Walking the Camino de Santiago is truly an incredible experience. Once you decide to do it there are A LOT of questions that arise, and it can begin to feel overwhelming. To try to help sort it out here are 15 essential tips for walking the Camino de Santiago. The first half is made up of the best advice I’ve received from other pilgrims followed by advice I can pass along after my walk. Buen Camino!
Best Advice I’ve Received
Your Camino is YOUR Camino
This is probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever received about the Camino de Santiago. It guided me through my whole experience and served as a constant reminder. The way you do the Camino doesn’t have to look like everyone else.
Your reason for doing it, where you start walking, how far you go each day; all of these are things that are totally up to you. One person may want to stay in a municipal albergue and you want to stay in a hotel. That’s okay. Your pace, your style, your way.
Remember this tip when others are passing you as you walk. Or when someone tells you they walked 32 km in a day and you walked 15. There’s no bonus for getting to Santiago the fastest. Do what works for YOU.
Don’t feel the need to keep up
On the first day of my Camino a fellow pilgrim, Gary from Austin, gave me this essential tip. He said that if you’re having a conversation with someone and they’re not going at a pace that works for you don’t feel the need to keep up with them; you’ll see them again. So if they’re walking faster than is comfortable for you let them go ahead. If they’re going slower than you’d like, tell them you’ll see them later. Because you will.
If it’s a maybe, don’t bring it
I’ll do a future post on my Camino packing list, but when you’re putting together your backpack only bring those things that you definitely know you’ll need. You’ll want to keep your backpack as light as possible. Only pack the essentials, and if need arises for something else you’ll figure it out. The Camino will provide.
You can get it in Spain
Don’t feel the need to pack your entire backpack before you get to Spain. There are sporting goods and outdoors stores throughout the country, especially in those areas serving the Camino. So save on your excess baggage fees because you can get your walking sticks, clothes, supplies en España.
I know I said you should only pack the essentials, but an extra pair of shoes is actually really useful. During the first day my backpack felt heavy, so I was going to mail some more things ahead to Santiago including my sneakers. My hiking boots were serving me well, so another pair of shoes seemed like a waste of space and added weight.
I had two different pilgrims, Gary and Denise, tell me separately that I should keep the extra shoes for when my feet need a break. Although I was initially reluctant to keep the shoes with me they came in clutch a few times when my boots were wet.
Double layer socks
Blisters are a major concern on the Camino de Santiago, and this essential tip from the Charlotte Camino Pilgrims helped salvage my feet. I’m grateful to have learned about double layer socks, which cut down on friction against your foot. I swear by these now.
Vaseline on your feet
Another anti-blister essential tip. On Day 1 I was trying a couple different things to prevent blisters, like changing my socks in the middle of the day to cut down on moisture. A fellow pilgrim recommended coating my feet in Vaseline in the morning to reduce friction. That evening I bought some Vaseline, and it worked! I did this every morning and never got blisters.
Best Advice I Can Pass Along
You’ll probably have some kind of plan going into the Camino de Santiago. You might say you’ll walk a certain number of kilometers per day, you’ll stop in a certain town, etc. That’s fine, but just know that your plans can, and likely will, change. Things won’t go exactly the way you thought, and that’s okay.
Know amenities along the way
There were a few times along the Camino when I wanted to stop walking for the day but couldn’t because there was no albergue where I was. Keep an eye on your guidebook or Camino information sheet (you can one from friends of the Camino organizations in Spain) so that you know what’s ahead. You’ll be able to better pace yourself by knowing which towns have a restaurant, bar, albergue, etc.
Exchange contact info
While it’s true that you don’t have to try to keep up with other pilgrims because you’ll see them again, you never know which time will be the last time. If you’d like to stay in touch with someone make the effort to exchange info sooner rather than putting it off until later. There are plenty of people I would love to follow up with now, but I don’t have a way to reach them.
Listen to your body
This is ESSENTIAL! You’re going to be walking great distances over an extended period of time; pain and discomfort are part of the equation. Pain doesn’t have to turn into injury though. When you start to feel pain somewhere take a break, stretch, hydrate, relax for a minute. If the pain persists your body may be trying to tell you something. Perhaps it’s time to stop for the day. Taking it easy one day may prevent a worse situation the next.
Don’t use new shoes
Walking the Camino de Santiago is not the time to break in a new pair of shoes. A pair that is supportive and comfortable will do wonders for the state of your feet as well as help prevent blisters. My Salomon hiking boots were six years old before doing the Camino, and they worked out really well.
The guidebook is only a guide
As someone from Germany once pointed out to me you can get an idea of where someone is from by which guidebook they use. By looking at the John Brierley book in my hand she could deduce that I was from the US, UK, or Canada. If you’re American one of the first things you’ll be told is to buy the Brierley book.
The book is broken up in stages/days starting from St. John Pied de Port. For example, it’ll say stage/day 31 Palas de Rei to Ribadiso 25.6 km. It’s just a suggestion; don’t feel that you have to follow this. Of my 16 days on the Camino only the first and last lined up with the book. The guidebook is really helpful, but don’t stress too much about trying to stick to its schedule.
Meet up with others before the Camino
Before leaving for Spain I went to a few meetings of the Charlotte Camino pilgrims. It was beyond valuable to get to know people who’d already walked the Camino de Santiago and hear their stories and tips. If you’re in the United States you can find Camino pilgrims near you through American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). They have chapters nationwide, and on their website you can find the meetings that are closest to you.
AVOID ALTO DO POIO!
My worst night on the Camino de Santiago was when I stayed at the only albergue in Alto do Poio. It was disgusting. Please don’t put yourself through this. If you find yourself in the area and need a place to stay stop a town earlier at the municipal albergue in Hospital de la Condesa or continue walking to Albergue A Reboleira in Fonfría.
Make the Camino Your Own
I found these tips to be really helpful, but these are the things that worked for me. As I said before, the same things don’t work for everyone and you will start to see what’s best for your Camino.
If you’ve already done the Camino de Santiago what are the best tips that you can share?