When planning a pilgrimage, travelers, besides deciding what route to take and what to pack, are often faced with a choice of going for it alone or as a part of a group.
The 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.
I walked the Camino Frances from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Finisterre and, truth be told, I never doubted for a minute I wanted to do the whole journey alone. Was it better or worse than a group, I can’t really tell, but I can definitely offer a few pointers.
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.
Camino to 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…
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.
As I mentioned before, for me there was never any other way but going solo. 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.
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.