Should you book an all-inclusive managed tour to Santiago or simply start walking? Rather than being a douche and telling you that the mere thought of walking a managed Camino makes you less of a pilgrim (it does not), let me dare an attempt at convincing you that it is worth it to walk alone (or not alone, as we might discover soon).
The biggest arguments for a managed Camino are the ease of transport to and fro your Way, luggage and hotel services along it, and company. Those are fine arguments, for sure. However…
Getting to and fro the Camino
Spain is a first world country with some of the best public transit systems in the world. Busses and trains cover the whole of the country, even smaller towns are well connected. Where there’s no bus or train, there’s a cab that will, at low prices, get you to one. You can get to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port at a fraction of the price demanded by most managed Camino companies: by simply walking up to a cabbie and asking to be taken there. Even cheaper, easier, and more fun: take the train.
Here’s how: Fly to Paris. Take a cab or the subway to your train station, take train to Bayonne, sleep a night in a beautiful seaside town in France, next morning take the train to St. Jean. You’re about to take all the things on your back for a 30 day walk, those 800 meters walking shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s easy to book and easy to do, why pay someone else twice as much for the same service that can be done easily from the comfort of your own cell phone?
Once in Santiago (or Muxia/Finisterre) take a bus to the airport, book your ticket out a day ahead of time, and fly home. It’s simple.
Follow the Arrow!
You seriously can not get lost on most Caminos (and definitely not on the Frances, Norte, Muxia, or Portuguese). Just follow the yellow arrows and Conchas, and you’ll arrive. Maps and web sites are nice, but you don’t really need them. And you definitely don’t need a “guide.” The Camino Frances is a simple series of 30-40 day hikes between and through civilised, first world, areas. You’re never far from a supermarket, hotel, hospital, pharmacy, bus stop, or cafe. And, even better, you won’t walk more than a mile without passing ads for taxi services that will pick you up in a pinch.
It’s almost less strenuous than going shopping in LA or Chicago.
Almost all albergues have a mochilla service. Leave you backpack at the albergue, attach a 5€ bill and a note telling the driver where to drop it off, and it’ll arrive there before you do. It’s simple and efficient. Little secret: most of the managed Camino services do exactly that. They either book it for you (asking for twice as much, keeping the other half) or operate the mochilla service for everyone but at higher prices to their own customers. When Eva got hurt at our Camino 2017 she walked without a backpack for almost two weeks, and it was one of the easiest things to arrange.
Have a look at the Spanish post’s info on this topic. It’s even available in a dozen languages, or so.
Note: Correos is an amazing resource for many Camino related questions. Seriously, not only online, you also have great services and info at the post office. In Santiago they even keep your backpack while you go attend services in the Cathedral.
It’s 2020 and, again, Spain is a modern country with amazing infrastructure. Almost every albergue is on Booking.com (here’s the entry for Rosalia in Castrojeriz, my personal tip for this town) as are many hotels. If you do not ever want to sleep in the same room as other pilgrims, you do not have to. Given the prices for a night at a good hotel directly along the Camino, you’ll save money like mad by just going this route.
Nunca camainarás solo… you never walk alone. Unless you want to, that is. On my many Caminos, I have met many amazing human beings, from preachers from Texas to soldiers from Brazil, nurses from Sweden and nuclear physicists from Albania. Not only are those humans a great source of company, they’re also your Camino family: help when you need it and quiet when you want.
It’s YOUR Camino
So walk it however the heck you want it. Managed or free, hotels or hostels or albergues, al of it, part of it, slow or fast. It’s YOUR Camino. I won’t tell you, how to, but I would suggest this: if this is truly to be your Camino, would you really want someone else to manage it for you? Decide for you, whom you walk with every day, where you sleep, which sights you’ll see and which ones you skip?
Wouldn’t you want to walk YOUR Camino from A to Z? If you didn’t have to be worried about the things above, would you?
Again, I won’t tell you how to walk your Camino, but maybe I can alleviate your fears: you don’t have to be worried about any of the things above… If, knowing this, you still want to take the extra stresses of a managed Camino in exchange of some others being removed… that’s great. Walk your Camino, you’re a pilgrim in my eyes, no matter how you do it.