One question that is constantly debated before, during and even after walking the Camino is whether it’s better to do it alone or with others – either with one or two friends or in a larger group.
For many, the idea of walking alone for days, if not weeks, on end can seem daunting. What if you get lonely? What if you get lost? What if you get injured?
Certainly, all reasonable points to consider, but none which should deter you from undertaking the Camino de Santiago alone. In truth, there is no right or wrong way to walk the Camino de Santiago, but choosing to do it alone or within a group, will most likely deliver two very different experiences.
Here are a few points to consider about walking the Camino de Santiago alone.
Broadly speaking, the Camino de Santiago is a safe place for solo walkers and you will likely see people of all ages and both sexes undergoing the journey on their own. That being said, there are always a few incidents reported each year, but these are certainly no more common than you would find in any major city in Europe.
There might be other reasons that you choose to walk the Camino with other people, but safety really shouldn’t be the determining factor. The overwhelming majority of people you meet along the way, whether other walkers or locals, are friendly and helpful. If safety is still an issue to you, or maybe you just like the idea of walking with a lot of people around, consider walking one of the more popular routes (the Camino Frances or the Camino Portuguese) during the busier times (May to September). The Camino Frances during the summer has become incredibly popular with thousands walking the route alone.
Whether you start the Camino alone or with others, it’s near impossible not to make friends while walking. The camaraderie between people along the route is one of the most unique aspects of the walk and it’s not uncommon for deep, lasting friendships to be made while plodding along the Camino.
As anybody who has travelled alone, or even holidayed solo, will tell you, without a comfortable group around you, you are often forced to be more outgoing and step outside your comfort zone. The Camino is exactly the same. People who walk in groups from the start will always naturally feel more secure together but can also appear more closed off than a solo walker. That’s not to say that a group can’t be welcoming to outsiders, far from it, but people often feel more at ease striking up a conversation with a single person than with a large group.
People often worry about whether they’ll have to eat or drink alone and while you certainly have the option to do so if you wish, the communal nature of the activity means that there are always people around in the same boat as you. While asking a complete stranger if you could share their table might be the epitome of strange in Dublin, on the Camino de Santiago it’s not only a common event, but also a great way to make friends.
3. Walking Style
You might be forgiven for thinking that everybody walks in the same way. It’s just one foot in front of the other for hours, right? Well, yes – and no. While loosely speaking humans tend to all walk in the same way, how people choose or need to walk for multiple hours can be vastly different.
Think about speed, breaks, lunch lengths, start times and bedtimes, but also consider whether you are the kind of person that wants to walk with a real chatterbox. Of course, everybody loves a good conversation, but for many, the act of walking the Camino de Santiago is a religious or spiritual experience that can also be a great way to escape the everyday worries and stresses of life. Certain people would really enjoy talking for hundreds of kilometres, but equally so, many don’t. Before you decide on either walking or alone or in a group, try and decide which one you are.
4. Personal Growth
There can often be plenty of doubts as you lace up those boots on your first day – especially if you’re alone. Yet, whether you are walking 700 km or 100 km, the feeling of accomplishment at the end of it is quite extraordinary.
Many choose to walk the Camino de Santiago as a form of personal growth. There’s nothing quite like walking for days or weeks to clear your head and maybe even help to push your life in one direction or the other.
For thousands of years, people have undergone pilgrimages and journeys as a way of exploring the world, but also about discovering themselves. Walking the Camino alone is a challenge that many might shy away from but comes with a catalogue of benefits. If you’re looking to push yourself and maybe even discover different parts of your character, walking alone is an excellent way to achieve it.
One of the best aspects about walking the Camino de Santiago alone is that you have complete freedom to do exactly as you wish. A typical day involves you simply needing to walk from A to B, but how long you take, where you stop in between and how long you want to dedicate for lunch is entirely up to you.
Travelling with others is an entirely different proposition, which is only natural as you need to think of others also and not just about yourself. There’s nothing selfish or rude about wanting to have complete freedom over your Camino and if you see it as a way of escaping a hectic lifestyle for a week or so, it’s often much more freeing to know that you can make every decision large or small without having to consult anybody.