Your Camino: Starting, Training, Packing (PACK LITE), Traveling, Care (Spiritual), Care (Health), What Credential (Spiritual/Secular)?

 

CONTENTS
        General guidelines (& Budgeting Calculator)
        The Pilgrim Passport ('Credencia')
        Albegues, Refugios and Hostels (and the Passport discount)
        Certification of Completion (Compostela and Certificado) & Mileage requirements
        When to go - time of year
        Cost of travel - before and after
        Decompressing touring after the Camino (Renfe, EurailPass, air and Bus)
        Preparing - reading, meetings & hikes, gear selection & tests, pack size, boots
        Phones & GPS service
        Check list
        Arrival & travel to your Camino starting point - storage for post-Camino touring
 

Here are some general guidlines that you should complement with advice from your own researches and from others who have walked the Camino or who are also planning like you.

 

BUDGETING: here is a Camino cost calculator (travel not included)

PREPARE MENTALLY by reading and viewing the following books and films - see our site section for more: 

 
     The Way. Film. Produced by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen.
     Walking the Camino: 6 Ways to Santiago.  Film. Linda Smith, producer.
     The Way, My Way (2014). Book. Bennett & Cluff.  SPECIAL RECOMMEND.
     The Alchemist. A pilgrim's journey book by Paulo Coelho.
     I'm Off Then [to Santiago].  Hilarious and deeply reaching book by a European TV                                                comedian celebrity.
PREPARE PHYSICALLY 
Monthly walks with your local American Pilgrims Chapter or hiking group or will NOT by itself prepare you to successfully complete your Camino (the full 500 mile 'Camino Frances' or even a 60 mile segment both of which will earn you a COMPOSTELA certificate of completion). You must self-train diligently to build strength PLUS endurance to walk most every day. We suggest a 30-45 day program of walks building from every 3 days to every day and from 2-3 miles to 10 miles. Carry your back pack in the final 2 weeks of your training...to build up endurance and detect pack imbalance.
                          ----------------------------------------------------
WHY THE CAMINO?  You are ready to step off the platform where you are waiting for something to happen in your life and go do something about it, somewhere, somehow. You have dreamed about or have been searching for spiritual meaning and truth in your life. Or maybe you yearn for a truly unique adventure that will test you but does not involve taking or risking lives (especially your own). (See our suggested books and movies.) 
     
You have identified the Camino de Santiago ('The Way of Saint James', the medieval pilgrimage trail in Northern Spain) as the life-reforming experience for you. And you are ready to Start!
 
BASIC STEPS TO BE ON YOUR WAY.  (we've added details after this list).
     - Get a pilgrim's passport
     - Decide when to go (Spring, Summer, Fall?) and evaluate your budget
     - Get advice [join 'American Pilgrims on the Camino' (APOC)]
     - Train and prepare with a self-training program participate on practice hikes
       with your local APOC chapter to check your pack balance, boots, etc.
     - Gear Up.
 
FIRST.  The Pilgrim Passport (Credencia)
Contact APOC and request (free) your official Pilgrim's 'Credential' ('Credencia') also simply called 'The Pilgrim Passport'. Allow 3 months to receive your Pilgrim Passport (don't confuse this with your official American passport which you should make current).  
 
While you wait for your Passport, you can read and meditate, meet and hike with us, and budget and gear-up.   Important! - our local group has a schedule of meetings and hikes for training and just to get together.)
 
 
The Pilgrim's Passport enables you to stay at low cost (often volunteer-staffed) pilgrims' accomodations (albergues/refugios) on the Camino. The albergues are officially registered and inspected.  
 
The Pilgrim Passport you receive will have more than 30 empty printed boxes on its tryptich pages. Each night where you bed down, your Passport will be ink-stamped with your albergue's or hostel's or hotel's unique icon (the Sellos).  
 
Albergue privileges not only save you money but their Sellos stamps serve as the official verification basis that you walked the Camino in the required manner (distance and sequential sleep stays). 
 
At the end of your Camino trek, if you have walked at least the final 100 km (typically from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela) or cycled the final 200km (from Pontferrada to Santiago), you will present your appropriately stamped Pilgrim Passport to the Pilgrim's office in Santiago who will verify your Sellos stamps and route, enter your name into the historical record of Pilgrims and present you with a certificate of completion -- the 'Compostella' if you've trekked for spiritual reasons or the 'Certificado' if you prefer to be regstered for non-spiritual reasons, they are worded differently. 
 
---------------------------------CERTIFICATION OF COMPLETION-----------------
500 miles, 200 miles, 60 miles. To qualify for a pilgrim certificate (the Compostela), you must walk at least the LAST 100 kilometers (60 miles)!  Or cycle the last 200 kilometers.  Many Europeans and Americans divide their Camino into thirds. To minimally satisfy the walking distance requirement, 100 kilometers, many start at Sarria.
 
If you have more time, many start at Leon, a walk of about 300 kilometers, 2+ weeks, to Santiago. 
----------------------------------
 
SECOND.  When. (NOV-MARCH NOT RECOMMENDED)
Decide when you want to go - what time of year sounds or works best for you and/or obligations such as work - Spring, Summer, Fall. Spring and Fall are quite beautiful on the Camino, temperatures are more temperate and it is not as crowded. Summer Caminos are the most popular (convenient?) and crowded. (And Winter for the hardy and risk takers - but not endorsed by this Chapter).
 
A winter Camino requires special planning and equipement, and most accomodations are shut for the season. Careful! Winter storms on the Camino are unpredictable and often severe.  This site does not recommend winter hiking on the Camino!  
 
Travel Cost - take notice of high and low season airfare which might be a critical budget factor in your Camino plan. Give yourself ample months to train, schedule work leave, family care, reserve air tickets, etc. Be sure to book roundtrip and schedule time to get back to your departure airport.
 
If you stay in Europe after the Camino, to decompress or see friends or just tour, consider storage for your backpack etc while you travel around. Most airports offer affordable short term storage for Camino backpacks, etc - which can be very costly to lug around on otherwise inexpensive domestic  air flights. 
 
---------------------------DECOMPRESSING AFTER CAMINO------------------------------
Many pilgrims add several weeks 'decompression' time after their Camino to see Spain and the rest of Europe - by bus, train and low cost air travel.
 
Around Spain - the 'Renfe' Spanish rail line is reliable and affordable. Of course there is the 'Eurail' pass-plan train system for non-European travelers which can be exciting and a great tour according to your own extemporaneous whims (you have to purchase before you go to Europe but you can activate it whenever you want within a year). European air travel can be ridiculously low but be wary of substantial add-on expenses of traveling with more than a carry on sling bag - so store your big Camino backpack and downsize for decompression time!  
                            ------------------------------------------                          
 
THIRD. Advice.
Get advice.  Contact Camino veterans. Follow the blogs of Pilgrims currently on the Camino. Ask questions on Camino web sites. Go to some of the meetings and hikes hosted by us or other hiking groups.  

JOIN APOC. This will give you a definitive advantage in plugging into what's happening now with the Camino - new hostels, weather and trail conditions and many other valuable pieces of information.  
APOC FACEBOOK FORUM is a great site to ask and get advice.
 
FOURTH.  Training.
Practice Hikes. Look at our schedule of hikes. Hike with us as a secondary check to your self-training program which you must stick to on a two or three day basis to build endurance.Try out gear. Learn to balance your pack (which is a common energy drain among Pilgrims!!!!).  Evaluate your water needs. Test your boot/shoe-and-sock systems. Build strength and endurance.
 
Practice hikes let you know what shape your body is in and what kind of foot wear is best for you. Feet care is perhaps the most important concern on the Camino!                
 
Note: many gear stores will let you 'try out' their boots for a hike or two, but treat this courtesy with care and clean up your boots if you have to exchange them. Getting the body tuned up, and choosing the 'right' boots, is a must.
 
Practice hikes also let you determine what pack weight is about right for you. 4 kilogram? 6 kilogram? More???    A decent pack size these days (since most refugios and albergues have blankets and are heated) is from 22-45 liters.  Plan carefully what you intend to bring.
 
Don't forget, the Camino is constantly being upgraded so some pack items are no longer needed - you don't have to carry tents, sleep mats, blankets or low temp sleeping bags.  Don't bring them unless you have a special purpose in mind to 'rough it - but dont' forget, BED BUGS love to camp out in the fields and barns too!!! '. PACK 'lite'.
 
Although electrical/battery charging outlets are available, they are usually in great demand requiring you to spend quality time waiting your turn.  Lately, more digital cameras are returning operate with 'AA' disposable batteries which are readily available - carry an extra set and save yourself time, pack space and weight, unless you have a special photo goal that requires a more professional camera.
 
Digital GPS devices and International Phone Service. GPS is here and probably will stay.  Camino 'purists' might not like this because sometimes fascination with GPS can, in some thinking, refocus attention away from the experiences of the trail and lead instead to obsession with the digital screen.
 
But some aspects of GPS are very helpful, especially if one has family or friends at home who have to be kept informed of your schedule. One helpful GPS service is 'Ekit' a tested back packer's 'stay-in-touch' service that provides a low cost international telephone service from anywhere in the world.
 
Plus, Ekit maintains through it's phone gps a constantly updated, interactive web-travel journal with its own archival photos of your location as you walk (You can also add your own photos, and even blog your brief comments, and questions from readers of your site.)             Of course, you can bring along your own favorite smartphone but be careful of large, international phone charges by your American phone service!
 
FIFTH. Guide Book, Tickets, Passport (US) and other Documents
You are ready to go!  Guide book - have you selected, purchased and packed it? 
 
Documents in order? US passport? Air Tickets? Camino Passport ('Credential')? Credit cards, copies of important documents? Some Euros for first day?  Is all of this organized in a neck or waist pouch? What about copies of Credit Card and Bank information? Overseas health insurance covered? Contact information for family and friends? Carrying your pack onboard or as baggage? Medications identified with prescription labels? Compliance with boarding security regarding bottled liquids, pastes?   (Remember, the pharmacy services in Europe are more available and generally better stocked than in the US. So, pick up shampoos, soaps, etc when you arrive at your European destination.)
 
Also, village grocery store prices are much less than in the hostels and albergues. (E.g., compare the price of a bar of soap!!)
 
SIX. You've arrived!  
Paris? Madrid? Santiago? There is help on the internet with getting where you want to go! For the 100 km Camino, or 1-2 weeks, if landing at Santiago, take the train to Leon and bus it to Sarria.  If going the full distance, train from Santiago or Madrid to Pamplona then bus it to Roncesvalles or St Jean. If your landing is in Paris, hop a quick plane to Biaritz then to Bayonne and jitney train to St Jean; or take the scenic train from Paris to eventually Bayonne station where you board the jitney train to St Jean.  
 
There are several ways to get 'there' (your Camino starting point) and the routes are constantly being upgraded and streamlined.  Keeping in touch with trekking pilgrims through an APOC membership will help out.
 
Once at your planned starting point (Sarria, Pontferrada, Burgos, Pamplona, Roncesvalle or St Jean pied de Port, get your Passport (Credenzia) stamped with your first inked icon (Sellos).  
 
Protect your Pilgrim's Passport!
 
Go to your first overnight bed! Sleep well, if you can. Tomorrow your Camino begins!
 

BUEN CAMINO, PEREGRINO !