11 Important Considerations for Walking the Camino and House Sitting

7 Mar, 2024

11 Important Considerations for Walking the Camino and House Sitting

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Walking the Camino and house sitting
A marker by Ponferrada Castle shows the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

Intrepid traveler and housesitter Tiera St Claire has been walking the Camino and house sitting in Spain more than a dozen times. Here, she shares her best tips.

How I Began Walking the Camino and House Sitting

By Tiera St Claire

My interest in the Camino Santiago started percolating during 2004, when my husband of 18 years and I decided to divorce. During that time, information about the Camino Santiago came to me in 5 different ways. Twice I turned on the television and saw travel shows about someone on the Camino, twice someone gave me a book about the Camino, and once I opened a magazine to find an article on the Camino. I felt a response from within; the Camino was calling me.

So I said, “Yes!” and started planning. I did a lot of research and planned for 9 months what I would need to bring with me and where I would go. There are numerous Camino web sites and Facebook groups. More recently, I use gronze.com to research accommodations.

By the summer of 2005, I was ready to go.

My First Camino Santiago Walk

Gorgeous villages like Cirauqui provide respite along the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Clair

That Camino was brilliant. I walked from St Jean Pied de Port in France all the way to Finisterre on the far west coast. I made lifelong friends and formed a deep and lasting bond with Spain.

The worst day was the last day. I felt lost and uncertain where to go from there. When a friend asked me to come to Maui (where I had lived previously for 15 years) to house sit and care for her animals whilst she went on holiday, I said a resounding “yes.”

This house sit was caring for 4 dogs and 2 cats. I fell in love with all of them, of course, as I do with all the animals I care for. That took me through the winter and spring and then I went back to Spain to walk the Camino again.

Walking the Camino and House Sitting

I have walked the Camino Santiago 12 more times since then. I love walking the Camino and house sitting before or afterwards.

When I walked the Camino the first time, it was not so well known. It has now become something that most people have heard of.

Where Does the Camino Begin and End?

The Camino has many routes. Map by Ant Hikes

The “Camino” I am referring to is called the Camino Frances. It typically begins in St Jean Pied de Port in southern France and ends in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

When I first began walking the Camino and house sitting, that was one main route that most people did.

To learn more about the Camino, I highly recommend these 2 books:

WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission of the Camino de Santiago is a novel for pre-teens about an 11-year-old who walks the Camino with his family. This is written by Esther A. Jantzen, a woman I met at a hostel in London.  She is also a pilgrim and a house sitter!

The Only Way Is West: A Once In a Lifetime Adventure Walking 500 Miles On Spain’s Camino de Santiago by Bradley Chermside. I met Bradley on the Camino and have a little cameo in his book. I also interviewed him on his podcast about his walk along the Camino in Portugal.

There have always been numerous Caminos, however, and nowadays people seem to do them all. I have met people who began walking in Poland or Germany or Belgium. The routes that seem to be gaining in popularity now are the ones going through Portugal.

A church on the way into Castrojeriz is along the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

They all end in Santiago with the option to walk 3 or 4 more days to reach the western coast. Many people walk the last 100 km in the Galicia region and reach Santiago in order to get a certificate – called a compostela – to verify their Camino trek.

If you are combining walking the Camino and house sitting, you can arrange to begin or end your trek near your sitting assignment.

Are There Rules for Walking the Camino?

You can walk a much or as little as you like. There are very few rules on the Camino…But if you want to stay in the municipal or parochial albergues (Camino hostels run by the state or by the church), you must walk or bike and you must have a Pilgrim’s Passport. You can get them at most albergues along the way and they are stamped in each place you stay.

Things to Consider When Walking the Camino and House Sitting

How fit are you?

How far do you walk in a normal day? How are your knees? If you have trouble with your knees, it is best to avoid the steep downhill stretches. If this is the case, I do not recommend starting in St Jean Pier de Port as the uphill is arduous and the downhill brutal on knees.

Pilgrims sharing a meal in an albergue in Boadilla del Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

Where would you like to stay?

Do you prefer to stay in hotels where you have your own space, like a tourist? Or would you enjoy the company of other pilgrims, sharing stories, food and rooms with bunkbeds? (And very likely snoring). In these basic hostels, the bathrooms can be very basic and may be co-ed.

Do you have any dietary restrictions?

In the last several years, Spain has caught on to many of the major dietary trends with vegan, gluten-free, and low-carb options now available in many of the supermarkets in the larger towns and cities. I recommend El Corte Ingles for the best selections. This is a large and lovely department store that generally has a supermarket on the lower floor. You can find them in the larger towns along the way.

How much time do you have?

You can decide how much time you walk, though I would recommend at least a week or 10 days so you can sink into the experience. You can begin where you like and go as long as you want – unless, once again, you want the compostela, in which case you have to walk the last 100 kms in Galicia.

Do you want to walk before or after house sitting?

You’ll want to carefully coordinate your walk on the Camino and house sitting. You will likely be tired after your walk, so will you have the energy you need for caring for the house and pets you will be in charge of? If you are doing a house sit after the Camino, it would be the perfect time to work on projects and enjoy cuddles with your charges. If you walk the Camino before house sitting, the time during your sit can be a great for planning.

What weather and terrain do you like?

The Meseta, high desert, is the mid-portion of the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

The Camino Santiago traverses hills (some very steep), forests, high desert plateaus, vineyards, rain-drenched valleys, larger cities, and small towns.

The time of year of your trek determines the weather. It will be cooler in the mountains, hotter in the desert, and wetter in the valleys.

How long will you walk each day?

There are many books and maps that show where the towns are and how long the walk is for the suggested day. Some areas of the Camino have towns closer together than other stages. The guidebooks tend to put the stages into 25 kms per day. You can look and see where to stop earlier if this is too long for you.

What if it is too hard or you get hurt?

A pilgrim crosses the bridge to the Hospital de Orbigo. Photo by Tiera St Claire

This is not a wilderness hike, though you will be walking through nature much of the time. Once you are in the towns, you can get busses, trains, and taxis. There are urgent-care facilities in most towns called Urgencias. I have found them to be friendly and helpful.

I recommend putting some taxi numbers in your mobile phone (they advertise along the way) in case you need to call when you are on the road.

What about mobile phone coverage?

You can get an inexpensive local sim card for your phone in stores called Locutorios in the larger towns. Ask for a pay-as-you-go plan. Normally, they run about 10 to 15 euro for a month with 50gb of data which you can use for calls with apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger.

Do you need to speak Spanish?

Whilst you are in Spain and the national language is Spanish, English is widely spoken, especially in the albergues. People from the world over walk the Camino and English has become the common language.

However, learning some Spanish is a wonderful way to speak to local people and to demonstrate respect and love for their country and what they provide.

If you are walking the Camino and house sitting, some basic Spanish could be very helpful!

Pilgrims relaxing in Burgos. Photo by Tiera St Claire

What do you bring?

If you decide to do the Camino, whether before or after housesitting, you can stay in hotels, or private albergues, and have your baggage transported for you. In this case, it is not critical how much you bring as you don’t have to carry everything on your back.

If you decide to go as a more traditional pilgrim by carrying a backpack, I recommend going very light.

This Is What I Bring with Me When I Walk The Camino

• A runner’s vest that has pockets in the front as well as a small main compartment in the back

• A silk sleep sack instead of a sleeping bag

• Silk underwear to sleep in or use to layer on cold days

• Keen Newport sandals or trail runners to walk in

• Sun hat that is light and easy to fold up

• A pair of leggings and a shirt made from material that dries quickly

• 2 pairs of anti-blister socks

Once I arrive where I am staying for the night, I wash these clothes and hang them out to dry.

Beautiful cities like Leon are on the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

After my shower, I put on my other set of clothes:

• A pair of very lightweight Capri pants

• A lightweight top

• A pair of ballet slippers – the lightest footwear I can find (other people bring crocs or flip-flops or a second set of trainers)

• An extra lightweight fleece jumper (sweater)

• Two very lightweight scarves, for warmth and beauty

Other Things I Bring

• The lightest pen I can find

• One of those cheap toothbrushes they give out in hotels as they are small and light

• Facial cleanser, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, and sun cream  (I put these in ziplock bags to avoid the weight of the bottles.)

• Aloe gel, for brushing my teeth and as first aid ointment

• Pre-cut strips of floss in a small zip lock

• Sleep mask and ear plugs (There is a LOT of snoring in the albergues!)

• Backpacking towel – the one that is really meant to be a washcloth

• A little make up, specifically a foundation with sun protection

Estella is one of the towns along the Camino. Photo by Tiera St Claire

How to get there?

If you decide to begin in St Jean Pier de Port, the easiest way is to get a train from Bayonne (which is near Biarritz, a lovely town on the southwest coast of France and a perfect place to spend a night). From Biarritz, you can get a bus or train to Bayonne and then another train to St Jean Pier de Port.

You can also begin in Pamplona, famous for the Running of the Bulls. If you begin near the 6th of July, this town is madness and can be quite overwhelming with drunken people and large crowds. Otherwise it is a lovely town to walk around to get used to being in Spain. You can get to Pamplona on a train from Madrid or fly in directly.

Why I Love Walking the Camino and House Sitting

Both walking the Camino and house sitting are alternative lifestyles. Both are unknown until you arrive. Even for me after walking the Camino and house sitting for almost 20 years, each experience is new and different.

I feel that walking the Camino and house sitting can provide experiences that enhance and support each other. If you are new to each experience, taking the courage to do one can empower you to do the other.

The Camino Santiago Suits My Soul

Villamajor del Monjardin is beneath a mountain you can see from afar. Photo by Tiera St Clair

When I am away from the Camino, I think about it. Walking the Camino was, and remains, the lifestyle that makes the most sense to me, that suits my soul…Awakening each morning to a sense of the unknown and a curiosity about what the day will bring.

Pouring my considerable physical energy into navigating from place to place. Meeting people along the way and having meaningful conversations. Sharing space with others at the end of the day and laughing, confiding, helping one another. And most importantly, learning to absolutely trust life and the Camino, no matter what happens.

Tiera St Claire vlogs at https://www.youtube.com/@beingTiera where she has several charming videos of her walks along the Camino and her house sits.

Browse house sitting opportunities on HouseSit Match via this link.

 

 


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