This is a guest post by Kim, a Toronto native who travels the world on weekends and holidays. I’ve been to over 50 countries and am an avid photo grapher, hiker, climber and adventurer. You can check out more at www.myglobalways.com.
The Camino is one of the most popular long distance walking trail in Europe, it is also one of only two UNESCO trails in the world (the other is Kumano Kodo in Japan). It is traditionally a pilgrimage from your doorstep to the steps of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Now a days the majority of people who walk it are not religious and walk a much shorter distance.
There are many different routes to Santiago, the most popular starts in France and goes across the top of Spain. I’ve been lucky enough to walk the Camino twice. Once starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port with my family for 32 days. The second time I walked the Camino Portuguese for 13 days with a small group of friends. The Camino is one of my favourite walking trails and I will defiantly be going back for a 3rd time (and probably a 4th, 5th and 6th time). I think the Camino is the perfect long distance trail for both beginner and experienced hikers so I’ve come up with 5 of my biggest tips to help you plan and walk your first Camino.
1. Set your expectations
The Camino is unique, but it is not for everyone. As far as long distance walking trails go the Camino does not have the best scenery, the trail is not always nice and the food and accommodation vary greatly. Thats not to say that the Camino is a bad walking trail, it quite a nice trail. It runs through some of the most beautiful Spanish country side and towns, a lot of it along old Roman roads. The wine is to die for and some of the accommodation are wonderful.
However the Camino is a country side walk not a wilderness trek. This means that there will be days where you walk along side a major road or through a soulless ghost town. Even though those days are not common you do have to expect and be prepared for them (bring some music).
Now I probably haven’t sold the Camino well so far, but theres got to be a reason why I and so many others love the Camino? Well it’s the people. What the Camino may lack in mountain top panoramas it makes up for with community. Over 300 000 pilgrims walk the Camino every year which means yes sometimes it is crowded. But it also means that you are walking along side some of the most interesting people I have ever met in my life.
Everyone on the Camino has a story and wants to make friends. Plus most people tend to walk at a similar pace so you’ll be able to get to know these people pretty well as you’ll bump into them every few days. It is quite common to form Camino families and is one of the reasons the Camino is so good for solo hikers.
2. Pack lightly
This should be a obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how much stuff people bring on the Camino. It is important to remember the the Camino is not a particularly hard hike – the terrain is generally pretty easy and the trail is obvious. The most difficult thing about the Camino is that it is LONG and hot. That means every extra shirt or book you bring will be weighing you down for days if not weeks.
It is also important to remember that the Camino is a country side walk. If you run out of sun screen, there will be a shop a few miles down the road. If you decide you actually do want that extra shirt or that your book is a dud? Thats ok buy a new one in the next town. There is no sense in carrying ‘just in case items’ on the Camino because it is so much easier to resupply than on other long distance hikes.
3. Bring blister preventing and blister treating gear
Blisters are your worse enemy on the Camino and it is almost inevitable that you will get one (it is a point of pride that I walked my first Camino without one). You should do every thing you can to prevent getting them and to get rid of them quickly when you do get them. Blister talk become a popular dinner conversation topic on the Camino and you will likely develop your own strategies to deal with them, but here are a few of mine.
- Wear comfortable, but big shoes. A little known fact about long distance hiking – your feet will swell and bigger shoes give them more room to do so. A lot of people love hiking in sandals to allow their feel to breath even more.
- Rub vaseline on problem areas (coconut oil also works). I like to call this ‘foot lube’. Essentially if you have a problem area on your foot rub some sort of lubricant on it to reduce friction.
- Change your socks often. Wet and sweaty socks will lead to blisters, change them before that happens.
- Needle and thread is your best friend. In my opinion this is the best trick of the trade. If you get a blister thread a needle, pop your blister with it and leave the thread in over night. It’s kind of gross, but all of the fluid will drain and you’ll be good to walk again the next day!
You can find more of my blister prevention tips here.
4. Invest in good gear
At it’s shortest the Camino is 100km, which means you will be stuck with your gear for a decent amount of time so make sure its good. This largely applies to your shoes, backpack and socks. If these are all high quality you should be good. Make sure you’ve broken in your shoes before and that you wear real hiking socks, not athletic socks. Make sure your backpack has proper back support and a waist strap.
A walking stick or hiking poles can also be helpful as they greatly reduce the stress on your knees caused by the long distances and abundance of concrete. Good gear will make a world of different on such a long hike!
5. Relax, be flexible, stay present – this is your journey no one else
It is important to remember that the flexibility that the Camino provides is one of the biggest benefit of doing it. You could ship your bags every day or taxi when your feet get sore. You could walk 10km or 40km days. You can stay in fancy hotels or in public alburges every night. You can do it over a few days, weeks or years. Some people think that the cheaper you are the more of a pilgrim you are or that if you hop on a bus you are cheating. But this flexibility allows people of different skill levels, ages and professions walk the Camino and the diversity of people on the Camino is one of the best part about it. There is no right or wrong way to walk the Camino; your Camino is yours and you can walk it however you would like.
There are few times in your life when you will have the chance to relax as much as on the Camino. I know that sounds weird because the Camino is an incredibly long hike, but it has a way of getting under your skin. Your only mission every day is to walk, don’t think about the end goal just enjoy the journey. Soon waking up and walking everyday will be the easiest most relaxing thing in the world! My biggest tip for walking to Camino is to stay in the present, relax and try to appreciate how lucky you are to be able to walk it.
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