Walk your way to a new you on the Camino de Santiago

If you would have told me two years ago that I would be telling story upon story about going on a walking holiday – a pilgrimage at that – and claiming it has been the best holiday ever (even better than our week in the Bahamas the year before), I would most certainly not have believed you.

Today, I am planning my next Camino as we speak – writing this has taken me back to some of the best moments on the road, and you will most likely see me on the Camino Frances again in 2018.

To make a short introduction: the Camino de Santiago is a collection of pilgrim routes in Europe, taking you across France, Portugal, and England, to name a few countries, to the shrine of St. James in the town of Santiago de Compostela. You can walk anywhere between a thousand and a hundred kilometers to get there, and spend a week or a month on the road in turn.

I know, this might not sound like your cup of tea either, but the journey is well worth it.

A fair warning

You do need to know that the first few days will be a bit of an ordeal, if you are not prepared in advance. If you are not your fittest, you may suffer from sore muscles, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps at the very beginning, but your body will soon get used to it. You should also choose the most reliable and suitable socks and shoes for the journey, to avoid any blisters. You should also make sure to pack only the bare essentials. After all, you will be the one lugging all of your things around.

Lesson one: life’s essentials

Speaking of packing, you will soon come to realize that you don’t really need all the three shampoos you’ve packed, and that you can live with much less than you think you need, materially. Like John Lennon once put it quite beautifully, image there’s no possessions, it’s quite easy if you try. We rely too much on the things we own and the things we think we need. Living on the road for a time will get you to realize there is much more to life than the material.

What you will come to cherish much more are the people you are surrounded with, the experiences you have, and the sort of life you lead. I was never happier with my rudimentary knowledge of French, and my war stories of translating in the UN than on the Camino.

Lesson two: are you a people person?

You might think, like I did, that those who go on pilgrimages are friendly and calm people. Having a fight over a phone charger with a complete stranger will soon make you realize people are still people on the Camino, and you cannot mesh with all of them.

The knowledge that you can’t be friends with everyone, and more importantly, that you don’t need everyone to like you, will serve as one of the great lessons of the Camino. You will learn to leave your ego behind, and see the world through the eyes of others. You will see how you operate in groups, big and small, and what parts you are willing to play, both when it comes to helping with the cooking, lending someone some cash, and helping dress a wound.

Lesson three: are we limitless?

Finally, you will learn that you are more than you think you can be – both in terms of the physical and the mental. You will soon find you can walk more than you thought possible. That you can sleep soundly in a strange bed. That you can share a laugh with a complete stranger. You will see what kind of stuff you are made of, and this knowledge can take you through your regular life like a steady breeze. You may think you don’t know how to start a fire, but you will learn. You may think you are shy, but find yourself chatty with certain kinds of people. You may learn you are the maker of great breakfasts. Having some time away from your daily life and comfort zone, thrown in with a bunch of different people will fast teach you where you can swim, and where you might sink.

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