Travel Alone or With Friends?
Group Pilgrimage vs. Going Solo?
We here at Camino Provisions have had a variety of experiences hiking the Camino. We have tasted both the restful solitude of walking on our own and the camaraderie of walking with a group of family or friends from home. We have also felt the hunger for human contact that goes along with a solo pilgrimage and the interpersonal friction that goes along with being out of your comfort zone with people from home. A full discussion of the pros and cons of either of these options would require several more posts, but I’ll try to share the wisdom we’ve gained from our experience that will help you plan your own pilgrimage.
Walking the Camino on your own can be a great experience of solitude and rest – an opportunity to unplug and be in nature, to think, meditate, and pray with far less distraction than you have back home. It can be a retreat from the world that allows you to wrestle with big questions you might keep in the back of your mind, or to simply be in a ready posture to receive what thoughts or gifts may come your way as you walk. Without other people you must be responsible for, you have the flexibility to go at your own pace, enter and exit the rich life of pilgrim community as you need, and be free from the hassle of splitting the group up between multiple full albergues should you arrive at your destination late in the day.
A solo pilgrimage has its downsides, though. For one, it can get lonely. Solitude can be a healthy thing, but regardless of personality we all eventually become hungry – or perhaps starved – for human interaction. Solitude can be achieved traveling with a group but sometimes walking separately. Then afterwards it can be a joyful relief to return to the group after a day of hiking alone. Also, while the Camino is very safe, and your bunkmate will likely be willing and trustworthy to watch your stuff, it can be nice for your peace of mind to know a friend or family member is watching your stuff while you shower or wash your clothes.
That is hardly the top benefit of walking the Camino with a group. One of the best parts of walking the Camino with someone you know is that you will get to know that person – whether she be a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend – much better through the common experience of the Camino. As you go through struggles – physical, mental, spiritual – and leave your comfort zone, those in your group share your experience and provide partners with whom to process your experience both during and after the pilgrimage. Personal details, stories, and character traits will become apparent that you might never have seen at home. For the rest of your lives, the Camino will be a bond between you, and it is a joy to have such a strong connection after you get home.
The interpersonal conflict that can arise between two or more blister-footed people who are tired, hungry, and tired of trying to speak Spanish is not exactly a downside. With a healthy dose of patience, forgiveness, and grace, those experiences can deepen the relationship even more than the periods of peaceful coexistence. A true downside of traveling with the group is that it limits your flexibility – the larger the group, the more you must plan ahead in order to be able to stay together at night and find sufficient food. A group can also be a barrier to meeting new people since, with so many other comforts removed, it can be easy to stay with the familiar people rather than make the effort to socialize outside the group. Individual pilgrims may also be intimidated or frustrated by large groups and work to avoid staying in the same albergue or town.
As a final word, we also recommend clarifying some specific aspects of the trip with your group before you go. On a solo pilgrimage, you have no one’s expectations to manage but your own, but within a group it is good to be on the same page about the following things:
- How will you make decisions? If one of you is expecting to have the final call in deciding where to stay, eat, etc., and others expect a more democratic system, it will lead to frustration on the Way. Decide who is calling the shots before you go.
- What are your goals for the trip? You don’t all have to have the same hopes, but if one of you is expecting a touristy vacation while the other is hoping for more of a spiritually and physically challenging adventure, it is good to know up front rather than find yourselves disappointed or confused once you’re on the road.
- What is your budget? If one of you hopes to be thrifty and avoid restaurants and hotels, but the other is comfortable spending extra money for more comfort, it will come out on the road pretty soon. Best to know up front so you can find the best balance together.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the pros and cons of a solo or group pilgrimage, but we hope it will help you as you consider and plan for your time on the Camino.
Read hundreds more tips about planning your Camino trip in our guidebook, Camino de Santiago Guide to Preparing Well & Saving Money 2016.
contributed by Hunter Van Wagenen