When I first heard about the 500-mile walk in Spain, I was still a student at university. My mountaineering friends talked about the open landscape and the physical challenge….oh, and the affordability of everything along the way. Unlike other long-distance hikes that I knew across the US and Europe, walking the Camino de Santiago seemed surprisingly cheap. Could it be real?
When the time came to walk, I didn’t know how to budget for it. I’d heard and read the stories of people who walked it spending only €20 a day (paying for accommodation, food, and sundries) and I wanted to do the same. I’d just quit my job and didn’t have another one on the horizon so getting the budget right was a necessity. But still, €20 a day, every day, in Europe seemed unrealistic. Would it be enough? And if not, how much extra would I need for 6 weeks of walking?
During my journey, I met a couple who’s combined total spend was €10 per day (wow). I met alleged millionaires who spent thousands of Euro on their trip. And I met every sort of person in between.
Me? I spent more than the rumoured €20 a day. I averaged closer to €35 per day. If were on a super strict budget, that kind of increase would have been a major stress for me. It’s nearly twice the amount that other pilgrims and guidebooks claim is average. So what happened? Did I lose the run of myself and squander my savings on fine dining and lavish spa treatments?
Ha! Not a chance.
From what I could tell, the €20 per day spend was possible only if one did the following:
- Walk fast so you can arrive at a town/village early and nab one of the €5 beds before other pilgrims *or* camp out
- Cook evening meals in the hostels instead of eating out
- Split the cost of private rooms with other pilgrims
Can’t do these things? Don’t want to do these things? Then €20 per day is not feasible and you need to put more money in the purse.
So what did I get for €35 per day?
Things I did:
- Paid for flights within Europe
- Slept indoors every night (mostly in dorms)
- Bought footwear & clothing beforehand and en route
- Bought pharmacy items en route (Compeed plasters, Ibuprofen, sunglasses, etc.)
- Sent 1.5kg of belongings home in the mail
- Contributed to the cost of 2 taxis with other pilgrims
- Paid for 2 return bus tickets
- Paid to have my laundry washed & dried in machines on a few occasions
- Gave between €10-20 to ‘Donativo’ hostels (I could have given less but that was my choice)
- Stayed in private hotel rooms by myself for 5 nights en route
- Bought postcards, chocolate gifts, and earrings
- Bought food in corner shops, supermarkets, and the occasional stall
- Ate out for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner every day
- Ate picnics
- Donated to a photography exhibition & church collections
- Bought beers & coffee for other pilgrims
Things I didn’t do:
- Camp or sleep outdoors
- Plan my route around cheap hostels
- Book a room in advance (not even my first night in St. Jean or my finish in Santiago)
- Stay in any of the Parador hotels (alas!)
- Buy fashionable clothing or anything made of Spanish leather
- Cook my own food (with the exception of 3-4 occasions)
- Order the cheapest item on the menu
- Skimp on pharmacy supplies, food, or a place to sleep
- Go to bed hungry
All in all, my experience wasn’t overtly decadent but it wasn’t all frugal hardship either. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and in the quantities I wanted. I didn’t hold back on the coffee or wine! And I bought whatever clothing/medical supplies I needed along the way. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really see much that I wanted to buy en route. Sure, I could have bought fashionable jeans and winter sweaters in Leon….but then I would have had to carry them all the way to Santiago. There wasn’t a hope in hell I was going to do that, so the temptation to buy frivolous items disappeared quickly.
I bought what I needed and some of what I wanted, and I did just fine.
And you know, the differentiation between my ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ has never been more clear. It was an eye opener for me, not just while I walked but for everyday life too. It’s just another way in which camino changes those of us that walk it.