W. Tripp, Jr. 2011,
This section, “ Planning Your Trip” and the following
one, “What to Expect,” together address issues that
need to be considered in planning your trip. The
focus of this section is on the decisions to be
made and actions to be taken before you depart.
“What to Expect” addresses what you may encounter
This section is primarily focused on those who travel
by foot. However, the Camino is also used by people
who travel by bicycle and on horseback.
In planning your trip, most people focus is normally
on their main plan, which I will can Plan A. The
rest of this discussion will be on Plan A. But,
you need to consider two other plans, Plan B, what
to do if you have a delay of one or more days because
you have tendonitis or some other problem. Plan
C, what to do if you have a problem so severe that
you cannot complete the trip. If you are traveling
with someone else, you also need to consider the
possibility that one party will decide to drop out
and the other to continue. I have seen all of these
happen and thinking about them ahead of time is
better than reacting to the situation.
There are several, equally authentic, routes to
Santiago. The principal routes within the Iberian
Peninsula are discussed below. There are many others
described in “Camino Routes”, which should help
you select the one best suited to your situation.
on this site
A Starting Point
There are three key considerations in choosing a
starting point. They are your physical condition,
the time you have available, and the difficulty
of getting there.
Your physical condition, including the toughness
of your feet, affects the distance you can reasonably
expect to go in a day’s travel. Except for people
in a very good state of training, a reasonable estimate
for walking is about fifteen kilometers (nine miles)
a day for the first few days. Eventually one can
expect to be able to cover over thirty kilometers
a day. In addition, people who are not in good condition
should allow a couple of days of modest walking
before tackling the most difficult stretches of
the Camino. For planning purposes, the average person
should think in terms of walking about 20 to 25
kilometers (12 to 15 miles) a day.
walking time available, which determines how far
you can expect to walk, should incorporate time
for problems and rest periods. You need to allow
a day or two for the possibility of a problem. It
would be very frustrating for someone to have to
quit before reaching Santiago because not enough
time was allowed to recover from an unforeseen accident
that kept them from walking for a couple of days.
In addition, your schedule should allow some down
time for rest to allow your body to recover—this
does not mean inactivity. There are several cities
and towns along the Camino that warrant setting
aside a day to sightsee and the reduced activity
will allow your body to rest and recover.
Consider a woman who plans to fly to Madrid, departing
home on a Saturday and needs to be back at work
on Monday four weeks later, 30 days total. Her first
day will be spent reaching the terminal for the
trans-Atlantic leg with an evening departure. The
next day will be arrival in Madrid and travel to
the point of starting out on the Camino—that is
if there were no flight delays or lost luggage to
contend with. After arriving in Santiago she should
plan to spend the day in seeing Santiago, obtaining
the Compostela, and attending the service for the
newly arrived pilgrims. Part of the next day will
be required to travel to Madrid and the last day
will be spent flying to the US. These five days
are not available for walking the Camino, leaving
25 days to walk the Camino. Setting aside three
days for rest also provides a margin for illness,
leaving 22 days for actual walking. Using the planning
estimate for distance covered per day, this corresponds
to 440 to 550 kilometers. For her Burgos would be
a good starting point.
to the Starting Point
Some starting points are more difficult to reach
than others. For an American flying into Europe,
the easiest cities to reach are: Madrid, Barcelona,
Lisbon, and Paris. Other cities, such as Toulouse,
Bayonne, etc. can be reached by internal flight
connections. Once arriving in each city, one has
to reach the starting point by train, bus, or taxi.
A rental car is another alternative but one way
rentals are expensive.
French Route - Roncesvalles
Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port is a lovely town. To reach
it from Paris or Madrid, one needs to take a train
to Bayonne, France and then take a local train.
Roncesvalles can be reached by taking the train
to Pamplona and then a taxi or bus the rest of the
way. It is the starting point for many Spaniards.
The problem with starting from Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port
is that the first stage, going over the mountains
to Roncesvalles, is one of the most difficult on
the entire French Route.
French Route - Somport
A train runs to Canfranc-Estación from Madrid where
one can take a taxi the ten kilometers to Somport
pass. Although maps show a train line crossing the
border there, it has been closed for many years
and as of the spring of 2001, there are no plans
by either country to fund the work needed to reopen
the line. Approaching the Somport pass from the
French side one can use the French railway system
to reach Olorón from Paris or Toulouse, but from
there one must either walk or take a bus to an intermediate
town from which to start walking. Alternatively,
one could pick up this route at any point on the
route from Arles. Pau is another possible starting
point for the Somport Pass.
French Route - Puente de la Reina and beyond
Spanish cities easily reached by train from Madrid
are Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, León, Astorga and
The Paris - Madrid train line passes through San
Sebastián, and Bilbao. Oviedo and Santander can
also be reached by train from Madrid.
de la Plata
Seville is the starting point for the Via de la
Plata and can be reached easily from Madrid
by train, including the high speed AVE, or by air.
Other cities on the route easily reached by train
are Mérida, Caceres, Plasencia, Salamanca, Zamora,
The current main Portuguese Route starts in Porto,
which can be reached by train or a short air shuttle
flight from Lisbon (Lisboa), the natural entry point
for someone from the United States. Historically
the principal route started in Lisbon and passed
through Porto. There are several cities and towns
along the Lisbon-Porto-Santiago route that can be
reached by train from Lisbon, a key one being Coimbra.
All traveler’s accounts of the Camino de Santiago
mention the weather and it needs serious consideration.
The Camino includes several high mountain passes—how
high, and how many, depends on the route taken,
but one can count on cold wet weather during the
winter in any case. Many mountain passes are closed
with snow in winter and most refugios are not open.
At the other extreme, summer can be very hot and
dry and there are many portions of the Camino that
will require walking many miles in full sun. Despite
this, there are pilgrims who complete the trip during
every month of the year.
"El Camino Santiago Weather" Is a good
source of links to the climate and weather for various
routes on the camino.
The peak periods for Europeans making the pilgrimage
coincide with the vacation and school holiday periods.
Thus, July and August find the most people on the
Camino and the accommodations most difficult to
Año Jubilar or Jubilee Years are years in which
the 25th of July occurs on a Sunday. During such
a year, Catholics can receive the jubilee indulgence.
For this reason there are many more pilgrims than
other years. Many will go for the minimum distance.
The last Jubilee years were in 1993, 1999, 2004
and 2010. The next one will be in 2021.
Trip to the Start
In planning your trip, particularily selecting clothing,
take into consideration what you will wear enroute.
If you plan to tack on a visit to Paris, Madrid,
or some other location, and do not wish to wear
the clothes you use on the camino, you will be faced
with the problem of storing them. One possibility
is to make reservations to stay at an inn or hotel
in or around Santiago where you can mail the clothing
to pick up on arrival.
Santiago is prepared for one-way travelers at the
airport, train and bus stations. Good connections
are available to other European cities via all modes
of transportation. A few travelers even follow medieval
traditions and walk back the way they came.
One cost of walking back is that the people doing
so are traveling against the flow and have only
brief encounters with those on the way to Santiago.
When I encountered a pilgrim on the Camino returning
from Santiago, it was only a fleeting look, with
no real contact, because we were both intent on
our destinations—it was also because of the determined
look on their faces. I regret now that I did not
stop to chat for a few minutes.
There are several basic precautions that all travelers
should observe and they are part of ones preparations.
I will include them here for reference and to emphasize
People who use computers know the importance of
protecting and backing up data. The same needs to
be done with several items you will be traveling
with. At a minimum you will travel with a passport,
airline tickets and money (cash, travelers checks,
or credit/debit cards).
Do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk by carrying
credit cards you will not need on the trip. For
example, your U.S. gas cards cannot be used in Spain.
Make a copy of your passport and keep it separate
from your passport. It will make it easier to get
a replacement if yours is lost or stolen.
Have a list of all credit/debit cards and the numbers
to call to report their loss. Keep this separate
from the cards.
The most common European emergency number is 112.
112 is valid in Spain and Portugal. A traveller
visiting a foreign country with a mobile phone does
not have to know the local emergency numbers, however.
The mobile phone and the SIM card have a preprogrammed
list of emergency numbers. When the user tries to
set up a call using an emergency number known by
a GSM or 3G phone, the special emergency call setup
takes place. The actual number is not even transmitted
into the network, but the network redirects the
emergency call to the local emergency desk. Most
GSM mobile phones can dial emergency calls even
when the phone keyboard is locked, the phone is
without a SIM card, or an emergency number is entered
instead of the PIN.
You should have a pocket-sized card that has the
names, relationship, and phone numbers of those
persons who should be contacted in the event of
an emergency when you are unable to provide that
information. Have one in your wallet and another
in your backpack. Make sure one of the contacts
has a medical power of attorney to act in your behalf.
Carry a copy of your prescriptions. It will facilitate
replacement, and, if necessary, will help you explain
to a doctor what medication you are taking.
For minor medical problems, health care in Europe
is not a problem. However, local hospitals are not
accustomed to dealing with American insurance companies.
Travelers who need to be hospitalized may be asked
to put up a sizable cash deposit. This is especially
important for older travelers covered by Medicare;
Medicare does not pay for any medical care outside
the United States.
Another consideration is medical evacuation coverage
if the traveler wants to return to the United States
for treatment but cannot fly on a commercial carrier
(the airlines won't take anyone whose condition
is unstable), it can cost as much as $40,000 to
be medevac'd. Or, as one recent traveler without
medevac coverage found out, his only other option
was to have major heart surgery in Spain.
Several companies provide medical insurance for
travelers, at a cost of about $6 per day (and up,
depending on age); among them are:
Assistance: 800-723 5309
& Company: 800-237-6615, is a broker for this
type of insurance
Embassy Contact Information
You should know how to contact the US Embassy in
the event of a problem. Located in Madrid, the Embassy
is open 9 - 6 on weekdays with someone available
by phone 24 hours a day for emergencies. The phone
number is 91587 2200. There is also a consular agency
in A Coruña. Its number (open workdays only) is
There are two aspects to money for planning a trip—How
much should I plan to spend and How do I safely
carry that with me?
All expenses will be paid for with euros, symbol
€. As of July 2011, the exchange rate is 1 € costs
1.42 US dollars.
Albergue costs range from donations to 5 to 12 euros
per person per night. The higher fees were for private
albergues but were also for smaller, and thus less
crowded, dormitories. Small hotels with private
rooms ran from 30 to 60 euros and up.
Pilgrim menus (three courses, bread, water and wine)
ranged from 8 to 10 euros. There are often fancier
menus available for more. Breakfasts, consisting
of coffee and toast or sweet breads ran from 3 to
6 euros. Water, cokes, and beer are the same - running
from 1.20 to 1.50 euros. Fresh squeezed orange juice
was 1.50 to 2 euros.
Prices for food and albergues increased closer to
Santiago, particularly those within the last 100
The daily expenses shown above can be cut somewhat
but will easily increase for those who decide to
sleep in places other than refugios or eat more
lavish meals. A room in a modest pension will range
from 30 to 60 € and up; one in a four star hotel
could run 300 € or more. Dinner in a modest restaurant
can cost 18 to 25 €, while an outstanding meal in
a very good restaurant, with wine, could run 100
and Replenishing Money
As you can see above, most of your expenses are
small and will be made under circumstances where
you will pay in cash. I have travelled in Europe
and elsewhere since 1984 and find that travelers
checks are more trouble than they are worth. Automated
Teller Machines (ATM) are available in all but the
smallest towns. Most are part of the Cirrus and
PLUS networks and will accept your U.S. bank card
(also known as check card, ATM card or debit card)
and provide local currency with a favorable exchange
rate. Most machines offer a variety of languages,
including English, to use during the transaction.
However, recent changes within the banking and credit
card industry may result in additional fees. This
is dependent on the bank. You should check with
the bank issuing your card as to what fees are involved
with your use of it overseas.
There is an additional complication that I recently
(March 2011) became aware of. For increased security,
European Banks now issue debit and credit cards
that carry an embedded chip. Businesses have switched
over to using machines that use these. As part of
their anti-fraud measures, you are seldom asked
to give an employee your card for them to swipe.
If you are at a restaurant, your waiter will bring
a portable card reader to your table with the amount
of your bill already entered. You cannot add a tip
to the total. Your card is swiped and you will be
asked to OK the total and enter a PIN. Note: The
PIN for this is not the Cash Back PIN. If you have
a normal US credit/debit card without a chip, you
do not have a PIN. Since I did not have a PIN, I
just hit the OK with no PIN entered. It usually
worked. In other places that did not work and I
had to switch to cash. Here are links to more information
about this issue.
Chip and PIN
JP Morgan & Wells Fargo Announcement
If you have any questions about your ATM card, check
with your bank in advance of your departure from
home. Ensure you know how to contact them if you
encounter problems using your card. Use your card
before you leave home and again shortly after arrival,
even if you do not need the money, solely to verify
that everything works as advertised. In this way,
if there is a problem, you can correct it before
you find yourself in financial extremis.
For credit cards, it is important to let your bank
know that you will be traveling in Spain, especially
if you do don't often leave the country. They may
assume the card is being used fraudulently and block
further use until you call. This can present serious
problems and cause unnecessary worry.
If you encounter problems, do not panic. Over the
years in traveling overseas, I have occasionally
encountered problems with one ATM only to find that
another had no problems or the next day the same
machine would work fine. In one instance when I
could not wait, my problem was resolved when I entered
the bank and talked to a teller. He was able to
use my card to withdraw funds for me. There was
no additional fee involved.
You do not need to exchange money before you leave
the US. Currency exchange counters exist at the
airport and in city centers. There are ATM machines
in the airports, train stations, and all shopping
centers and shopping areas. They are safe to use
as long as you do not place yourself in a vulnerable
position while you are withdrawing money from the
ATM. i.e., do not make a withdrawal from a sidewalk
machine without having someone else to see who is
If you use an alphabetic PIN, translate the letters
into numbers before you go. ATM key pads will only
display numbers, and few European telephone keypads
include letters to help you remember how to convert
ANNE to 2663. If you are used to remembering the
PIN by the physical positions of the number buttons,
there is another problem. In some instances, the
key pads are rearranged more like those on a computer
than a telephone, i.e., the top row is 789 vice
In addition, “plastic money” works very well in
Europe. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard,
and Visa credit cards are widely accepted. As far
as hotels, stores and shops and other retail businesses
go, you can expect to encounter only a few places
that work on a cash only basis. However, hostals,
restaurants and small businesses in small towns
and villages may be used to working on a cash basis
and will not accept credit cards.
in Touch with Home
You can send mail home from any town or village.
Stamps can be purchased from the post office, which
are called Correos. They use yellow for the public
boxes and the signs indicating their location. As
in most countries, the postal system has a long
tradition of postal savings which has evolved into
a bank, and you will often find a bank associated
with the post office, indicated by Caja Postal.
This can be confusing to the unaware. Often you
may find it more convenient to buy stamps from an
If someone wishes to send mail to you and you do
not have a more definitive address, have them mail
it to you addressed care of the Lista de Correos
and the town. You can then collect the mail at the
main post office of that town.
Because of the increased use of cell phones throughout
Spain, public telephones are gradually disappearing
although they still exist. There are two types of
public telephones in Spain. Every bar, cafe, or
restaurant will have a green colored public telephone.
These phones require .50, 1 and 2 euro coins and
do not accept the telephone cards available at kiosks
or post offices. The telephones that accept telephone
cards are mounted vertically, normally in booths
(cabinas). They are operated by Telefonica, the
national telephone system. Such phones can be found
in busy public places like airports and shopping
centers and theaters or telephone booths in plazas.
They will have instructions in English on the phone.
Telephone cards (tarjetas de telefono) can be bought
at news kiosks and estancos (tobacconists). The
telephone cards can be used for international calls
or calling within Spain.
You can also use a US calling card to call the United
States. Be sure to obtain the overseas access numbers
of interest before you leave as you may have difficulty
finding them after your arrival. Your family should
understand that you may not be able to call them
at a specified hour because you may have to use
an outside phone and stand in line to use it. Even
if you have an internet based calling system such
as Skype, it may not always be available where you
will want to call from.
Having an 800 number at home will not work as a
way to stay in touch. US toll-free numbers are toll
free only when called from within the US and Canada.
Thus if you call an 800 number from Spain, it will
cost just as much as if it were a regular number.
Larger cities and towns will have “cybercafes” or
other commercial places where you can pay to access
the internet and check your email. Many albergues
will have computers with coin-operated access to
the internet. Cybercafes can be most easily found
by asking a student who will in many cases help
lead you to the place, practicing their English
in the process. To use a cybercafe to check your
email, you will need to have established a internet
browser mail account, such as Hotmail, Yahoo mail,
etc., before you left home. Even then, you can only
check the accounts for which you have set up the
internet account to access. If you plan to do this,
check everything out before you leave to make sure
you have completed all the steps.
If it is important to stay in touch, establish a
back-up account that is also set up to read mail
at your primary account. This is in case you have
a problem logging on to your primary account for
some reason. You have to be able to receive a message
from the system operator to address the problem.
Also ensure your address book is up to date.
Operating hours vary widely, from open 24 hours
to less than eight hours per day. Costs do vary
widely, from 1.50€/hour to 1€/half-hour. Some places
have a minimum and others only charge for the time
you are at the terminal. Some cybercafes may be
very noisy because of a students playing games over
the internet. Do not expect a smoke free environment.
Expect that the keyboards will be arranged differently
and the operating system and thus commands will
be in a foreign language.
The key combination for “@” is not shift-2 but alt-graphic-8.
To (and Not To) Pack
The first thing that an American needs to realize
when planning to walk the Camino de Santiago is
that it is not a wilderness trail. Unlike the Appalachian
Trail, the Camino will pass through villages and
towns every few miles, as well as farm yards and
pastures. Pilgrims normally stay inside a hostal—not
outdoors. There will be an opportunity to take a
shower every night, normally with hot water. There
will be places to buy coffee and other refreshments
as well as meals. If you wish to prepare your own
meals, there are rudimentary kitchens in most refugios.
Rules and Guiding Principles
You will carry everything on your back for miles.
You will be in the open and will travel every day,
regardless of the weather. Be prepared for heat,
cold, rain, wind and sun.
This is not a trip through the wilderness. You can
replenish supplies. Carry basics and replenish consumables
on the road.
A basic planning decision is whether to buy meals
or cook meals. Cooking involves planning and weight.
Buying involves money. See Buying and cooking your
own under What to expect for more information if
you are thinking about cooking.
For help and reference, I have included a Camino
Packing List that you can download, print and markup.
on this site
Standard First Aid kits have extraneous items but
are convenient because of compartmentalization,
instructions and lots of useful items. Buy but customize.
Alternatively, buy a sturdy zippered bag and use
small plastic bags and containers to separate items.
Need stuff for innards: diarrhea and constipation
anti-inflammatory painkiller (motrin, ibuprofen)
sun screen (and hat, sun glasses)
bugs are not a significant problem; however some
type of repellent is handy
care for feet is a major factor: blister kit, moleskin,
athletes foot, wet feet
damage to nails
scratches, abrasions, scrapes, bruises, minor cuts
tube of lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, to counter
chafing and chapping
The basic rule is: two sets: one to wear, one to
wash and dry; anything else is luxury. You will
need to wash and dry clothes every day unless you
intend to repeat the medieval experience.—if you
do, don’t expect others to be very friendly. Light-weight,
fast-dry clothes are essential. Layer clothes; adjust
the layers to stay warm or cool. You will dress
and change with minimal privacy. Have appropriate
I strongly recommend convertible trousers and shirts
designed to roll up the sleeves. if you are buying
new clothes for this, get both the same but in different
colors. Both of these items commonly have multiple
pockets. If the trousers/shirts are the same, they
will have similar pockets and you can develop habits
concerning what goes where.
Think “light” but you will need something to wear
while your boots are airing at the end of the day.
I used sandals but they did not protect me from
the cold and water on some days. I have also used
the Vibram Toed shoes but learned that they don't
work well if you have a bandage over a blister
Get the best money can buy - light, warm if needed
but with ventilation to release the heat your body
will generate by walking. There are two ways to
go. One is with a poncho that covers you and your
backpack. The other is with a rain jacket that you
wear with your back pack secured over it, and a
rain cover for the back pack. You need a combination
capable of keeping you and your backpack dry in
a strong wind. There are drawbacks to both. I used
a poncho during my first trip and found it protected
my upper body and the backpack but was useless from
my waistline down. It was easy to don and remove
while standing, a very useful attribute in warm
weather with frequent showers interspersed with
sunshine. A rain jacket or anorak under the backpack
is more complicated to don and remove, requiring
a dry spot to place your backpack for the transition.
However it is useful when you have stopped in a
town and wish to explore.
Rain Gear Labeling. Water-repellent means that the
fabric has been finished with a water-repellent
chemical. While drops will roll off, in a downpour,
water will eventually soak in. Water-resistant fabrics
have a coating that will protect you in a light
to moderate rain. Waterproof fabrics should stop
all water from getting through, but this is incompatible
with breathing to let moisture out.
My friend from the Netherlands had the best poncho
I saw. It was lightweight, breathable and long,
covering his backpack and reaching down to below
Consider gaiters to protect your shoes from water
entry from the top.
They will preserve your sanity, whether in refugios
or in pensiones. There are a lot of snorers on the
Camino, and windows in hotels are usually open for
fresh air, which admits sounds from the surroundings,
including barking dogs and other animal noises.
A friend ignored my advice, thinking to herself
that she could sleep through anything. After two
sleepless nights buying ear plugs became her highest
priority the third day.
A product that comes in a tube is wonderful. If
you cannot find it before you go, such a product,
Norit Viaje, is available in Spain. There are similar
products sold in stores that sell camping gear in
the US. Label your container to help it get returned
if someone else decides to use it or you forget
it in the rush.
Most places have lines to hang clothes to dry but
an extra one is always useful. Also bring something
to fasten articles of clothing to your backpack
so they can dry as you walk if necessary. I made
up a couple of short nylon cords which were cut
short, ends fused and one end pre-tied in a loop.
They were useful in drying a wet towel while I walked
in one instance and a pair of shoes in another.
The cord doesn't take up much space nor weigh a
lot, so take more than you think you will need.
I took plastic clothes pins the last trip. I noticed
some people who used large safety pins which I thought
was very good idea because they didn't take much
space and weighed nothing. In addition, for bulky
socks, the sock was never doubled over which helps
Remember that towels need to dry also, so get a
quick drying one. You will be traveling every day,
wet clothes or not. If your towel is not dry when
you set off in the morning, you face drying it as
you walk or drying off at the next stop with a cold
Consider a microfiber robe. When you shower, you
will have a very small, supposedly dry, space
outside of the wet area of the shower. It will have
one hook, possibly two, to hold the clothes you
are wearing when you enter and the clothes you will
wear when you leave, plus your towel and then there
is your bottle of shampoo and whatever else you
may need. During my last trip, I decided it would
have been much easier if I had a robe to undress
under in the dorm area, with a pocket to carry my
shampoo. All it would need is one hook and I could
dry off after showering, put on the robe and complete
dressing in clean clothes under my robe in a completely
dry area of the dorm.
A miniature flashlight comes in very handy when
you need to go to the bathroom in a strange place
in the middle of the night.
The most important purchasing decision for your
comfort and the overall success of your journey
is the shoes you buy. People wear a wide variety,
including what appeared to me to be sturdy running
shoes. However, I strongly recommend lightweight
waterproof boots that provide ankle support. You
should expect to walk in rain and on uneven terrain.
Almost as important as the boots, they need to keep
your feet dry and also will need to dry overnight.
Get self-wicking socks to promote the removal of
moisture from your feet.
Buy one as light as possible but sized for what
you will carry. I found a capacity of 3,500 cubic
inches was adequate for my needs. Be sure to get
one that fits properly and rides on your hips. Have
a professional help you adjust it to your body.
Remember you will be wearing it for hours at a time.
The effect and stress on your body is different
from wearing a shoulder supported back pack with
a load of books for short periods of time.
You will need sun and rain protection for your head.
I generally do not like hats in but found one to
be essential on the camino. I bought one with a
band to keep it from flying off in the wind and
with flaps to protect my ears. Although on my second
trip I had a hood on my rain jacket, I did not like
the reduced field of view and preferred to use my
hat. I have seen others use a wide variety including
a Japanese man with a conical Asian straw hat.
If you wear glasses, you need to protect them and
have someplace to store them. You will need also
to shift between sunglasses and normal glasses.
In normal life, I never had a problem with a softpack.
However, I strongly recommend using a lightweight
hard glasses case. Before you leave, in the comfort
of your home, figure out where you can attach your
glasses case to your backpack where your sunglasses
are accessible for quick changes.
Use internal mesh or stuff bags to help separate
items inside your back pack. Plastic bags of assorted
sizes are also useful for further separation. Do
not make the mistake of having too many small bags
inside your backpack.
A roll of toilet paper is essential for use where
there is none. It should be packed at the top of
your backpack where it is easily accessible and
protected from water by a plastic bag.
Since you will sleep inside, you do not need a sleeping
bag to provide much warmth. A bag suitable for outdoors
in the cold will be hot and weigh more than necessary.
The REI Traveler Sack +55 is one example. Others
Most pilgrims carry a staff. You can buy one on
the Camino but you may prefer to buy a modern light
weight extendable walking pole or stick before you
go. I found mine to be very useful when walking
in steep or slippery terrain. I used it several
times to help me when I had to duck or bend to bypass
obstructing bushes when there was limited dry ground
to traverse a section of path which was mostly water
A small sewing kit is useful but not essential for
repairs to clothing.
Since refugios generally have thin mattresses, a
sleeping mat is not needed, unless you plan to be
traveling at the peak of the season when refugios
may be full. If you want one, try sleeping on it
at home a couple of nights to see if it is really
worth its weight.
A scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrims to Santiago
and you will want one sooner or later to fasten
to your back pack or clothing. Depending on where
you live in the US, it may be very difficult to
get one before you depart. However, they are frequently
available in shops along the French Route.
A GPS (Global Positioning System) unit is unnecessary
and, except for possible use on an unmarked route,
would be more trouble than it is worth. The various
caminos are sufficiently waymarked that thousands
of people follow them without problems every year.
I have not used GPS waypoints now available on the
web to upload into a GPS unit, but here are a few
El Camino de Santiago en GPS.
GPS Waypoints for the Camino
Power would be an additional problem. A solar power
unit and adaptor would be awkward and add weight.
Replacement batteries of adequate quality are difficult
to find except in larger cities and towns. Using
rechargeable batteries means carrying a 220 volt
charger and having a place to plug it in when you
stop at night.
Some people believe in traveling simply and consider
a camera an unnecessary distraction from the intent
of the camino. It does add weight and is a distraction
but it offers a way to record aspects of the camino
to bring back home and refer to the rest of your
life. A camera on the camino should be lightweight
and inexpensive. Whether it is 35mm or APS is immaterial
since replacement film and developing is inexpensive
and readily available for both. I strongly recommend
a camera with a zoom. There will be many aspects
where a zoom is needed to capture the detail you
want. See “Photo Developing” in "What to Expect"
for additional considerations.
An important consideration is ready access while
you have your pack on. I missed several shots and
never tried to take others because it took too long
to get my camera out. In 30 seconds a scene can
change completely and no longer be interesting.
If you have not studied Spanish, French or Portuguese
before, it is probably not worth the effort to do
so at this time. This site contains some useful
words and phrases in a section,
“Getting Along in Spain”
can be studied beforehand but are intended to be
referred to during the trip. For food terms in Spain,
there is an excellent book, Passport's Food and
Wine Guides: Spain. If you plan to travel the Portuguese
Route, we have compiled a brief glossary of Portuguese
If, on the other hand, you have studied one of these
languages before but feel very rusty, I strongly
suggest buying one of the books written in Spanish,
French or Portuguese listed in the section “Reference
The books are very informative and the words used
in describing the Camino are the words you will
encounter during your trip. It may be painful at
first but as you progress your reading speed will
improve and you will find yourself remembering more
than you thought possible. Knowing the local language
will open up an important dimension of the Camino
and increase your pleasure.
For those who have the time, and the money, another
approach is to look into attending one of the many
schools that teach Spanish, or French, or Portuguese,
as appropriate. One highly recommended program is
that of the University of Salamanca—there are others.
This University was founded in 1218 and offers several
courses of varying length (1, 2, 3 weeks and longer)
all through the year for students of all ages. One
of the benefits of a program such as this is total
immersion: staying with a family and speaking Spanish
all day. If you are interested in the Via de la
Plata, Salamanca could be a good starting point
since it is on that ancient route. For more information,
check out the University of Salamanca web site.
There are pages in English. Additional contact information
can be found in “Cursos Internacionales, Universidad
de Salamanca” on Reference Information. There are
also course given at the University of Madrid, which
is at the focal point of the Spanish transportation
One of the people I met on the Camino had started
in The Netherlands. He said that before and after
he returned he had been asked many times how to
prepare for such a long journey. His response was
often a disingenuous, “You can’t.” His point was
that you cannot foresee everything and must remain
flexible in your approach and how you deal with
problems. In reality you can do a lot to prepare
yourself physically beforehand.
Your Feet and Softening Your Boots
Avoiding blisters is one of the most important things
you can do. NEVER, but NEVER, start out with a new
pair of shoes. When buying your boots/shoes, seek
assistance from a sales representative who has long
distance hiking experience. Ensure your shoes fit
properly by trying them on and testing them out
more than you would for normal shoes. An important
check is how they fit when walking downhill. A good
sporting goods store will have a ramp for people
to try shoes going uphill and down. Improper fit
when going downhill means that a person’s toe nails
will be under pressure. In the course of several
days, they will be overstressed, turn black as a
result of blood beneath the toe nail (hematoma),
and eventually fall off. This is not a major problem
but can be avoided by proper fit and keeping your
Once having bought your shoes, “wear them in” and
get your feet toughened by walking a lot. Start
out slowly, but over a period of several weeks or
a month, try to put at least fifty miles on your
shoes. Ensure that the fit is the same by wearing
the same socks that you intend to wear on the Camino.
It is also important to gradually get used to wearing
the pack and carrying the weight you will be bearing.
Use a substitute weight if you are starting out
before you have bought everything.
Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive Strain Injury, tendonitis, a common hazard
of inexperienced hikers, also occurs in experienced
ones. It can be avoided by strengthening and conditioning
the muscles and ligaments associated with the ankle
and by warming up before you start. Remember, with
a loaded backpack your body will be supporting much
more weight than normal and the ankles are the major
point of flexure in supporting that weight. In addition,
the Camino does not consist of an even, consistent
walking surface. You will be walking over rough,
uneven terrain; often under wet and slippery conditions.
Preparatory walking on pavement with weight will
help but it is not enough. Some of your walks should
be made on trails, the rougher the better. Cobblestone
streets or rocky paths are great. In addition, you
should do ankle and foot flexing exercises. Consider
consulting a doctor or physical therapist to identify
a set of strength building and warm up exercises
appropriate for you. Then, once on the Camino, build
up your speed and distance gradually, don’t walk
too much too soon.
If you listen to your body, this will happen naturally.
I found that many mornings on the Camino parts of
my body would start off complaining but after an
hour they settled in and did not bother me. Pay
attention to pains that continue after an hour.
Drinking enough water is an aspect that you need
to address from the beginning, before you go. During
your walks develop a habit of drinking more water.
Every breath you exhale contains water that is being
given off by your body. In addition, your body gives
off water through your pores, even if the air is
so dry that it evaporates immediately and you are
not aware of it. The rate at which this occurs increases
during physical activity, such as walking the Camino.
Your body needs moisture. As it loses it, your tissues
become less elastic, increasing the risk of repetitive
strain injury. You will lose energy faster. You
are more likely to have headaches. Doctors recommend
that you drink at least two liters of water per
day in normal activity. When you are engaged in
physical activity your need increases, and even
more so in hot weather. Even MILD dehydration will
slow down one’s metabolism as much as 3%. Lack of
water is a major trigger of daytime fatigue.
Drinking water only when you are thirsty is not
enough. Your body needs water before you sense that
need as a thirst. Start out any walk by drinking
plenty of water beforehand and drinking more at
every rest break. If you do become dehydrated, use
something to replace the minerals lost, even if
only eating a small packet of sugar with a pinch
of salt and washing it down with water.
During the period before you leave home, in conjunction
with walking to break in your boots, wear your backpack
and try to use all parts of your equipment. Take
advantage of bad weather combining wind and rain
to evaluate your rain gear. Walk at least an hour
with your backpack and then shower, dry off with
your towel, and change into dry clothes from your
backpack. Wash your clothes, see how well you can
rig your line and hang your clothes, and how quickly
they dry when hanging on a line.
Develop a rough sense of how fast you walk by timing
yourself when walking with a full pack at a comfortable
pace. Develop a feel for how you slow down when
you are tired. I found it very useful to have a
sense of how fast I walked. It helped me estimate
how soon I would reach a point whether it be where
I expected to get food or a refugio. It was also
nice to know that in my case, in 12 minutes I would
cover another kilometer. In making a decision to
walk a particularly long distance one day, knowing
my pace helped me to estimate when I would arrive
and whether it was feasible to make the attempt.
If you are not in excellent shape, consider wearing
a watch that will allow you to check your pulse
rate. Learn your proper aerobic training rate and
try to spend a good amount of time in it. When on
the Camino, check it from time to time so you do
not exceed your limits.
Bicycling pilgrims can travel on touring bikes or
mountain bikes. Many portions of the path followed
by walkers cannot be traversed using touring bikes,
and riders must follow alternative routes that pass
through the same villages and towns, using local
dirt roads or those paved with asphalt but generally
with little traffic. These parallel the route used
by walkers but stick to surfaces suitable for such
bikes. Mountain bikers follow the camino and cohabit
with walkers throughout the trip, even along portions
where the average walker is astounded to see someone
riding a bike.
Although it is possible to rent bicycles in Spain,
you are better off to bring your own. You can ship
your bike as checked luggage on your flight and
clearing customs on arrival will not be a big problem.
The fees involved and rules for shipping your bike
vary with the airline, so this should be checked
into early in your planning and could affect your
decision as to which airline to fly. After arriving
at your European air terminal, you can use local
mass transportation to get to the location where
you intend to start. In addition, there are several
tours available which offer rental bikes for a supplemental
Whereas a walker can cover 20 to 25 km per day,
a bicycle rider can cover much greater distances,
60 to 75 km.
Start training three or four months in advance.
It is preferable to condition yourself on your bike
but workouts in the gym are also useful, particularly
if you are going to make an early spring departure.
Remember that once you start out, you will not have
the option to stay off the road if the weather is
bad, so do the same in your work-up phase. Make
a schedule and stick to it, regardless of the weather.
It will be a good test of your gear. A bicycle trip
lasting a weekend to a week, requiring you to totally
depend on what you are carrying is recommended to
help condition you and to evaluate your gear. Leave
some time afterwards so you can buy replacement
gear if something proves unsatisfactory. If possible,
practice over different terrain, including steep
hills, mountains, and roads in poor condition, using
a loaded bike to the maximum practible extent.
Check out more than one bike shop and talk to employees
knowledgeable in touring before making a purchase
decision on your bike and its gear. Chose one of
good quality and minimize the weight. Use extra
reflectors and ensure you have working lights for
travel during rainy and overcast conditions or in
case you find it essential to travel during twilight.
Rearview mirrors are a must. You will need front
and rear saddlebags, and should plan to distribute
the loading so that the weight is balanced to both
sides, fore and aft. Because of the weight, a high
quality dependable braking system is essential.
You will need wider tires because of the rough conditions
of parts of the route. Because of the weight and
the hills/mountains you will be crossing, use gearing
that provides 10 to 18 speeds. You will probably
find a small handlebar bag convenient for small,
frequently used items. A frame-mounted water bottle
is also essential.
Last but not least is the seat. Make sure you and
your seat are compatible. If you decide to part
company during the trip, it will be expensive, take
time and will only be made after reaching a point
where the discomfort reached an unbearable point.
If it gives you discomfort during the conditioning
period, it will not get better on the Camino.
Above all, remember it will be your muscles that
have to power you and everything for the hundreds
(200 as a minimum) of kilometers you will be traveling.
Everyone will have their own preferences but the
ones below are generally accepted as the quintessential
requirements. If you are traveling with others,
weight and volume can be reduced by sharing items
among the group but replication prevents problems
if a unique item is lost or a person drops out of
Tire repairs: pump, spare tire or inner tube, patches,
rubber solution, sand paper, tire lever
Mechanical repairs: brake liners, spare spokes,
brake and gear wires, chain links, adjustable wrench/multipurpose
For safety, select clothing that will make you easy
to spot when cycling along the roads. Like walkers,
bikers also need clothing that dries quickly and
should think in terms of two sets of clothing, what
you are wearing and what you just washed.
Hard soled shoes
Protective headgear, including provision for protection
of your face and neck from the sun.
Shirts that absorb sweat and vent it
Pants designed to minize chaffing at inseams and
the inside of the thighs
similar to that recommended for walkers, with emphasis
shifted from care of feet to care of chaffing and
abrasions/cuts resulting from falls.
Plastic bags to protect your clothing and other
items from the water that will inevitably get inside
See the comments for walkers concerning the following
items you will need:
Getting your bike undamaged to your trans-Atlantic
destination is a major aspect. Your airline will
have bike cartons but also a local bike shop should
have them or can get them for you, and that may
be more convenient. You will have to rely on the
airline for the return flight.
However your bike will be shipped, boxed or bagged,
for your own protection take precautions so that
it will arrive in good condition at the other end.
Take extra steps to protect breakable items within
the carton. The damage resulting from poor handling
may be the airline's responsibility but preventing
it by packing your bike carefully will take less
time than effecting repairs and result in a more
pleasant trip. Make sure you use the tools you will
have on your trip to do any disassembly required
to prepare it for packing..
If you are not already an experienced bicycle tourist,
read a general book on bicycle touring. You can
also read articles on this in bicycle magazines
or search online.
At one point I was going to have a full section
addressing travel by horseback. However, because
of the difficulties of shipping horses internationally,
there are very few potential travelers who will
travel from the US to travel the Camino by themselves
on horseback. If you wish to travel by horseback,
you need to contact one of the busineses that organizes
camino travel by horseback (a caballo). Here are
a few links to help you get started:
Camino a Caballo
Caminos de Santiago a Caballo
Hipica Rabadeira (In Spanish)
El Camino de Santiago a Caballo This is a more general
site listing riding clubs where one can rent horses
for riding on the Camino.
à Q.Pratique Généralités