Y’all, I have an announcement to make. Next month I’ll be making my way to Spain for a bucket list trip I’ve been dreaming of doing for years—The Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago is a famous pilgrimage that ends in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. There are seven possible routes, but the one I’ll be taking, the Camino Frances, or The French Way, is nearly 500 miles long and crosses the entire width of Northern Spain.
I. AM. PUMPED.
In this post I’m going to give a brief rundown of what the Camino de Santiago is, why in the hell I’m going to trek 500 miles alone, and what I’m doing to prepare for the big trip.
Since my planning phase is still in progress, I don’t have all the details like which flights I’m taking, how I’ll be arriving in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France—a popular starting point for Camino Frances (and, as it turns out, not the easiest place to get to), or a final packing list. I’ll be sharing all this information in later posts when I get my act together and finalize some things.
For now, I hope my excitement is contagious and this little bit of background inspires you to start planning your next big trip.
*Note: For those of you who were expecting a post last week, I apologize for my tardiness. This post was in the works when I had (yet another) house-related fiasco that took up all my time and energy. I’ll probably write about it later. In the meantime, thanks for your patience.
*Second Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through one of these links, I’ll earn a small commission to keep this site running, but you’ll still pay the same price. Win-win-win.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
People have been walking the Camino de Santiago for 1,000 years. In fact, in the Middle Ages the Camino de Santiago was as popular as pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Rome. Its popularity waned in the 16-19th centuries due to wars in Europe and travel restrictions. But in the 1980s, the priest and scholar Don Valiña Sanpedro made it his mission to mark the Camino de Santiago. Local governments got on board and today there is Camino infrastructure that includes guest houses along the way, called albergues, restaurants that provide special “pilgrim” meals, and the yellow seashell trail markings that lead the way.
But why walk so many miles?
People walk the Camino de Santiago for many reasons. But its history is unquestionably religious.
*Third Note: Religion is a bit out of my zone of expertise, so I’ll be giving just a brief rundown of the history of the Camino de Santiago. If you want to do the Camino for religious purposes, then I’d encourage you to get some more information elsewhere (when you’re finished here!)
The Camino de Santiago begins in many places throughout Europe—France, Spain and Portugal, to name a few. But all roads lead to the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela.
This is where the remains of St. James the Apostle were found in the year 813 AD. Word has it, St. James had been preaching the gospel in Galicia (the Northwest portion of Spain that borders Portugal) and upon his return back to Jerusalem, was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa in 44AD. Unpleasant. His followers carried his remains all the way back to Galicia to bury him.
When his remains were discovered in 813, the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela was built. It was later demolished by the Moors, but was re-built thereafter. And ever since, people have been trekking hundreds of miles to visit the remains of St. James the Apostle and the cathedral that houses them.
Proof of its popularity, the Camino de Santiago became the subject of the first ever tourist guidebook—called the Codex Calixtinus, published in 1140. The Codex outlined the various routes and infrastructure of the Camino. Cool, huh?!
As I said, today people take on the Camino for many reasons outside of religion. A personal fitness goal, a retirement reward, a chance to reflect on big life changes or turning points. Or the ever popular “finding” oneself. In the next section I’ll get into my “why” for doing the Camino de Santiago.
“The Professional Hobo”
Why am I doing the Camino de Santiago?
It was about eight years ago, sitting on the jumpseat in the front galley of an Airbus, that I first heard of the Camino de Santiago. I was a new flight attendant then, and the more seasoned professional I was working with was recounting her Camino. She’d taken more than a month off of work to walk. She’d made friends and had a kind of self-actualizing experience along the way.
I’d heard of people doing things like this. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild was already a New York Times Best Seller and major movie by then. I’d hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail before, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and had heard of people—strangers, loose acquaintances on Facebook—who through-hiked the entire thing, from Georgia to Maine. Or who tried to.
But I’d never really known anyone that had done it. The AT, the PCT, or the Camino. A long, extended trek. A perspective-shifting, eye-opening, soul-searching, self-guided pilgrimage. (Or, at least that’s what I imagine it must be.)
Hearing this firsthand account, from a real-live person—a coworker, not a famous author—piqued my interest in a big way. I knew I had to do it.
And here we are, years later, with ‘Complete a long, extended hike, trek, or pilgrimage’ still untouched on my bucket list.
Well, until soon.
I noticed a few months ago, in the spring, how much paid time off I’d accumulated over the year. With something like 90 hours, I could easily take a full month off from work. If I arranged it properly, I could take two. I am single, childless, teetering on the edge of finishing my biggest creative project to date. It is a good time to take a walk.
If not now, when?
Those of you who know me, or who have been following along with the blog for a while, probably know about my solo travels in Colombia and Mexico. You probably know how I love my alone time, how navigating foreign airports and subway systems and languages makes me feel alive.
You’ll probably also know that nature is my religion. Being outside fills me up, and witnessing the beauty of changing landscapes—mountains, valleys, plains, and seas—reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger. It’s gratitude and it’s joy.
I’m stoked for all of it. The physical work my body will endure, the vistas, and trees, and dirt trodden paths. The people I’ll meet and the things that I’ll eat. The small Spanish towns, the big, lofty goal. And the added bonus, that spectacular feeling of doing it all on my own.
Hiking in Cocorna, Colombia
I’ve been reluctant to announce this trip any sooner because I’m planning it…well, like a flight attendant. Last minute. I don’t have a flight booked, a single night of accommodation, a date set in stone (though I do have one in mind). I worried if I made a big show of announcing my trip, some life hurdle would present itself, making it impossible to go.
But now it feels imminent. Right around the corner.
I feel slightly unprepared. But this is how I always feel before a big trip, and it always works out fine. But it also feels like I’ve got to hurry and let you guys know what I’m up to. I don’t want to catch you off guard with the hiking content, the Spain photos, or the “So sorry this post is late” due to spotty Wi-Fi in some middle-of-nowhere village.
I’m kidding, of course, sort of. While I’m gone I’ll be trying to find a balance between keeping you all up to date on my travels and taking plenty of off-screen alone time to enjoy the experience.
Now that you’re in the loop on what I’m doing, and why, I’m going to tell you how I’m getting ready for this big adventure.
How I’m Preparing for the Camino de Santiago
I need a lot of gear. I’m a “hiker”, sure, “outdoorsy”, sure, “active”, sure. But not like the real kind. I’m more like the lazy kind, the hobbyist. I don’t yet have a packable sleeping bag that rolls up tiny and light, a system for carrying toiletries that will allow for minimal weight, the hiking sandals I keep telling people I’m bringing, or a clue how I’m going to manage 35(ish) days in a 36L pack. I don’t yet have a scale to weigh my pack. I’ve even started to second guess the new hiking shoes I bought specifically for the Camino.
What I do have is a new backpack that will carry everything I need for more than a month. Some new wool socks (very important, I’m told) and a packing list that I’m altering daily.
Guys, send thoughts and prayers my way.
My new best friend
I’m reading a lot of Facebook content about the Camino. I’m a part of a group for women hiking the Camino alone. This has been an invaluable resource. It’s a private group that requires some information before allowing in new members. If you’re interested in joining, get in touch in the comments, or DM me on Instagram and I’ll be happy to share the info.
I’m also finally getting around to reading Cheryl Strayed’s best seller Wild. Ten years late to the party, per usual. I’ve seen the movie, but I know how these things go. A film—even a long one—isn’t enough time or space to get into the writer’s state of mind, background, or all the little anecdotes along the way. There are other books that might be more appropriate to read leading up to this trip. The Camino Way, by Victor Prince, for example, is a recommended book about walking the Camino de Santiago. There are others, too, that I’ll link below. But instead, I picked Wild.
Part of it is feeling a sense of kinship with the author. Even if I haven’t yet read the book, I have listened to Strayed’s podcast Dear Sugars before. I’ve been soothed by her voice while getting ready for bed in a hotel room. I’ve felt some of the things that a young woman trying to find herself feels. I’ve felt the urge to run. To pack up my bag and leave everything behind, as Strayed did when she through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. I’ve done it already before. (The packing, the leaving). And I’m off to do it again. The theme of a writer on a journey, whether of awakening or escape, is something I feel deeply connected to.
And there’s something else.
The other reason I’m not reading any Camino de Santiago stories before my trip is that I don’t want spoilers. Tips, yes. Advice, definitely. But something about reading someone else’s experience of the trip I’ll be embarking on soon doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like cheating. Skipping ahead in my own story. Perverse, in a way.
I don’t want to know the secret spots where joy will present itself. Whether it will be in a quiet village waking up for coffee, or green pastures and wild flowers, crisp nights with people I never knew I’d meet. I don’t want to know how it feels to want to quit before I do. I don’t want to worry about struggling before the real struggling happens. I don’t want the trip I’m about to take to be romanticized to the point that it can’t possibly live up to the hype. So, I’m gaining information to prepare, and I’m trying to do a thorough job at that. But the only great Camino story I plan to consume will be firsthand.
If you want to check out some Camino de Santiago books, these two were recommended:
Or to browse more Camino-related titles, click here.
At my airline, flight attendants bid for a full month’s schedule a month in advance. (For those of you unfamiliar with this blog or flight attendant life, bidding means requesting a schedule you want.) The bidding period is the first seven days of the month and in it we get to ask for all the trips we want, all the days off we want, what times we’d like to work, and even with which people. At the end of the seven days, the company looks at all our requests and “awards” them to us, whatever we can hold, in seniority order.
Bidding this month was a breeze for me. I’ll be gone most of September, with a departure date sometime around the 11th. Having taken two weeks of paid vacation at the end of the month, equaling 70 hours of pay, I technically don’t have to work at all. At my airline, 70 flight hours per month is what constitutes working “full-time” for a flight attendant. On top of that, I have a two-day paid training at the beginning of the month—more hours. So, I’m off the hook for September, unless I want to make a little more money and squeeze in a trip before Spain.
Do I really want to? No, of course not. I want to be in vacationland, packing and pondering and planning my travels. But sometimes my bank account insists I show up to fly. And gallivanting through the north of Spain for more than a month will not be free.
I bid for a few turns (that means I fly somewhere and then fly right back) on exactly one day in September. I can’t even tell you how good it felt to not care about the bid book (a document holding all of the possible trips for the next month). Not to care about my seniority or what I could hold (the trips I can get.) Pretty soon I’ll be gone, not caring about the dozens of daily emails or my flight schedule.
The first seven days of any given month are a full-blown project. A side gig that takes me a few hours, spread over two days, and a lot of thinking. But this month?
If I don’t get one of those few trips I bid for, I’ll take nothing and be happy with the packing, pondering, and planning time.
Brushing up on my Spanish
Admittedly, this one is more of an “I need to start brushing up” than I’m actually doing it. Hopefully putting it down in a blog post will make me feel some level of accountability.
My Spanish was getting good after my 7-week stint in Colombia and my 3-month stay in Mexico City in 2019. But I swear, that Pandemic hit, and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish in two years. It’s difficult to learn a language, but man it is so easy to forget.
I still have enough Spanish to get me by. “I’ll just sound a little stupid if I try to say something more intricate,” I keep telling people when this comes up. It will be nice to be back in a Spanish-speaking country, to be able to exercise this language muscle. And I’m going to make an earnest effort to review some of my long-lost Spanish vocabulary before then.
Not sad to kiss this uniform goodbye for a month and a half.
So now you all know what I’m up to, and why, how I’m getting ready, and how I’m feeling about it—Both underprepared and super fucking excited. If you’re interested in following along with this journey, keep a lookout for future posts that will answer such burning questions as “Did she return the Salomon hiking shoes or not!?” and “Is her Spanish ANY better?!”
Of course, I’ll be sharing bits of my Camino along the way, but I haven’t decided how much or how often. The weight of the pack on your back is one of the biggest things to consider before setting out on the Camino de Santiago. So, I regret to say, I will not be taking my laptop along for the ride.
I’ll miss it, I bring it on every trip with me. I will probably feel a little naked without it. But there are other ways. I’ll have my phone, of course. And that will be great for photo taking and sharing. (If you want to follow along my Camino, here’s my Instagram.) But writing on a phone feels daunting and terrible to me. I’m considering bringing an iPad, which is slightly better for writing, and much better for blogging, but still added weight. So, we’re undecided there too. If all else fails, I’ll have a notebook and a pen.
Anyone who has done the Camino de Santiago before, please send me your best tips or words of encouragement. And if anyone reading this happens to be doing the Camino Francés in September-October 2022, then @ me on insta and let’s stage a meetup!
I hope this self-serving post has inspired someone out there to take the first step toward their next big trip. Whether it is booking a flight, buying a pack, or simply deciding for yourself to make it happen.
Have a happy weekend, y’all. And safe travels <3
Hey you! Yes, you.
Thanks for stopping by. I’m Toni and I run the show here at A Wheel in the Sky. Here, we talk travel, flight attendant life, and excessively personal anecdotes. I hope you liked reading this post about embarking on the Camino De Santiago. If it’s your first time here, have a look around. I’ll link some good starter content, including hiking and solo trips, below.
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Thanks again for coming <3
Flight Attendant Content
More About my Travels in Colombia & Mexico:
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