So you want to walk the Camino de Santiago, now what?
Since I come from the world of software, when I decided to walk my Camino, I quickly put on my “project management hat.” Here is a starting checklist you may want to consider when planning for your life-changing journey. As I mentioned, it’s just a start, but hopefully helpful. I will be providing much more detailed planning guides in the near future.
Michelle & your Camino Concierge Team
√ Determine your motive – When you arrive at the final Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago de Compostela, you will be asked your reason for walking the Camino. These fall into several categories (Religious, Spiritual, Cultural, etc.) Ask yourself, “Why am I walking the Camino?” Create an intention, for this will motivate you in your preparations and walk.
√ Pick a season – Determine which season you would like to walk. Each season of the year provides different benefits and challenges. I started my Camino on October 9th, just after the busy season. If (when) I walk again, I will probably commence at the beginning of October, because by the end of October, many alburgues began to close for the season.
√ Set a start date – This date will be the day you will plan around. Here’s a tip – I started on a Tuesday; unfortunately, the travel guides and standard walking stages landed me in many of the big cities on a Sunday… that’s not a good thing since most shops are closed on that day. Also, your start date may be determined by when the Botafumeiro (literally ‘smoke spreader’ in Galician) is swing during mass in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. You can consult the Santiago Pilgrims’ Office website for dates.
√ Purchase a guidebook – There are many guidebooks in various languages for walking the Camino. On my Camino I used A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean • Roncesvalles • Santiago by John Brierley.
√ Arrange your travel – Now that you know when you want to start your Camino, book your travel arrangements (flights, trains, etc.)
√ Book your first night’s stay – Wherever you decide to start your Camino, it might be wise to make sure you have a place to stay this first night. After this, no need to prebook, unless you want to sleep in hotels or it is the busy season. I booked an adorable B&B in St. Jean Pied-de-Port right over the internet. Knowing I had a place to rest my head the first night put my mind at ease.
√ Buy/break-in hiking boots/shoes – It’s wise to break in your shoes before the Camino. REI has a great deal where you can purchase shoes, and if you have any issues, you can return/exchange, no questions asked. You want to make sure your shoes do not create hot spots or blisters.
√ Condition your body – Start hiking or walking to adjust your body and get used to the movement. I never formally trained for my Camino; however, I was lucky to live in North Lake Tahoe three months before my journey and hiked 5-7 miles each day. This definitely got me prepared. For a month or a few weeks before your Camino, consider hiking with your pack fully loaded. This allows you to adjust to your pack and the extra weight.
√ Get your gear – Can you say “Shopping?” Yippee! This was the fun part for me, although quite intimidating. I had never purchased a “real” backpack before, nor did I know what supplies I needed. I scoured the internet for days trying to figure out what to purchase and pack. (I will provide my free packing list later on… stay tuned!) But you need to take the time at your local camping/outdoor stores, or on the internet, and purchase the key equipment you do not already have. I basically lived at REI for three days while I frantically purchased everything.
√ Pack, weigh, remove… repeat – Now the tough part…. you will be so pleased with yourself after you determined your premier packing list; however, once you finally pack these items in your pack, undoubtedly it will be too heavy! They say on the internet your pack should be 10% of your body weight. I found that to be a complete IMPOSSIBILITY even with just my critical items. So you will need to pack, weigh your pack, pull everything out, and prioritize each and every item as ‘Critical’, ‘Must Have’, ‘Nice to Have’. Now pull out some of your ‘Nice to Have’ items. Repack, weigh, and repeat this process until you can get your backpack to the lightest weight as possible. Remember, when you get on the Camino, you will also carry 1-2 liters of water and food, the clothes on your back, and your shoes, which all add up. I had to repeat this repack process at home six times until I got my pack just under 20 pounds (approx 9 kilos).
√ Read, research, and get inspired – I had a ball reading, researching, and exploring blogs, forums, and other internet sites, books, and movies. Although I only spent three days preparing for my Camino, I did this around the clock. There are so many exciting resources about the Camino. Enjoy this part; it will get you more and more excited about your adventure. TIP: At some point, you need to be happy with your packing list and your preparations… I finally stayed away from the forums & communities, for the 50-60 opinions ended up just confusing me and caused me anxiousness. Share your upcoming adventure with your family and friends, spend time with yourself thinking through the reasons for walking your Camino, your intentions, and what you want to get out of it. Journal, or blog… whatever is your fancy. Be at peace and trust this will be an adventure of a lifetime!
√ Inform your Emergency Contact – Make sure you have an emergency contact, their contact details are written clearly in your paperwork, and register with your local country’s State Department. It’s comforting to know at least someone out there knows where you are and can be contacted if anything goes wrong.
√ Convert your money – The currency conversion booths in the airports charge higher fees when converting your money. If you don’t live in Europe, go to your local bank and order some euros before you leave. Bring a couple of credit cards and/or bank cards to get cash along the way. There are ATMs in most towns. When you register in the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, they will provide you a sheet with all the alburgues along the Camino and other offerings in villages along the way, such as ATMs.
√ Call your banks – For each credit or bank card you bring, call the corresponding bank and let them know about your travel dates. This will alleviate any issues while traveling.
√ Pack & Go – Now you are off! Don’t forget your passport, credit cards, money, etc. You can purchase your pilgrim passport (credencials) and shell in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.