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If you’ve decided to embark on a journey walking the Camino de Santiago then no doubt you’ll be doing some extensive reading and planning to ensure your Camino goes as smoothly as possible. As I plan my second Camino, I reflect on some of the biggest and most common mistakes I made on the Camino de Santiago during my first trip that will hopefully save you a lot of pain, hassle and time.
Walking the Camino de Santiago is an experience of a lifetime. The 800-kilometre walk along the Camino Francés or French Way is a test of will and strength, both physically and mentally and no doubt will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your lifetime. But, it will also be one of the most rewarding.
When I began planning my Camino in 2015 I purchased 5 different guide books, became obsessed with Youtube videos of past pilgrims walks and I think I read every thread on every possible Camino forum so I was completely prepared for my journey ahead. This was the biggest adventure of my life and I was walking alone so I wanted to make sure I knew everything and had everything I could possibly need for my walk. That was my first mistake right there.
What are some common mistakes to avoid on the Caminos to Santiago?
As a newbie, you can become extremely overwhelmed with all the advice, must-haves, and the dos and don’ts of The Way. I was a total noob to walking long distance so I made a lot of mistakes along the Camino, although looking back, I’d prefer to think of them as “experiences” that taught me valuable lessons that will better prepare me for my second Camino.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who made these common mistakes, and to my surprise, even experienced walkers I met along the way had fallen victim to one or two. Knowing the experiences and mistakes made by pilgrims along the Camino will greatly help you in your own planning but remember everyone’s Camino is different and one person’s mistake may be different from another.
Mistake #1 – Packing too much weight
No doubt you’ll find out during your research that there is a golden rule which is to pack no more than 10% of your body weight in your backpack.
Back in 2015, I weighed 60 kg, so that meant I could pack no more than 6 kg! I remember sitting there thinking – how is that even possible when I can barely go away for a week’s holiday with a 23 kg weight limit!
The matter of the fact is that if your backpack is too heavy, it puts an enormous strain in your back, hips, shins and feet. When you’re walking every day (sometimes all day) you’ll want to have as lighter pack as you can possibly get.
Don’t get too overwhelmed when you read packing lists of other pilgrims and try to remember that everyone is different so they can carry different weight limits. So what Jo Blogs could carry will be totally different to you. Pack only the essentials and if you need guidance, check out my blog post on what I packed for the Camino and what I ACTUALLY used. You’ll see there were quite a few items I thought I needed but ended up never using.
Mistake #2 – Don’t start off too fast
You’re keen to get going, I get it. So was I. There’s 800 km ahead of you and an incredible journey waiting for you and you’re excited! But keep in mind that your body is not used to carrying weight on your back and unless you’ve done extensive training, your body probably isn’t prepared or used to walking 20 to 30 kilometres a day either.
Start your Camino off slow and build up to longer days. You’ll find about a week into the Camino your body begins to get used to this new routine of getting up early and walking so things get a little easier. If you start off too fast, you’ll burn out in a week and you may even cause some damage to your legs or feet that will hinder the rest of your walk or even put a stop to your Camino altogether.
My personal experience: I started off the Camino walking 15 to 20 km a day and I built up to eventually walking 40 to 50 km by the end of my Camino a day. This was what felt best for me as an inexperienced walker and someone of medium fitness. Know your body limits and listen to your body. Take a rest when you need it.
Mistake #3 – Lack of time and no rest days
One of the biggest and most common mistakes made on the Camino de Santiago is not allowing enough time to walk the Camino. The Camino de Santiago is not a race.
If you only have 1 week vacation time, do not decide to do the whole 800 km. It isn’t possible unless you are super fit and plan on cycling it rather than walking it. If you have 1 week, choose a portion of the walk to do instead. I met plenty of people who are walking the Camino in stages, often 1 or 2 weeks a year until the full Camino is accomplished.
If you want to do the entire 800 km walk, first decide how much you want to walk per day regarding distance. Then decide if there are any places along the route you may want to explore or spend more time in. Then add in one or two rest days where you don’t do any walking at all. Then do the maths.
- I will walk 25 km a day
- I will take 2 rest days
- Total days needed = Approx. 800 km / 25 km a day = 32 days + 2 rest days
I can’t express how important rest days are if you are walking the entire Camino. Your body will need some downtime and there are some incredible places along the route where you can spend a relaxing day resting your feet. If you are adamant about not taking a rest day, choose one of two days where you walk a smaller distance so you arrive early at your destination and can sleep and rest in the afternoon.
Mistake #4 – Walking to keep up with others
This may be a hard mistake to not make because you can easily become friends with the people you meet on the Camino.
The friendships you make on the Camino are like no others. Unlike the typical method of building friendships over time, on the Camino you could quite literally be spending every day with this person/people, speeding your friendship up and finding yourself forming close bonds with individuals. Some people have even found the love of their life while walking the Camino.
But you should stay mindful that this is YOUR Camino. Everyone has a different fitness level, distance goal and pace so it is important to learn to walk at your own pace and speed and avoid trying to keep up with others and push yourself to your limits.
If someone is faster or slower than you, agree to meet up at the next village for lunch or the next albergue in the evening. Don’t forfeit your Camino experiences to accommodate others because you’ll hugely regret it afterwards.
Personal experience: I met some really friendly, young and fun people on my very first day of my Camino. We all got on very well and ended up walking together for 3 days. Fortunately, we all had a similar pace and had all planned to stay in the same towns. On the fourth day, I forgot my camera in the albergue and I realised only after walking 5 km. So I had to turn around and walk back 5 km and then continue on. By this point, my friends had a 10 km gain on me and I nearly died speed walking to catch them up. The next day I was exhausted. I set off early morning hoping to catch them up before they started their day. Because I had strained myself the day before I had the onset of tendonitis and my foot became weak. I tripped and fell over and broke a part of my hand, putting my entire Camino at risk. I had to stumble 24 km to the nearest hospital with a very painful foot and a swollen hand.
I didn’t see those people again until the very end of the Camino in Santiago. We bumped into each other in the plaza and spoke about each other’s experiences. You’ll meet a ton of people along the way, but do not forget to enjoy the Camino your way.
Mistake #5 – Racing for a bed
Do not consume your time and your energy walking fast to reach an albergue to secure a bed. There is no need. You’ll hear this saying over and over again – “The Camino will provide”.
I walked during the peak season of July/August and I never struggled to find a bed for the night. On a few occasions I arrived and there were no “dorm” beds available so I had to pay a little extra and get a private room (the maximum I paid was €45 for a room), but luckily I had budgeted for these eventualities and sometimes I even shared a twin room with a fellow pilgrim to cut the costs.
Don’t forget why you are walking the Camino. Enjoy your surroundings, the experience and the people you meet. Don’t be stressed and force yourself to walk fast to secure a bed. Worst case if you’re tired, you can take a local taxi to an albergue and then take a taxi back to the place you left off.
Mistake #6 – Incorrect clothing
Although this was a mistake I avoided, I saw countless pilgrims ill-equipped on the Camino in the clothing department. Some pilgrims had unsuitable footwear which led to twisted ankles and blisters, while others wore too many layers and they suffered from overheating.
Research properly into the clothing you need for the season you are walking the Camino in. Natural fibre clothing such as cotton, or breathable sportswear is highly recommended. Materials that wick away sweat, are lightweight and dry fast will be the best choices.
If you’re walking in the summer, breathable clothing is a must. If you’re walking in cooler months, I suggest having multiple layers that can be added and removed as you go.
Mistake #7 – Ill-equipped for rain
Even in the summer months when most people take to the Camino it can rain! Unless you plan on waiting for the rain out and staying put in an Albergue the whole time, you need to pack for the eventuality that it will rain.
Walking in the wet and cold rain is never fun, but being prepared for the rain will make your walk a heck of a lot more comfortable. Remember to pack a lightweight poncho with a hood (Not the cheap plastic kind – they make you sweat), a waterproof rain cover for your backpack and depending on your footwear (which should be waterproof), waterproof gators to stop rain entering from the top of your boots.
Personal experience: In my 24 days on the Camino I encountered two full-on downpours. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring waterproof gear, but I under-estimated how much rain would enter my boots from the top under the tongue of the boot. I walked 22 km with totally wet, squishy boots that took 2 days to dry out. On the second downpour, I was better prepared. I purchased some large sandwich plastic bags, made a slit in the bottom, put my foot through with my boot and then I used elastic bands the secure the bottom around my foot and thick tape around my ankles. Did I look like a twat? For sure! Where my feet dry? You bet! – Lesson learnt – Gators are useful!
Mistake #8 – Forgetting to take photos
Maybe you’re not a photographer or someone who likes to take photos, but trust me when I say this – you will want to take as many photos as you can. This is for most people a life-changing adventure and no doubt you’ll want photos to look back on. But quite often, you can get so caught up talking to other pilgrims, reading your guidebook, concentrating on your route or listening to music that you forget to stop and take any photos.
The Camino Frances is one of the most beautiful routes to Santiago de Compostela, passing through mountain ranges, vineyards, farmlands, picturesque hilltop towns and historic cities. All of which begs to be photographed.
If you’re not up for scenery photos, take photos of yourself. I took a photo of (almost) every day on my Camino and I watched myself transform as I lost over 10 kg in the 24 days it took me to walk. Aside from the weight loss, the selfie-style photos remind me of what mood I had that day. Some are happy, some are tired, but it is a visual reminder that I had good days and bad days but I made it regardless.
Mistake #9 – Carrying too much water
When I first started out on my Camino I carried at least 2 litres of water in my backpack. Not only is that 2 kg of weight on your back, but it is totally unnecessary to carry so much water. There are fountains and places to fill up your water bottle everywhere. Bring a reusable bottle (I highly recommend one of the steel one that keeps the water cool not a plastic one as it can heat the water) and you can top it up as you go. There are fountains marked on good Camino guide books and most cafes will fill your bottle up for you if you ask them nicely.
Water is generally safe to drink in all of Spain and you’ll often find a small notice on the public fountains that says “agua potable” which means its safe to drink. In hotels and albergues it is safe to take water from the tap so there is no need to buy bottled water or treat the bottle with purifying tablets.
Personal experience: With all the above being said, I fell very ill when I reached Galicia. I had awful stomach upset which set me back a whole day, I even visited a local clinic because I had a fever, sweats and couldn’t hold anything down. The doctor advised that certain fountains in the agricultural areas where the Camino paths run through are not safe and that many pilgrims fall ill from drinking this “bad” water. That being said, many other pilgrims drank the same water and had no adverse effects – so if you have a sensitive stomach you may want to be cautious in this area.
Mistake #10 – Lack of respect for others
Along the Camino, you’ll likely bump into people from all over the world, with different religions, cultures and backgrounds. But the key rule on the Camino is to always have respect for other pilgrims. Full stop, with no exceptions.
The respect for others touches every aspect of the Camino, from respecting the privacy of peoples reasons to walk to Camino (if they do not want to tell you don’t force them to), to respecting other peoples opinions, their property, and even down to respecting others in the albergue.
Pilgrim albergues are quite often cramped, and you’ll find yourself getting “closely acquainted” with a lot of different people. Beds are lined up with often only a 3-foot gap in between so personal space isn’t in abundance. Therefore, respect for others is even more paramount.
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