When we hear pilgrimage, we tend to think of religious people on their way to a holy place, often walking a troublesome way to get their sins forgiven. But it doesn’t have to that way. I’m not religious and walked the Camino Portugues for other reasons – and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life so far.
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1. Physical challenge
I’m a sporty, outdoorsy person and enjoy a good workout. While my friend and I walked on average 25 km per day, everyone can choose the distance that’s comfortable for himself, there’s no right or wrong. But no matter how much you walk per day, the consecutive exercise is different to what most of us do every day, so you’re likely to feel a positive change in your body.
2. Have a good time with a friend
While you can do the walk on your own – also as a woman – I chose to do it with a friend and can highly recommend it. It gives you all the options: you can walk together and chat or you walk behind one another and just think or enjoy the landscape. We enjoyed having someone known to talk to at the end of the day, recapping what had happened and how we felt. It also eases the accommodation as one double room was about the same price as two beds in a dormitory.
3. See something new from a different perspective
Long distance walking is not how most of us spends our holidays normally, so doing that for a change bears a totally new experience. Apart from the physical challenge the speed – or the lack thereof – is different. While walking we have time to take in the views, we can stop easily to take pictures and have a chat with people on the way. After a while being outside and, in the countryside, feels normal and entering a loud and noisy city can be disturbing. It can leave you wondering how you’ll manage to be indoors in the office once you’re back.
4. Make new connections
If you are curious and like meeting new people a pilgrimage is a great way to do that. There are all kinds of people walking the way you’re on so there’s lots to choose from. Some people have a similar walking rhythm and you’ll meet them again and again – until finally you exchange phone numbers and agree to meet in “real life” again after the Camino. If that’s not your thing there are still lots of potential discussions about everything and anything waiting for you – if you like.
5. Time to reflect and feel free
Even though everybody is on a different journey during a pilgrimage, all of them are looking for something. Some few walk for religious reasons, but the majority of those we met were either there to get over something that happened or were looking for enlightenment to what they should do next in life. I can confirm it really worked, you don’t necessarily need to discuss the topics concerned. Maybe it’s being away from everything without too much distraction, maybe it’s the meditative process of just walking every day. Or maybe it’s the fact that all you own and need at that moment you have in your backpack on your back. This is the ultimate feeling of freedom and a nice change from our otherwise often cluttered lives.