For me, eating is pleasurable pastime. Tasting makes me ecstatic, chewing makes me smile and cooking food in general (vegetables in particular) makes my heart sing. Prior to my departure, I thought my journey through France and Spain would be an amazing opportunity to dive into these countries cuisines. Although I did enjoy some culinary delights featuring impulsive decisions at way-too-expensive restaurants and delicious meals served at some of my host families, walking somehow transforms the act of eating… especially when you’re watching your wallet.
If you’re planning to walk the Camino del Norte with a tiny budget, here are some tips to adjust to a pilgrim’s eating pattern without going broke.
A pilgrim’s eating pattern. Yeah, that’s right. It’s a thing. You know what it means? It means you’re hungry ALL THE TIME. I remember waking up regularly in the middle of the night with a feeling in my stomach that, when offering a visual description, resembled a very upset black hole. I swear I’ve felt the insides of my stomach touch as it was desperately trying to find the last remnants of the chips I had quickly devoured half an hour before bedtime. All I’m trying to say is that your body needs fuel when you’re walking most part of the day and it will ask for it. So you’ll need to be smart about what you fill your black hole with to save money besides attempting to properly nourish your body.
Depending on whether I’m seeing someone special and what the weather is like, the second or fourth thing on my mind once I wake up is coffee. On the Camino del Norte I always took some instant coffee with me to brighten the day! Once I’d enjoyed my first cup of coffee, breakfast options included lukewarm Greek yoghurt as some albergues didn’t have a fridge, crackers with avocado and tomatoes, slightly stale bread with cheese and, on days I forgot to arrange brekkie beforehand, granola bars or Maria biscuits. In most albergues you can opt for breakfast or it will be included in your night stay, however, don’t expect a savoury breakfast. Spanish brekkie often consists of coffee and cake, biscuits or toasted bread with jam.
I admit eating cake for breakfast revealed a whole new world to me, however, when it comes to my breakfast habits I like to mix things up a bit. Excessive amounts of baguette and jam in France made me excited to organise my own breakfast whilst walking the Camino del Norte, which was similar in price and a little bit more nutritious. I won’t lie, I did enjoy a large piece of cake here and there though 😉
Lunch is probably the easiest meal to do on the cheap. You only need three things: a baguette or a big piece of bread (opt for a wholemeal one, or one with lots of seeds), your favourite cheese and/or ham, and an amazing vegetable (capsicum, cucumber, tomato, you pick!). Make the sandwich, cut it in half, wrap one half and eat the other! Congratulations, you’ve just made lunch for two days! On the Camino, enjoying a spectacular sandwich on a break was like a big hug. I’ll forever cherish the moments that my Camino mate and I would just sit somewhere, be silent and eat. When the shops are closed or there is another reason you’re not carrying your bundle of tasty goodness along… fear not! In pretty much every bar in Spain you can buy bocadillos (sandwiches) or other edible delights, however, these aren’t always the most inexpensive lunch choices!
All along the Camino del Norte you’ll be able to get a pilgrim’s menu ranging from €10 to €15. This isn’t costly when you’re enjoying it sometimes, but when doing it daily it’ll quickly turn into one of your main expenses. Besides that, I often found these menus included lots of fried foods, something I personally enjoy eating sometimes though not daily. Check if your albergue has an equipped kitchen, if so you’re all sorted for a delicious dinner. Sometimes there might be a microwave allowing you to heat things up – think soup, rice, lentils etcetera. My go-to Camino meal was a mixed salad with bread or nacho chips (my all time fave). It was what I always enjoyed eating and felt my body needed after a long day of walking and… it’s ridiculously cheap!
In between meals I ate an impressive amount of apples, carrots, capsicums, granola bars, Maria biscuits, nuts and chips. When walking the Camino, eating becomes a necessity and I advise you to choose that which you eat wisely. Eating only cookies might seem great but it’s not the way to go (I tried and it made me feel horribly weak). As you’re body is demanding food often, it’s easy to pick unhealthy, sugary foods that give you a quick hit. However, if you balance it out with the healthier options it’ll be more satisfying for your body, as well as your budget in the long run. (Do try cake for breakfast once though, it’s fantastic.)