I have been back from my solo holiday in Spain, walking the last 115k of the Camino de Santiago for a few weeks now, and just like the terrain it wasn’t without it’s ups and downs. But I think I can definitely say the ups outweighed the downs by miles, and it taught me a few life lessons along the way that I want to share with you.
Lesson NO. 1
My biggest trepidation about the whole trip was doing it on my own, making decisions on my own and feeling isolated or alone but I realised I had to find a way around this fear or it could easily ruin everything before I even started.
The day before I left, I talked to myself just like I would talk to a client:
Break it down into bite size chunks
Don’t look too far ahead
What past experiences can you draw on?
I realised the first step was getting to the airport – my son was giving me a lift and apart from getting up in the middle of the night for my 6.30am flight, I have done this loads of times before so that was going to be easy.
The next step was getting on the flight – again easy, I’ve done that loads of times before.
The next step, getting the bus to my starting point. I’d pre-booked a ticket (thank goodness, as I realised later that I wouldn’t have got a seat otherwise once I was there) so bus pre-planning was definitely my golden ticket. Even though the flight was delayed by over an hour, and I had only a short window of time to get on the bus, I decided that I’d just have to get the train (although not researched!!) but I consoled myself that I had all day to find my way there. In the end it took exactly 15 minutes from stepping off the plane to standing outside the airport, next to the bus stop with my bags – speedy Easy Jet!
Walk to the hotel rather than a taxi – when in doubt use google maps.
Check into hotel, realise I had an amazing room in a lovely hotel, right next to the starting point for my walk, check out where I would be heading the next morning, buy the regulation pilgrim shell to hang on my bag, explore the town, sit at a bar by myself and have a drink, get changed for dinner and eat on my own with my kindle as my companion, get a good nights sleep for the first day of walking.
Day one accomplished
Not as hard as I had feared
Just taking it step by step was the key
LESSON no. 2
BE OPEN TO NEW CONNECTIONS
AND THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
One of the main things that I will take away was just how friendly, kind and supportive everyone was to each other on the walk.
I made my first ‘new friend’ on the plane. I quickly realised that practically everyone waiting to board the plane had either walking boots on or was carrying a rucksack. There’s only really one reason you go to Santiago de Compostela – and that’s to do the pilgrim walk.
As I got chatting to ‘my new friend’, it transpired that she was a seasoned solo traveller and before we had even taken off she had inspired me to look into walking the Inca Trail. She also secretly told me she wished she was doing this walk on her own, as she was with two colleagues from work, and envied me being able to do it solo. That was really encouraging and inspiring to hear.
That first morning as I went down to breakfast I met a couple from Ireland in the lift. They had the same luggage tags as me, so we said hello and that was that, until the end of the following day and I saw them again waiting for to get a lift with me to a remote hotel we were staying in that night.
I had injured my knee by this point and the next morning, the man offered to strap my knee up for me as I could barely walk. In this same hotel a lady from Canada gave me her walking poles, another lady from Florida gave me her knee brace, another lady from Ireland gave me some pain relief gel.
At the end of that gruelling day, after I walked around 20 km at a painful limp, the original Irish couple were there to buy me a celebratory drink and check in on me, and I had dinner with the lady who had given me her poles. The kindness and generosity of strangers was everywhere.
Because of the nature of the walk, and the fact that everyone is following the same route, with the same goal, it’s very easy to strike up conversations with people.
striking up random conversations
Standing in a queue – I got into three long conversations with three different women just waiting in the departure lounge on the way home.
Buying a coffee on the second day – someone called out ‘Amanda’, which I ignored (it couldn’t possibly be me?!) and then an Australian couple who I had spoken to for a few hours the night before whilst having dinner (on my own!) came up to me and said hello. We got chatting and by the end of it, we had become friends on Facebook and I’ve got an invite to Brisbane if I’m ever passing that way.
Walking along admiring the view – I was walking alongside an English guy, we struck up a conversation and we continued walking together for the rest of the day and the next, by the end of it we knew each other’s life stories.
Sitting in a cafe – I struck up a conversation with two American girls for about 20 minutes before they moved on. Three days later, they recognised me as I was approaching Santiago. We walked the last few kilometres together into the city and took the customary ‘we made it’ photos of each other outside the cathedral.
Moral of this lesson:
I was never really alone
If you make an effort to talk to people, people will talk to you
LESSON no. 3
IT’S THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION
My knee started hurting at the end of the second day of walking. I really didn’t know how I was going to cover the remaining 75km at a hobbling snails pace. At one point I realised the only way I could get down a very long hill was to do it backwards, as going downhill forwards was excruciating. By the end of the week I looked forward to the uphills, I didn’t feel any pain and I was actually over taking people!
In the end I hobbled 20 painful kilometres on day three. The next day, I got a taxi for the last half of the walk, and the day after a taxi for the first half. The final day I took it really slowly and did the whole 20km into Santiago. However it’s taken a couple of weeks for my knee to recover, and it’s still a bit sore if I over do it.
I could have viewed this as a reason to quit, or to have been really disappointed and angry that I couldn’t do what I set out to do. But even though I was frustrated, I suddenly had a little epiphany that the whole point of being there wasn’t about doing the walk necessarily, it was more about stepping out of my comfort zone and having the courage to doing something totally on my own. And I did.
It has given me the confidence and encouragement to do this again
It’s made me realise that I’m tougher and more resilient than I thought
It’s shown me that even when I’m in pain, I can dig deep and keep on going.
When when things go wrong, there is always something we can learn.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes, just by putting one foot in front of the other, or consistently doing one small thing each day you will reach your destination or goal.
I hope this has given you a tiny insight into why I did this, and maybe it’s inspired you to try something new, push yourself out of your comfort zone and create some ‘life lessons’ of your own. The company I used for my holiday was called Walks in Spain and I would highly recommend them. If you want to see some photo’s – go to highlights on my Instagram page and click on Camino.
I’m already planning my next trip!