Why Walk the Camino de Santiago

In 2004 I first walked the Camino Frances the main Camino de Santiago route; I first wrote this article in 2009 and thought it could do with some updating.

I was a student at the time and I wanted to do something different during the summer, something interesting – I am not one for lying on a beach and prefer to be active. One of my college mates had walked from Holland to Santiago de Compostela a few years before and he kept going on about this “Camino de Santiago” – to me it sounded horrible, walking all day across Spain in the height of the summer heat, carrying my own clothes, sleeping in a hostel every night with people I did not know. No thanks.

Dara, my friend, ended up making it sound good and I decided to “give it a try” – I had no religious or spiritual beliefs regarding the Camino, even though I was a student at Ireland’s main Catholic University. My thoughts setting out on the journey were – if I don’t like this experience I will just go somewhere else in Europe for the Summer, (kind of arrogant first world issues).

The Camino Frances

I walked the Camino Frances, I had no idea that there were several Camino routes.  The Internet was still young, there were not many guide books, and blogging was still only for nerds. I just knew I had to get to this tiny town in the South of France and then walk for a month.  I travelled by train from Paris to Bayonne and then changed for St Jean Pied de Port. And I just started walking.

Evening meal in GrannonMy Camino journey turned into “something” for me – and I still have problems putting that something into words many years later. My attitude and thinking about some things changed while there – I spent time talking to people who gave their time freely to man albergues, I talked to many others walking the Camino from all over the world – something happened to me, and it was good, very good.

More Capable than I Believed

I endured pain, heat, and the lack of privacy that I never thought I would; I became ill and was helped – I came back from my first Camino a stronger and perhaps a more caring person – and in a strange way I developed some pride in an achievement that I had not set out to achieve. I suffered greatly from sore hot feet and blisters.  The blisters had developed under hard skin around my heals and the skin had to be cut off.  I would wrap my heals each morning in tape to walk.  It was a painful, but after a few minutes I was fine – it only hurt after I had stopped and had to start walking again.  At home I would have been at the doctors getting treatment, but my endurance was more than I thought.

After reaching Santiago de Compostela I went by bus to Finisterra and walked back towards Santiago for two days – I did not have time to do more as I had arranged to meet my friend Dara and walk the Camino Aragon with him.

I went back and walked the Camino Frances again the next year. It was different, this time, I went with a different mind and a softer heart.

So Why Walk the Camino?

I am not generally given to hyperbole or psycho mumbo jumbo, however the Camino changed my life and its direction. I now believe that journeys like this, pilgrimages, are very important for people and it is a great idea to do it at least once. The second time I walked I met my love and we had our first child in December 2014 .

I would rather that pilgrims did not set out with a mind like mine the first time – but if that is where they are at that time, then so be it. I talked, listened, and read a lot about the Camino while there – and almost nothing before I went.

The one thing that I read that sticks in my mind today goes things like this, forgive my paraphrasing. While on the Camino you follow the yellow arrows, they show you the way, give direction. What do you follow after the Camino de Santiago?

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  1. Alan Lipka on August 21, 2013 at 2:38 am

    “After the Camino” … after …

    It is interesting to note that so many people speak of their “during the Camino” experience, but so few of their “after the Camino” life. Gosh … the memory of my Camino is visited almost every day. I wonder if my behavior is different every day. Not sure how that can be measured.

    • Bernie Moore on June 26, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      I’ve just returned from walking the Camino from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago Compostela and I’m not back to ‘normal.’ It has changed me and so I don’t want to be ‘back to normal.’ Slowing down, being patient, listening, reasoning, giving myself time to think, and pause before acting, are my yellow arrows; except for the one I’ve pinned on my garden tree. I came back feeling my body and mind had been through a washing machine. An unmissable experience where I was fortunate to find what I was looking for. I couldn’t repeat or try to replace it. Something special. I still walk in the Welsh hills and miss seeing the red chairs and white sun brollies outside cafes / bars which I called water holes, and of course, the camaradarie, and yellow arrows. I agree with others. The preparation, excitement, the unknown, the pain, the joy, the whole experience, and the things that cannot be explained, remain with me each day. I recommend anyone to walk it.

  2. paul o Riordan on April 12, 2015 at 9:43 am

    What a lovely story,I started the camino 2 years ago with my brother and our 2 sons we were doing it because my daughter died in August 09 and my nephew died by suicide exactly 3 months later. It was emotional at times but I got back much more than I put in. I met some amazing people along the way and I also find it hard at times to explain the experience I had. I am going back in August to hopefully get to santigo

    • Julianne Lardi on May 8, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Paul. I met you and your son on the Camino in 2013. You have remained in my thoughts as your journey was difficult and I admired you for your perseverance and what you were both trying to achieve for your boys. Best of luck.

  3. judy blight on April 12, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Doing the Camino Frances was one of the important highlights of my life.It was not a life changing experience for me but it did make me realize that it is the journey and not the destination that is the most important thing. the history,the architecture,the religion, the environment and its challenges and last but not least the people you meet make it an amazing experience.

  4. Raymond John Woolrich on April 12, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    I enjoyed reading your reasons for walking the Camino very open and honest. Remember you don’t walk the Camino by accident , The yellow arrows you followed on the Camino,not only showed the way, but your direction & destiny. I believe that’s why you are where you are today. In answer to your question” what do you follow after the camino “. You take it home with you and live it everyday in your heart , mind, sole,and share it with others.
    I hope anything I have said has not offended you.

  5. Max C on April 19, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    It seems to me that putting any experience into words limits it to those words you chose, and it is always so much bigger. It reminds me of the old saying, “The Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao”.

    • Leslie on May 9, 2016 at 2:46 pm


  6. Maggie Lansville on April 21, 2016 at 3:43 am

    This is my absolute favorite site to read, be, listen and dream. My Camino will come and in the meantime thank you for your stories.

    • Leslie on May 9, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Thank you.

  7. Annette Terhorst on January 21, 2017 at 5:34 am

    I am so excited, I can hardly stand it. I am planning my first trip to the Camino’s in April 2018. I am soaking up as much
    as I possibly can! Thank you for all the info!

    • Dora Suarez on February 7, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      I like your site. Thank you for sharing your experience. we are planning our camino in april or may 2018 see you there Annette Terhorst.

    • Joyce Rosema Roach on June 26, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      I am wondering, Annette, how you enjoyed your trip during April. I walked the Camino April 28-June 4. Have yet to find the perfect word to express the express the experience, perhaps there is none. Life will never be the same.

  8. CF Chen on February 7, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    2015 June stopped at Virgen del Camino according to painful knees. Two years later in 2017 June will walk with sister from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, leaving in between about 200kms. However, I believe I will go back to walk Camino after this coming trip again. I am a Buddhist, during the Camino in 2015, I was really practice Buddhist concept ” simplicity is happiness”, less you have, more happier you are.
    After Camino…life is as normal but in a different way. Thank you very much for your experience and sharing.

  9. Kinny on May 8, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    i am very excited, my sister and are planning this trip this is are very first time , and everything that I am reading is great info , thank you so much for sharing. Was kind of scared but feeling better now.

  10. Steve Nowakowski on January 21, 2018 at 11:53 am

    in April I begin my journey and reading these experiences are so helpful. I am retiring in March and look to this pilgrimage as a way to transition into my next life with reflection and great anticipation. I hope to hear more experiences from those who have made the pilgrimage at a later stage in life.
    Buen Camino

    • Bryan Morlock on June 25, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      Good luck Steve. Retirement is a transition, as it took me about 8 months to settle into it. I was retired 4 1/2 years before I did the Camino. Starting it basically 1 month into retirement will be a huge transition. Enjoy the Camino and your retirement!

    • CoCo Traveler on June 25, 2018 at 4:16 pm

      Hi everyone, I’m planning to walk El Camino Frances with my brother who is a cyclist but not much of a walker but we’ll see how it goes. Love to read about everyone’s experience and so excited for next year 2019 for El Camino in late May thru June. I hope it won’t be too hot.. Best Regards Everyone??

  11. Sue Phillips on June 25, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    I walked the Camino Frances with my partner in fall of 2016. It was a retirement “gift” to myself. My partner hadn’t retired but was able to take the time. I believe every travel adventure changes me in some way. Whether it be enlightenment about a culture or place, or purely insight into myself (past, present, future) it is a gift that keeps on giving. The Camino was a beautiful experience and I hope to do it again one day but not before I explore more of Europe and then Australia and then, and then, and then when the time is right I will be there. Ultreia. Buen Camino.

  12. Paul Clark on June 25, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    I walked the Camino in 2016 and it was a fantastic experience, proving that age is no barrier to such a journey. I regularly reflect on it and feel that it continues to shape my daily life. Your newsletter is a constant reminder of my debt to the ‘Camino Family’. Thankyou Leslie

  13. Edward Hogben on June 25, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    To anyone wondering about taking the plunge -GO FOR IT. I only found out about the Camino about nine months ago. Unfortunately, about four years ago I developed heart failure and is now only a dream. How I wish I had known about it ten years ago when I was in my early / mid-sixties. Don’t leave it too late!

  14. Alan on June 27, 2018 at 3:33 am

    Hi Leslie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings; One of my children had Cancer, so I did my first Camino at 70, 800 Ks in 40 days, and it was wonder-filled, serendipity became normal ! – I met lovely people from all over the world, and heard emotional stories. My second Camino at 76 to say thank you for good health, 800 Ks in 35 days, also brilliant. And am planning my third Camino for my 80th year, just for fun ! ha ha
    Fond memories, Alan

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