The Camino de Santiago brings a lot to the table, you will feel highs and lows and everything in between. Often the question is asked if you can hike the Camino solo or alone, in this article I share my experiences with starting out solo on the Coastal Camino in Portugal and hiking the Camino Frances with 2 people.
Quick jump guide
- Advantages of hiking the Camino Solo
- Advantages of hiking with someone or a group
- The Camino Frances is not a solitary experience
Advantages of hiking the Camino Solo
As with many things, there are both sides of an argument, below I list all the advantages that hiking the Camino solo or alone can bring.
Hike your own pace
Hiking your own pace is the number one advantage of hiking any Camino solo, there is only one person to answer to, and that is yourself. When hiking alone you can really hike your own pace, and not be in an often subconscious battle or race with others walking next to you. Going too fast or too slow can be an exhausting experience, and even lead to injury when not careful.
For example, many parts of the Camino’s Frances, and any Camino have quite a bit of elevation gain or loss. When going too fast with downhill hiking, trying to keep up with someone can be painful on the knees and lead to injury or overexertion. Even when you are going to be hiking the Camino with others, or just walking for a day with someone, make sure you come to an agreement that suits the both of you. On difficult terrain, you can wait for each other, or otherwise make sure you have an understanding.
Which can knock you out for a few days or if you are not careful, the whole Camino.
Besides the actual hiking, hiking at your own pace also means that you can stop to have lunch or water whenever you want to. And stay the night in an Albergue or stop whenever you feel like it or when there is still a bed available. In a group or together, every stop and break has to be talked over and discussed.
More alone time during the day
If you are setting out on the Camino to find yourself or to be alone for long stretches of time to gather your thoughts. Going alone or solo is the better way to go, be aware though, not every answer can be found on the Camino. And the same problems that you had before starting out will likely still be there when you get back. Hiking it solo can give you the time to think more about the issue to come to a better option.
From talking to other solo pilgrims and my own experiences, you can have a million reasons to walk the Camino de Santiago solo or in general. You will meet students on a gap year, people in their midlife crisis, people that just got laid off or are in between jobs, people that are getting over a loss, people that are retired, people looking for an answer, and finally people that just like hiking.
Easier connection to other solo pilgrims
It is easier to form a connection with other solo pilgrims when traveling solo, you often end up in the same row in albergues, at the same tables with the group dinners, and on many more occasions. It is also less of a bump to get into a conversation with a solo pilgrim than with an existing group. This differs wildly of course with how socially adept you are. And the type of person that you meet. In general, however, with most pilgrims, it’s not difficult to engage in a conversation or just a chat. With can start with a light and easy topic, like the weather, and can end up in a conversation about life and death that lasts into the night.
Advantages of hiking with someone or a group
The advantages of hiking in a group or with someone are often practical and can be a great way to get more alone time together, as a couple or as friends. Most pilgrims that start out solo, often get into a “tramily” (trail family) at some point in the Camino. Just for practical reasons or to pick up the conversation from the day before. It is not unheard of to get into lifelong friendships or relationships with other pilgrims. Me serving as an example myself. I met my wife on the Camino.
Somebody to share your experiences with
The number one reason that people walk the Camino together is to deepen their relationship together or to share the whole experience with somebody they are already close to. The whole experience of the Camino is something that clings to you and will always be a part of you after. With pretty much any long-distance hiking trail you see that you don’t come back the same as a stroll in the park. The whole experience is difficult to explain to friends, family, and coworkers back home. And that can be a reason to share the whole experience with somebody from your daily life.
Easier to motivate each other on the lows
When hiking in a group or with someone, you can break bread together, laugh at a funny experience, or cry. Having more people to talk to during the day can be excellent for somebody that is looking for that or missing that. A friendly push or joke to get you up or down a hill can be just what you need to get to the albergue for the night. Instead of bowing out or giving up.
Safety net and buddy system
Traveling in a group or with someone is also more practical in some aspects. You can introduce the buddy system when somebody goes to the toilet, taking a shower, or any other time when your gear or backpack is just laying around. The chance or likelihood of theft is slim on the Camino, but there is always a risk. As there is anywhere in the world. Having someone to sit with your stuff when it is not practical for you to take everything is a nice thought. Be sure to read my earlier article on Keeping valuables safe on the Camino for more tips.
Hiking the Camino Solo as a woman
Since I am a guy, I can not share my experience of what it is like as a solo woman on the Camino. However, I talked to a lot of solo hikers that did speak from experience, and everyone says the same thing. The Camino is safe and can be hiked as a solo woman. In some municipal albergues, you don’t have shared sleeping and are in a ladies’ room. And you are unlikely on the Camino Frances to be alone in potentially dangerous situations. You can always seek help from other friendly pilgrims.
What most solo women also do is to get a travel buddy early on, and band together. Since the start can always be a bit new and exciting, once you are more comfortable, you can always decide to part ways.
The Camino Frances is not a solitary experience
For the Camino Frances in particular, you are not really alone or solo. You will always have others to share a dinner with or to share in a conversation. As long as you sleep in albergues that is and take part in the community dinners and breakfasts. When you are really looking for a solo experience, then your best bet is to sleep in hotels. Be prepared for a lot of added costs though, and lonely dinners.
If you are looking for a more quiet experience or solitude, I would recommend not doing the Camino Frances, but instead, looking into one of the other Caminos. Those get a lot fewer pilgrims on it and are therefore more of the solo experience you might be looking for. The Via de la Plata, de del Norte, and many others can be worth looking into for your Camino Experience.
This is also reflected in the number of pilgrims in the statistics:
Credit: Oficina del Peregrino
I hope this article can set your mind at ease on the question if you can walk the Camino alone. If you want to read my full list of everything that was in my pack on the Camino, be sure to read my article What to pack on the Camino.
Remember above all, the Camino provides.
Happy Hiking and Hike for Purpose!