First Camino Diaries Pt 1: Planning From Ground Up

From Revenge Travel to a First Camino

For 2023, the travel bug reared its head and drove me into several rounds of reverse-digital-nomad stints. In the process, I discovered the one-bag community and started going carry-on only. And to take one-bag travel to the next stage, what better than a first attempt at the Camino de Santiago?

My inspiration came from the Facebook diaries of a friend who did the Camino this fall. Through my friend’s account, I realized what a deeply immersive cultural, spiritual and historical experience it would be. It literally follows the footsteps of those who have trod this path for nearly a millennium. Though technology and the pace of life have changed, mankind (I hope) still shares the basic desire for good that inspired those first pilgrims toward Santiago de Compostela.

Choosing a Route and Itinerary

Ultimately, I want to attempt the Camino Frances, and the del Norte and the Portuguese Coastal route as well. Yes, I know, I’m greedy! But while I’m still employable, I want to make the most of the years when I can still work full-time. This means I need an itinerary of 14 days or less end-to-end.

I focused on two choices: the first 8 stages of the Camino Frances (from St Jean Pied-de-Port to Logroño), or the Camino Ingles from Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela. A short itinerary is all I can manage without a long job sabbatical, and lets me build up stamina gradually for a longer leg.

Ultimately, I’m choosing the Ingles because of the logistics for a successful family holiday. Post-pandemic, we haven’t travelled as a family, so I need to design a viable itinerary that will keep my non-hiking family members happy too. Using the Renfe site, I knew my mum and aunt could take either train or taxi between the first four stops, enabling us to enjoy them together.

Photo (credit Pere Jurado on Unsplash) of railway station in Spain, home of the Camino de Santiago.
Ultimately, it’s the rail infrastructure that drives decisions – Photo by Pere Jurado on Unsplash

A Hybrid Approach – Combining Slow and Fast

My planned stages are different from a usual Ingles itinerary because of the family holiday aspect:

  • Days -1 and 0: Madrid – Ferrol on the ALVIA train (0800 – 1312 hrs), staying at Parador de Ferrol.
  • Day 1: Ferrol – Neda, staying at Pazo da Merced.
  • Day 2: Neda – Pontedeume, where I’m leaning towards the A Falúa Pensión and Albergue Rio Eume.
  • Day 3: Pontedeume – Miño, staying at Hotel La Terrazza.
  • Day 4: Miño – Betanzos, the last day we will convene as a family before reaching Santiago. We will try for the Albergue Rio Mandeo or Hostal Portico there.
  • Day 5: Betanzos – Presedo or Bruma, the start of my 3 unstructured days to get to Santiago. My mum and aunt will go to A Coruna while I navigate the rural areas with less services.
  • Day 6: Presedo / Bruma – Ordes or Sigüerio, winging it with the stops depending on where I stopped the night before and my energy level.
  • Day 7: Arrive in Santiago de Compostela.

It’ll be a hybrid between the “fast” and “slow” approaches to the Ingles, to combine a relaxing family trip with a full Camino.

Breaking (Nearly) All The Gear Rules

Planning one’s first Camino always means shopping for gear! And Black Friday is the best time to do this. But I’m selectively breaking rules to use what I already have. Also, I’m starting cheap and will upgrade if anything breaks or doesn’t work, rather than the other way around. That means I’ve wasted minimum money if I don’t get the chance to do a Camino again.

I’ve still got some of the gear I used for the Outdoor Activities Club (ODAC) in junior college, almost 30 years ago! A thin sleeping bag and a poncho from the Army Market in Singapore, despite having no brand names, are perfect for this adventure.

Items I’ve Got

  • Sleeping bag – from ODAC days
  • Poncho – from ODAC days
  • Dri-fit T-shirts – 1 Decathlon, 1 Nike, 1 EDB 45th Anniversary (a sentimental fave)
  • Long sleeve Under Armour zip-T
  • Hiking pants – 2x REI Sahara Convertible Pants, I’ll probably either bring 1 pair or both tops and 1 pair of leg extensions
  • (Alternative) FBT running shorts from Singapore + 2 pairs base layer leggings
  • Outerwear layers:
  • L.L. Bean sandals for après-hike wear
  • Pillowcase (to cover albergue pillows)
  • Small kitchen knife & cutting board
  • Bento size fork, spoon & chopsticks
  • Hiking shoes – I had a 10-year-old pair of Lowa Renegades, whose heels were worn through. Replaced with Camelsports Waterproof Hiking Shoes ($47.59) – let’s see if this is the biggest mistake or not!
  • Mini plastic tumbler for brushing teeth (had this since I was 9!)
This mug is more than 35 years old!
  • Nail clippers.
  • Small torch light.

Consumables and Toiletries

  • Sunscreen
  • Dr. Bronner’s castile soap
  • Toothpaste & dental floss + travel toothbrush
  • Solid deodorant
  • 2X 1-litre PET bottles for drinking water
  • Disinfecting wipes (travel pack)
  • Small supply of KN95 masks
  • 2-3 packs travel tissue
  • A couple of hair ties
  • First-aid – Panadol, charcoal, Benadryl, hive cream, hydrocolloid plasters, normal plasters, antiseptic, motion sickness medication
  • Feminine hygiene supplies
  • Mini sewing kit – small scissors, thread, sewing needle
  • Travel size bed bug spray (natural formula preferred)
  • Laundry pods

Items I Bought or Will Buy

Total cost tally so far for newly-bought items: $209.13, of which $129.60 on truly purpose-bought items for the Camino (socks, hiking shoes & sun hat will see regular usage in my non-Camino life).

Let’s see where this goes!

Which of these gear risks will pay off and save me dollars, and which will be mistakes? The proof is in the pudding when trying it out on a short Camino. Subsequently, I’ll share my honest feedback – this blog is non-commercial and I have no affiliate links to any of these products.

Thus far, I’ve booked the hotel nights, and am starting to put mileage on my new hiking shoes. Let the prep begin!

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