Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley shares eight key insights she learned while on our recent Insider Journey along the Camino de Santiago.
Before I walked the Camino, I was lucky to speak to many who had made the trek before me, including author and actor Andrew McCarthy. The award-winning travel writer and actor known for his roles in films like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire recently published Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son and 500 Miles Across Spain about his second experience on the Camino. He shared his learnings with me on my radio show and podcast Passport to Everywhere. Now that I am back, I thought I’d share my own learnings after running our first Indagare Insider Journey. Here are some key takeaways.
Interested in experiencing this special pilgrimage with a small group of like-minded travelers? Our second Insider Journey to hike the Camino de Santiago is happening this October, hosted by Indagare COO Eliza Scott Harris. Click here to learn more and reserve your spot.
1. Don’t be intimidated.
Though I had heard people speak of Camino experiences with awe for years, I was intimidated, because I thought you had to walk all 300-plus miles from St-Jean-Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela (the most famous route) or at least 12 miles a day. I also believed that walking the Camino required forfeiting creature comforts and marching with crowds. (An estimated 350,000 people walked a section of the Camino last year.) None of my fears were realized. We walked alongside people of all ages and fitness levels. And, in the right frame of mind, one single mile can be a special experience. While there may not be five-star hotels along the route, we stayed in some lovely small hotels and easily arranged for transport between them. Each day we had plenty of time alone on the trail.
Bottom line: If you want to walk the Camino, you can—and should.
2. Choose your path wisely.
There are many “ways” that lead to Santiago de Compostela. The seven main ones are the French Way; Portuguese Way; Northern Way; Original Way; Silver Way and English Way. Each has its pros and cons. We chose the Portuguese Way, which begins in Porto, but the last 45 miles are in Spain. To get a sense, watch the wonderful movie called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. I have friends who have completed the French Way over five years with around 62 miles (100 kilometers) each year. If you want to receive the Compostela certificate, though, you have to walk the last 100 kilometers and get at least two stamps a day along the way in your Credencial del Peregrino booklet.
3. Pace yourself.
As our wonderful guide advised us: It is not about how many miles you walk but how you walk each mile. The point of this walk is not to be in a competition with yourself or others. Leave your striving self behind and be in the moment fully so you can connect with your most peaceful self and with nature. A few in our group “trained,” but most of us merely showed up and found walking ten to twenty miles a day—at your own pace—very doable.
4. Stop often and spontaneously.
On weekends or festival days, it is wise to have a reservation for lunch, but most often you can wing it and discover places in the towns along the way. We set meeting places in the towns where we would end each day’s walk—but not times—because you want to be able to walk (and rest) at your own pace and to take in the sights and stops (a waterfall, a picturesque café) when they appear.
5. Pack judiciously.
Even if you choose not to carry your belongings on the trail and have a van move your bags between hotels, you will be moving often, so pack lightly. We stayed at four hotels in a week, and rarely had time to have laundry done. Remember, comfort is the only dress code rule here. (Request a Camino packing list from your Indagare Travel Designer). And you are not in the wilderness. There are towns along the way so you can buy socks or sunscreen if you need more.
6. Walk alone—at least part of the time.
For part of each day, spend time on the trail walking meditatively on your own. We had great conversations along the way with those in our group and fellow pilgrims we met along the way, but the most precious time was being in rhythm with our thoughts and the natural world around us. In fact, I would not recommend going with a lot of people you know, as being part of a known group will likely make it harder to grab alone time, set your own pace or to make new discoveries.
7. Protect your feet.
The most common medical issue on the Camino is blisters, so choose your footwear wisely and tend to your feet. Break your shoes in before embarking on your walk. You don’t need heavy hiking boots, unless you are doing the whole stretch, and some prefer trail running shoes or well-cushioned sneakers, like Hokas. Some in our group brought two pairs of shoes to alternate days. I would recommend wearing wool socks; some swore by applying Foot Glide or Vaseline each morning; and make sure that your toenails are well trimmed. When possible, we took cold plunges after the day’s walk to ease inflammation and muscles. Wearing flip-flops or other open-toed shoes after your walk also provides relief.
8. Regardless of your faith, go to church.
Not only are there lovely churches to visit all along the way, including one in Pontevedra that apparently cleans visitors of all sins, but there is a special mass in Santiago de Compostela, which is a must. As one of our travelers advised, “Whatever you do, don’t miss the Pilgrim’s Mass—truly a beautiful service, with a massive incense burner on ropes manned by a cluster of monks.”
Click here to learn more and sign up for our Insider Journey to the Camino de Santiago, happening this October. Or, contact us for assistance planning a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago trail. Our dedicated trip designers will match you with the properties and itineraries that are best for you.