If you are about to head out on the Camino then I am hopefully just about to save you quite a lot of pain and grief. In preparation for my first Camino in 2016 I became obsessed with watching YouTube videos and reading the forums. Everyone was talking about what you should and shouldn't do and it can be a bit overwhelming. So I thought I would keep it simple and list the five common mistakes that I either experienced or saw other pilgrims experience during my Camino trips over the last four years.
Mistake #1 – Packing too much weight.
There is a golden rule that most pilgrims try to abide by which is never take more than 10% of your body weight on the Camino. But if you are 5ft 2″ and weigh 8.5st then this is actually quite a challenge!
If your backpack is too heavy then you will end up with blisters, sore hips or shin splints (which, believe me, are extremely painful!). So, my top tips for packing are:-
- Put everything into three piles.
- Absolutely essential (rain gear, 2 sets of clothes, phone charger, passport, wallet, toiletries, torch, minimal first aid kit etc).
- Need – these are items that you think you need, but if you had to survive then you can do without. Such as sleeping bag, guidebook, trekking umbrella, gaiters, headphones, towel, etc)
- Want – these are items that you want to take but most people would consider them a luxury. For ladies this could be hair straighteners, kindle or book, luxury first aid kit, playing cards etc)
- Next, put everything into your backpack from the “Absolutely Essential” list and weigh your pack. Then gradually add the items from the “need” list and so on. If you can keep the weight under 15% of your body weight then you should be absolutely fine.
- Remember, you do not need to take large quantities of anything (especially toiletries). I would recommend taking a Lush shampoo bar as these smell nice and you can wash your hair, body and clothes with it. I love the Lush bars!
- Also remember, you are not hiking in a jungle! You will be passing shops and supermarkets, so you can buy nearly anything you need on the trail. Why carry lots of stuff when you don't need too!
- Your backpack will ideally be a 30l or above. Try not to buy a backpack that can hold large litre capacity otherwise you will be tempted to fill it with stuff that you really don't need.
Mistake #2 – Not being respectful of others
There have been a number of occasions when I have been woken up at night by pilgrims putting on the main light and then noisily start getting ready for bed. It is not cool and it puts other people in a bad mood. I like to go to bed early, and I know that many others feel the same. It has been an exhausting day of walking and you know you need to do it all over again the next day, so being disturbed by Pilgrims who are loud and disrespectful of others can be rather annoying.
Don't get me wrong, I like a good time as much as the next person, but if I am going to have a late night and enjoying a few glasses of wine, then I have usually upgraded my hostel and stayed in a private albergue (known as a Pension) rather than the main municipals. Municipals usually have a curfew of 10 pm (lights out), so please respect this time.
The same can be said for the other end of the day. If you know that you are an early riser (like me!), then take the time to pack as much as you can the night before and place your rucksack by the door. Implement the “squirrelling technique” and this way you will be completely respectful of others (unless you drop your powerpack on the floor and make a terrible noise… I hate it when people do that! – guilty as charged!).
A quick list of things not to do when others are sleeping.
- Do not turn on the lights
- Do not talk to others!
- Do not go to the bathroom and leave your phone alarm going off!
- Only set alarms that are on vibrate.
- Do not use plastic bags to pack your stuff (boy are they noisy!).
Mistake #3 – Worrying about getting a bed
Please don't worry about the race for beds. This is the Camino and it will always provide. You may end up sleeping in a plush hotel or perhaps a church or fire station, but you will always find a bed. I made this mistake on my first Camino trip and was nicknamed “Bed Ninja” as I was walking so fast to ensure that we got to the albergue before anyone else to secure a bed. The Camino is a place where you need to slow down. Enjoy the views, take time to look at the churches, and enjoy a leisurely cafe con leche at as many opportunities as you can. Don't be a bed ninja!
- If you walk at a busy time of year then try walking “off stage” to secure a bed each night. Rather than walking the stages of the popular guidebooks, try staying at the village before the stage recommended in the book, or the town after.
- For peace of mind, use the Beun Camino App and book your hotel/hostel using booking.com (the hostels are listed on the app). Try not to book more than one day ahead otherwise it takes the spontaneity out of your journey.
- You can always call a taxi to take you to the next village if you are tired, and get a bed for the night. Then take a taxi back in the morning to continue your walk. (This works well if you have found a hostel or Pension that you love and I know a few people who have done this).
Mistake #4 – Judging other people for the way they do their Camino
Hands in the air, I was a bit guilty of this to start with. What sort of things do you judge people about?
- Where they started. I found myself judging people who had started at Pamplona and missed out the Pyrenees, or perhaps they skipped the Meseta or walked from Sarria to get their Compostela. Everyone's Camino is different and not everyone has the luxury of taking a big slice of time to dedicate to a pilgrimage. I now know that people experience the Camino in different ways and there is always something to gain by walking this trail, even if it is just for the weekend. Who am I to judge?
- Do not judge people for using the luggage transfer service. You do not always know the reasons why people use this service, so please do not judge.
- Do not judge people who take a bus or a taxi. It is their Camino and they can choose to travel in their own way. Again, there is usually a reason why someone has taken alternative transport. If you see a pilgrim piling out of a Spanish taxi then refrain from judging them.
Mistake #5 – Walking to keep up with other people
This is actually quite a tough one. When you first start out on the Camino you will become close with other pilgrims quite quickly. The bond that you have with other pilgrims is not something that you find anywhere else and it is absolutely amazing. These people will be friends for life and you will often hear the words “Camino family” or “Camino Sister / Brother”. In just a few short days you will experience this on most of the trails that head towards Santiago.
Be mindful that this is YOUR Camino and you need to walk it at your own pace and cover a distance that is comfortable for you. In my past Camino's I have stopped due to feeling quite sick and poorly, but this meant that I then had to take a bus so that I could catch up with my Camino friends. I then ended up missing sections of the Camino and this is something that I now regret. It is ok to let others go ahead. If you are walking the whole trail from start to finish then there is a likelihood that you will catch up with them again at some point in the future.
You may have walked with a friend or a relative, but know that it is ok for them to walk slower than you, or faster than you. Just tell them that you will catch up with them at the next cafe or hostel. You are all going in the same direction, but if you try to walk with other people at their pace then you will end up with blisters and shin splints (I know that one from experience!).
I am taking a group for a Camino Taster trip in a few months and although we are in a group, it will be my job to encourage people to walk on their own or to walk with others who are at a similar pace. Please don't feel trapped and know that it is ok to say no and move on or slow down as your body tells you to.
As I was writing this blog a whole list of other mistakes popped into my head, but at 1600 words so far I thought it was best to stop there! The bottom line is that this is your Camino. Pack what you want to pack as you can always post things forward. Take a taxi or a bus if you really feel the need and above all, enjoy the whole experience. It's friggin awesome!