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A 500 Mile-Walk from France Through Spain

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Walk the Walk. 

In the hustle and bustle of our modern age, do you ever feel so overwhelmed with the constant bombardment of technology, bills, drama, that you don’t ever have time to think about why you are doing it all?  In America, we often go straight from high school to college, to  working 9-5, to marriage, family, and then wonder where did all the time go? Unlike Europe, where after high school many take a “gap year”, we may go our whole lives without experiencing any real rights of passage or Pilgrimages.

I was in my early 30’s before I experienced my first Pilgrimage:  the Camino de Santiago: a 500 mile-walk from France through Spain. Let me tell you, I had all the same excuses you are having in your head now: ” I can’t take a MONTH of my life to do this.” “Who will watch my dog?” “I don’t speak Spanish.” “I can’t afford this trip. I mean, what is the simple act of WALKING going to do anyway?”

It is going to change your life, is what is is going to do. I would argue, that you can’t afford not to partake in at least one pilgrimage in your lifetime, or ideally every 5 years or through times of transition.  It is going to immensely help you to deal with problems you experience everyday:  open your prospecting on work, family, relationships, love, and purpose. There are reasons why people have decided to join a pilgrimage for hundreds of years. It’s a chance to fight your own weakness. Its a chance to create space for your spirit to stretch.  This will not resolve any of your problems but it might create time and space you need to figure out where to find help or what to do next.

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How To Do The Camino on the Cheap

We wouldn’t be Broke-Ass Stuart.com if didn’t offer you some tips for a cheap way you can actually walk the Camino. You can walk the Camino de Santiago, in 30-35 days for as cheap €10-€15 per day.  The average cost to walk the Camino Francés, staying in pilgrim hostels and eating in restaurants, is about €30 per person, per day (average of €7 for hostel and €23 for food/drinks/entrance fees):

  1. Buy or borrow a tent, a good sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. If you are going to walk in the summer, you can skip all of the above and even sleep outside. If on the other hand you like some comfort, some good camping gear is highly recommended. The number one reason for sleeping in a tent is that in general, a night in an Albergue will cost around 5 euro pp, except for the Donativo Albergues where you can donate or stay for free.
  2. Buy used gear on sites like Ebay, Craigslist or Gear Trader, or check out local garage sales.
  3. Look for flights well in advance and utilize frequent flier miles or credit card points.
  4. Use Couchsurfing.com, to connect with locals along the way, who can give you advice on best food for cheap, and obviously save money on sleeping costs.  This won’t work in every village along the Way, but it is a very handy network.
  5. Buy your food for the next stage at the supermarket the night before. A lot of the times you only pass by small villages without a supermarket and the only other option to get food is a bocadillo (sandwich) at 3 euro or more.
  6. Try to stay at albergues with kitchen facilities (you can see which ones do at our accommodations list), cook your own pasta or rice dishes instead of eating out. Make your own coffee in the morning.
  7. Buy local fresh fruit and vegetables, they are cheap and very tasty.
  8. Check what is left behind at albergues, many kitchens have dry goods, spices, oil, etc that others have left behind. Check for left behind toiletries when yours are running low.
  9. Try to wash your clothes together with some other pilgrims. A washing costs about 4 euro, drying 2 euro. Split the costs.
  10. Don’t buy when you can trade and share with other Pilgrims: medicine, first-aid, guide-books, etc. Share what you have when you have extra, and don’t be afraid to ask when you need a little extra too. 2

So go on, have  a walk of gratitude… a walk of grace… a walk of letting go… a walk of letting in… a walk of finding our purpose… a walk of contemplation… a walk of breaking habits…a walk of breaking free…

What I Took Home

3I took home a different perspective on the power of perspective. What we choose to focus on becomes our experience, which becomes our destiny, and that has never been more clear than on the Camino.

No matter our age, nationality, or financial situation, we all share the burden of carrying around a lot of pain. But is our perspectives and determination which allow us to keep going forward. I also learned that most of the stuff we have, is really just more stuff we have to weigh us down. A little forethought and preparation is all you need. The rest quickly becomes baggage.

It also seems the more I tried to plan the trip, trying to guestimate and dictate what city I would be and when, the more life would get in the way and change it all. Luckily, being present to the moment always creates the perfect plan.

If you would have told me I would be waking 500 miles a month ago, I would say,” you are mad”. But it just takes 10-20 miles a day, a few km per hour, a few steps, one intention to go forward. Thus, I have a renewed faith in making bold statements and living them out little by little, resulting in big results.

As it is deeply illustrated in the Camino, incredible people come in and out of lives; every interaction mirrors and reflects who we are and where we are in our journey. Sometimes we walk alone. Sometimes we are together for only a few minutes or in stages. Some are lucky enough to come together and stay together until the very end of the world (aka Finnestera). Whether its long or a short time, there is always something to learn, gain, and treasure. Some fall behind, some shoot ahead… It is often sad because you make such important connections, its hard to know when to let go. But, if i have learned anything, it is so important to be true to your own pace… Because when you follow your own flow, you end up living the life you were meant to live… And as bittersweetly as you let go, new beauty always comes in… And more often than you think, people end up coming back together when it is the right time.

1Before coming on the Camino, many of us, like me, bring a stone from “home,” where we started the journey, or some place of signficance. I went to Muir Woods a few days before I left for Spain and found a stone that called to me… Representing the anger and fear within myself that causes hateful tone, speech, and has resulted in the loss of very important relationships.  Words can be like daggers, causing deep wounds, and thus I wanted to deeply own the pain and strife, not having mindfulness and self discipline in these repeated patterns. 

This stone traveled 540 Kilometers with me and many other pilgrims, representing the burdens of life. Or something that needs to be left behind before entering the final phase of the pilgrimage… There are other mementos in the huge mound. Ribbons, flags, photos. Poems, letters, prayers. A possession from a departed loved one.

I learned that I do have the capacity to lead with faith over fear. I have learned the importance of incorporating meditative thinking and mindfulness daily. Having the time to allow the insights from my subconscious has allowed clarity and peace in a way I have never experienced.  I learned that life is about finding the pleasure in the pain… That there is always a way to find the humor and laughter in any moment.

Lastly, I learned how to truly enjoy being alone. To be happy in what is. Not to want what is not present, but to embrace the present, to be present.

That, is why I walk…

Why will you?

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Alexandra Liss - Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

Alexandra Liss - Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

Alexandra Liss is a San Francisco native, Entrepreneur Whisperer, Sharing Economy Evangelist. Just Vagenius. Co-author of www.ItsaShareableLife.com, & Videographer for hire www.BrandbarSF.com, Director of www.OneCouchataTime.com.