There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories.
There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories. Today will be all about the beginning and the preparation of my pilgrimage.
There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. It is almost unreal, but today marks a year since I commenced my journey!
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.)
What should I pack?!
Yes. I’ve been there too. In the middle of the living room surrounded by piles of stuff that seemed extremely convenient for all these possible situations I assumed I was going to end up in. **SPOILER ALERT** You don’t need it, none of it. As all of the things you think will happen won’t and you’ll never be prepared for all that which will happen instead. So drop the bear spray, pour yourself a drink and read this blog post on what five things I think you cannot walk without.
Now you might think this is a silly thing to be on an essentials list but I became rather appreciative of water on my Camino journey… and that was when I ran out of it on a hot and strenuous day. In general, I felt stronger and more energetic being fully hydrated. Water brought me some sort of relief; I loved being able to wash my hands and face to cool down, restore and then move on again. So don’t forget your H2O, it isn’t fun being without.
two: a basic first-aid kit
Basic doesn’t mean you’ve got to bring a defibrillator machine. Instead, tweezers might come in handy for the occasional ticks (yes, I had a few) and paracetamol is always useful when experiencing extreme period cramps or horrific hangovers (yes, I had a few of those too). As there is nothing better than giving your feet some love after a long day of walking, iodine, plasters, foot cream and the like will certainly come in handy. Don’t forget about personal things you need. Having pretty bad allergies, my anti-histamines made the difference between residing in the abyss of hell and a great night’s sleep. Don’t go overboard though; just take a few (personal) necessities!
three: a writing thing
Will you write everyday? Probably not, however, there will be times you want to plan possible stages, make a drawing or simply jot down an experience, a thought or feeling. As I love writing and drawing, I took a lightweight notebook but I’m aware this doesn’t count for everyone. In case you bring a guidebook you could write in that (I didn’t bring one, but I saw people doing this and loved it!) and, of course, you could always use a writing tool or app on your phone. Don’t underestimate all the things that will pop up in your mind during your walk. Even if you don’t see yourself as the writing kind of person, it might be nice to pen things down in order to make more sense of them.
four: a feel good item
A what? A feel good item! It’s like a feel good movie – you watch it and it makes you feel fantastic. When walking the Camino, pack something light-weight that can instantly change your mood from OK to yeey! I loved having these moments of pure joy by simply bringing a few of these items. First one: coffee sachets. Wherever I went, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and make myself a cup of coffee. Do I need to say more?#instantbliss Second one: super socks. Before I left, my friends gave me a pair of bright pink hiking socks that quickly turned into my super socks. Sleepless nights, burning blisters or my weekly existential crisis, it didn’t matter. Whenever I would wear them, I felt like Wonder Woman. Third, and final, one: mascara. Although most days this item didn’t even enter my consciousness, there were moments it made my day cause it made me feel absolutely f* fabulous! You wake up feeling like shit? Tadaa! Mascara’s just made you unshit yourself. Done with wearing the same outfit for two months in a row? Mascara makes your outfit obsolete, so your outfit no longer has to occupy any of your mind space. For me, there were days on my Camino when everything was just a bit better with mascara. Whatever it is that makes your mood transform, take it to brighten those days when you think your internal sun has taken a sabbatical.
five: an intention
The final Camino essential is the only non-material item on the list. Good thing about those items is that you can bring as many as you like without being burdened by additional weight. Whatever you decide to take on your Camino walk, an intention is something that can guide you through difficult or unexpected moments, more than any physical item will. Before I commenced my journey, I set the intention of opening up to whatever happened to me. I figured that if I’d keep reminding myself of this idea, it would allow me move more freely through the feelings that would come up or situations I would encounter. In the end, returning to something fixed inside me encouraged me at all times. Set an intention for your journey, something that you really want to realise or learn, and repeat it to yourself regularly. It doesn’t take up any space in your backpack but it sure is useful in plenty of unforeseen situations.
Packing for the Camino is tough, especially because you want to feel prepared. First of all, you won’t be… but that’s the beauty of the entire journey! The Camino is one big suberb surprise that’s going to be way more enjoyable with a little less just-in-case-crap in your backpack and, of course, with these five things you cannot live without! Happy walking!