Doing the Camino as a Teenager – Pluses, Minuses, Personal Experience




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Watching some movies about the Camino, or checking most popular online forums, you can easily get a wrong impression about the pilgrimage. It may seem like teenagers are a rare occurrence on the way, and that you’ll spend most of your time with people twice or trice your age. And though you can certainly learn a lot from these people (and also about yourself while interacting with them), perhaps you are looking for a younger company on your one month long trip in Spain.

You may also have other questions on your mind while considering doing the Camino as a teen. Which way is the best one to walk for you? Won’t you struggle with the terrain, or the distance you have to cover on a daily basis? Will you find internet connection in the places along the Camino? And how will you cope with sleeping in pilgrim hostels, with “old snorers” around you? I will try to answer all these questions on the following lines, but before I proceed to the task, let me tell you one thing: Walking the camino is an amazing and often a life-changing experience, and if you feel the calling to go, you should follow it, regardless of your age.


There are plenty of teenagers on some Caminos

Let me bust the first myth immediately. Camino is not a collective walk of retired Americans, Germans, and Koreans. Sure, it is much easier to embark on a journey of these proportions once you do not work anymore, and at the same time you have financial resources. But you will meet people of all ages and occupations on the Camino. Freelancers, businessmen and women, people who left one job and took a break from working to do the walk, artists, permanently unemployed, teachers who have long holiday, and of course students and fresh graduates who are taking a gap year or simply walking in the summer.

Having said that, certain demographic groups will prevail in each seasons of the year. It also depends on what Camino you will walk. “Newbies” to walking in Spain know just one road–from Saint Jean to Santiago, the famous Camino Frances. But there are more than 20 caminos in Spain alone!, all waymarked, ranging from very popular (like Frances, Norte or Portuguese) to almost unknown routes (like Olvidado, Lebaniego, or Mozarabe). Each way is special, and each attracts primarily certain groups of people, though you can meet anyone on any road. So which one is best for teenagers?


If you are looking for fun, time on the beach, and prevalence of young people, walk Camino del Norte

Camino del Norte (from Irun to Santiago) is definitely a way to walk if you are looking for enjoyment, and want to spend time with people of your age. In July and August it attracts hordes of pilgrims from both Spain and abroad, plus many tourists and holidaymakers with caravans. Many of them are teenagers, or people in their early twenties, and many of them aren’t looking for spirituality on the way.

They consider Camino an inexpensive holiday in Spain, or basically  (as I’ve heard it on several occasions) “a pleasant walk from one beach to the next“. Some “die-hard pilgrims” do not like such an attitude, but I personally have nothing against it. At the end of the day, each of us has their own reason for walking the Camino, and many older people tend to forget that one day in the past they were also teenagers with carefree attitude and a desire to simply have fun…

– One of the many sandy beaches on Camino del Norte. Some of them get pretty crowded in summer, but you will also find many hidden gems along the way… Camino del Norte can definitely be a “walk from one beach to another” for teenagers who look for such an experience in July or August

Coastal way of Camino Portuguese and last 100 kilometers of any major Camino in summer also attract many teens

Camino Portuguese (connecting Porto with Santiago, a meager 250 kilometers away) offers two alternative roads–an inland one and a coastal one. The coastal road attracts a lot of young pilgrims in the summer. In a way we can call it a shorter version of Camino del Norte, though the comparison isn’t exactly right, since the ways are different in landscape, food, cultural heritage, and many other aspects. But you will meet many young people including teenagers on this way in summer.

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What many outsiders do not know is that Spanish students earn credits for walking the Camino. You hear it right–they earn credits for doing at least the 100km walk, just as they earn credits for passing a Math exam. Many of them opt for longer walk, like 200 kilometers, and basically the closer you get to Santiago in summer, the more Spanish students you will meet. Many of them speak English as well, and will welcome you to their walking group. Keep in mind though that Spanish students typically walk in big groups, often more than 10 people. Walking in such a group offers a lot of room for fun, but it isn’t exactly a setting for deeper conversations about life, should you be looking for such conversations on your camino…


Avoid lesser-known Caminos if you are looking for other teenagers on the way

Maybe you considered doing Via de la Plata (from Seville to Santiago), or Camino Ingles (from Ferrol), or perhaps even Camino Mozarabe (from Granada) or Camino Levante (from Valencia), or even the Camino Olvidado. With an exception of Ingles these are all beautiful and difficult ways that will allow you to discover natural and historic places in Spain many locals do not know… In a way they offer a more authentic pilgrimage experience, since they haven’t been yet as commercialized as the major Caminos.

However, these routes attract primarily two groups of people. First, the seasoned pilgrims, the addicts (in good means) who walked four or more Caminos before, and have already done all the major ones. Looking for something new, they are discovering these routes. You will often find the most interesting pilgrims of all amongst their ranks, but no teenagers, and no people looking primarily for fun on the Camino. The second group are locals (often coming from the region where the Camino starts), who simply want to start the Camino from their home. Hence if they live in Valencia they start in Valencia, if they live in Salamanca they start from there, and so on. Teens are a rare occurrence on these Caminos, so are the places made for them.

– Via de la Plata, spring 2017. Such endless stretches of dirt roads amongst fields are typical for this way. Great for reflection and inner journey, but as you can imagine they do not attract many teens…


If you worry about your physical ability to walk the Camino, or about your safety as a teen, opt for Camino Frances

Every long walk is difficult in a sense, especially if you haven’t done anything similar before. This is likely the case for most teenagers. If you aren’t in a great shape, an athlete in the making, or someone who hikes/runs five times a week, perhaps your biggest concern is whether you will manage this physically, whether big blisters, painful back, sore knee, or shear exhaustion won’t stop you from reaching your goal, the Shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.

If that’s the case, I suggest you to walk Camino Frances, for a simple reason: the infrastructure. On all other routes (including the popular Norte) you will have days when you have to cover 25 or more kilometers to reach the next pilgrim hostel, and you will have long stretches without a refreshment point. That’s not the case on Camino Frances, which has been commercialized to the max, and you’ll find some refreshment point on virtually every kilometer. Accommodation, pharmacies, shops, bars–all are plentiful on the Frances. Hence if you do not feel well on a day, or want to walk short stages for any other reason, Camino Frances allows you to do so.

You will also never be alone on this way, always seeing pilgrims in front and behind you. Some people may dislike this, but for many younger women this is rather encouraging, since it helps with feeling safe in the country. What I try to say here is that you don’t have to be worried about strange characters bothering you or stray dogs chasing you on the French way. Even if something of that sort happens (which is super unlikely), you can just shout and you know someone will hear you and come to help immediately, since you’ll never walk alone on the Frances…


Major plus and minus of waking the Camino as a teenager

  • Time and no commitments is a big plus for every teenager. Not working, and likely not having to support your own family yet, you can leave for the Camino with a clear head and “clean sheet”, opening yourself to the experience, in a way forgetting your life back home for a month or more. Many people postpone their first Camino for more favorable time in life, and then it happens they never walk it… They meet someone, start to work, get some loan to buy a property, and then they are trapped in a rat race and cannot afford to leave the job, and so on, and so forth. Eventually they never embark on he journey they dreamed of. Make sure you won’t end up with the same story!
  • A minus is that you may find certain things about the Camino overwhelming as a teen. Imagine sleeping in the same room with fifty other people, ten of them snoring. Such things do happen on the Camino. Or walking day after day after day though you do not feel like that and it rains. Back home you’d simply stay in bed playing with your smartphone, but pilgrim hostels are places for one night stay only. Unless you are injured to the point that you cannot walk anymore, you have to leave the place in the morning. Make sure that you are up to these things before embarking on your journey…


Final thoughts

You can certainly do the Camino as a teenager, and you won’t be the only pilgrim under twenty on the way. If you feel the calling to go, you should follow it. It is important though to think for a while about your expectations as well as your concerns, and choose the right way and right time to walk it accordingly. I hope this post helped you to make your decision, and look forward to seeing you in Spain. Buen Camino!


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