When we first thought about walking the Camino de Santiago, we didn’t know much at all. We had heard about it, and then watched a documentary with Paulo Coelho (who apparently decided to become a writer while walking the Camino) and the movie The Way with Martin Sheen.
We then researched and found a few good websites. But they mainly talked about the different routes, broken up into the usual 25-30km stages, what to pack, etc. Some of our questions were still left unanswered. Just before we started walking, we also found some Facebook groups, where people asked questions as they prepared for their Camino. By that time though, we were already packed and on our way.
If you are planning your first Camino and have (like us) gazillion questions about what to expect, today’s article is for you. Having done our first one (and very likely not the last), we have learned a few lessons, which we share with you here.
Lesson 1: Carry no more than 10% of your body weight
While we only carried 12 kilograms/26 pounds between us, I carried 9 kilograms / 20 pounds in my normal carry-on backpack. Paul’s Matador Daylite16 backpack only weighed 3 kilograms / 6 pounds due to his recent back surgery. It was doable, largely because we only averaged 10km/day, but it wasn’t the most comfortable.
If and when we do it again (assuming it would be without either one of us having an injury), we’d split the weight more evenly between us – the recommended backpack weight is 10% of your body weight – and use a proper hiking backpack.
Lesson 2: Mix up your accommodation to get a good night’s sleep
The best place to meet fellow pilgrims and make new friends are the albergues. However, sharing a room with heaps of other people doesn’t make for a great sleep: A lot of people snore (and often right next to you). Some pilgrims get up at the crack of dawn and wake everyone else: with crunching plastic bags, opening and closing noisy zippers, banging doors etc.
While earplugs help to some extent, having your own room and bathroom every once in a while will save your sanity.
- ULTRA COMFORTABLE - Made with super low-pressure, slow release, Comfy Cush Comfort Foam. Their user preferred color is as easy on your eyes as they are on your ears.
- ULTRA NOISE BLOCKERS – With a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 32 decibels, these versatile, noise blocking earplugs are great for sleeping, studying, work, travel, concerts, relaxation, motorcycling, loud events, etc.
- #1 BRAND FOR SNORING, SLEEPING AND TO PROTECT HEARING - Mack’s is the #1 doctor recommended brand of foam earplugs to protect hearing and to get a good night’s sleep when sleeping with a snoring spouse.
- #1 BRAND USED BY DOCTORS - Mack’s is the #1 brand of foam earplugs personally used by doctors. Trust the brand that doctors trust.
- MADE IN THE USA – Proudly made in the USA with safe, high performance, noise reducing foam. Satisfaction guaranteed. The plastic jar is safety-sealed and features a convenient flip-open top for easy dispensing.
- LASER LITE HI-VIS COLORS: Vibrant yellow & magenta color is highly visible from a distance to help ensure employee compliance and hearing safety; it also helps prevent loss or misplacement
- EXCELLENT NOISE REDUCTION (NRR 32): Self-Adjusting foam earplugs expand in the ear upon insertion to create a secure seal for excellent hearing protection in loud workplaces and jobsites
- IDEAL FOR SMALLER & LARGER EARS: Small size of earplug delivers optimal fit and ear protection for smaller ears, but low pressure foam expands to fit virtually any size ear and ear canal
- COMFORT & HYGIENE: Contoured T-shape allows for easy insertion and removal; Smooth, soil-resistant, closed-cell foam skin helps prevent dirt build-up; 200 pairs of earplugs per box
- RECOMMENDED INDUSTRIES: farming, chemical, construction, law enforcement, manufacturing, military, mining, municipal, oil & gas, pharmaceutical, steel, metal, transportation
Lesson 3: Even a Camino on the cheap costs about EUR25 a day
You can do the Camino on the cheap by staying only in municipal albergues and self-catering every day. To do that, you’ll have to carry food with you, as there is not always a groceries shop (open) when you need one (refer lesson 5).
To give yourself a bit more wiggle room, budget at least EUR25/day: EUR10 for accommodation (in albergues), EUR10 for a pilgrim’s lunch plus EUR5 for a DIY dinner and breakfast. And don’t forget to budget for the day/s before you start/after you finish.
Lesson 4: Protecting the environment is not as easy as you think (but you can do your bit)
Speaking of self-catering: small traditional stores where they shave the ham off the bone or slice up the cheese for you without wrapping them in tons of plastic are hard to come by on the Camino. Most food you buy in shops along the way comes pre-packaged, sadly.
If you carry your own food, try and buy at markets (or those traditional stores) as much as you can and reduce plastic waste by bringing a reusable container, a lightweight chopping board and a spork. You can use the container also to bring home any leftovers if and when you dine out (tortilla makes for a nice breakfast the next morning).
- Durable and High Quality Food Grade 18/8 Stainless Steel Construction
- Comes with BPA-free Polypropylene #5 cap with Stainless Steel bottom to create an all-stainless interior
- Large 2.125 inch (54 millimeter) opening fits ice, easy to fill and pour; Compatible with all Klean Kanteen Wide caps
- Easy to clean electropolished interior doesn't retain or impart flavors
- Backed by the Klean Kanteen Strong as Steel Guarantee
Lesson 5: Grocery shops are not open around the clock
Especially if you self-cater your Camino, be aware that most grocery shops are closed from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, and over lunch. Dinner in Spain is usually not before 2000h, and simple bars/cafeterias often only serve bread-based meals: bocadillos (a baguette sandwich with cheese, ham etc) or tostadas (a toasted open sandwich).
Plan your (weekend) meals ahead and stop for a cooked pilgrim’s lunch along the way (which will tide you over until dinner, if not the next morning). Bring snacks (muesli bars and apples are great) as an emergency supply.
Lesson 6: A sleeping bag is not always needed
All private albergues (we stayed in) and some municipal albergues provide blankets and linen (at least on the Camino Portugués). Unless you plan to stay only/mostly in municipal albergues, you won’t need to bring a sleeping bag (just a liner) in Spring/Autumn. If you are getting cold easily just put on another layer of clothing or grab another blanket, which is easy as in Spring/Autumn albergues are never full.
Lesson 7: Galicia is juicy green for a reason… it’s called rain
It rains a lot in Galicia, at any time of the year. So, don’t skip on the rain cover, even in Summer. Bring a light-weight but sturdy rain poncho that covers you and your backpack. And count yourself lucky if you do get to Santiago without a drop of rain.
- ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Men's Watertight II Jacket is crafted of a waterproof nylon shell durable enough to withstand anything from drizzle to downpour at a moment's notice.
- HANDY FEATURES: This rain jacket features an abrasion resistant chin guard, two zippered side pockets, elastic cuffs, and an elastic hem.
- COMFORT & WARMTH: Crafted of a waterproof 100% nylon shell, this rain jacket is lightweight while remaining protective. It also packs into your hand pocket. Center Back Length: 29 in
- SNUG FIT: Elastic details and a zippered closure provide a snug, yet comfortable fit that allows for movement.
- OMNI-SHIELD - Go ahead, try and get dirty. Omni-Shield helps you stay clean and dry by resisting the absorption of liquids. Unlike most fabrics that absorb moisture, Omni-Shield repels moisture and dries quickly?avoiding stains and keeping you clean.
- WATER-REPELLENT MEN’S RAIN JACKET: The Columbia Glennaker Lake Rain Jacket is a water-repellent men’s rain jacket made from superior materials that are machine washable for easy care. This rain jacket is safe for machine wash
- HIGH-PERFORMANCE RAINCOAT FOR MEN: This water-repellent rain jacket is built with a front-zip closure that features a contrasting yoke and internal drawcord hem. This feature permits you to adjust it for a perfect fit
- CONVENIENT FEATURES: Columbia has incorporated multiple convenient features into our Men’s Glennaker Lake Rain Jacket, including zippered side-entry pockets at the hip, a hideaway hood, and adjustable cuffs
- WATERPROOF FABRIC: This men’s rain jacket features a Hydroplus 100% nylon shell that is waterproof. It has been designed to keep you dry, even during heavy downpours. The inner 100% polyester fine mesh helps to maintain heat
- OMNI-SHIELD: Go ahead, try and get dirty. Omni-Shield helps you stay clean and dry by resisting the absorption of liquids. Unlike most fabrics that absorb moisture, Omni-Shield repels moisture and dries quickly—avoiding stains and keeping you clean
- ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Women's Arcadia II Jacket features our signature, air-permeable protection that’s waterproof and breathable to shield your little one from drizzle to downpour. Center back length: 26"
- ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: This shell top jacket features an adjustable storm hood, drawcord adjustable hem, and zippered hand pockets for ultimate comfort.
- LIGHT & PACKABLE: The waterproof, lightweight design packs into your hand pocket for convenience on days when the weather is unpredictable.
- DURABLE FABRIC: 100% nylon 2L fabric with a 100% polyester mesh lining keeps you warm, yet remains breathable.
- OMNI-TECH: Our Omni-Tech technology features air-permeable protection that’s waterproof and breathable. It provides excellent waterproof protection, keeping mother nature's elements out, at the same time allowing the inside to breathe.
Lesson 8: There are trade-offs in walking (less than) the average per day
Many pilgrims walk 25-30km/day. With breaks, that’s a whole day of walking (every day). While you cover a lot of ground, you don’t actually get to see more than what can be seen from the Camino. If you do it slower you have the time and energy to explore a bit more. Baiona, Redondela, Pontevedra, Combarro and Padrón are all worthy of your time – and that’s only the Galician part of the Camino Portugués.
If you do walk shorter distances each day though be aware that you will be meeting and walking with new people every day. And by the time you reach Santiago, most of your new friends will be (long) gone. As a compromise, you could mix shorter with longer days.
Lesson 9: Get at least two stamps a day if you start in Galicia
If you start your Camino within Galicia, you need to get at least 2 stamps a day for your pilgrim’s credentials. We only discovered that requirement 25 kilometres before Santiago. We only got stamps at our nightly accommodation but wondered why cafes and churches offered them too. Fortunately, we started our Camino in Caminha, on the Portuguese side of the Minho river which separates Galicia from Portugal. Phew…
Lesson 10: Spring is a great season to walk the Camino
Spring is a nice time to walk: There are fewer pilgrims. Guesthouse and hotel accommodation is cheaper (a double room with own bathroom often costing the same as two dorm beds). The temperature is very pleasant for walking – not too hot/not too cold.
Doing the Camino in Spring though also has downsides: Fewer places are open (especially places where you can eat). And the weather can be pretty atrocious (refer lesson 7).
Lesson 11: No pain no gain… just keep going
Expect to hurt. At least to some degree and at some stage. That’s normal. Just take one day at a time and continue walking (even if just a few kilometres a day). Only stop if you really have to. Keeping that in mind, make sure you leave enough time for (a) rest day/s.
Lesson 12: Test your fitness and your gear
Speaking of pain: We met quite a few fellow pilgrims who did training walks (with and without their backpacks) for months before commencing their Camino. We didn’t. But then, we walk (almost) every day with our carry-on backpacks anyway. We also walk in the same shoes (almost) every day (and wear merino socks). As a result, we didn’t have any blisters whatsoever, and we don’t think they would have magically appeared had we doubled our daily distance.
If your lifestyle is more nascent, and you drive everywhere, definitely get used to walking more (with weight on your back) before you embark on your Camino. You could, for example, carry your groceries home in your Camino backpack instead of taking the car.
Also, get some good merino socks and walk a lot in the shoes you’re going to wear. We found our Salomons to be the best allrounders for the terrain (and weather) on our Camino.
Lesson 13: Don’t be an easy target… protect your stuff
We’ve heard of fellow pilgrims who got robbed while sleeping in their albergue. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen, sadly. With some pilgrims leaving early, the thieves are long gone by the time you discover that your money or other valuables have disappeared.
Don’t assume that everyone staying in your albergue is a fellow pilgrim. If there are no lockers (which is generally the case in municipal albergues), make it hard for others to access your money/valuables: lock your backpacks with a small padlock, attach them to your bedpost, take valuables with you when you go out.
Lesson 14: Don’t leave too soon…soak it up
Stay an extra day more. You deserve it. Or do what Martin Sheen did in The Way. Don’t stop walking…