Walk the Camino with Children: How to Make this 800 km Hike a Wonderful Family Experience
“Walk the Camino with kids? I don’t think it’s going to happen until my kids are grown up and have left the house!”
This conversation with a colleague inspired me to write this post and go down memory lane with you as well.
Before I tell you about why my colleague (or you!) doesn’t have to wait for the kids to grow up in order to hike the Camino De Santiago, let’s do a quick flashback to 2012: I took three months off from my day job so I could focus on my health and happiness rather than working myself to the ground.
A massive item on my bucket list at the time was to walk the Way of St. James, also known as Camino de Santiago.
This ancient pilgrimage has gained wide popularity amongst people from all over the world with all types of different backgrounds and motivations to do an 800km hike. Yes, 800km!! Would it amaze you if it told you that those 800 kms were the best 800 kms of my life?
Yes, that’s the beauty of the Camino.
However, the reason I’m sharing this memory with you is not because walking the Camino changed my life (it did do that!) but because on the way I met a lot of people who had dreamt of doing the Camino for years or even decades.
For some of them it turned out to be a breeze and exactly what they had dreamed of for so long.
BUT for many others, hiking the Camino brought them face-to-face with a harsh truth: their bodies couldn’t keep up with walking 20-30km every day.
They had to give up on their dream maybe because they’d waited for too long.
Listening to their stories of feeling defeated and disappointed made me realise how important it is to live your biggest dreams TODAY and not to put them off until later or even until retirement or… until the kids are grown up.
That is why when I had that conversation with my colleague and heard him say, “Yes, the Camino is definitely one of my bucket list items but when you have a family and kids you are bound to wait until the kids are grown up until you can turn a dream like this into reality.” I wanted to shake him and say, “Noooo!!!”
But I did the grown up, mature thing instead. *wink*
I came home and messaged my friends Sara and Claudia, who’re both experienced tour guides on the Camino, and asked to get on a quick Skype call with them.
You see, it’s not just about helping my colleague. Yes, my conversation did spark my thought process but the real reason is that I do want to walk the Camino with my daughter, even though she’s just 1.5 years old.
Sara, Claudia and I brainstormed a bunch of different ways we can make hiking the Camino with kids totally possible.
Then I touched base with my other friend, Google, and came up with the following 6 tips that will make walking the Camino with children a wonderful experience.
Walk the Camino with Children: 6 Tips to Make This Hiking Experience an Incredible One for Everyone
1) Bike the Camino Rather than Hike
In my earlier post about the top 10 European activity holidays, I’d shared that while I’d walked the Camino, we may consider biking it as a family.
I’ve been reading the Family on a Bike Adventures blog and their 2008 tour of Camino del Santiago has certainly got the wheels in my head spinning! Pun unintended!
If, like me, you’re not sure about hiking the entire distance, you can definitely think about biking it with your kids in tow!
2) Hike Shorter Distances Every Day
Instead of walking for hours at a stretch, consider walking shorter distances every day. Erin Walton shares this great tip on Almost Fearless
“Though it takes around four weeks to hike in its entirety, the French Way can be easily broken into sections to suit families with very small children or little trekking experience.”
Not just that, you can choose to create a route that is doable for your family, like Chris at Camino with a Child did when he returned to walk the Camino with his wife and 2-year old daughter.
“We started in Ponferrada and walked all the way to Santiago. The total distance was ~130 miles. It took us 11 days total and this included a rest day at the half way mark. We started our journey in mid April. Here is our itinerary:
Day 1- Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo
Day 2- to Ambesmestas
Day 3- to O Cebreiro
Day 4- to Triacastela
Day 5- to Sarria
Day 6- Rest Day in Sarria
Day 7- to Portomarin
Day 8- to Palas de Rei
Day 9- to Arzua
Day 10- to Arca
Day 11- to Santiago de Compostela
This itinerary was aggressive but doable. The only day I would suggest breaking into two would be Day 9 from Palas de Rei to Arzua…that was a really tough day distance wise.”
3) Combine Forces with Another Family
This is one of my favorite tips!
If you can, invite another family to come along so your kids have company and you can set up family outdoor adventure camps between stops as well.
Keeping your kids entertained will also be much easier and you’ll have a support system in place should anyone fall sick or get hurt!
4) Invest in the Perfect Gear
This is super important. Don’t cut costs or corners when buying your hiking gear.
Whether you’re choosing shoes, reflective gear, headlamps as well as backpacks and most importantly, baby carriers or off-road buggies, if you’re travelling with kids aged 0-6, choose those that will make your hike the most comfortable.
Chris and his wife chose the Chariot Carrier Chinook which is, “a bike trailer that has been modified to push.”
The folks at Wirecutter have done a fabulous job of rounding up the best baby hiking carriers and I’ve bookmarked this post so I can make a choice when we plan our Camino hike as a family.
5) Book Your Accommodation in Advance
Chris and his wife made bookings at private accommodations via Booking.com and the Camino Adventures site also recommends making advance bookings when travelling with kids. The last thing you want after a long and tiring day is to reach an albergue that has no room!
The other thing about choosing albergues is that kids, especially younger ones, may not be very comfortable.
As the writers of Camino Adventures share,“… children might find it difficult to fall asleep in crowded albergues despite the lights going out at 10 pm, because people wake up and go to sleep at different times, talk, turn on headlights to look for things and cough or make other loud bodily noises. While it’s possible, it’s not the most comfortable of choices.”
6) Keep Safety Front and Center
Safety MUST always be at the top of your list when travelling with kids anywhere and while you need to follow the basics – keep your passport and valuables on your person and well-hidden, never leave your children alone or unaccompanied and have a fully stocked first aid kit.
There are certain Camino-specific safety tips to keep in mind as well.
In her post sharing her experience of walking the Camino with her 4 kids, WanderMom recommends:
“Creating a family plan in advance should someone get separated from you or your group.
Giving someone (not traveling with you) your travel itinerary and checking with that person periodically.”
So, if like my colleague, you’ve been considering walking the Camino or just going on a long hike but have held back because of your kids… I hope this post has changed your mind or at the very minimum encouraged you to start considering the idea!
I’d love to know if you have any questions and if I can help in any way so feel free to comment below or drop me an email.
Have you walked the Camino de Santiago with kids? Do you have a tip or two to add? Please share!
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