This is a guest post from Rebecca Brown of Rough Draft. Here she talks about her experiences hiking the Camino de Santiago (something I really want to do myself). Although her article focuses on solo female hiking, there are plenty of tips here for anyone who wants to experience this fabulous trail.
Most of us already know that the best way to clear our head is to change our surroundings. For women, this can be a tricky thing if they aren’t used to travelling alone, and the challenge seems even bigger when you want to go on a long hiking trip such as the Camino de Santiago. However, while going anywhere alone requires courage, it’s also incredibly rewarding and can be a very transformative experience. The first time I’ve done it I was very nervous, but finally seeing the Camino and fulfilling my dream gave me so much confidence.
If you’re thinking about doing the same thing but aren’t sure what to expect, let me share my own experiences in hopes that they might help you out.
Is the Camino de Santiago Safe for Solo Travellers?
Yes, the Camino is completely safe, even for women. There are many routes that you can take to reach your final destination in Santiago de Compostela, and if you take one of the more popular paths, you’re bound to be secure all the way through. The French Way and the Portuguese Way are the best bet for first-timers because you’ll only be passing well-trodden paths without any chance of danger happening, so there’s really nothing to worry about. Don’t let fear stop you from taking the leap and following your heart.
If you’re still unsure, you can always follow certain steps to feel even more secure: stick to other women and large crowds, carry a whistle around your neck so you could easily call for help, and avoid drinking too much alcohol.
Will I Be Lonely?
Despite the fact that you’ll be travelling solo, you won’t actually get much chance to feel lonely. There are plenty of opportunities to socialise in hostels and on the track itself, and you’re bound to meet a lot of cool women and men. The Camino makes it really easy to make friends, and since you’ll most likely be staying in hostels (called albergues), you can always find someone to hang out with. Bring a smile and a friendly handshake, and start bonding.
What Do I Need to Bring?
Not much, really. You need to be able to pack everything into one big bag, so don’t worry too much about fashion and stick to simple practicality. A few changes of comfy clothing, a pair of really good walking boots, and a sturdy backpack are the bare basics, and maybe a money belt so you could keep your pilgrim’s passport, cash, and important documents hidden underneath your shirt.
You’ll also want to invest in a pair of earplugs and a sleeping mask—sleeping in a hostel means you’re likely to be near someone who snores, so get ready for that. Band-Aids, sunscreen, a big water bottle, and blister sticks will also come in handy, and if you want more suggestions, here’s a complete packing list.
What Should I Check Out?
The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is so impressive it’s a worthy goal all on its own, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy gorgeous sights along the way. For example, if you’re taking the French Way and pass through Ponferrada, you’ll see the Templars Castle, a magnificent fortress that dates back to the 12th century. Try La Rioja wine in Logroño if you long for a taste of Spain, and check out the Cave of Fuentemolinos in Belorado if you want to see a hidden gem of beauty in the form of stalagmites and stalactites.
Another thing that’s definitely not to be missed is Cruz de Ferro, that’s located between Rabanal del Camino and Ponferrada. It’s a tall, iron cross sitting on top of a hill, and it’s believed that Saint James himself erected it to signify the power of God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious or not; this is a deeply spiritual place that will fill you with a sense of peace when you see it.
Is Hiking Solo on the Camino de Santiago a Good Idea?
Anything that encourages you to be self-sufficient and confident is a good idea in my book. Women who’ve never travelled anywhere alone are definitely missing out because the experience shows you just how good your own company can be. It’s a journey of self-discovery that will teach you more about your inner longings, and if nothing else, it’s simply a good way to escape the bustle of life and let go of stress for a while. The Camino de Santiago offers a unique challenge because it’s a hiking trip, and besides letting you get to know Spain in a beautiful way, it also pushes you to do things you haven’t dared to do before. It’s good to know you can do far more than you thought you could.
The Camino de Santiago offers you an all-encompassing experience that will revive your spirit and build up your confidence. Don’t hesitate to enjoy it, and when you come back from your adventure, you’ll find yourself transformed.
About the author: Rebecca is a translator by day, and a traveler mostly at night. She is an expert on living with jet lag – and packing in tiny suitcases. You can read more of her exploits at RoughDraft.