My Comfy Camino….

by Captain Bradley

There. I said (typed) it.

My next Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain begins this weekend. Two years ago, I went to Europe for the first time, at age 47, at my oldest daughter's request. Not a pure holiday. But three weeks of travel and mostly walking 300+ kilometers from Leon to Santiago in northern Spain. I did it for her. Then, I did it for me.

It was exciting, mind-altering, simple, delicious, relaxing, entertaining, and painful too.

My biggest concerns were our health , well-being, safety, and comfort. Our health states were fine. She's an athlete. My big belly was countered by my strong heart & legs, plus irresistible charm. Our well-being was challenged by living each day without certainty about where we would be during and at the end of each day. Sure, I had a great guess via the best guidebook. But, we were winging it daily. Safety was never a real concern. We had each other and our new Camino family was always around us at every stage of our walk. Lastly, how comfy could I make this experience for both of us? After all, we would be in pain at some point. That was a given. How could I position us well to counter the inevitable pain?

Here's my plan then and now:

* start off with a known hotel after a long flight and bus or train ride. AC Hotels by Marriott are my €50-90 choice, with breakfast. Hot showers, clean rooms, and reminders of what you are leaving behind (bigger city comforts) gives me what I need.

* take one expert guidebook (Brierley) with notes from other books and experiences plus one device (IPhone) for writing & communicating where wifi is available

* listen to your body. Drink when thirsty. Eat when hungry. Relax when tired and when some body part is stressed and feeling ways that aren't normal. Nap after every shower.

* find your place, preferably with fun people. You are all in this together, which is "the Camino provides" part. Local Spaniards and fellow pilgrims get you more than you know via body language and simply communicating needs. Water, food, wine, beer, medicine, and help are all around you, even in the middle of nowhere.

* pay extra for comfort, privacy, cleanliness, and maybe a private bathroom. At my age, a clean, quiet (no snoring), safe place is worth the extra cost. No municipal auberges for me. Never. Too crowded, loud, smelly, dirty, and annoying. No thank you. Enjoy, young people and those more liberal than me.

* choose private auberges, pensions, etc. for a few Euros more that pride themselves on comforting the pilgrimage pains and need for peaceful rest. Well worth the cost, in my opinion. We slept only 2 of 18 nights in private aubergue bunk beds – each well-run with fun groups around and outstanding food.

* forget about washing that one set of clothes on a rock. Take 3-4 sets of quick-dry clothes (much easier in the summer months) and find washing & drying equipment or personal services every few days. €5 or so won't break you every few days and you know that they are clean and dry. Plus, your giving back to the Camino economy while saving hours of half-ass laundry drudgery.

* for someone who loves to cook, I stop cooking. Planning and shopping and then cooking is one thing that I leave behind. I let the Camino provide and I budget accordingly. Giving back to those who need it too. It's a win-win and others are glad to do it. Simple, cheap, and delicious…that's my perfect day anywhere that I find myself. Especially on my comfy Camino.

* find your peace everyday. Should be a rule everywhere you go. But, my comfy Camino certainly allows for it, between the usual pains. People, places, and lovely experiences that drown out any negative thoughts, regrets, and realities of life back home. Just be. Alone or not. Just breathe and be.

As we all say, your Camino is yours and yours alone. The above is mine. Not planned out to every detail. Still open to spontaneous moments everyday. But very aware of myself and my basic needs of peaceful rest, relaxation, and recharging after 20-35km walks in the Spanish sunshine.

Keep your Camino and I will keep mine. Always.

Buen Camino….and Ultreia!!!!