Newbie Mistakes on 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 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 is about being courageous and trying something new without knowing how 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 but similar to the one above is – in my experience it is really helpful to lower your expectations of what you might gain out of 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 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 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. 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 may is that they take too much stuff on their Camino. There is a rule that may help you with getting your bag packed and prepared 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 stuff on the Camino i fit turns out that there is something essential missing.

Try to learn the 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 bodyweight. 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 german language which is now one of the most popular websites on the Camino in his home country. Recently he published his first English speaking online course for Camino-beginners on the platform With this link and the code “change” you get 25 % off the course price.

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  1. Daniel Volek on May 17, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for this post! It is necessary to read it, and then read it again slowly for first timers. Many great thoughts.

  2. DGrace on May 23, 2017 at 4:08 am

    Ditto! Thank you for the most inspiring and helpful post I’ve encountered so far, about walking the Camino.

  3. Vicki Minnaar on August 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

    I have been so hesitant about the walk but your plain no nonsense advice really inspired and gave me courage again. It will be my first at the age of 65. Thank you

    • Kuhar on October 9, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Dear Vicki, I just finished the walk alone in June all 500 miles of it and I am 65 years old. I am pretty active, I exercise 4 days a week anyway however 4 months before departure, I had a 13 mile route planned to accomplish 2 weeks before departure. I started to walk with my hiking boots in January just 5 miles 3-4 days a week and I increased it every week until about February I started to use my back pack then in March I was walking on the week-ends 13 miles Saturday and Sunday with my all my gear poles and all. A week before departure, I slacked off and was walking 6 miles 4 days a week. Best thing I ever did, because I knew what 13 miles looked and felt like. The first 7-10 days were the hardest you are tired and legs are sore, ( mostly mountain region) motrin helped but then you get your beat and you are good to go and you really relax about it. I live in Georgia so the training was on flat lands I walked as many hills as I could find but, it was the long miles training that was what got me through. Be easy on yourself, if you want to walk 10 miles and take a bus just do it, your body will tell you what to do. I left in April and it took me 4-5 weeks and I ended in Santiago. Personally, after 3 days in Santiago I was rested enough that I should have gone to Finistera but, the idea of walking another 100 miles was not comprehensible but after visiting it by bus I should have done it. No need to now, I feel satisfied and accomplished. Take the leap of Faith, you can do it. Research and stay in private hostels and also 2 star hotels the cost is maybe 10 -15 dollars more and well worth the money. You sleep better and have your own clean bathroom. Buen Camino!

  4. Jose Contreras on July 9, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Nice post.
    I am walking the French Way either this coming September or April of next year.
    Is the any advice on when to do it or which time is better?

    • Isabelita Gapuz on September 20, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      My husband and daughter just came back from the Camino (Sarria to Santiago). Yes, we are called the Camino lites but the experience was still max. My experience is to start as early as possible since the afternoon sun is really harsh. We always intend on leaving at 7 but for some reason always end up leaving at 8. Try hard to do it at 7 or even before altho in September, 7 is still dark so you need your flashlight. We stayed once in a private albergue and liked the place but the only disadvantage is you cannot turn the lights on in the morning as some peregrimos are still in bed. So you really need to pack most of your stuff the night before.

      Believe in others that you only need two sets of clothing including what you wear. I brought 3 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of liners and I thought that was ok since my socks do not dry fast.

      Along the Camino I saw most pilgrims wear Salomon’s and Sportiva hiking shoes. You do not need boots specially in September. I personally wore Oboz and it worked well.

      For September, wear a light sunhat. I brought a thick hat and I overheated. I also wore a Columbia long sleeve summer shirt mostly to shield my skin from the afternoon sun. Sunblock is a must!!

      We brought a rainjacket but rained only at night twice so we did not need it .

      We flew to Madrid from US, rode a train to Sarria and coming back we flew Ryanair from Santiago to Madrid.

      I made all my reservations for accomodations and flights prior to departure. I just am a control freak that way.

      I walked slow and at times had my family walk ahead so I will not be forced to over exert. The trails are safe.

      Enjoy the experience. It was more than I expected and never thought I could finish it.

      Buen Camino from Isabelita

  5. Charmaine Agius Ferrante on July 9, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you for this post ! It is very motivating and gives plenty of room for thought! I have unpacked my backpack!

  6. Ed on July 9, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Vicki, I think that the worst traps you can fall into is the “too old”, or “not in shape” ones. Kudos on doing it. I met a lady who was doing 5km a day, and she made it all the way. I started in Pamplona the first time, did a few sections and then went to Sarria and finished from there. Everyone walks their own Camino. I liked to stay in the Albergues, I usually stopped walking around noon or 1pm so I was the first one at the Albergue, I could do laundry and take a shower without anyone else in competition. Earplugs at night ensured a good sleep (exhaustion helped). I would start walking around 630am (got up at 6am). My longest day was 16km. I always carried too much though. I recommend packing a day pack with what you feel you need, then transfer it to your Camino pack. Despite the movie (“The Way”), I never needed a sleeping pad or sleeping bag, the first time I carried both. The second time I carried a sleeping bag insert and that was fine, every Albergue had sheets and a blanket.

  7. Elma Malan on July 9, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Hi Kuhar, thank you for the advice you gave Vicki. My flight from South Africa is booked for the 27th August 2018 to Madrid, next morning by train and bus to St Jean Pied de Port. looking forward to it, will be 76 while walking. also very fit, starting this weekend walking with backpack, very light. It will be a great challenge . Will remember the advice about the hotels.

  8. Marijn on July 9, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    I don’t think I made any mistakes but if I would do it again I would bring a poncho. Instead of a gore tex outdoor jacket. Because only the really expensive jackets are really waterproof. And that still leaves you with wet pants. For the rest try never to prejudge anyone and dont be afraid to start a conversatuon. Meeting new people usually makes the trip more interesting. And start the trip as urly as posible. After the snow melts. That means less people on the trail and less really hot days. Good luck out there. Just do it and find out for your self. It will give you more confidence in the rest of your life, for sure.

  9. Sten Soderberg on July 11, 2018 at 8:25 am

    The advice “Walk at Your Own Pace” is very good and correct. The Camino is not an competition. If you are afraid that your 15, 20 or 25 kilometer will take to long time – try to get up a bit earlier. If you start at 4.30 or 5.00 you will hear the birds singing before sunrise, see the sunrise and much more. Just bring a lamp and you can now do 2 km a hour and still have some time left before the day has ended!

  10. BETH CHEESEMAN on July 12, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Dear Vicki,

    Thank you for your post!! I am planning to walk the Camino next May and some days fear gets a hold of me and I think I can’t do it. Then I read your post and feel much more confident.

    Thank you

  11. dominic treston on August 17, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    Hi future Camino pilgrims I walked the Camino in may 2017 and enjoyed the comments above. One important addition to include on the walk is a wide brim hat and long sleeves. Being from Australia I am aware of the impact of prolonged sun exposure. I encourage all to walk the Camino as it is an unusual life experience. I am in my mid fifties and I meet some seventy plus years olds walking. Don’t let age discourage you from starting.

  12. Velayudhan on August 27, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Walked the 500 mile French route over 36 days this May/June 2018. The first twenty days were cool and sunny and just a pleasure. The last couple of weeks were wet. No particular reason for walking it except that I enjoy walking. April 2018 marked forty years since I quit smoking (I’m 66). So I assigned that as my reason. Can’t wait till October to do the Portuguese route.

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