Walking the Camino de Santiago alone
Contrary to popular belief, travelling alone is actually really fun. Yes, even if you’re a woman, and even if you’re going on a long trip – it’s fun, and it’s liberating, and it has changed something in me on such a deep level that I never went back to who I was before. The Camino de Santiago was a gamble, an insane moment of me finally finding the courage to do something I always wanted to try. It left me sore, blistered, and exhausted, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
In fact, I plan to do it again.
Why Travelling Alone is so Liberating
I was always a people-pleaser kind of person. Whenever I travelled, I made sure to take everyone’s desires into consideration and as a result, I rarely got to do all of the things I wanted to do. I didn’t much visit the countries I wanted to visit, and since most of my friends and family are more interested in lazy beach vacations, I never got to explore and soak up the culture of the place we were in. The whole thing usually ended up feeling... okay. Nice, kind of fun, and generally a bit bland. I was also growing increasingly annoyed with the fact that I kept compromising and making allowances for everyone and everything, never taking a firm stand, never expressing myself when something bothered me. I wanted to make a change, I wanted to do something for myself and myself alone.
The Camino de Santiago came to mind because I’ve always wanted to walk the famed pilgrim’s path and never found anyone who would tag along. After doing my research, I settled for walking the Portugués way, which is more than 600 kilometres long and would be the biggest adventure I’ve ever had. My friends thought I was completely crazy. A female traveller all alone on a month-long journey through countries she’s never been to? “Yep,” I said. “Exactly that.” And then I went on my merry way.
The Beauty of Camino Portugués
The Portuguese Way is full of beautiful coastlines and exciting cities such as Lisbon, Porto, Tui, and Pontevedra, not to mention all the little rural places and untouched nature that surround you as you walk along your path and take in the sights. I walked along Porto’s grape district, I took pictures of the cobblestone streets and charming houses of Ponte de Lima, I looked at all the churches and cathedrals in Coimbra, not to mention the countless cafes and little restaurants I visited and all the markets I roamed before I finally reached Santiago de Compostela. I walked so much and got so many blisters before a woman I met on the road introduced me to the wonders of Compeed band aids (thanks, Maria!), but it was so exhilarating that sore muscles and achy feet barely bothered me. Portugal and Spain are both gorgeous and I’ve seen so much charm and nature along the way that it filled me up with energy that’s still keeping me motivated.
What I Learned about Other People
I walked alone, but I was never lonely. I never once felt unsafe on the road. On the contrary, I actually made a lot of friends, most of whom I stayed in contact with after the journey was long over. There’s something about being put in a situation where there’s not much room for prejudice and bickering, where you’re surrounded by people who have the same goal as you do. You find yourself wanting to help those other people along, and they want to do the same thing for you. We shared books and talked together during meals. We joked around and helped each other deal with injuries and blisters. We walked and told each other stories, or we walked in silence, and we encouraged each other to go further. People are actually pretty great, as long as you give them a chance.
What I Learned about Myself
Walking the Camino de Santiago is not really a glamorous experience. I stayed in small hostel-like places called albergues. I had only two changes of clothing for the entire month-long journey, and I didn’t wear makeup or ever put anything on my feet that wasn’t 100% comfortable. And yet I was happy because I realised how much I crave adventure, how much I enjoy challenging myself, how important my spirituality was to me. I learned that I’m actually quite capable and brave when I let myself be, and that I don’t always have to compromise and put my desires on a backburner to please others. I learned a lot about how to be happy in my own skin.
Safety Issues and Quick Travel Tips
As I’ve said, I never had any issues on the Camino Portugués, but I understand why some people might feel apprehensive about being alone in a foreign country, especially if they’re women. If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can always follow some basic safety tips: stick to larger groups, don’t wander off the beaten path, mostly hang around larger groups of women if you can help it. If you ever need to stop and ask someone for directions, try to find someone who’s walking a dog, or a lady with a kid on her hands, or older couples. Those kinds of people are very unlikely to have ill intentions. Make sure you bring the very bare minimum of what you might need, and keep all your money and documents on you at all times. As long as you take reasonable precautions, you and your possessions will be safe.
Travelling on your own is one of those things that you should try at least once in your life. It has actually taught me how to organize myself better and how to enjoy vacations a lot more, regardless of whether I’m travelling alone or with others. Take a leap and do it, you won’t regret it.