Travel Costs & Budgeting on the Camino
Where to begin about travel costs? First, what is your priority? Is it about saving money? Scheduling time off from work? Are you a student thus qualifying for special student discounts on air & train fares? Do you qualify for senior discounts? Pay attention to getting any 'favors' and special-category features you can.
Any one, or a combination of these travel discounts might save you a lot of money, influence where you might land in Europe and when you schedule your flight. The simplest advice is to contact a reliable source of advice - a friend who is a veteran traveler, a reliable tourist office, any one of the 'Camino' forums listed on this site or elsewhere. 'About.com -budget travel' is a site where you can structure your own personal search.
ESTIMATING A CAMINO BUDGET:
This site, run by Caminoteca, a pilgrim gear and exchange shop near the Pamplona Refugio, has a useful cost calculator for your Camino experience (not including airfare and other travel costs to get to and from Spain).
The following rough guide might start you off on a good foot.
1. There are two (2) airfare cost dates that bracket the high (cost) tourist seasons, March 15 and Sept 15. In between these dates (Spring & Summer), air fares are the highest and most in demand. So don't procastinate getting your ticket if you have to travel 'in-season' between March 15 and Sept 15.
2. Landing in London, Paris or Madrid is often the cheapest as well as most convenient destination. (You can even land directly in Santiago.) Then, once you're in Europe, trains can be easily arranged or local air fares can be surprisingly low as for Ryan Air (but watch out for extra, way-expensive luggage charges). Getting back to these airports for final departure to the USA is also easy to do from just about any city in Europe.
If you plan to do some touring in Europe before the Camino, and were extra smart, you have shipped your pack to St Jean or Santiago where low-cost storage exists. You can also pay for storing your pack on your plane and upon arrival in Europe, shipping it to a storage place on the Camino where you plan to start. If you plan to go immediately to the Camino, why not just shoulder your pack and both of you will arrive at the start of your Camino at the same time.
3. Trains. The good news about Europe's trains is the 'good news' is true. Quality, timeliness and cost are generally good for the budget. It is easy to go to a train station and get tickets to where you want to go.
Tourist passes on European trains. These passes, eg 'Eurailpass', are great. They are a bargain and easy to use. But, you have to buy Eurailpasses while you are still in the US! And, be careful when you start the clock in their use. Schedule their use around your Camino walk with reasonable time allowances for plan-changes and delays.
Plus: most train stations are located near hostels. BUT, hostels might not be at the top of the list of hotel favorites of taxis - so you might have to hunt round a bit for a hostel, though usually there is a hostel within a radius of 2-3 blocks of most train stations.
4. Hotels or Hostels. Depending on your budget, this expense category can seriously strain your budget.
4.1 While traveling to your Camino, you can find modest hotels and comfortable hostels in most cities and towns. However, it is adviseable to make reservations well before arriving, especially if your Camino is during the 'high' season when there are many vacationers and travelers in Europe. These accomodations can run $65-100 USD per night so plan carefully and book ahead.
4.2 Camino Travel & Accomodations.
Every pilgrim has the best cost-saver - our feet. Protect your feet like gold in Fort Knox. Buying the best walking boot/shoe is often just 15-20% more than you might feel at first comfortable with, but that extra $35-50 USD can save you hundreds in medical supplies, special rest nights in expensive hotels, taxis, buses, etc. Plus after a couple of weeks, you can look around and enjoy your Camino while your happy feet enjoy their walking.
'Camino 'tours'. These are 'packages' that take care of all your needs - hotels, planes, trains and buses. These tours are expensive and generally de-emphasize walking which might seem 'unpilgrim-like' but medieval pilgrims traveled in many different modes from litter-bearers to wagon to foot travel.
Refugios and Hostels. Your Credential' passport that you received from 'American Pilgrims', lets you stay in the system of inexpensive Camino hostels and refugios that are located at a day's walk all along the Camino. To most, this is the Way to do the Camino for the chance to meet other Pilgrims and often shape a new life. For about $12-25 USD (2014), you can sleep in a dormitory bunk bed with clean sheets and a blanket. BUT, even with a 'Credential' your stay is usually limited to one night.
4.3 Daily Camino budgeting. The Pilgrim Dinner. Village grocery store. A basic guide is to add to your daily refugio/hostel fee of $12-25, an additional food cost and emergency budget - an extra $10-30 USD.
Food on the Camino.
In most Camino refugios, hostels, and even citiy restaurants, your 'Credential' privileges you to a special 'Pilgrim Dinner' (8-9:30pm) ...at a special Pilgrim price, usually around $12 USD. This is a 3-course hot meal with local wine.
But, you can save quite a bit by food-shopping at the local village grocery. One important example of saving is ordinary soap that a village grocery might reasonably charge $2 USD compared to $7-10 USD in the refugio or hostel.
4.4 Medical Supplies and Health Care. There are a lot of well-run 'pharmacias' on the Camino (and in every Spanish town and village). 'Pharmacia' staff can perform simple diagnostics and advise treatment, on the spot, because they are not only strictly licensed but they have seen about all there is that can go wrong with Pilgrims. Simple medical supplies cost about the same as in America.