Whether you’re walking the route for spiritual, personal, or adventurous reasons, you need to have a plan in place to finish your pilgrimage.
The route along the Camino de Santiago is long and winding and starts in many different areas. Some people begin their journey in Italy, while others start as far away as Poland, but the most popular path is the Camino Frances, which begins in St. Jean Pied-de-Port and ends at the Santiago de Compostela. Whichever route you choose, you’ll need credentials to be considered “official” and receive some of the perks of the path.
Credentials, otherwise known as the Pilgrim’s Passport, are documents that authenticate a hiker’s progress across the trail. You’ll obtain stamps to cover your credentials as you go, which are required in many albergues where you’ll sleep (along with a donation). At the end of the trip, you’ll want to present them at the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos to receive a Compostela, the document that certifies you completed the last leg of the journey. It’s your bragging rights in paper form, essentially.
Pilgrim credentials are easy to obtain. You can request them through American Pilgrims free of charge, though a donation is highly encouraged to aid in improving conditions of the route. A donation of $35 is recommended, but whatever you can spare helps. You can also request credentials through the Confraternity of Saint James in the UK, though this method will likely take longer. Allow at least two weeks for your credentials to arrive.
Travel to your chosen starting point
If you’re an American, you obviously have to find a way to make it across the ocean before you can hike the trail. Once you’ve chosen the country you’d like to begin your pilgrimage in, it’s time to book a flight. The most traditional route begins at the foot of the Pyrenees in France.
Most international flights go on sale close to a year before the actual date you’d like to be in the air. A good rule is to book a flight between three and six months before your trip. A flight to Europe during the summer high season can cost more than $1,000, and finding a deal can be tough.
You can take a bus or train from Paris down near the beginning of the route for less than $100 if you plan well ahead.
The pilgrimage across the Camino de Santiago is somewhat unique compared with traditional long hikes, since much of the time you’ll be staying in towns rather than campsites. Of course, if you’re hiking during the summer, you might prefer to sleep out under the stars. Each pilgrimage is unique, so where you stay will be up to you.
The traditional accommodations on the trail are called albergues and cost roughly five to 10 euros. Think of them as hostels, but local municipalities or churches run many of them instead of business owners. While you might prefer a private room and bath, the costs with that could add up. Traveling the Camino de Santiago from the Pyrenees to Santiago takes roughly 33 days if you keep a pace of 15 miles per day, so you’ll need to budget for a little more than a month of accommodation.
Estimating toward the higher end, that means you should have around $400 for nights at albergues and hotels.
Backpack and essential gear
It’s important to travel light during your trip. Since you’ll be stopping in towns where you can refill your supplies as you go, it’s not necessary to weigh yourself down with a ton of camping equipment. Aim for a pack and gear weighing around 10 percent of your body weight.
You’ll want to have a first aid kit, a quality backpack, clothes, and a sleeping bag. Bedbugs are occasionally an issue on the trail, with the constant albergues and hotel hopping, and old wives’ tales recommend silk sleeping bags to help ward them off. You don’t have to break the bank on this one, but don’t skimp on quality, either.
Having dinner in town each night will get expensive, so make sure to pack some snacks you can eat as you go. Dehydrated food is an easy and economical option for the trail. Of course, you’ll want to sample the delicious foods of the region while you’re making your way across the trail, so don’t forget to budget for a few days of splurging at restaurants, too.
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