Preparing for My Camino de Santiago Walk

Which Camino Should I Walk?

Camino de Santiago Route Marker
Camino de Santiago Route Marker. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I yearn to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, inspired books and movies such as The Way. Now I have the time to make the journey and I need to start planning.

Which Route?
There is no one Camino, there are numerous routes through Europe, Spain and Portugal to reach Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route is the Camino Frances (French Route). I enjoyed a walking tour through Northern Spain that included short walks on the Camino Frances in 2013. Having seen how well-marked and supported the route is, I felt confident in choosing it for my first Camino.

How Far?
Within a route, there are many starting places. The shortest Camino you can walk and earn the Compostela certificate is 100 kilometers. For the Camino Frances, this means starting in Sarria and walking 116 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. Often it is walked in seven days.

Many Europeans walk the Camino in stages, spending a couple of weeks each year walking a segment before finishing.

But Americans and non-Europeans often want to make the most of the plane ticket and walk the 500 miles (790 kilometers) from St. Jean Pied de Port in France on the Camino Frances, a journey of 35 days or more.

How Far Each Day?
Traditional daily walking distances on the Camino are 20 kilometers (12-13 miles) or more. On some legs of the journey you have no choice as the accommodations are that far apart. But the boom in interest in the Camino has resulted in more places to stay, at traditional albergues (pilgrim hostels) or small hotels.

Making My Camino Decisions

Distance: I decided for my first Camino that I wanted to savor it rather than making it a physical challenge. I often walk 21-kilometer half marathons and I've trained for multi-day walks. But I wanted to walk each day and enjoy the countryside without distance stress or time stress.

I wanted to be able to explore the small towns and meet locals and other walkers rather than being blistered and exhausted. My friend Linda walked the 500-mile route from St. Jean Pied de Port the previous year and she said a shorter, easier Camino would be a good decision for me.

I decided I would walk the shortest official distance, from Sarria, and break up the stages to walk a shorter distance each day than the traditional stages.

Accommodations: I also wanted to be sure I had a place to stay at the end of the day. The Camino Frances is getting more congested each year. Linda found they needed to call ahead and reserve a room or space at an albergue to be sure of a bed.

I went with an even more assured plan, I booked rooms at small hotels through, their "Easy Walking" 11-day plan. This also includes luggage transfer each day, so I could walk with only a day pack. As I was tying my trip in with more touring in Spain, this allowed me to have more than the minimal gear through-hikers carry on the Camino.

Deciding to be a Tourogrino on the Camino de Santiago

Monte de Gozo - Hill of Joy - Camino de Santiago
Monte de Gozo - Hill of Joy - Camino de Santiago. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Walking My Own Camino - Savoring vs. Suffering

Walkers on the Camino de Santiago say, "Walk your own Camino," but you still hear rumblings of resentment or disdain against those who don't walk it in as traditional of a way as possible. I saw this in posts on Facebook groups and in blogs. If I don't walk 20 kilometers per day from France, carrying a 20-pound pack and sleeping in dormitories at albergues, should I even go?

In fact, Sarria is the most popular starting point, with over 25% of the pilgrims starting there compared with 11-15% starting over the French border as of 2014. I'm not alone in this choice. Camino Statistics

As a graduate of Catholic education, I have been raised in a tradition of redemptive suffering. But that doesn't mean you seek out ways to suffer.

The Camino calls me spiritually, to literally walk in the path taken by pilgrims for over 1000 years as they sought forgiveness and a new life. I've been to Mass at the Cathedral, but I want to experience it as a pilgrim with my Compostela certificate.

I will be surrounded by the pilgrims of today walking each for their own reason - adventure, physical challenge, spiritual cleansing, emotional healing. I want to be able to look around, meet people and spend time with them without feeling I need to rush or nurse myself.

My Camino Motto: Savor, Not Suffer

I choose the path of less suffering, and I am taking many steps to ensure I don't cause suffering to walkers who are doing a longer or more vigorous journey. They are often most resentful because those starting in Sarria are taking up beds in the albergues, and those walking without a pack may get to the albergue earlier to snag a scarce bed in the most-crowded months.

By staying at a small hotel rather than at the albergues, I am not taking a bed away from people who are in the last push of their long journey. I am making my Camino as least-competitive as possible.

Being a "Tourogrino"

Sylvia Nilsen walked the Camino four times the traditional way, "doing the albergues, backpacks, walk-every-inch-without-cheating." Now she says she is paying back by being a "tourogrino." She leads small groups on the Camino with AmaWalkers Camino. Her words dissolved most of my guilt about choosing that path.

"I am a proud tourogrino who is making a difference to the Spanish economy.

"I stay in private rooms in albergues, pensions and Casa Rural, which helps the established hospitality industry (and leaves the bunks free for new pilgrims).

"I send my backpack ahead if I want to (thereby supporting the local transfer companies).

"I stop for lunch if I want to because I don't have to join the rush for beds (helping the restaurant businesses)

"I do detours and visit local places of interest because I have lots of time to do that, which supports the local tourism industry.

"I am now proud to say that I've retired to make way for all the new first time pilgrims who want a hard, mendicant, you-have-to-suffer-to-make-it-real experience. And I am paying back by being a tourogrino. Viva el Camino!"

Planning to Savor

Book: A Survival Guide to the Camino de Santiago in Galicia, by Jeffery Barrera
ISBN 9781502356192
This book covers the Galicia stages of the Camino de Santiago in detail for those who want to savor it. It is written by a local. It includes Camino traditions, current local customs and interesting places that are adjacent to the Camino. By walking a shorter distance on the Camino each day, I will have extra energy and time to explore. I will see and savor more.

Will I Miss the Suffering?

I engage regularly in suffering through half marathons. I want to be able to be open and in the moment when walking the Camino, not worried about making it the next destination and whether there will be a room. Those worries bring out negative aspects of my personality. If that stress is removed, I will be more open to everyone and everything around me. It will be a more positive spiritual journey.

If I truly miss the suffering, there can always be another Camino journey in the coming years.


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