Traveling Alone is Good for the Soul
I hiked 800 kilometers in 34 days. I walked the Camino de Santiago.
A road that has existed for thousands of years and has been crossed by millions of people, the trek takes you from the very south-west of France to the (almost) western coast of northern Spain, to Santiago de Compostela.
The trek has historically been a religious one, but many people walk it for other reasons — myself included.
May 16, 2018, my 19-year-old self and my overpacked and oversized backpack (I borrowed my brother’s) headed to Gare de Montparnasse, Paris, where my mom and sister dropped me off.
Holy shit I was really doing this. There was no going back now.
I arrived in St. Jean pied-de-port that afternoon and went to bed early that night, planning to wake up at 7am the next morning and start my trek.
By 5:30am I was wide awake. My two roommates were up and moving by 6am, gone 30 minutes later. My roomies weren’t first-timers, and soon I learned that Camino life is wake up early, walk, eat (and drink, a lot), sleep, repeat.
As of day one, I met absolutely wonderful and life changing people. A small group of which I stuck with until the very end of our walk.
The Camino changed my life. I knew that it would before I started but I refused to have expectations except that my body would hurt and I would see beautiful things. I didn’t want any expectations to take away from any thing I would encounter on my walk.
I think even if I would’ve had expectations, they would have been exceeded. By like a million. I can try to describe the feelings and emotions the camino brought me, but any short article would do it injustice. It requires a book or two.
What I know for sure, is that all the individuals I met, met people they clicked with. People that inspired them. People that confronted their beliefs.
The camino was extremely challenging. Walking at least six hours a day is not just a physical challenge, but also mentally and spiritually.
After day one in my semi-walked in boots, my feet were so badly blistered I had lost all the skin on my heel (I’ll spare you the grossness of the photos I send my mom). My shoulders were aching, my hips felt raw, and my legs were exhausted. My new friends and I did find time to have a peregrino meal and lots of wine to make me forget about my aching body.
As my body got used to the weight of my back and healed my blisters, it was the turn of my mind and emotions to ache.
You have all this alone time. Yes you pass by people, you sometimes walk with people, take breaks and chat, but you are in your head all the time. Replaying old scenes, imagining new ones, wondering about how others are doing.
It’s a lot.
There were days when all I felt like was crying because I missed people. There were days when I wanted to call people up to tell them I loved them. I did both. It gave me some peace of mind.
Other days I talked with myself. I argued with myself, felt angry and upset. I complimented myself, smiled at who I was creating as a person. Some days I struggled to roll out of my sleeping-bag and get my boots on. Feeling proud I did once I was on the trek again.
Nearing the end of the Camino, with just a few days left, I simultaneously felt excited and sad. Excited because I was so close to my goal, to my final destination, I would’ve really done it. I was sad because when I’d reach Santiago, I’d have to return to civilisation and not walk ~25 kilometers every day.
Day 34. With the goofiest of smiles on my face, my Camino family and I walked hand-in-hand into the main square of the Santiago Cathedral. I was looking for my mom, who was there to pick me up. Seeing her there and arriving after the last life-changing five weeks, I was overwhelmed. With tears streaming down my cheeks I hugged my Camino family.
We did it. We somehow managed to hike 800 kilometers across a country with all our necessary belongings in our backpacks.
After coming home from the Camino I couldn’t yet grasp how the whole experience had affected me. I just knew that it had. Now, a year later, I’ve somewhat grasped how I’ve grown as an individual, how exactly I’m still not always sure. Maybe I’ll figure that part out some day.
What I do know is that hiking these 800 kilometers was good for my soul. It was good for my whole being. To embark on a journey that was all about me, chosen by me, for me. It opened doors in my relationship with myself, as well as that with my loved ones.
While I understand that hiking isn’t for everyone, I think a solo adventure is. Take some time to get to know yourself. You might like yourself more than you know.