Just another beautiful day on the Camino de Santiago.
Updated April 25, 2017
Below, I’ve compiled some travel tips I wish I’d received before I left for the Camino de Santiago, walking from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago de Compostela. I hope they help you plan your own adventure.
Packing for the Camino
Really, really try to keep your pack light. Under 15-18 pounds would be ideal. Jamie and I carried far too much (about 28 pounds each) and we paid the price in our backs, hips, knees and feet.
Luggage Transport: If you discover that you’re carrying too much or would just prefer to walk without a pack, three companies that offer Camino bag transport are Correas (Spain’s national postal service), Express Bourricotand Caminofácil. I have not used any of them personally.
Sleeping bag: Coming from France, some albergues have blankets, and some don’t. I was able to get by with a silk sleeping-bag liner (in May and June) but I can’t say I didn’t have a couple really cold nights. I started raiding the Lost and Found at albergues when I arrived to see if there were any blankets. Using this strategy, I was able to come up with a blanket one night and a sleeping bag on another. If you have a sleeping bag that packs up light and small, I would bring it.
Baby wipes: You can buy these at a convenience or grocery store along the way. You will need them for…ahem…many reasons.
Cotton or Silk Scarf and knit Beenie Hat: My scarf and hat were my best and easiest temperature regulators. The mornings can be very cold but after walking for a while these come off.
Foam Earplugs: If you actually want to sleep at night, you will need them.
Crocs sandals: They are light, comfortable, easily washable, and you can wear them in the shower to avoid foot fungus. If your feet can’t fit into boots because of blisters, you might be walking in them.
Rain poncho: A cheap raincoat from a drugstore did the trick for me and we encountered a lot of rain. Also handy in covering yourself anytime you’re cold. For the more fastidious pilgrim, there are higher-quality backpacker rain ponchos that fit over your backpack.
Light Daypack: It’s handy to have something for carrying around any valuables, a sweater, groceries etc. after the Camino walking is complete for the day but you are not in your albergue.
Travel Towel: You won’t be given a towel at albergues so this is essential.
Shoes: As an update in 2017 I am recommending the Hoka One One Tor Summit Mid Waterproof Hiking Shoe as an ideal shoe for the Camino. Frankly, I wish I had known about them when I walked my Camino because I’m confident many of my blisters could have been prevented. I initially purchased these for the European Peace Walk and have since purchased a second pair because they are the ultimate in comfort straight out of the box, they’re light and their waterproof. They also accommodate orthotics. Seriously, I love them.
Equipment for the Camino
Walking poles: Many people swear by poles for helping to minimize stress on the knees when walking downhill especially. Some people use two, some people use one. They are widely available for purchase in St. Jean Pied du Port. You may also find some in the lost and found at albergues along the way. They tend to be forgotten.
Clips for your Pack: “S” clips, carabiners, safety pins, it doesn’t matter. You will inevitably have days when you have wet clothes or a towel that will be drying on the outside of your pack. Have some way to attach stuff. That is all.
Headlamp: Very useful when walking around a dark albergue or trying to pack in the dark. Or if you end up staying in a terrible place, walking the Camino at night. If you have a smartphone, you can download a flashlight application.
Knife: If you are checking your bag, take a knife. Especially take one if you are going to be reducing your costs by buying groceries and not eating out all the time. Doesn’t hurt to have a corkscrew handy either!
Mp3 Player: Occasionally music added a really awesome dimension to walking.
Bedbug Spray: I didn’t take any and didn’t pick up bedbugs, but I met other pilgrims that did. Bedbugs are found on the Camino and really, it’s the luck of the draw. Certainly unpleasant if it happens to you.
Handling Communication and Business on the Camino
Wifi: Free wifi is available in many, but not all of the villages you will walk through, usually at a cafe or at the albergues. There are a few towns and albergues where you might not be able to connect to the internet but it’s the exception, not the norm.
Electricity: Spanish outlets take two round prongs. Try to find yourself an adapter before you go.
Phone: I put my phone in airplane mode when I left the US and asked friends and family to contact me by email if there was an emergency. When wifi was available, I used Skype or Tango, both apps available on a smartphone, for making calls, sending text messages to Jamie, and video chatting. There may be a smarter way to handle this and if so, please leave a comment below and help me and future readers out.
Money on the Camino
Debit Card: Inform your bank before you leave that you will be traveling in Spain. That way you will likely not get declined when using an ATM for possible fraud. Getting money at ATMs will give you a beneficial exchange rate and it’s easiest. You can get cash immediately at an airport ATM in Spain.
Credit cards: Also inform your credit card company that you will be in Spain. Some cards have foreign transaction fees and some don’t. Find out before you go to prevent unwanted surprises.
Costs: On the Camino, a bed will cost you €5 to €15 a night, with most being between €5 and €10. Albergues often offer a pilgrim’s meal for about €10 a night. These can be fun because you meet other pilgrims and the wine flows, but after a while, you will discover that you can likely save money by choosing your own food at a restaurant or purchasing groceries and preparing meals yourself. Cheese, bread, olives and wine are really cheap.
We found that we needed to check into a hotel or private room once every four days or so just to take a good shower, bandage feet, do some laundry, and get some good rest. That cost us €30 to €50 euros total every four days. A friend of ours budgeted €50 a day for the Camino and he stayed in albergues 50% of the time and stayed in some very nice hotels pretty regularly and stayed within budget.
Camino Foot Care
Slather your feet with Vaseline every day before putting your socks on. This is the number #1 tip I have for preventing blisters. There are Pilgrim Foot Creams you can buy on the Camino but they are essentially Vaseline with some extras and are costly.
Wear two pairs of socks: It helped me a lot to wear two thin pairs of socks. That way one pair takes the friction instead of your foot.
Bring some bandages and antibacterial cream but you need not take every bandage known to man. You will pass many, many pharmacies which carry every type of bandage you can think of. Your fellow pilgrims are willing to help too.
Bring a needle in case you need to break blisters.
I walked alone a great deal of the time and never once did I feel unsafe. But the Camino is not a fairyland (although it feels that way sometimes) and like anywhere in the world, there will always be the occasional incident.
Unfortunately, I heard of one theft (lots of cash from an unattended backpack at an albergue) and one theft as a result of a very convincing con-man dressed as a pilgrim (“need help, ATM card not working”) occurring to my Camino friends. Because of the camaraderie and peace you feel on the Camino, it is very easy to let your defenses down and feel like it’s safe to leave your stuff unguarded. I would say 99.99999% of the time it is, but that makes pilgrims so ripe for the picking. I would suggest that you have a day pack and/or a neck wallet or money belt that contains valuable items like your passport, credit cards, and other things that would be really upsetting if stolen and just take that with you wherever you go.
Always keep one credit card in a different place than all the others so if one gets lost, you are not without any money.
Guardia Civil (Civil Guard): This unit is like a special police force and has many tasks but one of them is to patrol the Camino. It doesn’t have to be an emergency to call them. Ask your hospitalero for their number if needed.
Emergencies: In case of emergency, dial 112. The operators speak English and Spanish.
General Camino Suggestions
You don’t need a guidebook: Everyone has one. I was glad I didn’t have more weight to carry. You certainly don’t need it for maps. Just follow the yellow arrows. They didn’t fail us for 800 kilometers! If you will be carrying a smartphone, you can download this PDF which is all we had as far as a “guide”. It worked perfectly fine.
Get off the Standard Course: When you arrive in the Pilgrims office in St. Jean Pied du Port, they will give you a sheet of paper that outlines the day by day “course” if you want to finish the Camino in 33 days. Each day on the paper shows where you should start and end. Many people follow this course religiously and arrive in the suggested destination towns for each day. The more you stray from this, the better your chance of finding a bed and finding a cooler, smaller albergue in a small town.
Stop for a plate of roasted peppers in Ferreiros. The place is across the road from the private hostel and right on the Camino. So good.
Try not to get caught up in other people’s stress. Trust. Go at your own pace. It is not a competition. If you are a couple walking the Camino together, don’t be afraid to separate, even for a few days. Alone time can bring a lot of insight. Let the Camino work its magic.
If you can, give yourself more than 33 days to complete the Camino. We were so glad we had buffer days to attend to injuries, rest and see the sights in the many amazing places along the Camino! It took us 47 days total and we spent 12 days resting/sightseeing in the major cities.
Please let me know if any of these tips become outdated, so I can update the page. And if you have tips to share, I would really appreciate you commenting below! Thanks and…Buen Camino!
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