Four Things to Know about Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain

The Camino de Santiago is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages of medieval times. Legend has it that the bones of St. James, Jesus’s first disciple, are buried at the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Today, pilgrims of all faiths come from around the world to walk The Way for religious, spiritual, health, or personal reasons.

If you’re contemplating taking on this challenging pilgrimage here are a few things to keep in mind before you go.

1. Earning a compostela

 Every pilgrim will carry a passport, or credencial—a document that identifies them as a pilgrim. If you plan to start your walk in the popular launching-off city of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port you will be given a passport when you register as a pilgrim at the pilgrim’s office. Otherwise, you can obtain a passport at almost any church or albergue (pilgrim’s hostel) in Spain.

Each night when you are done walking you will be required to have your passport stamped at the hotel or albergue where you sleep. When you reach Santiago you’ll show your passport and receive your compostela (certificate of completion).

To earn a compostela a pilgrim must walk the last 100 kilometres (62 miles) of the Camino de Santiago. You will prove this accomplishment by producing your stamped pilgrim’s passport. When the walk is over the compostela and the passport are yours to keep—they make wonderful souvenirs.

2. Daily walking distance and sleeping in albergues

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to walk long distances each day, don’t fret. While many pilgrims walk 24 to 32 kilometres (15 to 20 miles) per day, others choose to walk much shorter distances. The reality is, because of the frequency of albergues along the route, you can walk as long or short a distance as you choose.

Most albergues are mixed-sex, dorm-style rooms filled with bunk beds and are priced between 5 to 12 euros per bed. Albergues are located every 4 to 6 kilometres (3 to 4 miles) along the route. The exception to this is one or two sections of the walk where albergues are separated by up to 12 miles. Although sleeping in an albergue can prove to be frustrating (lots of snoring and farting by strangers), it is also an essential part of the pilgrim experience.

3. Access to water and money

Don’t buy bottled water as you walk! Tap water is drinkable in Spain so you can easily fill your reusable water bottle in any albergue or restaurant sink. There are also a number of potable water fountains (marked as potable) along the route. Because of the frequency of water sources you should not have to carry more than a litre or two of water at any given time.

Likewise, ATMs are widely available on the route. Most financial transactions are done in cash but don’t worry about carrying a large sum of money with you. You’ll find ATMs or banks in nearly every village you pass through.

4. In the event of injury

If you happen to get injured and cannot walk there are buses and taxis that will pick you up and take you to the next town or nearest hospital. Minor injuries like blisters or tendonitis are common on the Camino de Santiago but there are many pharmacies and shops along the route that sell the items necessary to treat these ailments.

In the event of a rolled ankle or strained back, there are services along the route that will ship your backpack to the albergue you plan to sleep in for the night. This takes a bit of coordination, as you’ll have to decide where to stop and sleep before you begin your walk for the day, but for the pilgrim with a nagging injury this service can be a lifesaver.

Though planning an epic pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago may feel daunting, remember that tens of thousands complete the walk to Santiago each year. Enjoy your walk through the beauty of northern Spain and have a Buen Camino.

6 Tips for a Great U.S. Road Trip

1. Get off of the Interstate

Almost all of the United States looks the same from the highway. Invest in a great atlas and, whenever possible, route yourself off of the Interstate and onto U.S. Highways or Scenic Byways (marked by blue lines on the map). County roads almost never fail to disappoint. When you take these lesser-travelled roads you get a taste of the area of the country you are travelling in, including some of the local culture and cuisine.

 

2. Give yourself time to stop at roadside attractions

The U.S. is famous for its’ quirky roadside attractions, like the World’s Largest Brick (Alabama), the World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box (Connecticut), and the World’s Biggest Beagle (Idaho). Although visiting the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (Kansas) might seem a little silly in the moment, we promise that the memory will stick with you long after you’ve returned home and unpacked your bags (also, think of the pictures).

 

3. Keep healthy snacks within arm’s reach

If you resort to fast food stops and gas station snacks to fuel you on a road trip you will come home feeling terrible and probably a little heavier than when you started. Keep healthy snacks like dried and fresh fruit, nuts and water in the car with you at all times and turn to them when your stomach starts to grumble. Stock up at local grocery stores and skip the fast food and gas station junk altogether.

 

4. Carry cash for tolls

There’s a good chance you’ll hit toll roads on your road trip, especially if you are travelling in the eastern part of the United States. Many toll roads don’t allow you to pay in anything other than cash (not even credit cards). If you don’t have cash you’ll have to jump through hoops to receive and pay a bill within ten days—not too feasible if you’ve come from out of the country. Carry cash in the glove box of your vehicle to pay the tolls.

 

5. If you’re camping on your road trip remember these golden rules:

A) The best way to find state, county and regional camping is to look at an atlas (look for the tent symbol). Once you’ve found a park in the area where you want to go, give them a call or look them up online to see if they’ve got any spots available.

B) If you’re driving an RV private campgrounds are great, but if you’re tent camping you’ll likely feel like you’re sleeping in a mobile home park instead of the great outdoors. Private campgrounds can also be expensive. The upside is that they almost always have a laundry room, warm showers and even free Wi-Fi.

C) If you’re tent camping, state and regional parks are usually the way to go. These parks are often quite affordable and offer great amenities such as warm showers and electricity. However, most campsites must be reserved in advance, so make sure that there is space available before you make the trip.

 

6. If you’re staying in hotels during your road trip, follow these rules:

A) Sign up for a hotel rewards program, either through a booking site like hotels.com or through the hotel directly. Depending on the length of your road trip, a rewards’ program like hotels.com will probably give you the best bang for your buck—every tenth stay booked through their system is free.

B) Pick up coupons for local hotels and restaurants at each state’s visitor’s centre, usually located just over the state line. These free “magazines” are filled with regional discounts.

C) Make your dollar stretch by making sure that your hotel has free Wi-Fi and a free continental breakfast each morning. While attending the free breakfast make sure to eat your fill and tuck a few pieces of fruit into your bag for later. Hey, you paid $70+ for that “free” meal!

 

Planning an extended trip? Make sure you know how long you can stay in the U.S.! And read our blog for more travel tips.

6 Great Reasons to Travel with Kids

There’s no doubt that travelling with children is a little more complicated than travelling without them. Childfree travellers might pack their bags and hit the road on a moment’s notice, but those of us hauling wee ones need a bit more time to organize. But while trip preparation with children can be slightly more daunting, travelling with children is well worth the fuss. Not convinced? Check out these six great reasons why you should travel with your kids.

  1. Expose your kids to different worlds
    A child’s world can be very small—she may be familiar with home, school, her grandparents’ house, or local shops and restaurants—but when a child travels she learns of the very big world outside of her hometown bubble. Exposing a child to other cities and countries expands her horizons and shows her different ways of living, making foreign concepts a little less so.
  1. Show your child how to be adaptable
    When a child travels, he sleeps in new beds, adopts new routines, and is introduced to new foods, landscapes, and languages. While some kids have a hard time adjusting to shakeups in their regular schedule, most learn to adapt and thrive in new environments—a skill that will serve them well as they grow.

Related: Crossing borders with children? Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Meet new friends
    Parents that travel with children know that kids are natural icebreakers. Not only do children make friends with other children (thus connecting parents to one another) but travelling with a child also makes it easier to relate to the local people. Most cultures around the world adore children and travelling with one makes you more approachable. When you travel with a child you are no longer just a tourist, you’re also a parent, and that puts you on common ground with people all over the world.
  1. Learn new things with (and about) your child
    It has been said that travelling is the best education. Geography, language, and history lessons all come to life while travelling, and children have the chance to pick up hard skills like map-reading and soft skills like cultural awareness. But perhaps the most important lessons your child will learn are internal. Exposing children to new environments often encourages them to push their boundaries and try new things—from braving that intimidating zip-line to ordering off of a menu in a foreign language. Conquering new skills helps build self-confidence and self-reliance, two useful traits that parents will be proud of.

Related: Taking the whole family on the road? Read these tips for family travel.

  1. See the world through their eyes
    There’s no better way to feel like a kid again than to travel with a child. While a theme park like Disneyland may not have beckoned pre-parenthood, add a kid to the mix and it suddenly does feel like a magic kingdom. Likewise, excursions, tours, and simple activities like building sandcastles or beachcombing become fun again when you’re sharing those moments with your child. Kids bring an excitement and energy to travelling that parents find hard to resist.
  1. Create lifelong travelers
    Perhaps the best reason of all to travel with kids is to lay a foundation that will last them a lifetime. Traveling instills a curiosity about the world and helps to debunk fears. After all, foreign countries seem a lot less foreign once you’ve been there. As travelling children grow into adults, they retain the skills, confidence, and good memories that will keep them exploring the world.

For more travel tips and stories, visit our blog page to hear what our other authors have to share!