If anyone asks me if they need to find someone to walk the Camino with them, my default answer will always be: No. You don’t need it. You might want to bring a friend, but make sure you’re not doing it because you are afraid of going on your own. If you take someone for that reason you are doing both of you a disservice – would you like to know that you were basically just someone else’s security blanket? However, if you and a friend decide this is something you’d like to do together, there are a few points you should discuss:
Motivation. Do you have the same reasons for wanting to walk the Camino? Are you looking for the same thing, or is one going in search of enlightenment and contemplation or wants to visit every church while the other is after a village-to-village party? That doesn’t have to be a problem as long as you are aware of it and plan accordingly.
Planning. Talk about what you want to achieve, see, do, when and why and how. Make plans together, agree on flights and starting point and how long you’re going for, and share the duties of research, booking and input. If one does all the planning, chances are s/he will feel s/he is saddled with all the work and the responsibility of making decisions while the other will feel restricted or as if s/he has no say in the matter. Unless of course one of you loves planning and the other is happy to go along with anything – in which case, discuss and agree on it, but don’t just assume you agree.
Money. Make sure you have an idea of the amount of money you can both spend on this. If one can splurge along the way and wants to go for expensive meals and hotel rooms, and the other prefers (or needs to) stay in albergues and have menús del dia to make ends meet and the adventure happen, you will probably start grating on each other pretty soon. Top tip: Put the same amount of money in a kitty and pay your joint expenses with it. That way you will both spend the same and will have to agree on things like sharing a private room occasionally. You can still spend extra on the side if you like, but the joint budget is fixed. Or just decide to do things separately or differently, as long as you talk about it and not just ignore the potential money problem.
Training. Don’t leave it to the first day to find out if you walk at the same-ish speed, if one wants to stop to photograph every inch of the way and the other likes power walking etc. Go for a few practice walks together, that makes sense anyway to get to know your kit, yourself and your comfort levels with a pack on. And you may get to see each other in a less than sunny mood while it is raining. It is all good practice. If you can’t walk together for 20 km in the sun or rain at home, how will you manage on the Camino for weeks?
Packing. Talk about and coordinate your packing and take similar things. This might sound silly, since most pilgrims will want to pack very light and only take the essentials, but one person’s essentials are another person’s excess. If one of you packs a sleeping bag and the other just a silk liner, one will potentially not sleep well on a cold night while the other is toasty. Of course if one of you sleeps colder than the other you pack accordingly – but don’t leave it to chance or whim. It makes sense to have approximately the same kit so you will both be warm, cold, wet etc at the same time. One can have the latest ultralight expensive goretex jacket and the other a binbag with a hole for the head, the main thing is that you both have rain gear. If one intends to forward the luggage, say so before you go. Forwarding luggage also means pre-booking beds and rooms, locking both into an itinerary which affects the other person too.
Sharing. Two people walking together only need one first aid kit, Boil Coil, charger, cork screw, even shampoo and sun cream etc, so why not share the weight of these things. Walking together can also mean you can take more/other things, like a small fleece blanket for picnics, and you can look after each others’ valuables while the other is in the shower. Share what you can, with each other and your fellow pilgrims!
Flexibility. No matter how many plans you have made, no matter what you thought or hoped the Camino would be, chances are it will end up quite differently. Injury can bring on unscheduled rest days, heat can make you want or need to stop after 15 km rather than 25, or a new friend or long meal or beautiful place can make you want to change your goal for the day or week. Be flexible, adapt, change your plan to suit the situation. If you are getting worried about arriving in time to get the flight home, consider getting a taxi past a stage or two, or let your friend walk it while you rest or the other way around. Plans are just plans, the Camino is something completely different. Let it happen the way it happens and don’t get too hung up on plans and itineraries. If you find it hard getting a bed because you are in a wave of people, hang back a day and it might be less stressful. If you need a rest day, take it. If you can’t walk that far, don’t. If someone needs you, respond.
Time out. Just because you are going together doesn’t mean you have to be joined at the hip. I met a married couple who walked two days apart, with their separate crews of camino friends, and sometimes took taxis and met up for an evening meal before going back to where they each left off. You can stay in the same places, agree in the morning on where to stop and meet up again, and walk separately – great if you walk at different speeds. Agreeing on a Time Out system can be a good idea: if one of you needs time to think, be quiet, be alone, or even go somewhere else with someone else, make sure both of you can handle it without feeling let down, lost or snubbed. You probably wouldn’t spend all day together at home either, so allow each other some space. Agree on how to say it, so you don’t have to hint or explain badly or worse, end up in an argument. All you should need to say is: “I need two hours time out/time out to walk alone today/time out for a rest day.” Then decide on a time and place to meet again.
Exit strategy. One girl left early in the morning without telling her friend she was actually going home, another pilgrim just sped up and left his friend behind. If it doesn’t work, if you can’t enjoy walking together, if taking time out doesn’t help or if one of you gets ill or injured, have an exit strategy which allows you to go your separate ways – literally – without ruining the friendship. Talking about it before you go makes it a lot easier to deal with if or when the situation arises. It’s never nice to have to take that conversation, but it could end up being necessary. If you try too hard for too long to make something work which isn’t going to, you just make it worse. Know before you go that things can change and you might need to carry on alone. People develop blisters, shin splints and fatigue, fall in love with cities and the slow life and other pilgrims, lose interest in the Camino or find a new outlook, new friends or even themselves. The Camino can be an intense experience, more so the longer it is, so do your future self a favour by making sure you have a get-out clause. You – or your friend – might need it.
Be a friend. Of course chances are you will both be fine and enjoy the experience, and maybe it will bring you closer together, just don’t take it (or each other) for granted. Don’t demand or rely on your friend to provide entertainment, company and/or conversation on your Camino, it’s their Camino too! When you are tired and cold and irritable, remember your friend probably is too. Be considerate, be kind, make allowances, try to see the positives, give both of you time to settle in and find your pace and space. Being a friend isn’t always easy when you are out of your comfort zone, but things that are worth having are worth the effort. Remember two golden pieces of advice: If you have nothing good to say, say nothing. Or at least count to ten before you start.
Let others in. I have seen a lot of really strong friendships on the Camino … and many of them were only weeks or days old. You will meet others along the way and make new friends as long as you are open to it. It is much easier to approach someone who is on their own than someone who is with someone else, especially if you speak a language they don’t or seem like you are completely content with each other’s company. My best advice if you want to go with a friend, is to make sure you leave room for others too. If they don’t approach you, invite them to your table for a meal or a glass of vino medicino!
I have walked with old friends, with brand new ones I found along the way, with my Scouse Spouse and on my own, and I will probably – hopefully! – do it again, all of it. In my opinion there is no one way that is better or worse, only what is right or wrong for you – some people prefer walking alone and others feel safer in a group. Just make sure you are honest and clear and kind when you communicate with the person you are travelling with.
And enjoy! Even the rainy days can be a hoot!