Travel and Safety Tips for Hiking the Camino de Santiago
There’s something empowering about traveling alone as a woman. Embarking on a sacred pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago gives you the rare opportunity for solitude and self-reflection.
Taking travelers through mountains, river valleys, and vineyards to Santiago de Compostela and onward to the rugged shores of the Atlantic, the Camino is therapeutic for both mind and body.
The prospect of trekking alone can be daunting, so here are some tips to prepare you for your adventure—whether you’re hiking the Camino or trying another famous trail.
Ask yourself some key questions: Do you want a physical challenge or an easier walk? Seeking solitude or camaraderie? Want to marvel at world-famous churches or taste world-class wines? Study a guidebook (like this Camino de Santiago guide from Moon Travel) to get a feel for the area and uncover practical tips.
Taking a spur of the moment trip may be fun (or a necessary self-care escape), but reserving lodging in advance can help you avoid racing for a bed at the end of a long day! It’s also a good idea if you’d like to stay in state-run paradors in León (Parador San Marcos) and Santiago de Compostela (Hostal de los Reyes Católicos) or other one-of-a-kind accommodations.
And make sure you’ve saved up enough funds for the trip so that you’re not low on cash while in unfamiliar spaces (always expect the unexpected, are we right?). It’s as easy as setting aside a little bit every time you get paid.
Find a supportive network.
Just because you crave a solo trip doesn’t mean you have to go through it completely alone. Resources like Travelletes, Wanderful and Pink Pangea can connect you to female travelers all over the world who are happy to answer questions about safety, local traditions, and everything in between.
Keep an eye out for destination-specific sites like Camigas, an all-women’s network of female pilgrims, or the Camino Forum. You may also find other solo female travelers hiking the Camino (or other magical treks) to meet up with along the trail. (Pro-tip: There’s also a community tab in the Nav.it app where you can ask questions that fellow Nav.igators will answer!)
Understand the culture.
Learn about the local culture before you travel. The Spanish, and the Camino culture in particular, are open-minded and tolerant, so people of color will likely feel welcomed, but may notice that locals tend to make reference to physical attributes like skin color. (This isn’t surprising, people of color experience this often.)
While no harm is meant by this, it can be disconcerting for the unprepared traveler. Resources like the Camino Forum are a good resource for firsthand accounts of trekking as a person of color.
LGBTQ+ travelers can also travel safely and openly while hiking the Camino, as Spain is a gay-friendly country. But no matter your orientation, be aware that the Spanish don’t show much affection in public.
Despite the religious and spiritual nature of the Camino, secular pilgrims are numerous and are very welcome on the road. Even if you’re not participating for religious reasons, be respectful of the religious pilgrims you meet: note when churches are holding mass to plan your visits accordingly and dress appropriately.
Know your numbers.
Emergency protocols can be completely different abroad. Look up emergency numbers for the destination and keep them handy.
Harassment—verbal or otherwise—along the Camino is rare, and local authorities take reported incidents seriously. 112 is the general emergency number in Spain (and throughout much of the EU). Go directly to the local police if needed. Additionally, police have a non-emergency hotline for visitors—902-102-112—with operators speaking several languages, including English.
Keep in touch.
Embarking on a bucket list pilgrimage, tackling the Inca Trail, or tramping across New Zealand can be transformative, but it can also leave you homesick. Whether you’re missing your friends and family or having the time of your life, schedule time for calls or FaceTime sessions.
Assign someone you trust at home to be your designated “travel buddy” and give them your full itinerary, updating them on any changes so they can locate you if necessary.
Finally, enjoy the experience and never let fear deter you from making the most of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.