A year ago today I walked across the threshold of Santiago in Spain after walking over 800km. I had completed the Camino de Santiago. The time I had along the walk was unforgettable and an irreplaceable experience, one I wish others to have and so in the spirit of the Camino I have ten tips and tricks to help you on your way.
1: Pack light – Pretty obvious tip that I can’t emphasis enough! This was the biggest mistake we made when we did the Camino. We knew we had way to much stuff as we were travelling for another four months after, but the load we carried really affected a lot of things and gave Grace a horrible time with blisters.
2: Get good socks – Socks can make the difference between developing debilitating blisters or having a great time. Try a few different types out, find ones that suit your feet and are comfortable for you. Anti-blister socks are becoming a big trend and I wore them on my walk and didn’t develop a single blister, so would highly recommend them but obviously this might not work for everyone, its best to try before you hit the trail.
3: Change socks often – If you feel your socks are wet or your feet are sweating, stop and change to a dry pair of socks (put the damp pair on your pack to dry as you walk). Keeping your feet dry and comfortable is so important for protecting them against the dreaded blister. Trust me you want to cut out any chance of blisters forming early on as they can be debilitating and even hospitalising in some serious cases.
4: A good backpack – You will be carrying anywhere from 5-12kg on your back for almost 800km (or 25kg if your significant other decides to take every toiletry they have ever owned and put it in your pack). So having a well-fitting, well-structured pack makes a massive difference. Head down to a specialty hiking store and try on different types preferably with weight in them to find one that suits you.
5: Cash is king – A lot of places along the path, especially the smaller cafes which you will visit constantly for your morning espresso or café con leche are cash only, also most albergues (the hostels set up for pilgrims only) will not take card. So having around 200EUR on you most of the time isn’t a bad idea as ATM’s can also be hard to find.
6: Trail runners – I walked in a combination of road runners and hiking boots but wished I had mixed them both together and had a pair of waterproof, ankle cut hiking shoes. Something that’s not heavy but still waterproof and breathable.
7: Laundry – Laundromats are few and far between along the trail so most pilgrims will carry a washing soap and wash everything by hand almost every night to keep on top of it. The afternoons after we stopped always seemed to disappear immediately on us, so try to do your washing as soon as you arrive as it will have longer to dry. There is nothing worse than putting on damp clothes at 6am in the morning.
8: Ear plugs and eye mask – Getting a good night sleep is crucial! Often you will be so tired that you will pass out and not hear a thing until morning, but sometimes not. Sometimes you may get a group of people next to you that decide to pack up and start walking at 4am or your bunk bed neighbour might possess sleeping sounds that resemble a fog horn. Having quite a few ear plugs and a comfortable eye mask can help immensely.
9: Learn some Spanish – You don’t need to be fluent but being able to repeat your coffee order, what you want for breakfast or knowing a few numbers and conversation lines makes life a lot easier. The majority of small towns you pass through quite commonly have populations which will speak no English at all, so knowing a little goes a long way and the locals appreciate you trying.
10: Drink Kalimotxo (Calimocho) – An equal parts mix of red wine and coke, this amazing drink goes down an absolute treat when it’s hot. It’s cheap, hydrates you, replenishes your glycogen stores (the cells that give you long distance energy run efficiently off easily digested sugars such as coke) and is a nice way to unwind without downing a whole bottle of Spain’s finest (do not recommend walking hang overs). Pronounced Kal-e-moe-ch-oh and everyone working at the bars will know what it is.