How safe is it to walk the Camino de Santiago alone? Surprisingly to some, I only asked myself this question momentarily right before I left to do the trek. My friends and family were very supportive of me when they found out I was going to do the hike as a solo female and a few gave me some words of caution. This wasn’t my first solo trip. I spent four months in Italy teaching English and traveling alone, so I was comfortable with traveling by myself.
Once I arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port, where I started the trek, I realized there were many more people walking solo than I imagined. About half of the pilgrims came to do the Camino de Santiago by themselves and quite a few were women. Two women I spoke with told me that they would never feel safe walking in their hometowns alone, but on the camino they felt confident.
Whether male or female, here’s why I recommend walking the Camino de Santiago alone:
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Make your own schedule
It may sound silly, but it’s nice to have complete freedom. Since I was walking alone, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs. If I was hungry or I wanted to take a break, I could do so. If I wanted to rush out and get an early start in the morning or stop walking earlier than expected one day, I could do it without having to consult with someone else.
It was also nice not to have to worry so much about accommodation. Many of the albergues, or pilgrim hostels would fill up early, especially the cheaper ones or those with just a few beds. A couple of times I was at the end of the line, waiting for the albergue to open and wondering if I would have a bed for the night. Although I was never turned away, it obviously becomes harder when you’re in a group.
Be alone…or not
I loved being a drifter. Since you meet so many people on the trail, you feel like you’re never truly alone. You walk together, lose each other and then meet again a few days later in an albergue. It was nice to walk alone for a couple of hours, reach the next café, and find a few friends that I could join for a coffee break. Even on the trail, if I was walking with someone and then felt like continuing on alone, I just sped up or took a break and it was all very natural. You’ll see each other again! No words really need to be spoken.
Enjoy the experience in your own way
Some people just want to make friends and have a cheap holiday. Others are working things out in their life or walking as it was meant to be, a religious pilgrimage. Doing the Camino de Santiago alone allowed me to have some time to myself on the trail. I was able to think and be more in touch with what I was really looking for from this experience.
During many of the most beautiful moments on the trek, I was alone. Walking through the forest covered in fog, it was silent and I was only able to see 10 feet in all directions, but it touched me in a special way that it would not have if I was with others.
If you’ve never traveled alone, this is where to do it
The camino is a special place. You arrive by yourself, then end up with friends from all around the world. When I traveled alone in the past, I stayed at hostels and joined tours for young people to get to know other travelers. On the camino you don’t need to try very hard. The pilgrims and hospitaleros, those who run the albergues, were all very like-minded and friendly. Pilgrims (for the most part) aren’t out to get you. There is a special bond formed through the joint experience, which creates a sense of community.
Another great reason is the amazing infrastructure set up for pilgrims. Everything on the camino is very simple once you get the credencial. Also, those who didn’t speak Spanish were able to get by on their own since many of the hospitaleros and all the pilgrim office workers speak English.
Side note on safety
Of course anything can happen anywhere you go, so always use common sense. Things have happened to pilgrims before, most notably the American woman who went missing on the trek. The number of incidents is minimal compared to the amount of people who walk the camino every day without a problem. Thankfully, I fall into the later category, but always, always be aware of your surroundings.
Check out my other post for more photos and to hear about my experience on the camino.