks & Sock Liners: I had problems with my feet on my second Camino. It was recommended I were a thin liner under my wool socks. This worked great and I highly recommend it.
Rain Gear: For me, a simple poncho was more than enough. I am glad I didn’t pack more than that.
Sending your pack ahead: This is also controversial. For me it was more important to cover more miles and to enjoy the day. For my last Camino I sent my pack ahead every day and I am glad I did. But I guess it is important to know you have options. If it is important to you to carry it yourself, then do that. And if it gets to be too much, then switch. If you start by sending your bag ahead and you get into the minimalist spirit and start to shed some belongings, then carry it yourself. There is no single answer!!
Daily Distance: I met people doing as little as 10km a day. Most days I was doing 32-32kms a day. That is my limit and I didn’t really think through the impact of the temperatures and the repetitive day after day. Next time I will still probably plan on long days but will throw in a short day every 3rd day or so.
Near or Far End of Town: Something that didn’t occur to me until this Camino was to consider where I was staying based on the mileage planned that day or the next day. As an example, one day was a realitively short day and the place I’d picked was right at the beginning of town. And the following day was a longer day which added an unplanned ½ mile to get through town in the morning. In the future, I’ll take that into consideration…
The Last 100Km: I was not impressed. The entire atmosphere changed. Strangers no longer talked. There were huge tour buses and groups. This was so disappointing. So much so that my next Camino may be everything EXCEPT the last 100km.
Santiago, Muxia, and Finisterre: For me, Santiago was a huge let down. I felt much closer to God in the wheat fields of the Meseta than the Cathedral in Santiago. Additionally, the tickets for the cathedral was one of the most complicated processes I have ever encountered. I spent ½ day in Santiago and felt it was more than enough. I also rented a car and went on to Muxia and Finisterre. I LOVED Finisterre and would have enjoyed walking there.
I hope this helps provide you some considerations when planning your own Camino. Remember it is yours. There is no right or wrong. Buen Camino!