For many pilgrims, the Camino de Santiago is a walk of a lifetime and a very special and personal experience. Two Trekkers walked along the Camino Frances in October 2016 from the gorgeous village of Astorga to Santiago de Compostela, a fine effort at 261 kilometres in 11 days. Whether you start at St Pied de Port and walk 800km or keep going from Santiago de Compostela and walk an additional 110km to Finisterre we have jotted down a few ideas to make your trek more comfortable and organized so that you just have to focus on nothing else but getting from A to B!
Tip 1 – Pack light!
Unfortunately we couldn’t pack light as we had all our gear from our world travels so our packs were around 18 kilos for Tom and 13 kilos for Jade. Not too bad, but the ideal weight would be under 10 kilos. There were other nomads in the same boat as us, so we didnt feel too bad until we saw the pilgrims here just for the Camino with the tiny backpacks. There are services available to ship your pack from Albergue to Albergue but this doesn’t give you a lot of flexibility if you decide to walk less or more during the day. There are however laundries available everywhere so you are able to pack light and wash clothes as needed.
Tip 2 – Take a sleeping bag and/or liner
Many of the cheaper Albergues only provide a disposable fitted sheet and nothing else. The mid range hostels may provide blankets if your lucky. It can get chilly at night so be prepared with your own gear.
Tip 3 – Pack for all seasons
We trekked in October and it was warm and sunny during the day and cold in the evenings. For the few days through Galicia it was rainy, foggy and cold in the mountains. Your best bet is to be prepared for all weather events and pack layers, rain, wind and sun protection.
Tip 4 – Eye mask and ear plugs!
For many people, staying in rooms with 26 other people is not something they are used to! People snore, stay up late and wake up early! It can be very hard to get to sleep and sleep soundly through the night. Pack some ear plugs and a eye mask and you will be very glad you did!
Tip 5 – Budgeting
The Camino de Santiago is a very cheap way to see northern Spain. You are using your own two feet so your transport costs are nil. For a place to sleep and meals you can spend as little as €20 a day. The pilgrim hostels known as Albergues range in price from €5 for the basic Municipal ones to €10 for the privately owned. You must have your passport and credential (see next point) in order to stay. Pilgrim meals are offered at cafes and restaurants along the way as well as at some of the private Albergues. These range in price from €8-10 and are usually entree, main and dessert with wine. These can vary in quality so you also have the option to self cater as there are numerous cheap grocery stores and supermarkets in most bigger towns and cooking facilities at the Albergues.
Tip 6 – Credential or Pilgrims Passport
When you first begin your Camino you can pick one of these up for a few euros at the municipal Albergues or tourist offices. You must show them when organizing accommodation and buying pilgrim meals. In order to be eligible for your Compestela (certificate) at the end in Santiago de Compostela you must get two or more stamps per day along the route. Surprisingly it’s tricky to get stamps (sellos) at churches so get them at the cafes that you stop in during the day and at the Albergue in the evening.
Tip 7 – Take breaks!
It is not the race to Santiago, it’s the way to Santiago! If you set off too fast you will end up injured. Go at your own pace and stop regularly for a break. The little cafe/bars have great coffee for as little as €1 and this might come along with a free biscuit, churro or slice of cake! Also the Bocadillos – baguette sandwiches – are great for breakfast or lunch (the bacon and cheese was our fave!) and are so cheap starting at €3.50. Also don’t worry too much about following the stages set out online or in books. There are Albergues every 5-10km, so if you’ve had enough, you can stop early and if you feel great you can keep going!
Tip 8 – Look after your feet!
We saw so many people with huge blisters and swollen feet. We heard horror stories of people that had hurt their feet so badly that they had to take buses for the rest of the way. As you are walking on asphalt for many sections it can be very tough on your tootsies! Make sure you wear your shoes in throughly before you start your Camino, bring along some plasters and tape in case of any rubbing or blisters. Go slow – know your limits, take breaks and take your shoes off to breathe during the day and my trick – wear two pairs of socks!
Tip 9 – When to go?
The most popular months are June, July and August and this is also summer. It does not appeal at all to us to walk in the heat. There is not a lot of shade and you will get cooked! There is also more competition to get a bed at night in the Albergues so you may have to keep walking to find a place to stay. As for the winter months, nothing is open so that’s not a good time at all either! Your best bet is to go in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. It won’t be as crowded with people, most hostels and shops will be open and it won’t be too hot during the day.
Tip 10 – Have fun!
Don’t be afraid to travel alone, it is so safe and there were people of all ages and genders trekking by themselves that we met and became friends with along the way. Meeting new people and sharing this life changing walk is the best part. Many nights we had shared meals and laughs with people from all over the world. At different sections we would walk and talk with others that we stayed in touch with the whole time and then there were people you see once and never again.
Once you arrive in Santiago, head to the square in front of the cathedral to see the mass of pilgrims arrive, smiling and hugging each other as they marvel in the satisfaction of completing their walk. Around the corner you can go and get your Compostela as a memento of your trip. It’s free. If you want an additional personalized Compostela you can pay €3. For €2 you can purchase a tube to protect it on your way home.