You have already taken the first step - you are thinking about walking the Way of St. James.
In order for you to begin the Way of St. James well prepared, to weather and also to process it well, we would like to provide you with some practical tips. However, these only apply to individualists who plan on walking alone or in groups of two to four people, not for pre-planned package tours. It is not about giving you a complete, detailed list but about telling you about our own experiences. We have gained our experience repeatedly on the French and the Portuguese Way, but it applies to any Way of St. James. Ultimately, everybody walks the Way for oneself. This leads to our first tip!
Regardless of how perfect your preparations are, something will always come up that you did not expect.
And this is exactly what makes the Camino unique! Whenever you do not know what to do next, the Way manages to surprise you over and over again. You receive help from people you don‘t even know, that suddenly appear out of thin air and don‘t want anything in return. Of course, you could also be someone’s knight in shining armor even if you "only" give them a pep-talk.
Try to sort out all of the questions you might have prior to your departure. Especially concerning everyday issues, such as: Who takes care of your apartment/house/maybe your pet (by the way, it is quite difficult finding accommodations when traveling with a dog but it is of course not impossible); do your loved ones understand why you are going on this trip; sorting out the financial issues (the "unexpected" annual statement, income tax return) and so on...
Our experience has shown that you should walk the Way of St. James for minimum 2 weeks, in order to at least partly find yourself. If possible, take more time.
We could provide you with many tips on the equipment needed but you can also find these detailed information in the internet. We‘d like to be more general: Packing too much weight turns out to be the greatest mistake you can do - basically, you could take 1 million items as long as they don‘t weigh more than 8 kilograms (kg) in total. Many of you might think that 8 kg are a lot but remember that you are probably always carrying 1 liter of water (which equals 1 kg) and something to eat (which equals at least another kg). Even a modern trekking backpack weighs about 1.5 kg. Hence, only 4.5 kg of the initial 8 kg are left. So how can you reduce the weight?
It does not always have to be 1 liter of water (unless it is midsummer). In order to reduce the weight, you can buy a 0.5 liter plastic bottle when you arrive, e.g. in Spain, and which can be purchased almost anywhere. There are many fountains with drinking water along the Way of St. James where you can fill up your bottle, or you can ask for water at a bar. Not that you get us wrong: Having enough water is extremely important since it is very hard on the body to walk and carry a 8 kg heavy backpack up- and downhill. However, if you drink regularly and refill your bottle at every (!!!) water fountain, a 0.5 liter bottle is sufficient.
It does not necessarily need to be the newest trekking backpack for 250.00 € with a volume of 65 liters. Since you are only taking a maximal weight of 8 kg (!!!), a 40 liter backpack is more than enough, as long as it has the following features: It fits, it has a padded hip belt and it has a pouch for your water bottle that is easily accessible from the outside, as well as a weight of about 1 kg. When traveling the Way of St. James, this usually does not mean that you are in a third world country. In other words: If you have forgotten something that is absolutely necessary (besides your talisman or your favorite stuffed animal), you will be able to buy it on-site 😉.
If you start in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, you will be able to observe a phenomenon in Roncesvalles and on the following 200 kilometers: Various clothes and equipment are left behind by the pilgrims in the hostels!
Hostels are usually clean and have a supply of warm blankets. Therefore, you don‘t have to take a sleeping bag that is designed for temperatures of -10 °C. A sleeping bag or something similar that weighs about 600 grams is more than enough.
Ultimately, for us going on a pilgrimage also means making do without certain things. You are not on a spa vacation but you have a different reason why you are going through these hardships.
Another frequently asked question is whether you have to work on your fitness before your departure. The answer is simple:
Of course, you do not have to train. But let‘s face it: You don‘t actually believe that, for example if you plan to walk a distance of 20 to 30 kilometers a day while carrying a backpack, you will make it without suffering (blisters, back/knee joint pain, ...) if you are untrained, right? If you are untrained, you simply have to plan accordingly: Why not, for example, begin with "only" 10 to 20 kilometers a day? After all, it is not about who completes the Way the fastest, or who looks best doing it. Ultimately, it is merely about whether the walking and therefore the deceleration of your everyday life helps and pleases you personally. Walk at your own speed. The journey is the reward.
On your way
You have arrived at your starting point - what is next?
At best you have bought a small, handy, not too heavy Way of St. James guide, which describes the Way and gives you additional information. But even if you don‘t have such a guide: At least the French Way is so well signposted (sea shell symbols, yellow arrows) that it is practically impossible to get lost. In case this does happen, a good tip is to look for people carrying a large trekking backpack, maybe even with a scallop attached to it... . But also most locals aren‘t hearing the phrase "Perdon, donde esta el Camino Frances?" for the first time. All we want to say is that you shouldn‘t worry about this too much.
Generally, there are enough hostels (either state-run or private) along the French Way. However, if you are traveling during a 'holy year' (when the holiday of St. James - the 25th of July - is on a Sunday - which is the case in 2021 for the next time), you should get up very early in order to reach your destination by 1:00 pm and to increase the chances of securing overnight accommodation.
Please try to show consideration for your co-pilgrims - not everybody likes to be woken up at 5:00 am by extremely loud noises...
Most hostels have a laundry machine, where you can wash your laundry. Otherwise you always have the possibility to wash them by hand (e.g. with the shampoo that you brought anyway).
In 99 percent of cases, shoes are stored in the hallway or in a separate room. You will learn early enough why this is done! For treating blisters and unpleasant smells, the relatively cheap foot balm 'Gerlachs Gehwol Fusskrem' has proven itself - but only the one that comes in a white-silvery packaging. Check our offer!
It is obvious that the shoes you are wearing should be comfortable. Additionally it is good if they are water-proof. A pair of flip-flops or light sneakers are preferable for the evenings.
All in all one can say: If it rains, you will get wet - no matter whether you are wearing a rain jacket for 250.00 € or for 20.00 €. We would recommend a cheap rain poncho that also covers your backpack.
Actually the Way of St. James does not end in Santiago according to everybody's belief, it rather begins there. Sadly one can often observe that pilgrims, after a relatively long and exhausting journey, discard all of their good habits in Santiago. The "dog-eat-dog philosophy" takes over again. We would like you not to behave in this way.
Contrary to the opinion of most, we are not very excited about Santiago de Compostela being the final goal. Religious people will probably feel affronted by making such a personal statement. Besides, the crowds you will inevitably run into, the souvenir industries with devotional objects is pretty deterrent.
If you have some extra time, we would recommend to visit Finisterre. From Santiago, it takes about 2 - 3 hours by bus and the fare is cheap. After all, the spectacular view from Cup Finisterre and the beautiful beach, where you can collect scallops, make it worth the trip.
You‘ve been on the French Way of St. James for 2 to 6 weeks now - what happens next?
If you are employed, and have really managed to take a timeout from your daily life for 2 weeks, you should at least take 1 more week off in order to process your gained insight and recent experiences. It would be a shame if you arrived home on a Saturday and had to "run" back to work the following Monday, wouldn‘t it? Furthermore, your loved ones probably want to hear about your trip, too.
If your journey had been several weeks long, don‘t be surprised if you experience a "culture shock" at home. Everything seems to move faster. This makes it even more important for you to somehow integrate the experiences, insights and serenity into your life. We would be pleased if you could store your happy memories with an item of our product range.
Your Jakobsweg [Bewahrer] - Team