The second best part of any camino is planning for it. But where do you even start? With a guidebook, is one answer, and I always recommend having a (decent and recent) guidebook available when planning. These days there are also lots of websites offering bits of information, and just deciding on which website to use can be confusing. My top pilgrim picks for the new or seasoned pilgrim preparing for a camino, are:
This planner will tell you the distances between every stop with facilities along your chosen route; just tick the place you intend to start and it gives you the next stops in order with the distance from there.
But it can do more; if you tick your starting point on the left hand column and your end point on the right, then type in your name or plan name at the bottom of the screen and press Submit, you will get a new list where you can plan your stages in more detail. Try to space your stops out evenly, or walk shorter stages in the beginning and longer ones as you get trail fit. Some like walking 15 kms a day, some 25-30, and the Godesalco planner lets you tailor the stages to your own preferences and needs. It will also show you what kind of accommodation is available in each town and village and show up potential problems such as 12 or 17 km stretches with no facilities (bring snacks and water!). When you are happy with your stages, this plan can then be downloaded in several different formats to help with your further planning. It’s free and infinitely reusable, and I still use it every time I want to know the distance from one place to another.
The Gronze website, though only available in Spanish, is like an online guidebook with maps, elevation profiles and an up-to-date list of the albergues and other accommodation along the different routes.
The link gives you the map of all caminos the websites has information on. Click on the one you want to walk, this takes you to an overview of that camino broken into smaller pieces for easy navigation. Clicking into the relevant part gives you a map of each etapa/stage, and if you click the + sign below the map (Ver perfil de la etapa), it also gives you an elevation profile of each stage so you know if you’ll be walking a lot of hills or on the flat. You can of course still plan your own stages using the Godesalco planner, and just add the info from Gronze. The accommodation is listed with user feedback, types of beds, prices and links to booking.com where available. Click on an accommodation to see more info on address, kitchen and laundry facilities, number of beds, house rules (pilgrim only? not taking transported bags?) etc.
Booking.com is one of the most popular accommodation booking sites out there and lots of pilgrims use it to prebook a bed for the first night or two, to secure a room in Santiago before going home, or just for booking beds from day to day to avoid the bed race.
Booking.com also lists dormitory and albergue beds, as well as private rooms and even flats to share if you are walking in a group or just met along the way. You can specify type of bed, price, distance from the centre etc to narrow the search. You can pay by credit or debit card, sometimes by PayPal, sometimes you have to pay straight away through the website/app and sometimes when you arrive at your accommodation. Very useful if you are worried about finding a bed, or if you have arrived somewhere to find it is full, or closed, and you need to find the nearest place to walk or even taxi to. And of course for treating yourself to a hotel room in the bigger cities! It’s well worth noting though, that even if the room or bed you wanted are unavailable on Booking.com, there may well be availability if you get in touch with the establishment directly.
Rome2Rio will show you how to get from anywhere to anywhere else, and is a great help if you don’t know how to get to your starting point from where you are. It will show you trains, planes, ferries and bus routes and with links directly to the companies and carriers that can take you there, as well as approximately what it would cost. The cheapest or shortest route might not be the one you thought …
There are several camino or pilgrim specific forums online, but this one has been around for many years, has veteran and new members from all over the world and is mainly English speaking, so it’s a good place to start.
This forum, like most forums, has subforums where you can read up on or ask questions relating to your chosen route. Look for the search function if you want to know more about a particular city, landmark, medical problem or other specific issue. There are pilgrims walking throughout the year on most routes so a forum could provide the most up-to-date info on closed albergues, rerouted or blocked paths, new bars etc. Chances are your question has been asked many times before (sleeping bag or liner, boots or shoes, what size backpack, where do I get a stamp for my credencial – or even what is a credencial?) so have a little look before you ask it again. There will be many different opinions or input on any given question, so try to weigh up which sounds best for you. No matter how many answers you get, you still have to make your own choice in the end.
If you’re going to Spain, learn some Spanish before you go. It’s polite, it’s useful, it’s going to make your walk more enjoyable and make it easier to connect with locals and other pilgrims. As soon as you have some basic lingo, you’ll pick up a lot more along the way. Practice on your laptop, tablet or smartphone, earn points, compete with other learners and have fun!