Going into my pilgrimage more or less blind, I came out learning a few things:
- Signposting: I really should have known this before I left, but yes, the Way is posted! Once you know what the signs look like and you have that search image, it’s really hard to get lost. Also look for the signs on cafes, hostels and restaurants, they may offer a pilgrim discount!
- Stamps and certificate: I also should have known the rules of the stamps before I set off, but the completion certificate wasn’t exactly my endgame. For walkers, you need at least two stamps a day for the last 100 kilometers to earn a completion certificate in Santiago. Your best bet for stamps are tourist offices and hostels, but even restaurants, cafes and bars might dish them out, especially the closer you get to Santiago de Compostela.
- Start early: The earlier you start, the earlier you get you pick of hostels at your destination for the day. Plus, with breaks for lunch, admiring the view, walking around town or simply fatigue, walking is going to take you longer than you expect.
- Not so fast…: As the uncultured American I am, before this trip, I have never eaten grapes with seeds in them or fish with bones in. If you’re not familar with the local food, take small bites at first, you never know what you’ll find.
- Don’t look and walk: If the view is nice, stop and then have a look around, don’t keep walking. It’s not worth a twisted ankle.
- Snacks galore: In some areas, food is hard to come by. Some days, I would have to walk miles still at peak meal times to get to the next village that had a food shop. Pack snacks, but not too much so that it adds an uncomfortable weight to your bag. I usually only carried around a few pieces of fruit and granola at a time.
- Crossing water: On my Way, I had to cross into Spain by ferry. What I hadn’t even considered was the tide that could effect ferry times. Thankfully, I got to the port at high tide so I could cross immediately, but don’t rely on my luck. Do your own research about tides if you have to cross water.
- Don’t stop at the first place you see: I know you’ve had a long day of walking, and so do the locals of towns through which the Camino crosses. I reckon on the outskirts of town, the prices are especially high as weary travelers would be willing to pay most anyting to lay their head down. My general rule of thumb was to skip the first few lodging places and go into the proceeding few and stick with the cheapest option of those.
- Don’t dock hotels: While pilgrim hostels (albergues) are cheap and a good way to meet fellow peregrinos, hotels can be a nice break to have a big, comfortable bed and private bathroom for a small cost more. The hostels I stayed in were about €15 per night, where a simple hotel room was about €25. Not a big difference for the upgrade of value!
- Don’t keep up with anyone: While getting to know other pilgrims on the Way is exciting, I don’t recommend walking with them. Everyone has their own pace and to make your Camino most enjoyable, you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else’s. The best place to talk is in the hostel at the end of the day while you’re all relaxing!
- “It’s your Camino”: This is what I was told when I was caught jamming to my music out loud by a walker that snuck up on me. I apologized, embarrassed, but she simply told me, “But comfortable, it’s your Camino.” Do whatever makes your walk most enjoyable.
- Don’t set a break time: With the gears constantly going in my head, I was always concerned about when and where would be a good place to rest; I would try to set times or distances to aim for. While keeping up a good pace is a good goal, listing to your body is more important. It’s simple: take a break when you want to, walk when you want to.
- Plan for days off: You’re going to need it.
- What I wish I brought: I wish I packed an umbrella or rain poncho, a casual outfit, flip flops, light blanket (some hostels only give out a fitted sheet to lay on), no cotton (I brought exactly one cotton shirt and I sweat through it in a matter of minutes, stick with lighter material), a few pens and cell phone service (I was originally going to go without service, but my U.K. provider includes service in the E.U. for free. I don’t know what I would have done without it).
- Training: With my training, my objectives were to break in my shoes and build stamina. Clearly, my shoes weren’t broken into enough (or simply not of high quality) as I had to stop my Way early due to horrible blisters. My training was so small and infrequent I’m not sure how much of a difference it made. When I train next time, my main objective will be to understand what causes my blisters and how best to take care of them seeing as they were my biggest problem on this Camino.
- What to research: While winging it worked more or less for me, here are a few things I wish I would have known: alternatives to get to your destination if you get hurt or tired (I used the Rome2Rio app on the road), different stretches to relieve pain you experience in training, different types of accommodation and perhaps a brief history about the places you’ll be staying and passing through.
Really great/interesting post BUT you are truly special Rachel. Very few young adults have your drive and determination to achieve their goals. Stay safe. We love you. AC
Very interesting, informative and useful. You truly have a gift for writing. Have you ever considered writing a book? Love, Gpa