Planning your Camino de Santiago

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People looking at a map

Planning the trip

Pilgrims along the camino
Santa Irene Church
camino road marker with village in background

If you’re anything like me, from the first moment I heard about the Camino I knew I wanted to walk it. Somehow the Camino calls you and gets into your heart, and it’s hard to forget.

My problem was - how do you actually plan for a Camino? Even after reading countless guidebooks and talking to people, I was still unsure how to go about walking it. Which route do I take? How do I get from Madrid to the Camino? Is it safe? What do I bring with me? How does luggage transfer work? Are there really bed bugs? Haha!

Being a completely left brained person, I needed to know all the logistics before I began. I’m not one of those people who packs some stuff, doesn’t book any accommodations and can just take off and hope for the best but that's just me. Now that the Camino has become so popular, it’s essential that pilgrims plan out their Camino and book ahead. I know we book our hotels many months in advance and specially if it’s a holy year (2021).

The first step in planning your Camino should be first and foremost finding the time to do it.

The last 100 km of the French camino can be walked in 5 days, but it’s located in rural northwest Spain. It’s about 5 hours to either Barcelona or Madrid by car, and if you decide to fly into Santiago you need to get to the town where you will begin walking. So 6 days walking, a couple of days traveling within Spain, and getting to and from Spain, you’re looking at a minimum 9 day trip, most likely 10. So just finding the time to walk the Camino is the number 1 challenge in planning.

Next you need to decide what kind of Camino you’d like to walk - guided or self-guided.

A guided Camino will take care of everything for you. They’ll book your hotels, transfer your baggage, and make it easy for you just to focus on walking the Camino.

A self-guided tour is basically what it sounds like - you walk on your own, no team with you, and can make your own arrangements on the way. There are self-guided tour companies that will book hotels for you and some of the services as well, but once you hit the ground for the most part you’re on your own.

When deciding what kind of Camino, it’s important to research what kind of Camino you’d like to walk because there are many options. There are Camino purists who insist in staying at accommodations on the Camino and not take transportation to nicer hotels. There are guided luxury Caminos that stay at higher end hotels off the Camino, others who offer basic no-frills Caminos that stay in crowded shared-dormitory hostels, and then there are some in the middle.

For your first Camino, I would recommend you stay somewhere on the nicer side but directly on the Camino. I think it takes away from the magic of the Camino if every day you’re shuttled away by bus to a hotel and don’t have the chance to meet and socialize with other pilgrims in the towns. Also on the low end, the hostels along the way can be crowded and hot, although it does lend some ambiance to the whole experience.

Choosing a guided Camino that provides an authentic experience is something I would recommend.

If you see that they transfer walkers or don’t have accommodations directly on the Camino, you should realize that you might miss out on some of the experience.

Finally, you need to consider the physical aspect of the Camino. I know on my first Camino I was so apprehensive, worried that I might not be able to walk that much each day. 15 miles a day seemed impossible - but it wasn’t! You can absolutely walk the Camino, no matter your age or fitness ability.

By far the most important thing you can do to prepare is get good shoes and start walking in them every day.

One of the times I walked the Camino I decided to try out my GoFit sneakers from Sketchers. After 5 miles I had bruises on the bottom of my feet and 2 black toenails- ouch! Because it is a long walk, the sole of your shoe must be thick enough to protect your foot, but also flexible enough to allow you to walk comfortably. I can’t tell you how many pairs of hiking boots I’ve seen just abandoned on the Camino. So get a good pair of trail runners and break them in! Try to get in a few long walks before the Camino and get a feel what it’s like to walk long distances.

If you have booked accommodations in advance, then you can walk the Camino at your own pace and you literally have all day to do it without having to compete for space at the hostels. If after every mile you feel like you should stop and rest, that’s perfectly fine! I’m pretty sure I stopped after every hill on my first Camino (there are a lot of hills). If you have arthritis and your body gets achy and you need to stop, then stop.

If you’re with a guided tour, you have that extra safety net as there will be someone to assist you nearby.

The Camino is a physical and mental challenge, but it’s doable by most people. One year my school took my class of 6th graders and we all walked the Camino, and many times I see much older adults (65+) walking the Camino. Do not let your age stop you from walking the Camino.

Tell me, what have you done to plan for your Camino? Which type of tour did you take or are you planning to take? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Buen Camino, pilgrims!

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