Group on the Camino de Santiago

Should You Walk the Camino Alone or in a Group?

When planning the Camino de Santiago, we are often faced with a choice of going alone or as a part of a group.

The Camino forums are swirling with questions such as “I want to do the Camino, but I have nobody to go with, should I go alone?”, “I couldn’t agree on dates with my friends, but I still want to go, is it OK?”,  “Is it better to travel via an agency if I go alone?”, etc. Bottom line, everyone wants to know what is the better option. And one of the main questions…

Is it Safe to Walk the Camino de Santiago Alone

I believe it is safer on the Camino de Santiago than many of the cities where we live. Northern Spain around the Camino routes is a place where locals look after the pilgrims – mostly. I have written more in-depth about safety and walking the Camino alone. But, bear in mind I am male and fairly big – I don’t look like an easy mark.

Hill on Camino just after Pamplona

Traveling the Camino with a Partner or in a Group

On my way, I had the pleasure to meet a lot of couples, friends, or families who have decided to walk together. In fact, there were a few solo travelers who paired up from the start. Rather than talking about that experience as better or worse, it is more accurate to call it simply different.

The Up-Sides

  • You are not all alone in a foreign country, and that can be quite a calming thought for many, especially if this is your first trip abroad.
  • It’s more practical regarding packing as you do not need to necessarily carry all the things you need yourself but instead distribute it evenly among the people with whom you are traveling.
  • No matter how long or short a route you decide to walk, Camino is unlike any other trip you have ever taken. You are likely to get into deeper conversations and experience profound moments, which is an excellent way to cement friendships and relationships.  
  • When you go back home, you have someone to remind you it was real and reminisce with you when missing those long days of walking and nights full of deep conversations and red wine.

What to Watch Out For?

The Camino to Santiago de Compostela is not really a holiday. It has nothing to do with carelessly lying on the beach, drinking margaritas. Firstly, the Camino, (usually), lasts longer. That means not every day you will wake up happy and eager to walk. There will be days full of pain (blisters, knees, muscles, sunburn, etc.), days when you are just plain tired, even miserable days of rain or unforgivable sun…

  • Everybody has their own rhythm. Don’t make the mistake of forcing others to adjust to your pace and do not feel bad if you cannot keep up. Just because you are traveling together, does not mean you need to be together at all times.
  • Be ready to compromise. Along the way, you might discover that your partner likes to wake up late while you want to get on the road before the sun goes using your hiking headlamp. You might have different preferences about albergues and so on. Camino can’t only strengthen but also test relationships. Your way is not the only way.
  • Don’t be worried to split up for certain stages if you feel like it. It’s a good way of getting a taste of how it would be to travel alone while keeping your ‘safety net’.
  • Even if you travel with your best friend or the love of your life you can come across a few surprises. In your everyday life, you rarely spend 24/7 together, so it is totally natural you will get annoyed or angry with each other. Don’t sweat it.
  • Don’t shut yourself in your own bubble. One of the most amazing aspects of the Camino is the serendipity of encounters and the richness of other people’s stories. Get out of your comfort zone and reach out. You will miss out if you only keep to the people you know. There is no other place on earth where it’s so easy to get to know people deeply in such a short period.

Should You Consider a Camino Travel Agency?

It depends on what who you are and what you are looking for. If you have limited time and need your accommodation booked ahead it can be worthwhile. And, it is not such a bad choice when leading a large group (e.g. church group) as taking care of too many people can suck out all the fun out of the trip for the leader. It’s too much responsibility with too many variables.

Travelling Solo on the Camino de Santiago

As I mentioned before, for me there was never any other way but going solo the first time. It was all I ever wanted. A few friends even told me they were thinking of going, too, one day and implied coming along with me. Very politely, I refused.

To me traveling alone is not a burden but an opportunity. When you are with your friends or family, you tend to focus on them and leave the rest of the world on the periphery. Being alone forces you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to pay attention to people, environments, and, most importantly, yourself.

The Up-Sides

  • Freedom. You have the freedom to set your pace and pretty much write your own story. How often do you get this kind of liberty in your daily life?
  • Time for yourself. You will have plenty of time to reflect on your life and what you want from it as well as many opportunities to be exposed to different worldviews and life stories that can give you a new perspective.
  • It’s a real adventure.
  • On the Camino, there is an uncommon sense of camaraderie among pilgrims, so although you are alone, you are part of something bigger. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things and I don’t think you have to be afraid of the latter even when going alone. In fact, people tend to be more open, friendly and trusting on the pilgrimage, so it is likely you will feel more connected and understood than ever.
  • Doing it alone and succeeding will make you stronger and more confident.

What to Watch Out For?

  • Be sure to express yourself. Do not be polite at the cost of your preferences. I met a few pilgrims who “got stuck” with a group or with a partner they met on the Camino and did not know how to get out of it. All I can say is that this is a Camino, people come here for different reasons, and nobody will blame you for changing your opinion. I have done it, and I have seen others do it. Simply say: ‘Guys, that was fun, but I think I will split tomorrow. I need some time on my own.
  • Don’t be shy to approach people. Pilgrims expect it. I met a couple of great friends simply by chatting with them on the road in the middle of nowhere.
  • Even if you are going into it by yourself and you seek solitude, do not push others away at all costs. Remember the wise quote from Into the Wild: “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Bottom Line

There is no better or worse way to do the Camino; there is only you and your quest. If you want to make the right decision, ask yourself what it is you expect to gain from this journey. Is it insight into your own life? Just an adventure? Spiritual journey? Just a different kind of hiking trip? Answering these questions will give you the answer you seek.

16 thoughts on “Should You Walk the Camino Alone or in a Group?”

  1. Thanks for this great insight! I plan to walk the Camino in 2024. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2003 and can relate to what you explained about expressing oneself and breaking free of people or groups. I experienced this on the AT. I was a solo hiker who made many friends along the way. Many hikers did the same, walking alone or with different people at different times. It was rare when people became upset if you decided to make a break from a group. If people’s feelings were hurt by a parting, it seemed to me a sign that the separation was a healthy decision. Thanks for taking the time to write up this information. It is really helpful.

  2. I hike the Camino on my 70th birthday Portugal to de Santiago, challenging and simply amazing… I feel like a different person, more satisfied with myself and the world around us, it was just … WOW! I did it! And had a helluva time😂

    1. I will be turning 70 in 2021 in the winter of course, but plan to walk the Camino in the Spring. I was unsure of walking because of my age and having lost the love of my life to cancer. I’m at a place where I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life. Perhaps walking the Camino will answer that question!

      1. Feeling somewhat of the same. My daughter is going this summer, and it inspires me to think of a similar journey for myself.

      2. Do it! My story is similiar to yours, no regrets. !! Have a blessed Camino.
        I did it in 2014, I plan the Northern next time.
        My plan was to walk alone when I went in 2014. But I was blessed with 5 others and we all bonded and ended up walking the Camino together. You never know what’s in store for you.

      3. Dear Friend, I walked the Camino just before my 65th birthday. I went alone, but probably walked alone for only about 5% of the time. I am quite sociable and found it easy to connect up with folks. Over my 30 days I probably walked about 80% of the way with about 10 different individuals or very small groups, and 15% of the time with another 5 or 6 people. This was a social and cultural experience for me. I asked questions and tried to be a good listener. Often people would share the most important details of their lives, which they were often struggling with. Sometimes I would just ask, “Well, what are you going to do about that? Or, can you envision a path where everyone might be a winner here?
        I was amazed at how open people were, probably because they knew they would never see me again, or I would never be in contact with anyone in their community back home. I realized that I could be a real blessing to people who are really looking for answers in their life, or healing, or purpose. I enjoyed making a difference, basically by asking questions and listening. I found that they often had the answers within them, but it really made a difference when they verbalized those answers.
        When I went back home, I decided to go to a Sunday School class for adults at my church. It was called “Transformational Conversations”. I was absolutely amazed. After the first class, I said to my wife, “That’s exactly what I was having on the Camino, Transformational Conversations. I just didn’t have a name for it.”
        I picked up quite a few pointers in the class, and began to see the fun in practicing those pointers in my every day life, and discovering that my relationships were becoming much deeper and satisfying than I had ever experienced in my working years. I guess I could say that it has really given me a deeper meaning for my life, and I hope that your walk might lead you in a similar direction.

  3. Hello,I am 71 this month ,I have lost 2 great loves of my life to Cancer and thought about walking the Comino De Santiag,I have now been asked by my friends,to do it for Charity,I am retired and on a very limited budget,what I would like to know is when asking for Sponsorship,is it appropriate to cover ones own costs i am going in Oct ,this year.Thanks.Les

    1. Yes 🙂 it is appropriate to cover ones own cost for a charity event:) many members of church groups raise money to cover their cost to travel abroad. I hope you have a safe & enjoyable trip!

    2. If you are raising charitable funds for a particular reason you must only use the funds raised for that reason. This is why people give donations. If you intend to use some of the funds for your own purpose and do NOT declare it at the time of doing the fundraising it is not acceptable in fact it might be illegal depending on the jurisdiction you live in. If you are up front and declare that some of the money raised will be used to cover your costs to attend the Camino and you declare the amount that you will be using for this purpose and you still get the donations then you are free to use the funds as declared. Please declare your purpose at the point of fund raising.

  4. Raeann C Laitres-Wilson

    The camino is truly a bucket list thing for me….. every few months its weird but i get a feeling of i have to do this….. so when covid is less of a threat i am in! My hubby is unsure if he will be able to do it but we at least want to try!

  5. Walking solo or in a group, it individual. For me it depends on personality, but if you can find a group from home – don’t stop yourself, do one of the great Caminoe’s.
    I have been walking 3 times two weeks, live in Denmark. Friends has asked me if they could join, so the latest Camino we were four men – it’s a completely different tour. But it’s great to share experiences when you return home – bad that you don’t get in deeper contact with others.
    The messages from me: Just go! – my next will be sole.

  6. I started the Camino with a couple from Australia to do 16 days walk of the Camino. On Day 3 they dropped out and caught buses for the rest of the way… I did not see them again until Santiago. On the first day I was alone I realised “this is MY Camino” and that I had freedom to stop, start, go slow or fast. I ended up walking for a few days with one person, about a week with a group, then a few days by myself, and meeting new people and catching up with ones I had met along the way. It was great.

  7. I chose to walk the Camino Francis alone in 2017. I am a woman and was 57 at the time. I met nice people along the way but always walked/hiked by myself. I needed and wanted that experience. I felt safe 99% of the time and when I didn’t, I trusted my intuition. If you go solo, there are always pilgrims you can join. The camino gives you what you need. Buen Camino!

  8. I plan tæthed Camino from Porto, I Think June 2022. Would be interesting if bed and breakfeast in private home is possible. Do somebody have experience. I am 72 years and plan a solo Tour.

  9. I have successfully completed alone the Camino Francais in 58 days finishing at Cape Finesterre. In 2023 I have this strong wish to walk the Portuguese Camino when I will be 79 years young. I would like a walking “buddie” to join this adventure beginning in April.I live in Wirral UK

  10. I walked the Camino in 2014 alone. My wife had a foot operation and could not walk the distance. If we are honest here, my wife does not have the required mental strength either for such a venture. That is OK she has skills and strengths in other areas. So, I did the walk on my own. I met people every day, I walked with different people regularly and I enjoyed meeting many friends that I still keep in touch with. As a male I had the advantage of being physically fit and healthy and unconcerned about being alone on the trail. I recognise the anxiety a female might have both on the trail alone and in the sleeping quarters she might choose.

    The solution has been mentioned in this blog by a couple of people but I will repeat then here, First, know where the days walk will take you. If there are parts that are in forests or remotely populated areas, ensure you walk with a group (at least 3). It would be preferable that you know the people as best you can. If in doubt sit it out and wait until there is a bigger group of walkers that you can join. Walk with them through the areas you are not confident in.

    These are few but they are definitely there. Second, make sure others know where you will be and who you are walking with so that they know when you should arrive at a destination.

    Three, keep your money personal. Do not broadcast how much money you have on you. (Use a body pouch), draw money for a day before you start walking so you are not accessing your money in public.

    Four, do not wear jewelry that might attract attention. Valuable rings and jewelry are not for the Camino, leave them at home in a safe place.

    Five, Choose your friends wisely. Your instincts, first reactions are both worth listening to. You have decades of experience in judgement of people so you will soon work out the genuine from the opportunists on the Camino.

    Six (I experienced this) Strangers who approach you and ask for money for a particular bad luck event that has left them destitute should not be trusted. Unless you want to give your money away to strangers Treat them with disdain. If they have not funded the possibility of such bad luck events and made adequate provision that is their own fault, you should not be asked. When it happened to me a group of young people (one girl in particular) was targeted. The would be thief was a good liar and he had a smooth presentation. I took the young girl aside and warned her not to fall for the story but she gave him 200 Euro anyway, never to be seen or heard of again. She was a kind and generous girl who replied to my warning that she was happy to trust him, she was a little naïve but had a good heart. Luckily it was just money he was after.

    Finally I can say with a fairly confident mind that sleeping in Alberges may have snoring issues but is very safe in that no would be trouble maker will try anything while there are 50 people in the room. Wear your money belt in bed. Dress and shower quickly and modestly and I am sure you will not encounter any uninvited approaches. The times you are most vulnerable are when you are suffering illness or sadness. Be careful of people who claim they can fix your problems for money or favor. See real doctors and use real taxis or buses. Do not get into cars with strangers and remember to take note of police stations in towns and cities. All of these simple rules are common sense and things you have practised all your adult years both at home and in your travels. We want you to be safe and we want you to enjoy your Camino. Buon Camino

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