Today I was tagged in a message on Facebook and the link took me to a photo of myself and a friend glowing with sun, shower and accomplishment and unmistakable Camino sparkle, waiting for our meal in Lorca. She and I started the Long Walk from St Jean Pied de Port together in 2012, but she damaged her feet, and when she saw a doctor in Sahagún she was told to rest for two days and then slow down. Considerably. Or quit. We decided that I would continue to León, a two day walk, on my own while she got the train and found a place to stay and rest for a few days. Then we would rethink our situation. In the end she couldn’t walk on and didn’t want to get a bus or taxi every day, so she went home and I walked the next three weeks on my own.
This morning that picture popped up and I can’t quite believe that it is four years ago! In her comment she asked: Any tips on getting around to doing that last bit?
Well yes, just go! I have done this once or twice and I happen to think there is no time quite like the present, since this is a beautiful time of the year to complete that last bit – and starting on the meseta makes for a few easy days to get back into the swing of it.
So if you suddenly decide to go, what are the things you definitely need to get, bring and sort out?
- Guide book. Get yourself one sooner rather than later. If you don’t want or need more than a simple map, try Brierley’s maps only guide, or the Village to Village maps only guide, both are very straightforward and give you a clear outline of the stages and places to stop, stay and eat. And they weigh a lot less than the full fat versions! There are apps available too, and some, like the Wise Pilgrim, offer a choice of paper and app versions, but that involves a lot of looking at a mobile screen and relying on battery power. Either way the guide will give you an idea of how long you need to cover the distance, which means you are ready to fix your dates. Give yourself a day or two in Santiago though, and a few rest days – you might need them (or want them!).
- Tickets. The next thing you need to do is look at how to get there: flights and connecting buses or trains. What modes of transport will you need, and how much time have you got between them? A good rule if landing in Madrid or any other huge airport is to leave yourself two hours to get off the plane, pick up your bag if you have checked it, get through passport control and find your way around to your next transport.
- Accommodation. Top tip is to book your first night’s accommodation in advance if you arrive late at your starting point, or at least look up where the albergue or other accommodation is. Remember that most albergues lock the door at ten!
So now you you are armed with a guide book and you have your dates, your tickets and your first night sorted. You are almost good to go! Next: kit. You may have to invest in some of these if you don’t already have them:
- Footwear. This is sooo important! The wrong shoes can ruin your walk or make it painful and miserable. Bring one pair of really good footwear to walk in – shoes, boots, sandals, vibram socks, as long as they are comfortable, shock absorbant and supportive and fit. Try them on in the afternoon after walking around all day if possible, and bring two pairs of socks (no cotton) to make sure you get them big enough. You will need to buy shoes at least one size bigger than normal to allow for the swelling that comes from long distance walking and avoid toes being crushed going downhill. You will also need a spare pair to wear in the evening to let your feet rest, so bring some walking sandals for backup, or crocs or flipflops or something as long as it is lightweight and/or comfortable. You will need to wear them to and from the shower and toilets, going out to eat and maybe some sightseeing.
- Backpack. You will need something to carry your stuff in, and it should be comfortable and fit your back. If you haven’t already got one, go to an outdoorsy store and try loads of them on with about 5-8 kg weight in them; the assistants will help you adjust the straps and clips to suit you. Be prepared for a surprise – the one you want might not fit, and that odd looking thing in the colour you really don’t like, might be the perfect one. Get a pack with a hip belt with some padding, it is supposed to take most if not all of the weight off your shoulders. Make sure it is long enough in the back and doesn’t weigh a lot empty, any more than 1.5 kg is overkill. So is a volume of 50 litres or more, most can make do with 30-40 litres. Outside zipped or mesh pockets can be very practical, and a rain cover is always a bonus. If it is within the handluggage size limit you can save a small fortune on check-in fees!
- Valuables. Make sure you have somewhere to keep your valuables: passport, credencial (your pilgrim passport, you can get one at tourist offices and churches along the way), tickets, money, credit cards, mobile, camera etc. A small crossbody bag or bumbag will do, or a money belt, as long as you keep it with you at all times and never leave it in your pack or on the bed when you have a shower etc.
- Bedding. Depending on when you go and whether you sleep hot or cold, you might need a sleeping bag or a liner. If you already have one or can borrow one, take that unless it is way too heavy or warm. Sleep in it one night before you go and you’ll soon find out.
- Raingear. Staying dry(ish) in the driving Galician rain is not only more comfortable, it is also important that you don’t get too cold. Some take a rain jacket and trousers with a backpack cover, others opt for a poncho. If you already have raingear that you are happy with, take that, but if not you might want to consider getting some before you go or even along the way.
That’s the Camino specific kit done, now for what you can probably find at home:
- Clothes. Avoid cotton! It soaks up and retains moisture for longer so takes longer to dry and can make you cold. You need underwear that doesn’t chafe, socks and tops that dry quickly like tech materials or merino, trousers (or tights and a skirt) that don’t chafe and dry quickly, a warm layer like a fleece plus hat, scarf and gloves in the colder season, and a lightweight jacket of some sort – a pertex windbreaker or a rain jacket will do. You only need two changes of clothes that keep you dry, warm and Camino clean (which is slightly less strict than normal clean). You wear one set for walking, put on the other set after your shower and then do laundry so your walking set is clean and dry for next morning. You really don’t need more.
- Toiletries. Bring something to wash your hair, body and clothes, whether it is one thing for each or a bottle of shampoo to do all three. Not a huge bottle though – remember you have to carry everything so fill some smaller bottles and top up along the way. Also bring any medicines and some first aid items like nail scissors, plasters and painkillers. The farmacias in Spain have everything you need so you can get it there. If you are taking your pack into the cabin, remember to stay within your liquids allowance! Oh and don’t forget your lightweight towel, get a tech one or use your scarf or sarong or a tea towel or something.
- Plus your passport, printouts of tickets, mobile and charger, shaver/razor, camera, sunglasses, a hat for the sun/cold, a plastic spoon or spork for breakfast yogurts and lunches al fresco, a plastic or metal water container – or just get a bottle there and top it up as you go. Some like to bring a notebook or diary, you probably won’t need a book because you’ll be too busy to read, and you can study your guidebook on the journey there.
Going to the Camino on a sudden whim is absolutely possible, you don’t need months and years to prepare as long as you take it easy in the first week so your body gets used to the idea. You do need a good pair of shoes and a backpack that fits you and clothes that keep you comfortable and dry and warm. Anything else you can improvise – a very good tip is to take half the stuff and twice the money!
Have a look at a few more packlists here, here and here. And for a crash course in all things Camino (and general courtesy while travelling) and to while away the hours until your flight, watch the Don’t Stop Walking tutorials and/or the Beyond the Way series online.
EDIT: Sorry, I forgot about the extreme version, it goes something like this:
- Grab your passport, wallet and mobile and head towards your nearest airport.
- Download the flight carrier’s app en route, book tickets online, check in and download the boarding cards to your phone.
- Head through security and passport control. You are now in the shopping part of the airport, so get some essentials there – they have everything! While waiting use airport wi-fi to research forward transport: bus, train, taxi, then book accommodation for the night.
- Board, fly, land, get through passport control and start your adventure!