How to (Sort-of) Prepare for the Camino de Santiago

Okay, I’m not going to lie. I could have should have done a little more to prepare for the Camino de Santiago.

Short on time to research or train? You might still be able to do the Camino! Here's everything I did to (sort-of) prepare for the Camino de Santiago.

Image Credit: Alejandro Moreno Calvo (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette) 

I had big plans to train and research, but then I went home to Michigan for the summer. Of course, summer always flys by. Before I knew it, I was back in Spain with the trip just days away.

Fortunately, it’s still possible to do the Camino without a ton of preparation. I’m living proof!

The Camino is refreshingly straightforward. Essentially, my trip itinerary was: walk, walk, walk, sleep then wake up and walk some more.

Many pilgrims agree part of the beauty of the Camino is its simplicity. So, embrace it (if you can)!

If you find yourself with the opportunity to walk but aren’t sure you’ve had enough time to prepare for the Camino de Santiago, read the following and take comfort in the fact that I managed over 200 kilometers with next to no prep. Perhaps you can too.*

*Before starting the Camino, please check with your doctor and clear the Camino with them before beginning. Like for real, I don’t want you to die.

Gear

Due to budget, I attempted to keep my Camino purchases to an absolute minimum. You could get lost in the forums discussing Camino gear. Major rabbit hole and some of us just don’t have time for that. I decided to keep my packing list as simple as possible.  However, if you’re going to spend time on anything, spend time researching a backpack. The wrong backpack could potentially ruin your Camino.

Short on time to research or train? You might still be able to do the Camino! Here's everything I did to (sort-of) prepare for the Camino de Santiago.
I wonder what OG Camino pilgrims had on their packing lists. I’m guessing it was far more minimal than mine. Image Credit: Simone Ramella

Transportation and Accommodation

I purchased a round trip ticket between Madrid and Santiago de Compostela for the totality of my transportation preparation. Bus tickets for additional travel were purchased day-of. The tourist information desk at the Santiago airport was incredibly helpful.

As for accommodation, pilgrims walking the Camino stay in albergues. Municipal albergues, which are run by the local government, don’t accept reservations, which effectively eliminates planning out accommodation. At 6 euros per bed, municipal albergues are very popular among pilgrims. You better walk fast if you want a bed!

Short on time to research or train? You might still be able to do the Camino! Here's everything I did to (sort-of) prepare for the Camino de Santiago.
Ryanair is a great option for budget travel. Image Credit: Karen Bryan

Physical Fitness

I want to start by saying this: walking should not be underestimated. Especially when you’re averaging 15 miles per day. Only consider undertaking the Camino “without preparation” if you already have a solid base level of fitness.

Just to give you an idea as to my level of physical fitness, I’m a runner who’s completed one marathon and several half marathons (my most recent in July 2016). In the months leading up to my Camino, I ran and biked regularly. I also did several two to three hour long walks around my neighborhood. The Sunday before my Camino, I went for a nine-mile hike in Madrid’s Casa de Campo.

Even though I’d spent the majority of the summer training for a half marathon, I still found the Camino incredibly challenging. In hindsight, I wish I would have done more walking/hiking with my backpack in order to simulate the Camino. If you shouldn’t underestimate walking, you most definitely shouldn’t underestimate walking whilst carrying a backpack.

Short on time to research or train? You might still be able to do the Camino! Here's everything I did to (sort-of) prepare for the Camino de Santiago.
Behold: Santiago de Compostela! Image Credit: Pepe Martin

Additional Reading

I began my light Camino research back in June but never delved all that deep. This is shameful, but I never even watched Martin Sheen’s The Way, which everyone says is a fairly accurate depiction of daily Camino life.

I referenced the following resources aka they saved my life:

Walking the Camino de Santiago: A Complete Guide

My Packing List for the Camino in Summer

Yep, that’s it. Just those two.

Short on time to research or train? You might still be able to do the Camino! Here's everything I did to (sort-of) prepare for the Camino de Santiago.
Just get out there and walk!  Image Credit: Jose Antonio

How did you prepare for the Camino de Santiago? If you haven’t walked the Camino, how do you generally prepare for a trip? 

BB Monthly Recap: November 2016

I’m not going to lie: November was a long month. Long and trying. As I write this monthly recap, it’s hard to think about anything other than the decision American voters made on Nov. 8.  A difficult month is behind us but more are ahead.

Read on for the highlights and challenges of November in my monthly recap!

Image Credit: Juan Tiagues (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

In the face of recent events, I’ve never been more certain of my decisions to live abroad and learn a second language. As a traveler, I firmly believe people should explore the world, not fear it. We should embrace other cultures, not ostracize them. “The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends,” actress Shirley MacLaine said when reflecting on her lifetime of travels. I couldn’t agree more, and as a reader of the blog, I hope you feel the same.

Destinations Visited

  • Madrid, Spain
  • Alalpardo, Spain 
  • Logroño, La Rioja, Spain 

Highlights

Writing. At the start of November, I challenged myself to post on this blog twice a week for the entire month. Mission accomplished! I’ve also been producing weekly content for Devour Madrid. It makes me feel good to be writing again, and I’m genuinely proud  of the content I produced this month. I plan to keep the momentum going through December and into the new year.

Lunch with my former host family. This month, I finally had the opportunity to reconnect with my former host family, or as I prefer to call them, my familia española (Spanish family). I hadn’t seen them since June! I took the bus out to my old stomping grounds in Alalpardo, a pueblo just northeast of Madrid, for lunch and an afternoon of catching up. My madre española, Verónica, commented on how much my Spanish has improved. After all the work I’ve been putting in, that felt great to hear.

Read on for the highlights and challenges of November in my monthly recap!
My host family and me on my last day as their au pair in 2014.

 

Thanksgiving in Madrid. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself feeling a little homesick last Thursday morning. After a full day of work and private classes, I went over to my friend’s apartment. Also an American, she hosted a Thanksgiving get-together. We didn’t eat any turkey or mashed potatoes (we ordered pizza), but that didn’t matter. Just before eating, we took turns saying what we were thankful for. We were all grateful for our lives abroad and the people we’ve met along the way. Regardless of where you are in the world, the community you surround yourself with is what makes a place a home

Visiting Logroño. No self-respecting wine lover can live in Spain and not visit La Rioja. Just a four-hour bus ride from Madrid, I had been dying to go for ages and finally visited this past weekend. After a tough month, it was just what I needed. Tapas and wine followed by more tapas and wine. Oh, take me back! I’m planning on writing a post all about visiting Logroño, so look for that on the blog in December.

Read on for the highlights and challenges of November in my monthly recap!
Logroño is a city along the Camino de Santiago. Image Credit: Jose Manuel

Challenges

Election night. The night of the election, I went to a viewing party hosted by Democrats Abroad. When I walked in, the vibe was incredible. Everyone was certain we’d be celebrating Hillary’s victory. Music and drinks all around. Then the results started coming in, and the mood, as I’m sure you can imagine, changed dramatically. Like myself, many attendees were expats and had been abroad for the majority of the campaign. If people living in the U.S. thought Trump voters came out of the woodwork, try to imagine how people living abroad felt. Having never actually spoken to a Trump supporter, I was caught completely and totally off guard. Blindsided.

When I finally went to sleep around 7 a.m. Madrid time on Nov. 9, I was heartbroken. To be honest, I’m still heartbroken…but in the pissed off sense. Like, okay, let’s dance, motherf*cker. I’m not giving up.  I can still and will be an agent for change by supporting hardworking organizations and collaborating with like-minded individuals. We have far too much work to do to despair.

What I Read, Watched and Heard

Read: The Handmaid’s TaleIf you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, please close out of this blog and go find a copy right now. Yes, I’m turning away readers because that’s how important this book is. Mid-November, my book club held its first meeting, and we talked about HT for over two hours. We had an incredibly thought-provoking discussion. Even though it was written 30some years ago, readers will undoubtedly find The Handmaid’s Tale as relevant as ever.

Watched: American Horror Story. Any other AHS fans out there? After last year’s epic Hotel season, I had high hopes for this year’s My Roanoke Nightmare. Roanoke started out strong and had some seriously spooky moments but then just fell flat. I haven’t even watched the two most recent episodes. Walking Dead will be wrapping up soon, so, I’m taking recommendations for a show to watch during winter break. If you have one, send it my way!

Heard: Juniore. The host of my fave podcast, Popoganda, recommended this band. Juniore (yes, with an extra “e”) is a female band from France. I don’t even care that I can’t understand a single lyric. The lead singer’s voice has a mysterious 60s vibe that I totally dig. My favorite song is “Christine”.

Read on for the highlights and challenges of November in my monthly recap!
Juniore will have you thinking about Paris. Image Credit: Moyan Brenn

Coming Up in December 2016

I’m going home for the holidays! Michigan, here I come! When I left for Spain in September, I didn’t think I’d be back in Michigan until July at the earliest. Like last year, I planned on spending winter break in Europe. Then in October, I just decided a white Christmas in the Midwest sounded nice. I’m really looking forward to spending Christmas, New Year’s and my 25th birthday with family and friends.

Read on for the highlights and challenges of November in my monthly recap!
My family and me in Sevilla last Christmas.

 

Do you have any December travel plans? Also, if you have a blog, do you write a monthly recap?

Budget Breakdown: The Cost of Walking the Camino de Santiago

Let’s talk money. Specifically, the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.

Image Credit: Alejandro Moreno Calvo (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

Background

In September 2016, I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. In all, I trekked 203 kilometers (126 miles). I averaged just over 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) per day.

Peregrinos (pilgrims) walk the Camino for however long or however short they choose. The decision is a personal one, and various factors should be taken into account.

I elected to begin my Camino journey in Sarria because I was determined to walk the final 100 kilometers of the popular Camino Francés. My goal was to reach Santiago de Compostela and earn my certificate of completion. After Santiago, I continued on to Finisterre because I couldn’t resist walking to the “end of the world”, or so the Romans believed.

Budgeting for the Camino is essential to a successful pilgrimage. Below is a breakdown of how I spent my money preparing for and during my eight-day Camino journey. It should give you a good idea about the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
I wonder what OG Camino pilgrims had on their packing lists. I’m guessing it was far more minimal than mine. Image Credit: Simone Ramella

Gear

I was fortunate enough to receive the majority of my gear second-hand from my parents, who did a hiking trip in the Swiss Alps a few years back.  However, I did purchase three important items.

Osprey backpack: €150.74 ($160). The backpack was a gift from my father. I’m not sure I would have been able to buy such a nice backpack on my own. My budget might have forced me to go for something cheaper, but the importance of a comfortable, durable backpack cannot be overstated! If you’re trying to cut costs, don’t do it here! A bad backpack will make your Camino journey a miserable one. 

Water reservoir: €14.13 ($15). My walking partner used a 1.5-liter water bottle, which cost him about half as much, but I think the convenience of drinking from the water reservoir was worth the extra money.  

Sleeping bag: 60 ($63.69). I invested in a heavier sleeping bag because I plan on doing some camping in the near future. I saw many pilgrims opt for lightweight sleeping sacks. The sacks cost significantly less (between €7 and €15; between $7 and $16) and should work just fine during warmer months

Total: €224.87 ($238.69)

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Gear matters! The importance of a good backpack cannot be overstated. Image Credit: Jose Antonio

Transportation

Because I live in Spain, it was a lot less expensive for me to reach my starting point on the Camino than it is for other pilgrims. Pilgrims traveling from outside of Spain need to factor in the costs of international travel. Don’t want to spring for a plane ticket? You can always just do as the original peregrinos did and start walking from your doorstep, wherever that may be.

Roundtrip Flight: €47.10 ($50). A month before my Camino, I booked roundtrip tickets from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela through Ryanair. Be warned: your backpack needs to comply with the carry-on luggage parameters unless you want to get slapped with a €50 oversized cabin baggage fee. Of course, you can always purchase a checked baggage allowance when you make your initial booking. 

Bus ticket from Santiago to Lugo: €7 ($7.43). From the Santiago de Compostela airport, I took the Empresa Freire bus to Lugo. The ride takes approximately two hours. Buses run throughout the day, and you can find the schedule online. Purchase tickets for this bus from the driver. 

Bus ticket from Lugo to Sarria: 3.40 ($3.61). From Lugo, I took the Monbus to Sarria. The ride takes 30 minutes. Buses run more or less every hour throughout the day. Purchase tickets for this bus from the driver. 

Bus ticket from Santiago city center to Santiago airport: 3 ($3.17). The Empresa Freire bus runs every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Purchase tickets for this bus from the driver.

Total: €60.50 ($64.22)

**Note: After finishing my Camino in Finisterre, I took the bus to La Coruña for a day of sightseeing before returning to Santiago for my flight back to Madrid. I didn’t include the cost of my bus tickets to and from La Coruña since it’s not a typical pilgrim expense. Had I not gone on to La Coruña, the Monbus from Finisterre to Santiago costs €13.10 ($13.86) and takes a little more than two hours.

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Ryanair is a great option for budget travel. Image Credit: Karen Bryan

Accommodation

For those of you who don’t know, pilgrims walking the Camino traditionally stay in albergues. Albergues are dormitory-style accommodations which can range in price from €5 to €15 ($5.29 to $15.87).

Since I was trying to keep costs down, I opted to spend the majority of nights in municipal albergues. Municipal albergues are sponsored by local government bodies and often staffed by volunteers. Some of the municipal albergues I stayed in were really quite nice, clean and comfortable. Others were in not so good of shape. Remember, folks, you get what you pay for.

Three of my eight nights on the Camino, I opted for a night’s stay in a private albergue. Just like it sounds, a private albergue is owned and operated by private individuals. Private albergues often come with “extras” such as wifi, towels and meals. I stayed in three incredibly clean and quiet private albergues. Definitely worth the splurge.

Municipal albergue in Sarria: 6 ($6.37). My first night in a municipal albergue wasn’t a pleasant experience. The municipal albergue in Sarria was cramped, dark and smelly. 

Municipal albergue in Gonzar: 6 ($6.37). I was so tired after my first day on the Camino that I hardly remember what this municipal albergue was like. Nice, I think?

Municipal albergue in Santa Irene: €6 ($6.37). Definitely the nicest municipal albergue I stayed in. Very clean and quiet.

Private albergue in Santiago de Compostela: 16 ($16.98). There isn’t a municipal albergue in Santiago, so pilgrims must seek accommodation in private albergues. I stayed at Roots and Boots, which is ideally situated between the city center and the Camino toward Finisterre.

Municipal albergue in Negreia: €6 ($6.37). This was the smallest municipal albergue I stayed in. Since beds are limited, you better walk fast to ensure you get one!

Municipal albergue in Olveira: €6 ($6.37). This municipal albergue was pretty gross. It’s situated next to a cow pasture, so be prepared to smell manure.

Private albergue in Cee: 12 ($12.74). Day seven was my hardest day of walking. I only managed 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) or so. I practically collapsed in this albergue at the bottom of the steep hill leading into Cee. I’ve never been so thankful for a hot shower. 

Private albergue in Finisterre: €15 ($15.92).  As a reward for finally finishing the Camino, my walking partner and I treated ourselves to a private room. It was super basic and didn’t have any windows, but we didn’t care. After a week of dormitory-style sleeping, the privacy was worth every penny. 

Total: €73 ($77.39)

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Here’s the dormitory of a typical municipal albergue along the Camino. No sheets, but hey, it only costs 6 euros! Image Credit: El Teularat

Food

Rather than go through each and every meal, I averaged what I spent at each meal. Food is one area where you can really save money on your Camino. Some nights, I stopped in at a local grocery to buy breakfast items and snacks for the trail (fruit, cookies, granola bars). I saw plenty of pilgrims cooking dinner in the albergues. A pasta dinner is cheap, easy and will replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores.

Breakfast: €3.30 ($3.50). I usually ate a granola bar or piece of fruit shortly after starting on the trail in the morning. Then, an hour or so into walking, I’d stop at a cafe for coffee and pan con tomate (toast topped with tomato, olive oil and salt). If I was feeling fancy, I might order a zumo de naranja (fresh-squeezed orange juice) as well. 

Mid-morning snack: 1.92 ($2.04). By mid-morning, I almost always needed a pick-me-up. I’d stop at a cafe for an espresso, sometimes adding on a croissant. 

Lunch: 9.33 ($9.90). Many restaurants along the Camino offer specials for pilgrims. For between €9 and €10, you can get a hearty meal consisting of a first course, second course, dessert, bread and drink. 

Dinner: 9.17 ($9.73). Depending on the day, for dinner, I generally ate a meal similar to lunch, but a few nights, I snacked on food I bought from grocery stores (meat, bread, grapes, cheese, etc.). I never cooked in any of the albergues’ kitchens because utensils and space were limited. It was easier to just eat out. 

Total: 189.76 ($201.42); €23.72 per day ($25.18 per day)

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Coffee powered me through eight days on the Camino! Image Credit: Josh Nespodzany

Miscellaneous

As with any trip, there were a few miscellaneous costs along the way.

Pilgrim passport: 2 ($2.12). The pilgrim passport serves as proof that you have done the route. The passport must be stamped a minimum of twice per day at albergues, restaurants, churches and other establishments along the Camino. Once you reach Santiago de Compostela, you must show the stamped passport in order to receive official recognition of your pilgrimage. I purchased my passport at the church in Sarria the day before starting my Camino.

Shoe glue: 1 ($1.06). Five days into my Camino, I had to do a little repair job on my boots. The soles were coming away from the uppers. The inexpensive adhesive worked like a charm. 

Compostela tube: €1 ($1.06).  The pilgrim office in Santiago sells cardboard tubes, which are perfect for transporting your Compostela (certificate of completion). 

Total: €4 ($4.25)

I spent eight days on the Camino de Santiago and walked from Sarria to Finisterre. Here's the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago.
Behold: Santiago de Compostela! Image Credit: Pepe Martin

Total

In total, the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago for eight days was €552.13 ($585.97). Averaged, the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago per day was €69.02 ($73.42). That figure includes gear, transportation, accommodation, food and miscellaneous costs.

Many blogs choose to calculate the cost of walking the Camino de Santiago without the cost of gear. Minus gear, the average cost per day was €40.91 ($43.41).

Fellow pilgrims, how much did it cost you to walk the Camino de Santiago? Please share tips for budgeting the Camino (or travel, in general) in the comments!