How a Camino vacation makes you better after vacation
A week or two lounging on a beach can be a great way to take a vacation from work. Several years ago, I discovered a much different way to spend my vacation time – hiking or biking long-distance trails. I’ve done trails around the world, including part of the Appalachian Trail, the Erie Canal across New York State, Canada’s Route Verte from Montreal to Quebec, the C&O Canal and Great Alleghany Pass from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, the Cotswold Way and Cornwall Coast in England, the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, the Cape Camino in South Africa, and the Danube River trail across Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. (You can see pictures here.)
With each trail vacation, I not only recharge my batteries, I also gain new experiences and skills that help me at work. The physical exertion of hiking or biking a trail is a great way to unload stress. Achieving a goal of covering a long distance powered only by my legs also gives me a boost of confidence. After biking or hiking across a state or a country, projects at work look less daunting. Finally, the simplicity of following a guide or markers on a trail lets me take a break from making decisions.
Of all the trails I’ve done, however, one stands out and keeps me coming back – the Camino de Santiago. I walked my first Camino in 2013 – 435 miles in 29 days from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela. I’ve gone back twice more for two shorter, week-long trips on the Camino – the last 100 kilometers of the Camino Portuguese and the first 180 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Najera, Spain.
The Camino offers five things that make it my favorite trail in the world:
- The Camino makes walkers feel welcome. Because people have been walking the Camino for over 1,000 years, the trail is like a living artery through the country. Many of the towns along the Camino emerged centuries ago to meet the needs of pilgrims. People who live along the trail make pilgrims feel welcome as they walk. These locals don’t only appreciate the business pilgrims bring, they also understand and respect the ancient history of the pilgrimage along the trail.
- The Camino offers a wide variety of landscapes. The French Route of the Camino across northern Spain takes walkers through mountains, rolling foothills, the vast plains of the meseta, and the lush hills of Galicia. In some ways, the variety of landscapes across Spain reminded me of driving across the USA from east to west. The Pyrenees Mountains reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains in the east, the meseta reminded me of the plains of Kansas and the hills of Galicia reminded me of parts of the Pacific Northwest – all in a much more condensed, walk-able space.
- The Camino provides an unprecedented opportunity to meet people from around the world. Pilgrims feel an instant camaraderie with each other because they are sharing the same powerful experience. It is easy to strike up conversations with other pilgrims, even if you don’t share a first language. (Interestingly, I found pilgrims frequently communicate in English because it is the most common second-language.) I found that I learned a lot about other cultures by making new friends on the Camino. I also learned a lot about myself by introducing myself to my new friends from different countries and backgrounds. Describing yourself with things like cities, schools and jobs don’t translate automatically as much as they do at home.
- The Camino offers as much alone-time as you want. I enjoyed meeting others, but I also enjoyed being able to easily walk on my own whenever I wanted. On the Camino, finding your own space is as easy as speeding up or slowing down to walk your own pace. I found that having some alone time between meeting new friends was a great chance for self-reflection. After I met others and learned about their lives, it gave me new ways to reflect on my own experiences and choices in life.
- The Camino provides a confidence-boosting sense of achievement. The Camino is the only time I have walked across a country. That achievement has been a powerful motivator for me ever since. “If I can walk across Spain, I can surely do that” is something I have told myself to encourage me to take on big challenges like writing books. Wherever you start on the Camino, the experience of finishing in Santiago de Compostela is an unforgettable feeling. Even if you don’t finish in Santiago, just knowing you are walking the same route that pilgrims have walked or over 1,000 years is a powerful experience that makes you feel connected to history.
For your next vacation, consider walking for a week or two on the Camino instead of lounging on a beach. The biggest fear you should have is getting addicted to the Camino and going back for more.
About the Author
Victor Prince is an author, trainer, and speaker who teaches strategy, communication, and leadership skills to clients around the world. His new book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain, came out in July 2017 in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook formats from the American Management Association and was named a #1 New Release on Amazon in two categories. It comes out in a Spanish version from Harper Collins in 2018. His first book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide their Teams to Exceptional Results (Career Press) was named a Top 20 Leadership Book of 2016.
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