Newbie Mistakes & Advice for the Camino de Santiago

To be honest, I wanted to get your attention with the title of this blog post. I guess it worked if you are reading this now 🙂

Great. Now that we are here I would like to clear something up which is of high importance to me.

The word “mistake” in the blog title is not really right. I rather try to see things as experiences and experiments instead of mistakes. This gives us more space and helps us to go out and try more things because we are not so afraid of failure.

By doing so I am convinced we will not only have more fun in the end but also try out more and be more courageous. And walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain is about being courageous and trying something new without knowing what it will be like.


First Mistake

muddy-trackThe first mistake most beginners on the Camino make is not allowing themselves to make more mistakes.

In the worst case, they don’t even start their Camino because they might be so afraid of making mistakes. And that’s not what we want, right?

Another point similar to the one above is – in my experience, it is really helpful to lower your expectations of what you might gain from walking the Camino de Santiago.

Of course, it is understandable if you have a goal. Let’s say you want to walk the Camino because you feel stuck in your life, job, or relationship. BUT it is not helpful to expect that you are going to have all the problems resolved after walking 5 weeks on the Camino.

My experience is you (eventually) gain more if you want less.

If you start your Camino de Santiago and can just be open to everything that happens without knowing it all before; without expecting too much, you will probably have a wonderful journey with a lot of insights. To sum this up: The second mistake is to actually expect too much and not be open to what really happens on your Camino.

Walk at Your Own Pace

Another very important point you may want to keep in mind is to walk in your own rhythm.

Everybody is different and every day is different. Your Camino friends may be fitter or have a different physical or mental constitution. To become happy on the Camino it is helpful and necessary to learn to walk at your own pace and speed.

Be aware of not stepping into the trap of comparing your pace and daily distance to other pilgrims. Don’t try to keep up with someone that has a different walking rhythm than you. This will turn out to be really exhausting for you – and maybe also for your friend.

Instead, try to avoid comparison, learn to let go and focus on yourself.

If someone else is faster/slower you may separate and agree to meet again in the Albergue in the evening or in the next town for example.

In my experience, this is quite challenging even for pilgrims with some experience. Because for most of us letting go is difficult and will bring up fears. But there is a chance to experience that we can let go and meet again later on.

On the Camino, we are given the chance to learn that separation and connection can go hand in hand. We don’t have to give up ourselves in order to keep in touch with someone. What a great lesson I learned on my Caminos!

Mistake number four: many beginners start too fast.

My experience here is that it is more helpful to start small and build it up.

Keep in mind that you may not be used to carrying so much stuff in your bag for many hours. Your body may not be familiar with walking 20-30 km a day. So give it some time, especially in the first days of your Camino and you will be fine. (And plan in rest days)

Later you may increase your daily distances but depending on the Camino and your personal fitness level a distance of 20 km may be really enough for the first days on the Camino


My last point is something you may already have stumbled upon:

A mistake most beginners make is taking too much hiking gear in their backpacks on their Camino.

There is a rule that may help you with getting your backpack packed and prepared for the Camino (read my reviews of the best backpack for the Camino). The rule says: The maximum weight you should carry on your back is 10% of your body weight. Stick to this rule when you pack your stuff. Keep in mind that you can buy most hiking gear on the Camino if it turns out that there is something essential missing. (See Camino Packing List)

Try to learn a minimalistic lifestyle. Reduce as much weight as you can. Do it again and again until the weight of your packed bag is really less than 10 % of your body weight, and it is likely that you will weigh less at the end of the Camino.

Now you are ready to start and walk your own individual Camino.

Try to allow yourself to have as many experiences as possible and have fun!

Buen Camino, Christoph Erkens

christoph-erkensThe author: Christoph Erkens walked the Spanish and Portuguese Camino in 2014 after quitting his job. This experience changed his life and made him start a blog on the Camino in the german language which is now one of the most popular websites on the Camino in his home country.

11 thoughts on “Newbie Mistakes & Advice for the Camino de Santiago”

  1. You mention about going at your own pace. A couple of years ago, my wife is not a ‘walker’ and I were walking up Mount Vesuvius and after a short time there were many, especially younger, people passing us. She said she didn’t think she could do it because she was so slow. I told her go at your own pace and you will pass many of those people before we got to the top. Guess what, we did pas most of them before the top as they were exhausted. I stayed and walked at my wife’s pace taking breathers when need. I learned about pace cycling and on Mount Everest Base Camp trek where my guide keep telling me several times a day to slow down and do my thing. He stayed with me all the way (Thanks Giri) but he could probably have run up there. If you go at your own pace you are not stressed physically or mentally and you see a lot more and enjoy it the way you wanted to.

  2. Loved your info, was wondering what effect the CV is going to have as I plan to walk in mid April and I have been trying for 7 years but something always got in the way

    • Hello Shel. I completed the Camino del Norte just two weeks ago. I followed my Children’s advice just to book my passage. Once done I was committed and got more serious about planning. I researched equipment to take. Booked the first night’s accomodation and bought a guide book. Having just turned 70 this was the first physical challenge of my life and adventure. It was brilliant. I expected nothing, apart from the challenge, and yet I experienced so much. Go on, make that booking and relax into the ride.

  3. To which I would add, “don’t over-plan.” You only need to get to your starting point, and perhaps the first couple of days (the Auberge at Orisson is a good choice for a first day stopping point…unless you are really conditioned, Roncesvailles is very, very ambitious). Then let the Camino inform you about your days and nights.

  4. I’m 80 years old and in walking the El Camino in 2019, I never passed anyone. I was always passed and learned to live with it.

  5. Carl, Loved your remark. I was 73 when I did the Camino and I never passed anyone but enjoyed the journey. Met a man from California who had done the Camino three times with his wife and now was doing it alone. He was 96. I would recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure and a good pair of walking shoes. Kathy

  6. Ignore the 10% rule! Made up by wimps. Carry what you want as you soon get used to your pack. You do not need to carry water and don’t need to carry a phone if you are concerned about weight. No taxis!

  7. On our first Camino, we carried our packs from St Jean to Roncesvalles and were completely physically wrecked. The next morning we limped down to the hotel breakfast. Then it started raining, so we decided to wait before starting to walk. Big mistake. Pitch black coming down the steep path to Zubiri and no beds in the entire city. Lessons: send your pack ahead the first day from St Jean, leave early every day (by 8am) & even if it is raining, you walk in it. You’ll just have to get used to being wet. That Camino, it rained on us 20 straight days.

  8. Maybe the 10% rule of bag weight works for some but not for me and not on all caminos. Recently e walked the Mozárabe and the first 2 weeks needed 2 litres of water (it was hot, the distances longish and no places to refill or unreliable). Not everyone can afford ultra light gear, so for a 60 kg person 6kg is just not achievable. If you’re fit, a 10-11 kg bag is not a big deal either. As previously mentioned, you do get used to it. A well fitted bag is way more important than the weight of it. Having said that: there’s not a lot of items in my pack that don’t have more than one function.


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