Advice for preparing to walk the Camino, Top Ten Tips
In the Spring of 2017, I walked the 500 miles of the Camino Frances. For me, like many others, it was the experience of a lifetime. It’s a sojourn I would commend it to all, old, young, fit, feeble, outgoing, and meek as a church mouse. Along the way, I discovered a few lessons on preparing to walk the Camino; some easily obtained, others through the school of “Hard Knocks.” My “Top Ten Tip” list below may help you better prepare for your adventure as you walk along the Camino de Santiago.
Walking “the way,” exposes you to two discoveries; perhaps the most insightful is the discovery of “Self” within this sojourn of splendid isolation from your daily “back home” routines. Secondly is the experience of magnificent Spain with all its history, culture, customs and culinary delights. But as with most things in life, the better prepared you are, the better will be your appreciation for the experience.
The Top Ten
1) Know why you are going
Your aim will help you orient your entire journey. Everybody’s Camino is different, some are spiritual, some adventurous, others for the fitness aspects, some, just to leave life behind for a while. Truly understanding what it is that calls you to the Camino will help you orient your experience and make the most of it. Spend time reflecting on the “why” of walking the Camino.
2) Prepare Mentally
Walking the Camino is a commitment, and if your head is not in the game to live the full experience, it could be disappointing.
– Once you decide to go, dedicate time each week (initially) to get in shape and learn more about the journey. As you get closer to going, devote more time each day.
– Clean up your commitments at home, so when you are on the Camino, your mind won’t stray back home because of unfinished business.
– If walking for spiritual reasons, investigate the bounds of your commitment and moderate your spiritual expectations of what you wish to derive from the experience.
3) Prepare Physically
You will literally see all varieties of personal conditioning along the Camino. The only common denominator between all the “Perigrinos” (Pilgrim) is the overwhelming desire to be there. If it’s strong enough, you’ll make it to Santiago de Compostela. Having said that, being in shape really helps.
Preparing by walking extensively, with a little weight on your back, is a great way to train your body. But it’s also time-consuming. If you can’t prepare by walking 6-10 miles a few days a week, then concentrate on being as fit and healthy as you can be on the day you arrive in Spain. If you are healthy, then the fitness will come, as long as you don’t push your body too hard in the early days.
4) Prepare Intellectually
Do your research. Understand exactly what you are getting yourself into to limit the “unfortunate “surprises and leave more space to enjoy the little pleasures along the way. Before you go, research some of the most fundamental concerns:
- How do I get there?
- Where will I spend the nights (Albergues, Hostel, Hotel) and the customs and etiquettes?
- How long and how far will I walk each day? (Prepare a day by day trail map ahead of time)
- Forms of payment and how much money will I need? How much cash should you carry?
- What are my emergency plans (insurance, notifications, embassy contact info, etc.)?
- Am I prepared (and equipped) for the normal weather requirements?
- What are my expectations to see and experience along the way?
This list is not comprehensive, but a start. Having a sense of what you are about, gives you a “plan” from which you can deviate to make the most of the experience. Having no “clue” or plan before you go means your starting from ground zero. A ‘zero to sixty’ start causes you to spend too much effort on the basics; it leaves you too exhausted, or distracted, to appreciate the more exquisite subtleties and complexities the Camino offers.
5) Learn a little Spanish
Spanish, a little goes a long way. My talent for foreign languages is horrible. But, I did study up on the most likely keywords and phrases and tried to commit them to memory. The rest I committed to my iPhone’s memory. Even-though I massacred the language when I uttered the words, most Spaniards along the trail appreciated the effort. Because they’ve been hosting foreigners for centuries (literally), they’ve broken the code on bad Spanish and always find a way to figure out what you want (it’s not hard, you usually want a bed, a bathroom, or coffee/wine).
6) Learn some History about the Camino and Spain
For most, Spain will be an entirely captivating experience, but it can also be a little confusing and, at times, overwhelming. The more you learn about the Camino de Santiago and Spain’s magnificent and varied history, the better prepared you’ll be to understand, and therefore, appreciate the experience. There is a cornucopia of tailor-made books available to all, get one or two. Search YouTube for others’ experiences (mine is here), read blogs (mine is here), and brush up on your Spanish history. Doing so will enrich yourself experience; you’ll be grateful for the time well spent.
7) Less is more (regarding equipment)
It’s counter-intuitive but true. The less equipment and clothing you bring, the better will be your experience. Unless you plan to have your backpack transported ahead each day (services are available), then the less weight you carry equates to more focus on your surroundings and less on the pains in your back, neck, and legs. The basic rules that helped me were:
- Equipment/clothing that serves multiple purposes is better than single-use items.
- If you’re not sure you need it, you probably don’t.
- Spain has been hosting walkers for centuries; if you need it, and don’t have it, you can buy it along the trail.
- There are Post Offices along the way when you discover you have too much. Mail your excess In Care Of yourself to the Santiago de Compostela Main Post Office. Recover it when you finish.
Research the web and find your right list, then walk with it, and walk more.
8) Break in good walking shoes
Good walking shoes are key! This piece of advice for walking the Camino is understated, but its value cannot be over appreciated. Make sure your walking shoes are comfortable for walking long distances. Feet are everything on the Camino, and a lousy set of shoes will detract from “everything.” Take this advice as gospel and break in your footwear appropriately.
9) Open your eyes, your ears and your heart
There is more to experience along the Camino than you can possibly experience in a single walk. Prepare for your Camino by walking with your head off the ground. Look forward, look left and right, look back and look up! Use your two eyes, your two ears, and all your senses. Feel the brisk winds off the Pyrenees and the sweltering, arid sun reflecting off the Meseta. Listen to the shaggy horses play in the fields and the sheep bleating along the trials while church bells ring in the distance. Breathe in the aromas of coffee and pastries and garlic sauces. Put yourself in the middle of the experience and not an observer of yourself. Live in the moment. These are easy words to convey, but they take practice to get right. Practice this at home to better prepare yourself for walking the Camino.
10) Prepare to record your journey
Walking the Camino can be a surreal experience. While there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the differences of it all, and easy to grow disinterested by the similarities. The sights begin to blend together. This is a shame. Many of our memories become static, and we lose the richness of our experience.
To overcome the tragic loss of our heightened senses, prepare to capture your experience as you live them. Do it through photos, drawings and handwritten journals. Write letters or postcards to friends. My preferred method is to write an online Blog and take photos. I bought a larger Smartphone and a very small fold-able Bluetooth keyboard as my blogging and picture taking device. It worked great.
Months and years later, you can relive the Camino by rereading your blogs and viewing your photos. The experience is too valuable to commit only to memory.
10+) Engage with others, often
Do it early, do it often; talk to friends, local Camino Clubs, Online websites, and forums. Get used to the ‘language of the trail’ before you go, so you’re in sync with others when you arrive. Learn to walk alone and then learn to walk with others.
Experiencing the journey alone produces many remarkable opportunities, sharing it with others, brings along more. Doing both, walking alone and walking with others is the way to get the most out of the Camino. Alone, you get the unfiltered insights of your own heart and mind; walking together, you get the benefit of others’. Alone, your imagination can take you to the extreme edges of your mind; together, both imaginations can take you further. Alone, one can develop a deeper understanding of self; together, develop a deeper understanding of us all. Spending the evening in the company of others over dinner and drinks, chatting about the day’s sights and events is one of the highlights of the journey.
That’s it! That’s my Top Ten pointers of advice for preparing to walk the Camino. There’s much more that fills volumes of books and videos, but I think this is the essence of it all. If you enjoyed the general style and flair of this article, then perhaps you’ll enjoy some of my other writings or media from my experiences along the Camino de Santiago. Below are links leading you to my writings, photos and a VLOG along the Way. If you enjoyed the article, found it useful or just want to leave a comment, please do.
Cheers – Darren
(preparing to walk the Camino)
Interesting Links related to preparing to walk the Camino
- My unedited Blog series from the trail Link Here
- If you prefer an edited, consolidated version, you can download a free PDF file featuring my preparations, packing lists, work-out schedule, mileage charts, and the day-to-day narrative. Link Here
- If you’re into videos, then my 32 minute YouTube VLOG may be just your thing. Link Here
- Check out our photos along the way (please do not download). Link Here
- Looking for wall art of the spectacular Iberian Peninsula. Link Here
preparing to walk the Camino