The Art of Packing: 34 Days ’til the Camino

Packing is an art form. And like art, and there are almost as many styles as people packing. There is the “make-a-list” kind of packer, there is the “what do you mean ‘make a list,’ my list has been made for years…look, it’s laminated!” kind of packer and there is the “What’s a list?” kind of packer. And amongst them are those who start packing the night before, those who who pack 20 minutes before and those who start packing a month before.

Simply typing “how to pack” in my search engine resulted in 52,600,000 hits including video demonstrations. “How to pack for a pilgrimage” resulted in 27,600,000 hits while, more the most specific search “How to pack for the El Camino” resulted in 1,690,000 hits. While there is no shortage of references on how to pack for whatever your intentions may be, the fact that there are so many hits gives us a peak into the often over-complicated approach we take in simply fitting some essentials into a bag.

So while resources on how to pack aren’t a problem, packing can still be emotionally draining. Anytime we leave our nests for an extensive period of time, it can be a struggle to leave behind our “creature comforts,” all the things that hold us to one spot on this big round earth. A lot of times we don’t even know how connected we are to these things until we’re forced to leave them behind, desperately longing to be reunited if only for a few seconds. I often have this experience with a good pillow. It seems that no matter where you are in the world, good pillows are always hard to find.

But unfortunately for me, good pillows are not on the pilgrimage packing list. Contemplating how far I should dig into the millions of archives related to how to pack, I lucked out with the very first article entitled How to Pack for a Pilgramage, (Go figure!) by Lisa Deam Deam contemplates how to go light for her upcoming Thanksgiving trip back in 2015. Until reading her article, I had never considered Thanksgiving and the various winter solstice celebrations we head out on the road for every year as pilgrimages. Okay, duh, who do I think we are celebrating at Thanksgiving – yes, I get it, they were called Pilgrims.

But, in modern times, many of us do our ‘due dilligence,’ spending a lot of time, energy and money to make our mini-pilgrimages to see “loved ones”. And while planes, trains, and automobiles have shortened travel time, it has also shortened patience. And simply spending a long weekend with our in-laws can make us feel like we’ve gone to hell and back.

That’s probably why Lisa Deam took an historic approach in her article, maybe in an attempt to give her readers some perspective before heading out with the millions of other travelers into the great unknown where hopes and expectations go head to head with the reality that some things are out of our control.

Refrencing ‘old-timey’ pilgrimages like the one Pietro Casola took to Jerusalem in 1494, Deam reminds her readers that, ‘Hey, it could be worse!’ At least we don’t have to travel thousands of miles by foot or by camel through lands where “our kind” isn’t exactly welcomed…then again, some people still are making those kind of pilgrimages. Just look at thousands of people coming up from South and Central America as just one example

CNN reporter Leyla Santiago has been documenting the current journeys of many pilgrims who have left their homes with whatever they could fit on their backs knowing full well they could be turned around at any moment. It appears Pietro Casola’s packing advice still rings true for these pilgrims of mostly Christian descent when he said:

Each one who goes on the Sepulchre of our Lord has need of three sacks, a sack of patience, a sack of money, and a sack of faith…During our pilgrimage, we will dip into our sacks liberally. We will spend everything in them and arrive at our destination depleted. But we shouldn’t worry too much about that. When we kneel at the foot of the cross, Jesus will fill our sacks again.

I think this idea of depletion is what leads people like me to the Camino. To many, it is seen as a walk of redemption and a way to rid yourself of unwanted baggage so that we may be filled back up again with something stronger. I’ve been told that it is not too uncommon to see a few pilgrims approach the trail in manners of yore, even so far as carrying giant wooden crosses. Other “traditionalists,” like my roommate’s brother, a now retired priest, proceed on the trail with nothing outside of what they are wearing, without a dime in their pocket, simply relying on their faith in God and the kindness of strangers to “fill [their] sacks again”.

In his guidebook Camino de Santiago, A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim, John Brierley touches on packing so briefly if you blink you could miss it. His essential list includes a proper pair of boots, already broken in, a poncho, as it can rain at anytime in Spain, a hat, because “sunstroke is painful and can be dangerous” and if you’re bag weighs more than 10 kilos (22lbs), “look again”. With a passion for keeping things simple on the trail, John challenges his readers to “deepen the experience” by leaving behind cameras, watches and mobile phones (9thed, p10).

Jenna Fisher, author of the College Avenue article, Buen Camino: El Camino de Santiago followed the guidelines of only carrying 10% of your total body weight which meant for her only taking 10 pounds. Her essentials included two outfits that she alternated each day and washed each night, toiletries, and “some luxuries” like her journal and a GoPro (CAM, Spring 2018, p17).

And then of course, everyone’s essential list is different. Take the documentary entitled I’ll Push You about two friends, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray. Skeesuck, in a wheelchair, and Gray, pushing, completed their own Camino in 2014. Throwing a wheelchair in the mix, along with everything you need to manage a neurological disease that confines you to that chair, exemplifies just how individual the packing experience can be.

Personally, what I know about packing up to this point I’ve picked up from my own traveling miscues. I’ve learned over the years that most things I thought were essential when put into my bag were never taken out of my bag until returning home. Thankfully, having to travel on the cheap, I put myself in a position where I can only take a carry-on even though I will be continuing my journey after the Camino before returning home in September. So that’s four and half months away from home with:

One carry-on bag, with maximum dimensions of 55 by 40 by 23 centimeters, or approximately 22 by 16 by 9 inches

One small personal item, with maximum dimensions of 25 by 33 by 20 centimeters, or approximately 10 by 13 by 8 inches

The maximum combined weight (for both) is 10 kilograms or about 22 pounds

Rules specified by my outbound airline carrier, Norwegian Air

My “essentials” include two pair of worn-in walking shoes…yes, that’s right two! For when it comes to walking, it is “essential” for me to make sure my hips are even which requires right shoes with a 10 milimeter lift glued on at The Denver Cobbler Frankly, I don’t want to find myself in a Cheryl Strayed Wild moment losing or damaging my modified shoe with no way to replace it Then again, I’m probably just being cheap and paranoid…wasn’t cobbling invented in Spain? (Don’t quote me on that.) Anyway, thanks to a car-accident that left me with a longer leg, the extra shoes will just have to be my cross to bear, so to speak.

Along with excessive shoe choices including a pair of flip flops (also lifted), that will serve as shower shoes as well as a way to relax tired feet around the hostels and such, I’ve included: two pair of leggings; one pair of pants that convert to shorts; one pair of capri sweats; one pair of regular shorts; one long sleeve shirt; two shirts; one tank top; and four pairs of ‘under’ type things, including socks. And then of course, I am planning some beach time after the Camino and so I’ve included a bikini top and a handy-dandy sarong. Did you know there are more than 100 uses for a sarong?

Rounding off the clothes will be: toiletries; water bottle; tin cup, tablet and keyboard, itinerary; Scrubba wash bag that a friend got me after I told her I might try and camp when I can; and clothes pins because I was told by another friend who did the Camino last year that they can be scarce and they might also be handy to air dry extra socks pinned to my bag while I walk.

As for the things I’ve been told I won’t need on the Camino but I hope to use after or in case of emergency, I’ve included:a 12 ounce, wick away “security” blanket; an 18 ounce “hang-anywhere” hammock; and a blow up pillow. I should mention I have this secret fantasy to be able to travel like a gypsy and go when and wherever the road takes me but in reality I’ve pre-booked hostel stays via Booking.Com (though I can cancel if I do in fact find me some gypsies).

But even if I do end up utilizing hostels for the most part, having lived in a college town these past seven months, I’ve been inspired by students who carry hammocks with them to enjoy the outdoors in comfort between classes. I imagine this idea might serve me well when in need of an affordable hide away from the hottest part of the summer during “siesta” hours, when many places close for a few hours in Spain and Portugal. I can see myself having daily picnics in the local parks over a book or a blog session….I think its worth the extra weight… don’t quote me on that either.

So no wonder there are so many articles on how to pack as there will always be more than one person’s agenda. I will say that packing for the Camino, the “O.G.” of long walks, leaves a lot of wiggle room as compared to “younger” trails like The Appalachian or the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). Having been walked for over 1000 years, towns and infrastructure have literally sprung up around the Camino and so, unless a pilgrim particularly wants to, they don’t have to worry about camping gear, packing food and extra water or sending packages ahead, as there are plenty of places to eat, drink and sleep along the way. Kind of makes me wonder what will become of the PCT in 700 years…hmm?

Of course, having written all this makes me want to revisit some of my packing essentials again as I do still have over a month to make my final decisions. And Lisa Deam reminded me of the old adage to pack everything and take out half, and after shoving everything in my bag for its debut photo op as seen below, I realize, while it’s under weight by two pounds, it still needs to lose 4 inches somewhere.

Fortunately, no matter what I end up bringing in the end, there will always be plenty of room for sacks of “faith and patience” and thank God money is “virtual” these days…that’s a whole other story!


2 thoughts on “The Art of Packing: 34 Days ’til the Camino

  1. How about a plastic bag? For something still wet from washing the night before or to tear up & keep your feet dry in an emergency or to keep something dry & available in wet conditions or to throw a churro in for later that someone has decided to share with you, etc… and are you taking moleskin for any blister on feet that might form? Sending thoughts & love….oh, and maybe your mom can start looking up publishers for your book!!!(what do you mean “what book”?????) XO

    Liked by 1 person

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