A peregrino hiking into town.

I dreamed of the Camino de Santiago for years. There were so many things that drew me to this trail: the culture, the language, the hiking. Oh, and it’s in Spain!

I’m just slightly obsessed with Spain.

I held off for years, telling myself that there were numerous reasons  why I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the experience. I’ve never traveled overseas by myself. Hiking 500 miles was an absurd idea; I don’t think I had hiked over a mile at this point. Also, let’s face it, I was a college student. I could never save up for it. Basically, I allowed anything to intimidate me. I was setting limits.

One night, the University of Alabama in Birmingham had a private showing of the documentary “Six Ways to Santiago: Walking the Camino.” I had to go, because I’m obsessed with everything Spain, remember? Not going wasn’t an option. The whole time the film rolled on, I was so enthralled by every cultural shock that hiking the Camino offered. Once the film  ended, though, I felt as if I was handed something so beautiful, just to have it taken away from me. I was left with that residual feeling of pseudo-hiking the Camino. That didn’t sit well with me.

I needed more.

I remember that night so vividly. After I purchased the John Brierley guidebook in the reception hall, I was greeted by the cool, crisp air of that October night. I stood there outside the Alys Stephens Center staring down at the guidebook, staring down at the lone hiker photographed on the cover, who was in mid-stride on a winding dirt road through Spanish farm land. I looked back up and tuned into everyone else’s conversation. People were discussing their own aspirations of hiking this trail.

I knew in my heart that a vast majority of these people were not going to hike the Camino. Just like me, they had set limits. They had jobs, they had children, they couldn’t just leave for a month to go hike. I was 23 years old at the time, and I remember thinking to myself that I could make a life decision right then and there:

 

I could continue to live a life of dreaming and not pursuing.

-or-

I could do everything in my power to make this a reality--to live a life without regret.

 

For it to be a reality, it couldn’t be something I fit into some 5-year plan. That’s too much time for “life” to get in the way. I needed to make this happen in the next hiking season. If I wanted to hike the “Way of St. James” (the main trail on the Camino de Santiago), I would have to start in May to avoid a majority of the congestion.

But could I make that trip happen in 7 months?

I had no money in my savings account. I was a full-time student. All of my money went to bills. There were even some days where I had no idea how I was going to eat. The struggle was so real.  It seemed as if everything was working against me. There I was again though, setting limits….

If this decision was in any way going to foreshadow my future decisions and ultimately affect how happy I could be, I knew that I needed to make the right choice.

So I chose the Camino.

I did what I had to do to make it happen. I biked everywhere to save money on gas. I picked up extra shifts and studied for school when the restaurant wasn’t busy. I would order the biggest sandwich on the employee menu at work and stretch it for two meals. I didn’t go out a lot before that decision, but I completely stopped going out in an attempt to save every single penny. I think I may have pawned a few possessions as well.

In February, I had the money for a round trip plane ticket. I entered in all of the necessary information on the airline’s website. As I sat there at my desk with my finger hovering over the “Enter” button,  I thought to myself:

“If I hit this button, there’s no turning back. You’re going to hike the Camino.”

A smile stretched across my face and I hit that “Enter” button. It was going to happen. After years, it was finally going to happen.

 A Camino Waymark.

I brought every penny with me. I spent my last dollar in Spain the last day I was there. I had never experienced anything like this in my entire life. I experienced raw, unconditional happiness.

I came back home without a penny to my name and no regrets to speak of.

If I can dispense any advice, it would be to chase after your dreams, no matter what.

Remember: don’t set limits, set goals.

Tyler in a field of poppy flowers along the Camino.

Part 1 of a series. Part 2 can be found here.

To read other’s stories on how they chose the Camino, check out: http://porqueperegrino.com/