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Good news! You’ve decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. Bad news. You do not have a walking partner. Well if you’re wondering is it safe to walk the Camino de Santiago on your own, the answer is yes, if you stick to some guidelines.
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Many people, particularly those inexperienced in long-distance walking trips, are understandably nervous about walking solo. However, many of the more than 250,000 people arriving in Santiago de Compostela each year begin their walk as solo travellers. So before you let the idea of walking alone put you off, consider these points.
Choosing a Route
About 65% of people arriving in Santiago de Compostela come via the French Route, and most start walking from either Saint Jean Pied de Port or one of the major towns or cities along the route such as Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, or Sarria. So if you’re starting from one of these points, particularly from May to September, you’ll have a lot of company.
If you are looking for somewhere less busy, you can try the Portuguese Route which accounts for about 16 percent of the pilgrims arriving in Santiago. Although this route is much less travelled than the French Route, there are still plenty of other walkers about, especially during the warmer months.
Determining Your Walking Style
Before you defer your plans to go walking solo or panic buy a walking companion, it’s important to put the fear aside and do some homework. What’s your walking style? Do you like to walk quickly with frequent, shortstops? Is ambling, chatting, and long, leisurely lunches your thing? Would you prefer solitude and contemplation or stopping to take lots of photos to record your journey? Do you like to arrive early in the day so that you have time for a siesta and sightseeing? Or do you prefer to use the entire day walking?
If you don’t already know what style of walking best suits you, find this out before you start a long distance walk, particularly with a companion. And the only way to find that out is through experience. Test out different walking scenarios as part of your training walks at home. This is best done on walks of at least a couple of hours to give you a real feel for your preferences. The chatty friend who is the perfect company for an hour may provide too much stimulation over the course of a whole day. Or the solitude that is refreshing for a short walk may drift into loneliness as the hours wear on.
Once you’ve determined your default mode of happy hiking, then make your decision. But don’t let fear lead you to believe that your own company may not be good enough. Your perfect walking partner may just be yourself.
Choosing a Walking Partner
After your trial walks you may decide that 6 to 8 hours a day with only yourself for conversation isn’t for you. You may now think that finding a walking partner is the answer. While this may be true, tread carefully and don’t buy the first car you see on the lot. Before committing to walking your entire Camino with someone, make sure that you’re compatible.
Is one of you a chatterer while the other craves silence? Are you a tortoise while your potential walking partner is a hare? Is one aiming for 15 km per day while the other is hoping for 40? Make sure your potential partner has done the solo walking test too and is aware of and honest about what best suits them. Good communication and a few test walks together are crucial.
If you are ready to head off on your Camino, haven’t found a walking partner yet, and don’t want to be walking solo for the duration, fear not! The great sense of community that exists along the Camino makes it easy to strike up a conversation with other pilgrims. Ask if you could join other walkers for the morning or the day. New walkers will likely be in a similar position, and those who have walked before can make you feel at ease.
Some people are happy walking solo. They relish the undisturbed time in nature and the peace and quiet of time away from the hustle and bustle of human interaction. But everyone can experience moments of anxiety when they are uncertain or nervous about a long walk over hills with unpredictable weather or through a remote stretch of countryside with few other walkers.
At times like this, it is best to acknowledge that those anxieties and trust your gut instinct. If you do not feel comfortable heading into or in the midst of a situation, seek the company and security of other walkers. You will not be alone in experiencing these moments of doubt and other pilgrims are generally very understanding and supportive. Ask other walkers if you can join them for the day or simply to the next town. Or if you still prefer to walk alone without being alone, walk within sight or earshot of some other pilgrims in case you feel the need for support.
Pros and Cons of Walking Solo
There and ups and downs in both terrain and experience when walking solo. On the upside, you have complete freedom to start and finish the day when you want. Decisions regarding location and duration of breaks are all yours. Choice of accommodation, restaurants, and distance walked in a day require no negotiation. On the downside, you’re not guaranteed to have a sidekick for moral support when the going gets tough or someone to share the cost of accommodation with. The shared experiences and memories can also create bonds between walking partners that last long after your arrival in Santiago.
Just remember that you are only as alone as you choose to be on the Camino. Many people start out walking alone either by choice or by circumstance and develop wonderful friendships along the way. Don’t let being a solo traveler stop your adventure! And don’t be afraid to meet new faces on the Camino de Santiago!