You know, it’s not such a quantum leap from being a walk-for-health-and-enjoyment walker to becoming a let’s-walk-900km walker! You simply do the same things day after day, as you slowly move from point A to B.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the required change in mindset and here are some tips to help you develop the confidence to step out and step up to a big walking adventure…
Research: Even if you are a play-it-by-ear traveller, I would recommend that you take some time to research your chosen path. You will find that there is a lot of passion out there for a wide range of pilgrim paths and hiking trails, and these folks love to share their knowledge. Check out:
- Facebook Groups: Search for Facebook groups specifically focused on your proposed path. In the past, I have been part of a variety of Spanish Camino groups – even one just for women – and the Via Francigena group. Group members are unfailingly helpful and supportive and there is no such thing as a ‘dumb’ question.
- YouTube: Is great for ‘how-to’ videos including backpack technicalities or tips on how to lace your boots securely.
- Other Online Forums: The Camino de Santiago forum is excellent for sample packing guides, accommodation lists and many people share their triumphs and disasters ‘live’ from the path. There is something wonderful about reading of other people’s experiences as they walk where you want to go. It gives you a useful and tempting insight into what awaits you.
Buy Your Gear from An Expert: If you are kitting up for the first time, consider purchasing your gear in person from a reputable outdoor store. Yes, you may pay a little more, but it is worth it to access their expert knowledge. This is very important for your boots/footwear and your backpack. These two things can make a huge difference in your level of comfort as you walk so make sure you are buying from someone who knows what they are talking about and has solid experience themselves.
- Don’t Get Caught Up in Brand Names: Following on from the last point, Yes – buy quality, but don’t think you have to buy all the most expensive and high-tech brand name items. It is easy to be tempted by all the ‘bright and shiny’ things, but I bet there is a cheaper, no-frills option that will do the same trick. And do you really need it anyway?
I remember on my first camino (Camino Frances) I met a nice man, also on his first camino, carrying a backpack that was almost as large as he was and it was filled to the brim with every conceivable gadget and comfort. Over the next ten days he proceeded to discard all that wasn’t essential (posting home kilos and kilos of gear) and got his pack weight down to a much more manageable and enjoyable size.
Really think about what your essentials are and what fits in your budget. Everyone is different, so don’t succumb to peer pressure. Here is what works for me.
- Training & Fitness: Direct all that excitement and nervous energy into some consistent and solid training. Yes, it can get a bit boring, but believe me the more kilometres you can get into your legs the better, and it will make your life so much easier when you hit the road for real.
- Train in the footwear you intend to wear on your chosen walk. It will help you ‘walk them in’ and quickly highlight if they are just not comfortable enough.
- After you have been training for a while, start wearing your backpack and progressively load it up with the weight you expect to carry every day when you are traveling. It is a good reality check for your knees and hips, and may help you reassess what goes into your backpack in the first place.
Walk At Your Own Pace: If you are walking a camino for example, you will meet many people who are way faster or slower walkers than yourself. Sometimes it is tempting to try to keep up with another person, but your body will not be happy. Just put one foot in front of the other and you will find your happy place and happy pace. It is not a competition after all.
Again on the Camino Frances, I met an amazing woman who happily walked 45-50km every day! I am a fast walker, but even I can’t see the fun in those daily distances.
- Don’t Worry: Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. The weather won’t be perfect every day. You may not find a delicious meal or a comfy bed whenever you need it. It is all part of the experience, so just take it in your stride and know that tomorrow will be better.
- Commit: Book that plane ticket and block out the dates in your calendar! Stop dreaming about it and literally, take your first steps towards a life-changing adventure.
Everyone was a beginner once upon a time. I went from never owning a backpack or hiking boots to turning up at St Jean Pied de Port in southern France to walk the 790km to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. I haven’t looked back and now have over 3500km under my belt from four different walks.
A word of warning though, it can be addictive! Once you tie those boots on, they are definitely made for walking.
So, where are your boots going to lead you?
#longdistancewalking #travelinspo #pilgrimage