“I’ll be gone, then …”. Word by the famous German comedian Hape Kerkeling, whose Camino tales have in part inspired me to walk the Portuguese Way of St. James from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. My dear, what an adventure! Despite all possible preparations, the Way has simply blown my mind – in the most literal sense of the word possible. More than once, all the stories, emotions and tales along the 260 kilometres have deeply moved me. Yes, that’s 260 kilometres in 13 days of walking, an average of about 20 kilometres a day. Madness, some of you may say. Wonderful, others.
I do credit myself with at least some experience in long-distance hiking (see my trip adventures along the 80 kilometres long Heaphy Track in New Zealand), as well as being a pilgrim for a near 100 kilometres along the so-called “Via Sacra” in the Lower Austrian Mostviertel destination. But the entire Way of St. James? Complete with being absent from my laptop for a full two weeks? As a full-fledged travel blogger, this has truly caused some stir in the lead-up to my departure …
So how do you prepare for an adventure like this? What are some of the essentials, what is worth considering? And how do you really get ready for walking over such a long distance …?
Answers to these and further questions are what I would like to share with you in today’s article. Let’s start with something very essential for preparing to walk the Way of St. James:
Travel Tip #1: Shoes (and socks). Walked in and “sweated in”, please.
“Virgin boots … Elena, please make a point of walking in those shoes, will you …”, my dear friends tell me by posting feedback to a shoe photo of mine on Facebook – T minus one month before the start of my Way. They are absolutely right about walking in those (waterproof) hiking boots of course. Let me tell you this:
- Do walk in the shoes you plan to wear on the Camino as much as you can, i.e. try and wear them all the time or as much as you can, in your everyday life.
- Make a point of preparing to walk at least two or three “real hiking days” with your (new) shoes, ideally at least one real “Camino trial walk” of up to 15 kilometres that day and/or more.
- Now here’s the thing: Do make sure you buy your shoes at least one size up from your normal shoe size! During the Camino, this simple trick has saved my toes, my feet, my life: Believe me, your feet will simply expand from all the heat of walking up to 20 kilometres a day (or more), thus you will need the extra shoe size’ space. Trust me. Truly.
- Socks: Wearing two pairs of socks (two on each foot), may sound like a strange way of overdoing it, but in my case, once again this tip from my dear friend & Co-Camino-Blogger Rita Branco has clearly saved me from further harm. Up until the very last day, I had no real blisters to speak of. (To walk the Camino free of blisters, is at least as much a miracle as the intended enlightenment itself). I have been wearing a thin jogging sock right over my foot, wrapped in a thick hiking sock: A perfect match for all those 260 kilometres, so to say.
Travel Tip #2: Backpack & rain cover.
Along the Way, your backpack is your life. It not only constitutes a weight you have to carry, but also provides for modern miracles, such as the perfect rain jacket, the classic Camino pharmacy or the odd pair of sandals to offer relief in the evenings. What is important: Only pack around 10-15% of your body weight! I KNOW, this is HARD. In the end, my backpack ended up weighing some 10kg each day, including the one and a half litre water bottle I carried. So a little bit over the limit, but it had been just fine (yes, apart from all those items and functional wear, 1 x bikini and 1 x light dress had to be there as well: Ladies, it’s #FashionPilgrim time!). In case you do not wish to carry all those kilos, you may consider a luggage transfer: In this day and age, there is something for everyone’s taste, believe and purchasing power along the Camino.
Travel Tip #3: Camino pharmacy.
Carrying your own little pharmacy is another must-have for preparing the Camino well. Apart from individual necessities, your toiletry bag should include some cooling ointments for your feet and legs, painkillers such as Voltaren, Ibuprofen or Aspirin, sun screen, (blister)plasters & more. Not to mention sterile needles, thread or else … Check this out.
Travel Tip #4: Camera & batteries.
I know, only the thought of carrying one or more chargers and cables for all this way can be tiring. And yet, you will have to make some room (and weight) for them. We all want to take pictures, and may it only be a few (it need not be 1800, like in my case …!). So do leave some space for your smartphones & camera equipment, including their respective chargers. Do not even start thinking about taking a laptop, too ..! Yes, that’s word also to all those travel bloggers among you. Just don’t.
Travel Tip #5: Facebook groups & Internet research.
Another useful travel tip preparing for the Portuguese Way of St. James is to research pilgrim groups and blogs online. You will notice many stickers along the way, promoting useful apps, tools and communities to exchange support and gather useful tips. I can only recommend using them, as I naturally did as a blogger myself.
Travel Tips #6: Travel guide & Camino Diary.
Good news for my German-speaking readers: The German Camino guide “Outdoor : Camino Português” has truly made its mark internationally thanks to its in-depth information and up-to-date travel tips and advice. I can only recommend you buy the latest version in advance, as it describes every section along the Way down to the very metre. The author makes a point of walking the Portuguese Way to St. James every year, noting down useful tips about accommodation, the cities along the way as well as the Way itself. Besides, it encourages feedback and exchange among readers and pilgrims with the author himself.
My tip: If you do want to note down the odd thing, impression or telephone number along the way, it is also worth considering the extra weight of a small notebook. Especially for all those among you feeling “truly inspired”: As a writer blogger, where else may it be that you pour out your soul and capture the essence of the Camino along the Way?
Travel Tip #7: Use of data & roaming.
Now you might not be a blogger, but this is interesting for all of you carrying a smartphone along the Camino: It may be useful to book a data package in advance. From my experience, I can tell you that almost all bars & cafés along the Way will offer (free) WiFi, but it cannot always be guaranteed. Sometimes, you may find additional relief in the fact that you can quickly connect to your GPS, highlighting the Way digitally only to make sure you are not losing track.
Lots of pilgrims we’ve met along the Way have also made a point of booking their accommodation online, often only after positive recommendations made by others. Once more, data roaming abroad can prove useful for this. If the Internet is really what you are trying to get away from, a) do not take your smartphone with you at all (but know that you are then losing the camera function on it, too) or b) simply use the WiFi provided at most rest stops, as it should really be enough for what you can expect to require.
Travel Tip #8: Accommodation.
Big discussion topic: Ahead of starting the Camino, many of you told me, quite surprised, that “it would not be the Way to St. James, if we didn’t stay in the pilgrim ‘albergs’ provided for us?!” As of now, I can full-heartedly, and happily, disagree. Especially after the negative feedback we’ve heard from other pilgrims, who have not necessarily had good experiences in all the pilgrims’ hostels they’ve stayed at.
What Rita and I have done is to contact all of our potential, alternative accommodation partners (hotels, B&Bs, apartments, etc.) beforehand, carefully planning the single day walks we would be likely to manage and enjoy. The real advantage is this: Each day, we could take the liberty to arrive when we wanted, how we wanted it, not having to worry about beds filling up, snoring communal dorms and no dinner in the evening or breakfast the next morning. A luxury on the Way to St. James that has paid off in many many ways: More about our range of truly charming accommodation in Portugal & Galicia in a separate article here.
Travel Tip #9: Sun hat & sundry items.
My dear readers and pilgrims-to-be: Do not start without wearing a sun hat along the Way of St. James. For a start, I forgot my original one at home, casually thinking, ah, I’ll just buy one later along the Way. Well, two days later, I had already suffered from a light sun stroke, which only got worse on the third day of walking. My fancy hat from the pilgrim town Barcelos has thus not only saved my head, but also my feeling of fashion. Besides, it is always easy to buy something in case you forgot: Camino equipment is easy to get by in virtually all the places you pass.
Travel Tip #10: Stamp pass & St. James’ Shell.
Last but not least: Your “Credencial del Peregrino”, meaning a kind of pilgrim’s passport acknowledging having either walked (or taken a horse!) for at least 100 kilometres, or 200 kilometres on a bicycle, all the way to Santiago de Compostela. This passport can be bought at all entry points to the Camino, such as the Cathedral of Porto or Tui (in Galicia). It naturally matches the shell itself, “la vieira”, which again can be bought either along the Way or at the most famous towns and cathedrals. Why a shell? The priest at the Cathedral of Santiago told me that the shell represents the hand of God, guiding us pilgrims and people along their way. A beautiful way to think of it, really.
Want to know where & how we stayed at during the Camino? In my next two posts, I talk about the “Food & Accommodation” along both the Portuguese as well as the Spanish sections along the Portuguese Way of St. James. Check out all my inspiring & useful travel pictures along the Portuguese Way of St. James here:
More pictures about our accommodation along the Way in Portugal & Galicia are available here, including all of our accommodation in hotels, B&Bs, apartments, etc.:
My dear companion friend & pilgrim blogger Rita Branco has also published about the Camino on her blog, “O Porto Encanta“, in her truly light-hearted and captivating way: “Do Porto para Santiago de Compostela: Uma experiência incrível.” Check out all articles she has published about the Camino here: “O Caminho Português de Santiago” .
Besides, English expat blogger, writer & translator Julie Dawn Fox has also published the following articles about the Portuguese Way of St. James here.
Disclaimer: We wish to thank our partners & accommodation providers along the Portuguese Way of St. James for their generous support. All opinions are my own.