Walking the Camino: The journey of a lifetime

Nov 6, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. ET

After speaking with Susan Ward of Ottawa, Ontario, it seems there are a multitude of reasons walking the Camino trail is an unbelievable challenge — one that's sure to make for some unforgettable memories.

Walk the walk
Woman walking the Camino trail

The pilgrimage to Santiago, where it is believed that St. James was buried, has been going on for centuries. People from all over the world walk "El Camino de Santiago" to arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. Susan Ward did the walk herself this year and shares her thoughts on this rare opportunity.

Who walks the Camino?

Susan explains that what is so great about the trail is the fact that it is a true merging of people from all over the world and all walks of life. Some do it for spiritual reasons, while others take on the challenge as something new and exciting to do. Many individuals find all the walking and thinking to be an incredible way to find answers to some of life's biggest questions. Whether that's figuring what they want romantically, career-wise or as a new direction in their lives, the Camino can be an extraordinary opportunity to make sense of tough situations. You can certainly walk the Camino as a religious pilgrimage, but doing it just for the adventure, the challenge and the time to think are all worthwhile reasons too.

Why it's an experience unlike any other

Plenty of paths can be found all over the world that you can walk, so what makes this one so special? Susan explains it's the people. She was blown away by the honesty and openness of the people she met along the way. Everyone was eager to meet new people and help others who were in need. The sense of camaraderie and inclusion was unlike anything you'd find anywhere else, she explained. And of course the scenery along the way is nothing to scoff at either!

Cathedral of Santiago de CompostelaWhat you will gain from the journey

What each person takes away from walking the Camino is as unique as the person himself. You may find answers to questions you've been asking yourself for years, or you may find peace with things that have been bothering you. Susan was most impressed by the profound friendships she made over such a short amount of time. The ability to leave everything behind and just be in the moment with herself and those around her was a truly unique experience. You may learn more about yourself, about others or about the world in general, but you won't know until you try!

What to look out for

As with any travelling experience, you're bound to encounter a few challenges along the way, particularly when the travelling you've embarked on involves weeks' worth of walking along lengthy, unpaved paths. Susan admits there certainly were some days when feeling tired was an issue. And sleeping in large, communal living arrangements every night can test your patience at times. But so long as you train for the journey properly and don't expect five-star resorts, none of the challenges are insurmountable.

How to make it through

As Susan was wisely told along the way, "The mind always quits before the body." If you tell yourself you can do it, then you can. But a little bit of advice certainly doesn't hurt either. Susan recommends checking out John Brierley's book A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago, which helped her pick the best route and guided her along the way. For the most part she found the path to be clearly marked, but when in doubt, those she encountered were always eager to point her in the right direction. And at the end of it all, you'll get a pilgrim's certificate at the pilgrims' office in Santiago to prove you made it. Now that's an accomplishment you're bound to be proud of!

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