St. Jean Pied du Port

1. GET A BETTER PACK

I hiked the Camino on a shoestring budget. That means I got my gear used off eBay. My pack didn’t fit my body, and I hated it the whole time I had it.  My shoulders and back ended up paying the price. How much gear you want to carry is completely up to the individual hiker. For me, less is better. I absolutely loved my Osprey Aura 50 Liter pack I had on the Appalachian Trail a few years later. After 6 months of the AT giving it a beating, it’s still going strong! I would hands down bring the Osprey Aura to Spain with me.

2.  GET PROPER TRAIL SHOES

Want to guess where I got my boots? Yep, eBay. Guys! I learned the hard way. They fell apart during my third day in Paris. I tried to repair them and eventually just tossed them. I didn’t budget for the probability of my gear failing, so I ended up purchasing the cheapest tennis shoes I could find.  I absolutely hated them. I threw them away as soon as I got into Santiago. I’ve had a lot of success with Salomon boots since the Camino. If I were going for round two on the Camino, I would go with a trail runner. Salomon Women’s X Mission 3 for the win!

Frankenboot

3.  HAVE A SLEEPING PAD JUST IN CASE

If you don’t get to a hostel in time or they are at occupancy, it’s always a good idea to have a plan B. Some people will opt to sleep on church steps. Typically this isn’t a problem, but you should always check with someone inside the church or the local authority. Keep in mind that churches older than 1906 belong to the state and are not church property.

4. TREAT GEAR FOR BED BUGS

Bed bugs (or “chinches”) are a big concern. Always check your bunk, but pretreating your gear isn’t a bad idea either.

Bunks at Roncesvalle by Greg Schaefer

5. BRING TREKKING POLES

The Camino was my first hike, so I made a majority of my mistakes there. A big mistake I made was not having trekking poles. I’m sorry knees; never again will I forget.

6. BRING SUN PROTECTION

I’m a very pale person and I didn’t realize how exposed the trail was until I was out there. I eventually picked up a sarong that I draped over my shoulders, ran down my arms, and secured on my wrist with hair ties. Sure, I looked ridiculous, but the sarong served many purposes. It was also hard to find sunscreen with a protection factor over 30.  When I found a SPF 50, I bought it. The price was high, but it was absolutely necessary.  Even with the sarong and the sunscreen, I was tanner than I had ever been in my life.

For the future I would either bring sunscreen from home and apply it liberally every day or get a shirt like Free Fly’s Bamboo Long Sleeve Shirt that offers UPF 50+ sun protection.  I would also consider a hat and/or a lightweight umbrella.

7. BRING A TOWEL

 A towel is the most important item a Hitchhiker can carry.”
- Douglas Adams - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Okay, it might not be the most important item on the Camino, but you better bring one.  Hostels do not provide them. I had one that was cut down, but I really wished that I had a full length towel to wrap around my body.

8. BRING CLOTHES PINS/SAFETY PINS

You can pay to wash your clothes every day or hand wash them like most of the hikers. Let me tell you, it’s so satisfying to see all the dirt of the day leave your hiking clothes when you hand wash them. Clothes pins are limited or non-existent at hostels. So unless you want to check on your clothes every hour to make sure the wind hasn’t blown them off the line, I would bring a few clothes pins or safety pins.

Clothes line in Spain by David Franz

9. GET TRAVEL INSURANCE

It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Long story short, I had to go to the hospital for 4 days because I had a golf ball-sized cyst on my ovaries, dysentery, and pneumonia in both my lungs. No one plans on getting sick, but you can plan for the unexpected. Get travel insurance!

10. BRING A PHONE WITH WI-FI CAPABILITY

I didn’t bring a phone on the trail and I really enjoyed being unplugged. Often times, there are computers that you can pay for per minute, but they are slower than dial up. You all remember dial up, right? What a headache. Bring a phone for emergencies!

11. BRING WATER TREATMENT

Most people don’t have a problem with the water. Considering I got really sick my first go, I think I’ll just bring a Sawyer Filter for peace of mind.

12. KEEP A JOURNAL

One of my biggest regrets was not keeping a journal. Details are going to fade from your memory. Do yourself a favor and jot it down. Your future self will thank you.

David Franz gazing upon a Spanish town

13. EAT THE OCTOPUS

Why did I not eat the octopus in Galicia?! You’ll see octopus (or “pulpo”) on every menu when you’re near Santiago. It’s a local delicacy. Do as the Spaniards do and eat the pulpo!

14. DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OF THE BOTAFUMEIRO

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has one of the largest swinging incense burners in the world. It really is a magnificent sight to see. It swings through the aisles all the way up to the ceiling. Once it starts swinging, you’ll witness a sea of cameras come up from the pews. I’m guilty of being one of those people snapping away at the camera.

After I left the church, I felt a little ashamed. To a lot of people this is the end of a very spiritual journey. Next time I’ll refrain and just be in the moment more and have one less camera snapping away while people are trying to reflect on what this journey meant to them.

15.  PLAN FOR THE END OF THE WORLD

I encourage every person to plan on an extra week of hiking past Santiago. The Camino Finisterre takes you straight to the ocean, the “End of the World.” You can then continue north up to Muxia and the Costa da Morte (“The Coast of Death”). The Costa da Morte boasts some of the most beautiful coastline in Spain. Not a shabby way to end an epic trip!

 David Franz at the End of the World

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