“Is it better to walk alone or with someone?”
It's one of the most common questions I encounter about The Camino. Until recently I had only hiked the Camino Francés with my partner, and so it was not a question I could entirely answer (on that trip I only spent one day alone, when Christine hurt her feet). Having now walked a solo Camino along the Camino Portugués, aka The Portuguese Way, I can finally weigh in on the topic. I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter for anyone wondering which journey may be best for them.
Walking With A Companion
Walking the Camino with someone you know (your partner, a friend or friends, etc.) will mean that you will always have a familiar face to help you along. You'll each have someone there when you both get lonely, and you'll always have a shoulder to lean on when you are exhausted and your feet are blistered to heck. Through any cultural or linguistic barriers you'll have someone to provide a second opinion. Most usefully, you'll have someone there to hand you your water bottle so you don't have to stop every thirty minutes and fetch it out, and someone to snap some epic photos as you trek along The Way.
Hiking in a pair or group is also safer. The Camino sees very little serious crime, so this really shouldn't be a significant concern. However, if you get an early start each morning you will be walking sections in the dark. If that isn't something you're comfortable with doing alone then you may want a walking buddy.
The downside of walking in a pair or group is that your freedom will be curtailed. You may not all agree on a pace, nor will you all agree on when to take breaks. You could be personally riding high and want to plow onward just when your hiking pal needs to rest; they may want to muscle through and hike to the next village while you're feet are completely knackered. What if you want to start and 6am and they want to sleep in until 8am?
In the end, hiking in a pair or group requires patience and communication – not unlike every other group activity that exists in the world. Some people love it, some people don't. If you are not keen on compromise then you are likely more suited to walking solo. #lonewolf
The main benefit of hiking alone is the freedom. YOU decide when you wake up (assuming the snoring didn't keep you up all night, that is). YOU decide when to rest, when to grab a bite to eat, and when to make a detour. Want to walk 35km? Do it! Feel like only hiking 20km today? Who cares! You are your own boss when walking alone, so embrace the freedom!
The obvious downside is, of course, that being alone can offer some challenges. You wont have anyone to help you plan your trip, and there will be no one there to offer alternative suggestions when your plans inevitably must change. Again, while safety shouldn't be a primary concern on the Camino you will be walking alone. This can mean stretches in the early morning or evening when there are no other pilgrims in sight. If you're not comfortable walking alone then you may have to pair up with other pilgrims here and there. That being said, I hiked every morning alone in the dark for 1-2 hours, through forests and fields and sleeping towns. I never once had any problems, for what it is worth.
The freedom of walking alone is truly unparalled on the Camino. It adds both a sense of difficulty and a sense of accomplishment; it's you against the obstacles that both man and nature have created. Some people may find this overwhelming, and that's perfectly ok – walking alone isn't for everyone. If you revel in freedom and love a challenge, though, walking alone may be for you.
Which Is Best?
There is obviously no right answer here. I had a great time walking with my partner along the Camino Francés in 2015, and I throughly loved walking alone on the Camino Portugués in 2016. Walking alone, I was able to go at my own pace and push my physical limits...but there were many days where I saw almost no pilgrims until I arrived at the albergue. I found I talked to more pilgrims when I was walking alone, since I had no one to rely on for conversation and social connection – and meeting other pilgrims really is a highlight of the Camino (there are truly some colourful characters out there on The Way!)
Both journeys offer their own challenges and rewards, and both are truly amazing adventures. But they are also two very different walks.
In the end, you will have to decide which is best for YOU. It's vital, though, that you walk your own walk. Walk at your own pace and take breaks when you need to, regardless of whether you are walking solo or with a group. Remember, it's your Camino, so make sure you enjoy it! If you are alone and feeling lonely, talk to other pilgrims! If you need to break away from your hiking partner or group for a few hours, then do so!
Whether you're walking alone or with someone, as long as you approach the The Way with an open heart, a sense of humour, and a whole lot of patience (as well as some ear plugs!) then you will have nothing to worry about. Oh, except the blisters.
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