A recap of my experience trekking across Spain on the Camino Frances, the French Way, to Santiago de Compostela! Thoughts, feelings, and takeaways from the journey.
A faint whisper from a local passerby or a bold shout from a biker on the path. A soft smile and wave from the pilgrim at your side. Transcending cultures, ages, paces, reasons for pilgrimaging, and languages.
Buen Camino…a small showing of camaraderie amongst your fellow pilgrims as only they know what is going through your head and heart.
Those words echoed throughout my days trekking from Leon to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino Frances.
The French Way.
The Way of St. James.
Every day climbing up mountains, through rocky valleys, green vineyards, dusty, rural roads, down steep ravines, across muddy riverbeds, next to highways, through cities and small villages, past churches and memorials, alongside bikers, horseback riders, walkers, and locals.
People from Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, the UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, China, Thailand, the US, Canada, Germany – and those are just the people I met – all with one goal….to make it to Santiago for whatever reason they originally set out on their pilgrimage for.
For 16 days (12 days total of walking) I trekked across the final 200+ miles (over 350 km) of the Camino de Santiago and to put it into simple words…it was life changing.
Not only were the physical demands more than I anticipated or could have prepared for, but mentally the experience was challenging, exciting, and full of opportunity for self-reflection and growth. I’m not going to lie, going into this, I don’t know if I had a specific reason or goal. I was eager to get back to Europe after visiting 3 years ago and the idea of seeing a country on foot excited me! But as many people say about the Camino…no one walks the Way on accident. You go in with a reason or your reason finds you. My experience was the latter.
But I definitely discovered that “reason” as time went on.
Before I get into the actual experience of Spain and walking the Camino, I want to note the biggest difference I noticed in myself during this trip compared to any trip I’ve taken in adulthood.
Let me clarify…no unnecessary anxiety. Sure travel, making flights, catching trains, figuring out directions in a different language…all that can cause anxiety and is perfectly normal. But unfortunately for me, I’ve had such a crippling anxiety over the past few years that even travel, something I absolutely LOVE, became hard. I would get such bad anxiety leading up to a planned trip that often times I would cancel all together. I missed a family trip to Florida, missed countless blogger and work events, and on the trips I did go, I cancelled planned excursions in favor of staying in.
My anxiety would come from leaving home, being far away from my support system, breaking out of my “normal routine”, being out of my comfort zone, etc. This trip is the first trip I’ve taken in my adult years where I felt NONE of that. No homesickness (Sorry family! 😅 But I did miss Ella DESPERATELY!!), no anxiousness about schedules or routines, no guilt about not working, no FOMO of having little access to the internet. Nothing. Just FULL enjoyment and immersion in my experience.
I am FAR from perfect and I think navigating my personal mental health will be a lifelong journey, but this has been a HUGE sign of my progress since adolescence.
I don’t accept compliments well or give myself them very often….but I can wholeheartedly say I am PROUD of myself after this experience.
Here are some other personal reflections I have from the Camino…
Embracing quiet, alone time: There were full days where I went without saying more than 1 or 2 sentences to someone else, mostly because of the language barrier. But having that time only with myself and my thoughts proved to be a great time to think, reflect, and truly take in everything I was feeling, seeing, and doing.
Going with the flow: Whether it was the food that was available in the local village I was in, what the weather was on a certain day, or whether I was starting to run out of clean clothes due to lack of laundry facilities…this trip was all about taking things in stride and GOING WITH THE FLOW.
Slowing down: As a person who is always GO GO GO, it was nice to have a reason to SLOW DOWN. Having a heavy backpack strapped to my back all day long certainly helped with that! HA! But I really embraced taking in everything around me and appreciating the details of everyday. One thing I’ll say is: if you can experience a country on foot…DO IT. Slowly moving through a country as opposed to driving by or even biking affords you the opportunity.
Listening to my body: Whether it was the walking or the time change, there were some days where I would arrive at my destination and immediately take a 2-3 hour nap.
Simplifying and unplugging: I had fun updating you guys when I could, but I can honestly say this is the FIRST trip I’ve taken in probably 5 years that I haven’t done some sort of work each day. I made sure to give my clients plenty of advance warning about my trip and got them all set up before I left so there was nothing to worry about in my absence. This made the trip SO relaxing and stress-free. It was so nice to only have one task each day: getting from one place to the next. It was SUCH nice break for my mind and now I can honestly say I’m looking forward to diving back into work again.
Some of my favorite parts of the Camino:
- Feeling SO LOST and then the instant moment of relief in finding a yellow arrow.
- Seeing two pilgrims walk barefoot: WHY and HOW?!
- Following a man playing a ukulele as he walked, and hearing others sing along to “Over the Rainbow” no matter what their native language was.
- SO MANY ANIMALS! Cows, chickens, cats, dogs, sheep, goats, horses, slugs, lizards, BEAUTIFUL BIRDS….oh my!
- Being able to get into a REALLY good book series: I am thiiiiiiiiis close to finishing the After book series by Anna Todd…I’ve been enveloped in it during my entire morning and it’s been a huge motivator to get up each day because I HAVE TO find out what happens to Tess and Hardin.
- Catching myself getting really focused on a tough incline or just in a “zone” and reminding myself to look up and around…immediately being in awe of everything above and around me.
- Camino “notes”: notes left on trees, rocks, and everything in between with wise words from pilgrims who had walked the path before me.
- Eating fresh cherries off the cherry trees lining the path!
- Coming across little stops where locals had left out food, drinks, and other nice things for pilgrims passing through.
- Leaving stones for my family at the Iron Cross…a Camino tradition!
- Walking through the Leon and Galician Mountains: much preferred the mountain terrain to the flatter more urban areas.
- Walking up to the Iron Cross (the highest point of the Camino) after a morning of rainbows, freezing rain, and wind.
Some funny/interesting cultural differences…
- motion lights in all buildings, rooms, and bathrooms (to save on energy I presume!)
- no fans in bathrooms (the bathrooms got SO steamy and fogged up when showering)
- no iced coffee (I can’t wait to have my first back home!)
- SMALL coffee (even the XXLs are no more than a ½ cup)
- very few obese people (I can count the amount of overweight/obese people I saw on 1 hand!)
- less variety in food (all grocery stores pretty much had the exact same products and foods…same with restaurants!)
Depending on if you guys want MORE details on my journey, I can also share specifics on where I stayed (the hostels and villages), what I would change, and any tips I gathered along the way! I do plan on doing another post on my Camino “Essentials” in terms of gear. So stay tuned for that next! But any other requests please leave them in the comments so I know how much or how little you want me to cover about this experience.
If you see me out in Buffalo for the next couple weeks, I apologize in advance for saying “ola” or “gracias”…. both have become total habits now! But don’t worry, that’s pretty much the extent of my Spanish.
And how awesome is this? My parents were so inspired by my journey that they want to do their own pilgrimage next year! We’re thinking of doing the Camino Finisterre, but backwards and ending in Santiago. I’m holding them to it! 😉
For more pictures and details from my individual days on the trail, head to my Instagram and search the hashtag #HealthyHelperTravels to see all the posts!
Do you have any questions for me about my trip?
Have you ever been on a ‘life changing’ trip before?
Would you ever go on a backpacking trip like this?
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