The Camino de Santiago, one of the most famous walking trails in the world, is an unforgettable adventure; perfect for families looking for a special holiday together.
The Camino is not just a religious or spiritual pilgrimage but it is also a very unique cultural experience. Followed by pilgrims from all over the globe for centuries, the many Camino routes today attract people from all walks of life: single travelers, friends, couples and families. Whether celebrating an important anniversary, taking the children on a big adventure or planning a once in a lifetime family reunion… walking the Camino as a family will be a memorable trip.
Many people want to take the Camino route as a family, taking children or teenagers along with them. There are even babies as young as ten months in an all-terrain stroller. Children as young as 6 were walking the trail with older siblings and their parents. Many private accommodations offer family rooms, with 3 or 4 beds, which can be economical and more private for a family.
This can be a great way to do the pilgrimage, but a few practical steps should be taken to ensure everybody has a safe, fun experience.
- Motivate your children before and on the Camino.
The first thing to note is that the Camino can be very physically demanding. While teenagers should be well able for the exertion required, younger children will find some of the ‘ways’ too challenging.
Before you set off, it might be a good idea to remind your children of the significance, religious and otherwise, that the Camino has for many walkers. It is also important to motivate your children at the beginning. Everyone finds the first few days hard and there can be a temptation to quit. But once they’ve got over their initial doubts they’ll start to really get into the swing of things.
Young children in particular can have low attention spans. It’s important to set them reasonable targets for the day (for example, say the group will walk six kilometres and then have lunch) to keep their motivation up. A pack of cards, reading material or something similar also helps to keep them happy during downtimes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could walk with a donkey, which can be a fun way of encouraging kids to embrace the adventure, and also has practical advantages.
Younger children and babies needn’t motivation but entertainment so you can bring an iPad on our Camino or educational games. You should also pack coloring books and other fun drawing games. These occupy them for hours on end. Additionally, you should allow babies to get out of the chariot and walk along easy parts of the trail. There are plenty of public playgrounds along the Camino so stop for a while and enjoy them as if you were in your town.
- Clothes and shoes
Youngsters love their jeans but these are not appropriate for hiking. They’re not warm enough when it’s cold, they’re too warm when it’s hot, and, they retain water like a sponge. Also, make sure your children have sturdy, comfortable footwear that has been broken in ahead of time – blisters are no fun.
- Food and water
Spain, as I’m sure you know, can get very hot, and younger people may not have the experience to know when they need to rehydrate. Pack lots of water – there are fountains scattered along the way but you should have your own supplies as well – and make sure the kids drink at regular intervals. There is also very little shelter from the sun on the Camino, so ensure that your children wear hats and strong sun-block. Your walking pace with young children will likely be slower and it is important to carry plenty of snacks.
Some albergues may have age restrictions and not allow children. If you do wish to stay in albergues with your children, please remember to supervise them closely and make sure they are not making a mess or disturbing other pilgrims.
Carrying a pack on the Camino can be gruelling for youngsters. Luckily, the Camino offers a luggage transfer service which ensures your bags will always be waiting for you at your next hotel. The process is simple – you generally put the required amount of money (typically 3-7 Euros per bag depending on the carrier) in a little envelop provided by the carrier and leave with your bags at the front desk. By the time you arrive to your hotel, your bags will be there! Note, the baggage transport services will not generally deliver to alberques – only to private accommodations with which you have a reservation.
This means you only have to pack a light bag to carry daily supplies. Still, you might want to remind your appearance-conscious teens to leave their makeup, hair straighteners and trendy clothes behind. The Camino isn’t about glamour!
And babies? How to transport your baby?
You can choose a all-terrain stroller or a bike trailer that has been modified to push.
There are many chariots on the market. You should pay attention on its sturdiness, suspension, and it´s important that the seat can recline back which allows your child to nap well during the day.
- The Compostela.
Children under a certain age are not given a Compostela. Confession and communion remain essential to the granting of the certificate of having completed the pilgrimage and if a child has not yet received their first communion they cannot comply with the requirements for the Compostela. Parents can request an alternative certificate.
The number of children on the Camino is growing. More and more young families and individuals are doing the Camino together with their children. Unfortunately, there are no up to date statistics on babies or very young children but these stats for children from 0 to 12 years are from 2006 to 2009: 2006 – 930, 2007 – 1 070, 2008 – 1 093, 2009 – 1 272.
If you are walking or have already walked the Camino with your family, tell us your feelings and experience!
Buen Camino, amigos!