I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago solo…and so can you. Everyone does the pilgrimage for a different reason, but all who have done it agree that it’s a life-altering event. Doing the Camino solo will give you an opportunity to flex your independence by getting out of your daily grind and engaging with the world on new terms.
I’m writing this article because the question of doing the Camino alone comes up frequently in the Camino forums and Facebook groups. Some people are concerned about tackling a challenging hike without back-up. Some fear loneliness. And others, particularly women, face well-meaning but ill-informed pressure from friends and family members who question the wisdom or safety of a woman going out alone in the wider world.
Squash the doubt, because you’ve got this.
But if you need a bit of reassurance, more information or simply a retort for the doubters, read on. We’ll tackle some of the common questions that people have about walking the Camino de Santiago alone and we hope to give you some inspiration for your pilgrimage journey.
About the Camino de Santiago
The Camino is a 1,000 year old pilgrimage route that terminates in Santiago de Compostela Spain, where the remains of Saint James are buried. The Camino is fed by a constellation of trails that originate in places like France, Portugal, Germany and numerous points throughout Spain.
Since the popularity of movies like The Way and books like I’m Off Then, the Camino has zoomed out of the Middle Ages to become one of the most popular trails in the world. The cathedral in Santiago keeps pilgrim statistics for people seeking a Compostela, which is like a certificate of completion for the Camino. The Pilgrim Office recently clocked 350,000 annual pilgrims from 100+ countries.
The most popular trail is the Frances, which begins in St Jean Pied a Port, France and travels 800 kilometers (500 miles) west to Santiago. If you are considering starting from there, check out our guide for how to get to Saint Jean.
The Camino is a historically religious pilgrimage and many people do it accompanied by their God. But it’s also a broader spiritual journey and a physical challenge. You’ll meet pilgrims on the trail who are there for all sorts of reasons.
Your pilgrimage will start once you’ve decided to go. Where you start and where you end are a very personal choice and you can have a transformative experience, no matter how you do it.
My Experience Walking the Camino de Santiago Solo
In 2014, I walked the Camino Frances from Burgos to Santiago, a route of 480 kilometers (300 miles). Along the way I earned my Compostela, some new friends, sore muscles and more than a few blisters. I chose to walk the Camino because I was at a personal and professional crossroads. I had grown weary of the traditional 9-5 career and I wanted to try to redesign my life. So I quit my job and loaded up the backpack.
The 24 day walk gave me time to think about my values and ponder my next move. I went into the Camino thinking that it would be a physical challenge— and it was indeed that. But, like any endurance event, it was also a mental challenge to keep myself focused and motivated as I slowly made my way to Santiago.
In 2019, I decided to brave the blisters again and returned to complete the Frances trail. After vowing “never again”, I’m now eyeballing the Primitivo route.
For some people, the Camino is a one and done. For others, like me, it gets into the blood and becomes a place to return to for inspiration and reflection.
“After walking the last 100 miles from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela in 2008 I was hooked. I’ve since walked 8 stretches of different Camino routes. Sometimes alone with my own thoughts, sometimes meeting other inspirational pilgrims and making new, life-long friends. Even broken into shorter stretches, the Camino de Santiago is still a life changing experience. Now I just need to fulfil my dream to walk a full Camino de Santiago.” This advice is from Tanya of Can Travel Will Travel.
5 Reasons Why Doing the Camino Solo is Worth It
1. The Camino Clears out the Cobwebs
On the one hand– you need to stay present on the Camino so that you can follow the trail and keep steady footing.
On the other– it’s a long slow stroll which will give you plenty of time for contemplative thought. Fresh air, sunshine and the westward pull of the Camino will give you the opportunity to unpack some issues and open up your mind to creativity.
“There are three stages of the Camino. Stage one is purely physical as you walk 20+ kilometers every day. Stage 2 is emotional because there’s a lot of thinking to be done on the Camino, and everyone cries at some point. Stage three is spiritual. There is something very enriching about leaving behind today’s global issues and replacing them with basic human needs. “From Paula of Truly Expat.
2. The Camino is an Exercise in the Simple Life
I live in a typical American suburban home with two cars, a dog, a walk-in closet and a kitchen full of gadgets. But on the Camino, I was pared down to a couple of days worth of clothes stuffed into a 35 litre backpack.
The daily Camino is a very simple regime, from your meals to your modest lodgings. It’s very liberating to let the trappings go and simply put one foot in front of another.
The Camino alway provides.
3. The Physical Challenge of the Camino is Very Rewarding
Doing the Camino is a thing! It’s hard and sometimes it hurts, but you will be astonished at what you can accomplish with a willing body and a strong heart. The pride doesn’t fade when you return home and you can leverage your Camino experience to invite other changes to your health and lifestyle.
“When you go solo, you get to walk at your own pace and set your own personal goals. You get to choose when to push yourself further and when to stop — whichever suits you best. I gave myself 10 days to walk the 240/k from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. People thought I was too ambitious, considering how slow I walked compared to everyone else. I did it in 8 days, and enjoyed every bit of it.” Wise advice from Raja who blogs over at Ummi Goes Where.
4. The Kindness of Strangers Flourishes on the Camino
Even if you are walking alone, there will always be other pilgrims around. The collective experience means that your fellow pilgrims will never be strangers to you, and these kindred spirits will bestow many acts of kindness on your Camino.
I was comforted by that German kid who slowed down his pace and walked with me because he sensed that I needed company. In turn, I comforted Mac, who was processing grief at the break-up of his long term relationship. Leo made me an amazing pasta dinner and later, I did laundry for that Spanish guy and his Mom.
This happens like magic on the Camino and it’s amazing.
5. The Camino Fosters Gratitude
My greatest takeaway from the Camino is that I need to be mindful to foster gratitude. It comes very naturally on the trail. I was ever so grateful for the nuns who gave me cold water and fruit while I was waiting to check in at their albergue. I was grateful for that Basque grocer who acted cranky but then made me the best salad I’ve ever eaten. I was grateful for the many strangers who gave me a kind nod and wished me a Buen Camino.
I brought that lesson home with me and remain mindful to keep it alive.
Practical Consideration for Going Solo
Here are some common questions and concerns people have about doing the Camino solo and how to address them.
Is the Camino de Santiago Safe?
In my opinion, the Camino is safe.
The most common problems are illness and injury from pushing your body too hard. Like anywhere, there is some petty crime. There have been reported incidences of sexual harassment and other more serious crimes.
But these things can happen to you at home too. The last time I got robbed was at the coffee shop near my office and my grossest #metoo moment happened at my local bookstore. I never experienced issues with my personal safety on the Camino.
I don’t wish to ignore the risks that any woman (or man) might experience while traveling. The normal cautions about being aware of your surroundings and keeping an eye on your stuff apply to walking the Camino. But the Spaniards really appreciate and care for the pilgrims, and there is always a level of trust between the pilgrims.
Will I Get Lonely Doing the Camino Solo?
Yes, at times- but that’s not a bad thing. You can have as much or as little company as you like on the Camino, especially if you walk the popular Frances trail. Many people talk about how they met their “Camino family” on the trail, making new friends and finding walking companions.
And I did that as well. But I also had long stretches where I walked alone…and was indeed lonely. Being alone on the Camino gave me an opportunity to air out some of the dustier corners of my psyche.
“You’re Going Alone?!?”
This incredulity and pressure to conform frequently gets directed at women. Your friends and family care about you, but they may be reading from an outdated and sexist playbook.
52% of the pilgrims are women and most of them embark upon their pilgrimage alone.
“If you’re still unsure whether you should do the Camino de Santiago by yourself, this is your sign to do it. Nothing is more magical than doing something by yourself without relying on anyone else. The trek may be challenging but the reward is more than worth it.” Advice from Victoria. If you are planning the Norte route, check out her guide to San Sebastian.
Am I too Old/Fat/Slow to do the Camino?
I’m all three of those things and I managed it. I was 56 on my last Camino and 19% of the pilgrims are over 60. You’ll see every sort of body shape on the trail.
The Camino isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. It isn’t an elite sporting event, it’s a slow stroll across Spain. You can do it if you find a pace that works for you and pay attention to your body. If you are nervous about it, check out our guide on training for the Camino, it has trail tested tips and a 12-week fitness plan.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” A wise hiking quote from Lau Tzu and very applicable for the Camino, where your pilgrimage begins when you walk out of your front door.
Prepare for Your Camino
- Sign up for our FREE budgeting spreadsheet and a printable packing list using the form just above.
- Then move on to our packing list. It includes everything you need (but nothing more). It’s thorough but it will ensure that you bring a light pack.
- You should also check out our article on how much the Camino costs. It offers advice for different budget levels.
- Read up on the Camino with this list of 31 books featuring inspiring memoirs and wacky tales of derring do.
- If you prefer movies to books, we’ve got you covered. Check out our list of inspirational Camino movies (but don’t forget to bring the tissues, because some of these stories are very touching).
- Find the right Camino de Santiago app or guidebook for you.
- Plan a longer stay in the region with one of these guidebooks for Spain.
“The Peregrini remind us that we go on pilgrimage not to consume experience, but to be consumed. To feel again the porous borders between our inner and outer lives” Written by Fred Bahnson in an essay for Emergence Magazine.
Enjoy your pilgrimage and as they say on the trail….Buen Camino.
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