Five people tell us about their Camino experiences and offer some invaluable advice.

Ash (second from left) with fellow pilgrims out the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

WHAT’S it like to take on a long-distance pilgrim walk? How do you cope on cold wet days? What’s it like meeting other pilgrims? There are so many questions people ask before they do their first Camino and it would be easy to disappear down an online rabbit hole trying to get some answers. But fear not, Great Walks has spoken to a number of people who have walked a Camino (or in some cases five or six Caminos!) so you may well find many of those questions answered here.

Ash Barker (53), Birmingham, UK

Ash has walked the Camino Portuguese, completed four St Cuthbert’s Way pilgrimages (Scottish borderlands to Holy Island) and completed the Jesus Trail (Nazareth to Capurniam, Holy Land).

How much preparation and training did you did do prior to your walks?

I was very unfit before I started preparing for the Camino. I had a three month sabbatical and so built up to walk 20km a day so that my final two weeks of the Camino itself were not too painful! I did get fitter as I walked the Camino itself, however!

A lot of people find the long hours of daily walking gives them time to reflect on their lives. Did you find that?

Yes, I found a kind of re-booting. It took a little time to let go of the ‘monkey mind’ but found a peaceful place and became more aware. Came back with convictions to focus on five priorities in my life.

A lot of people talk about the camaraderie of other walkers. How did you find it?

Yes, I did it in the winter, so it wasn’t as full of other Pilgrims. Still I met some wonderful and interesting people, especially toward the end.

Diary entry: “Day 8: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (22km). Blue sky walking all day, but no cafe or shops for food open until I reached Caldas de Reis late afternoon. Met a few fellow pilgrims today, including Gill, a tour guide from the Highlands in Scotland. She is writing a book about Celtic saint inspired pilgrimages in Scotland and has climbed all 282 Munros (mountains) in Scotland! Last two hours flew by as we swapped stories and then went our separate ways. I booked an accommodation special on, but I’m afraid it’s more a motel that can be paid for by the hour. Still I have my own private room with a big bath, towels, bedding and break fast, all for €15. Tomorrow is my last night in an alburgue before I hit Santiago on Wednesday.

What footwear did you have on your Camino and did you have to deal with blisters etc?

I wore Keen low-rise walking shoes. They are extra wide for my fat feet! I also had diverse Marino hiking socks. I wore flip flops at night. I didn’t have any blisters.

What advice would you offer someone planning to walk a Camino?

Be open to the experience, travel light as you can. I am sure I missed some profound moments stuck in my head! Make sure you also go to Finnestre, even if it’s on a bus! Also download The Wise Pilgrim app. It was so helpful and took a lot of extra stress out of it.

Mark Oliver (64), Byron Bay NSW

Mark has been busy ticking off a bunch of Caminos over the last few years, including the Camino France, Portuguese Camino and the Camino del Norte.

How much preparation and training did you did do prior to your walk/s?

Almost none. I’m normally active: running, dancing, cycling and swimming. My experience is that the first week of any long walk is hard and then you get your walking legs and all goes well from there. I also start out taking care to not overdo it the first week, walking under 30k days and then graduating to slightly longer days. I tend to average a bit over 30k per day over the entire walk.

Please share one memorable day on the trail.

There was a day we took a variant that followed a Roman road that was hardly visible with grass growing between the stones. It was windswept, raining and cold and the cobbles of the road were very difficult on the ankles. But also the idea of walking on the road used by Hannibal and Charlemagne was on par with visiting a Pyramid even though the road was barely visible, lost in fields and rolling hills. Another time, my friend was hiking with boots too small, causing lots of pain, and I noticed a pair of boots thrown into a ditch. She tried them on and they fit perfectly, becoming her boots for 500km turning the walk from pain to pleasure (The Camino provides!)

It’s always good to stretch before a day on path.

What kept you going on the tough days?

Embrace the suck! There are no bad days. I feel like I’m built for walking. It’s my happy place where I have a clear purpose that really has almost no purpose at all. Just walk, eat, find a place for the night, wash clothes, sleep and repeat.

What footwear did you have on your Camino and did you have to deal with blisters etc?

My first three Caminos I wore the same pair of Merrell Moab boots. On the last two Caminos I wore Cairns 3d hiking sandals by Bedrock. The boots were much more difficult for my feet with blisters. For me, the sandals are the perfect footwear: no socks, great in all weather, they weigh very little.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had been told before you did your first pilgrim walk?

Take less stuff – keep your pack under 6kg. I like to have a sleeping bag. The Camino provides – meaning don’t worry so much about details and things going wrong because solutions always appear when you need them. And of course, you can buy almost anything you need there.

Deborah Kahn, Albury NSW

Deborah has completed two pilgrim walks. Her first one was the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port to Finesterre via Santiago de Compostela and the second was the Kumano Kodo in Japan across the Kii Peninsular in Japan.

How much preparation and training did you did do prior to your walks?

Being an avid hiker, I knew that walking from the French side of the Pyrenees across Spain to the Atlantic Ocean would require endurance and stamina. Luckily for me I live in an area with lots of options for training. At least once a month we’d put on our packs, that were a similar weight to what we would be carrying, and we’d do a 30km training hike from our house through local streets to some tracks though the local hills. We’d have lunch halfway and then return. So it replicated what we thought would be a typical Camino day. Other times we’d just do our normal bushwalks or go to a rather nasty local hill and walk it, a few times. The Kumano Kodo was exactly like our regular weekly bushwalks so we knew we’d be ok.

A lot of people find the long hours of daily walking gives them time to reflect on their lives. Did you find that?

Very much so. Walking puts life into perspective, it breaks it down into the parts that really matter. Walking is a great leveller; it doesn’t differentiate between people. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate what’s important, it gives us permission to focus on ourselves without the expectations society makes us put on ourselves. When I walk I live in the moment. I clear my mind, don’t think about anything else, I just enjoy each day as it comes.

Kellie-Anne reaches a Camino milestone


What kept you going on the tough days?

I remember one particular day, I hobbled into the albergue, with feet that felt like cement blocks. There were tears, lots of tears. Later that evening we were watching the sun set from the front steps and a local (who spoke perfect English) joined us, asking how our camino was going. I burst into tears and told him about my feet and how sore they were. He looked at me and asked why I thought I had to suffer like an original pilgrim? He rationalised that a pilgrimage was about getting to a destination, not the mode of travel. There’s nothing written that says it has to be by foot. People ride it, people walk it, people train it or even go by car. If your feet hurt so much, he said why don’t you save them and catch a bus tomorrow. And I did. Not all days need to be so hard, we don’t need to make them hard.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had been told before you did your first pilgrim walk?

That less is more. You need very little (to be happy). Initially we had too many clothes, too much gear (a bit like life). We posted a box of “stuff” we thought we wouldn’t need to our hotel in Santiago de Compostela and never once regretted doing that. Also, a piece of advice for others ... we stayed in small villages rather than big towns. It gives you such a good insight into the rhythm of daily life of the region.

Teena Pond (52) Windsor Downs, NSW

Teena completed the Way of St Francis – Assisi to Rome in 2014. The 300km walk took 13 days.

A lot of people find the long hours of daily walking gives them time to reflect on their lives. Did you find that?

Absolutely! At times I walked with others and we would chat about our lives, light easy chats and at times quite deep conversations, but then we would spread out and walk alone; it was in these times of solitude that I could fully immerse myself into the beautiful surroundings, listen to nature and ponder on my life. There were times though when I was so relaxed and almost meditative, that I would lose track of time and could not even remember a single thought, it was such a blessing to be able to literally step out of my life for a few weeks and have nothing more to think about than one foot in front of the other, do I have enough water and are we on the right road?!

Please share one memorable day on the trail.

One of the most special and totally unforgettable days was Day 7 walking from Piediluco to Poggio Bustone. We set out after an early breakfast of eggs and ... to walk the 21km set out for the day. Our trip was self-guided, we were led by the most detailed set of instructions that printed was over 100 pages in length.

This day we had seen the forecast was for rain, so wet weather gear would need to be carried as well as the usual water, snacks, socks, spare shoes, camera. We hiked along gorgeous dirt paths up a small mountain to reach a tiny church perched at the top. It overlooked the valley and beautiful fields of green. In those fields were the usual cows, and most surprisingly in this valley were draught horses grazing too.

Teena with the horses she met on one of her more memorable Camino days.


We sat down in the drizzle on the church steps to eat our morning snack and rest for a moment. The next thing that happened was just incredible – three of the horses had walked up out of the valley to the church grounds, around the fence and stood there looking at us. I absolutely love horses and draughties are just the best. So I got brave and walked slowly over to them with my apple in hand, umbrella in the other fully expecting them to bolt – no they stood there, took the apple from my hand and allowed me to stroke their faces. Now if this wasn’t special enough, when we packed up and readied ourselves to head to the St Francis tree, the horses escorted us to the fence line, neighed as we left and then ran away.

What footwear did you have on your Camino and did you have to deal with blisters etc?

I tried a few options during training and decided that I would take hiking shoes instead of boots, as they were more comfortable and lighter. I had a pair of runners with gel insoles, as a backup, in case my hiking shoes got wet and couldn’t be dried. These also came in handy on a couple of days where my feet were super sore. I did get some blisters, the worst were on my little toes – it was the pits because even taping did not stop the pain – lesson learnt, tape them from the start. On the last few days, I wore trekking sandals or my soft joggers (at one point on a downhill section I took my shoes off and walked bare foot), as we were mainly on roads and flat paths and my little toes had just had enough of the pressure from my hiking shoes.

Kellie-Anne Briggs (62), Rutherglen Vic

Kellie-Anne is a seasoned Camino walker having walked the Camino Frances, the Kumano Kodo in Japan, the Via Francigena from Martigny (Switzerland) to The Vatican in Rome (Italy) and several others.

How much preparation and training did you did do prior to your walks?

For 12 months prior the Camino Frances, my first pilgrimage and long distance walk, I’d walk each morning for 7-8km at a brisk pace. Weekly I would go out for a longer day hike, emulating a typical Camino route day, i.e., 5km, morning tea, 5-7km, lunch then finish with 6-7km, and a beer at the closest pub! This type of training was all that was needed really. You have to mentally prepare for long periods of time with your own company, especially on the VF.

For Kumano Kodo I headed for the hills. I was lucky to have some time in SE Qld and used the Mapleton NP and Mt Coolum for steps and uphills. I live in NE Victoria and the highest place is the Chalet at Mt Buffalo at 1300m … so it’s a struggle to get big hill training.

My philosophy now is: you will get all the training you need on the first three days of any long distance walk. My recommendation is you plan to go-slow, take it in and stop as much as you need to get your breath. It’s not a race…

Please share one memorable day on the trail.

Hands down it was the alternative trail to Samos on the Camino de Santiago. On leaving Triacastela you get the option for John Brierley’s “green route”. Take it! A magical fairy tale like path awaits you. The Monastery of San Xulián de Samos, an active Benedictine monastery in Samos (Galicia) and is well worth going on a tour. It was founded in the sixth century.

A lot of people talk about the camaraderie of other walkers. How did you find it?

Find it? It finds you! I was lucky enough to know a few ladies on the trail when I started but as I made my way I met a most diverse lot of people from all over the world. I’ve stayed in touch with some and I’ve walked other trails with some, post-camino.

What kept you going on the tough days?

Oh, I can just hear the naysayers now! My Spotify playlist. I curated hundreds of energy injecting, motivational tracks for the vast variety of moods I may experience. I still enjoy my “Buen Camino” playlist when I’m out walking these days, and it got a good airing during the Via Francigena last year.

What footwear did you have on your Camino and did you have to deal with blisters etc?

Merrell Moab GTX 2. My first pair I wore out training for Camino Frances. I had a bit of excessive weight to lose so I was out there each morning and a few times a week I’d long distance hike.

My second pair I broke in a couple weeks prior CF. No blisters worth mentioning. Paper tape works a treat for preventative action, as does Injinji toe socks with a second merino sock over the top. Definitely double sock, and buy hikers a size and a half up. Normally I’m size 8.5/9. My hikers are now size 11 Merrell Moab 3 GTX with a custom orthotic.