You are ready to go have the adventure of a lifetime and walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. You will discover some amazing things and I would advise trying to plan as little as possible leaving yourself at least some unplanned adventuring. But of course you should prepare! Fresh off the Camino de Santiago myself, (read about this incredible adventure here in the book: Sunrises to Santiago) I have put together a list of 10 things you should know before you go. Buen camino!
1.) Avoid the extra 2 – 4 Euro (3 – 5 USD) ‘included’ breakfasts offered at the albergues along the way. They are usually extremely basic (stale bread, butter, bad coffee) and not worth the money. Grab fruit and better protein packed hiking food at the small grocery stores called alimentacion that are plentiful along the Camino de Santiago. The first ‘bar’ you see stop and grab your first cafe con leche, (coffee with steamed milk) of the day. Fresh and delicious!
2.) How do I catch a bus or train in Spain? What website do I use? The best and most economical way to get to your starting destination, especially if you are starting in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France, is by bus. Alsa is the main bus company in all of Spain including along the Camino de Santiago. Stranded? Need times? Just visit http://www.alsa.es and there is even an English version of the site if you don’t speak Spanish. For the train you will use Renfe which is the national train system in Spain: http://www.renfe.com
3.) How Much Is This Going To Cost? I would plan on about 35 euros (46 USD) per person per day. You can do it cheaper if you want to cook most meals but we ate out all the time. I did not feel like cooking after walking 30 km! Count on an average of 10 euros a night for the albergue, 9 euros for a pilgrims menu and the rest for coffee, breakfast, snacks and painkillers of course. A rough total for the entire trip? I would plan on about $1,500 USD + your flight cost. More details here.
4.) Despite your euphoria and excitement and your body’s fresh state take this first day and week SLOW. Do not push yourself as many pilgrims do, myself included. Your body needs time to adjust to such an increase in physical activity. I pushed it on the first day and regretted it as I was injured the next 29 days and in an immense amount of pain.
5.) Make sure you bring earplugs! Do not forget. I used my earplugs almost every night. Even if we were lucky enough to be in a room with only a few people at least one person always snored. Amy, my wife, also brought an eye mask to block out the light which is always coming from somewhere.
6.) Avoiding Bed Bugs – Unfortunately bed bugs are a growing problem on the Camino de Santiago. If you are going to walk the camino during the summer months you won’t need a sleeping bag. Instead bring a travel sheet. A.) A travel sheet is much lighter for your pack and B.) if you get bed bugs, and chances are you will, a sheet is much easier to wash and dry than a sleeping bag. Many pilgrims go to the pharmacy once they arrive in Spain. Walk in and ask for bed bug spray and they will give you a powerful bottle that you can spray on your bed at night. Bed bugs are very sensitive to heat so if you do get them hot water and a hot dryer should kill them.
7.) Doing Laundry on the Camino de Santiago Typically laundry is done in the sink either outside or inside your albergue. Bring a tiny bottle of powdered or liquid detergent with you as I never saw many options for tiny lightweight bottles of detergent in Spain. Just make sure it is a TSA approved size! Most pilgrims do laundry upon arrival or right after taking a shower. You will most likely be hang drying your clothes so taking advantage of the afternoon sun is key. Make sure to bring 4 or 5 clothes pins so your clothes don’t blow away in the wind.
8.) Don’t Bother Booking Accommodations in Advance Despite warnings in guidebooks and on many Camino de Santiago websites and forums there really is no need to call ahead and reserve a place to stay on your journey. I would argue this is also part of the ‘no plan’ adventure of the Camino de Santiago. Many people stress themselves out, but despite being turned away now and again, we never had trouble finding somewhere to sleep. There are usually a multitude of options and more than enough beds. Embrace the adventure and save yourself the phone charges.
10.) Avoid staying in the major cities towards the end (the last 100km) Sarria is the starting place for pilgrims who are short on time but want to receive the compostela (the paper that says they have completed the Camino de Santiago) once they arrive in Santiago de Compostela. The minimum requirement is 100km so busloads of tourists are dropped off in this city and you will notice the number of people on the path increase. Especially in the summer. If you want to avoid the crowds (I certainly did) then I recommend staying in the villages just past or before the main stops listed in most guidebooks. The albergues are packed in these big cities so avoiding the masses can relieve the crowd shock many pilgrims experience at this point on the way.