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The Way: Can You Walk the Camino de Santiago with Children?

September 24, 2015

In 2012, I walked “The Way” of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago, to Santiago de Compostella with my four children, then ages 2, 5, 7, and 9.  The movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen had just come out.  Once I watched the movie, by the time the credits rolled, I immediately knew I had to walk the way. It didn’t take much to get my husband on board with the plan.

A short time later, our family of six landed in Spain, ready to begin our pilgrimage–an experience that would forever change everyone of us.

Can You Walk “The Way” with Children?

Absolutely.  In 2012, when our family walked the Camino de Santiago, it seemed like we were celebrities.  At that time, before the movie popularized the Pilgrimage, comparatively few Americans walked the route, and even fewer as a family.  When we arrived in Santiago, we were greeted by cheers and applause in the Pilgrim line.  It was an emotional finale.

camino Kids

So how did we do it?  I like to wing travel, with little planning.  We didn’t book hostels or rooms in advance.  We woke the kids very early each day, walking with headlamps until the sun made its appearance.  It was much cooler this way and made the adventure even more exciting for the kids–they still say their favorite part of the Camino was walking in the dark.  After lunch, we would begin looking for a place to stay for the night.  Only once were we turned away from a hostel/hotel–it was apparent the owner wasn’t thrilled with the idea of children staying on the property.  This treatment was the exception.  The Spanish LOVE, LOVE, LOVE children.

Is it safe to walk The Way?

Recently concerns have emerged about the safety of walking the famous Camino de Santiago, when a 41-year old American Woman, Denise Thiem, went missing and never made it home to Arizona.  Obviously, this is a scary, tragic, and very sad ending to what should have been an inspiring and positive experience.

However, the reality is that no place is immune from crime, and that anything can happen anywhere–at home, at the local grocery store or movie theater, or abroad.  Millions of people have walked and walk the Camino de Santiago without incident–and have come home with lovely stories of an experience that has permanently and positively changed them.

When we walked the Camino as a family, the only real concern I ever had was with dogs.  We did encounter two instances of vicious, unleashed dogs, and heard or saw many, many more behind property fences.  A cow also came out of nowhere while walking in a small farm town and almost ran into my oldest daughter–a close call, but all turned out just fine.

camino safe kids

Staying Safe when Traveling with Kids

Staying safe while walking the Camino with kids in tow means taking similar safety precautions that you’d take anywhere when you travel to a new, unfamiliar place.  Some of these precautions include:

  1. Keeping your valuables out of sight.  This means not being being flashy with expensive electronics.
  2. Keeping your passport and money tucked away in a secure spot.  This might involve wearing a passport pouch with your passport (and your child’s passport) around your neck, which you wear under your clothing.
  3. Making sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.
  4. Never leaving your kids alone or unaccompanied.
  5. Creating a family plan in advance should someone get separated from you or your group.
  6. Giving someone (not traveling with you) your travel itinerary and checking with that person periodically.
  7. If walking at dusk or in the early morning hours, wearing appropriate reflective gear and headlamps (or carrying flashlights) for better visibility and so you can have a sense of what and who are around you.
  8. Don’t touch stray animals, including seemingly friendly dogs or cats.

If you are thinking about walking “The Way” with your children, it could be one of the most wonderful and exciting travel adventures you ever do.  With some planning and good common sense to mitigate risks, you will likely discover why walking Camino is truly, positively life changing.

If you have walked the Camino or hope to walk it with your children, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below and tell us about your adventure!

Buen Camino!

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22 Comments

  • Reply Aimee February 15, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Hi,

    I am just wondering where you started, how far you walked each day and how long it took in total? Any tips on essentials to pack?

  • Reply Ntsiki May 19, 2016 at 8:12 am

    Hi there. Thank you very much for such an inspiring encounter.

    How long did you walk everyday and which part you did? We are planning Porto to Santiago with my 9yr old son in August.

    Thanks again

    • Reply Wandermom May 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Hi! So exciting to hear you are headed there this summer! We got up early, often when it was still dark, and walked with headlamps (the kids LOVED that), started looking for a place to stay around 1-2pm-ish–sometimes we walked longer if we didn’t find a place right away. Wishing you and your son a wonderful experience! Buen Camino!

    • Reply Jessica Sucher October 31, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      HI there: Did you end up walking the stretch from Porto to Santiago? We are planning the same with our 8 yr old son, in May 2017. It would be great to hear about your experience and any suggestions if you have them! We travel a lot with him, but are curious if the route was varied and as lovely as the Camino Frances!
      Thanks so much.

  • Reply elizs July 4, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Hi there. Great article, especially the advice about not touching animals! Me and a friend walked the camino with our ten year old daughters last year. This year my daughter and i are doing a walk along Australia’s national trail with our donkeys- wish we had them with us while we were in Spain!

    • Reply Wandermom July 24, 2016 at 6:04 am

      How wonderful to hear that you also walked the Camino with kids! Your walk this year sounds amazing. I’ll have to look up that route! Thanks for writing.

  • Reply Anja July 11, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Thank you very much for this inspriring post. I walked Sarria – Santiago with my then 5-year old son in August 2015, and we had a wonderful time. Such a great adventure, together. On the practical side, I did book ahead a couple of private hostels online, which gave me some peace of mind and the option to stop at playgrounds or little creeks etc when the little pilgrim felt like that.

    • Reply Wandermom July 24, 2016 at 6:02 am

      That’s awesome to hear! An experience that will stay with you both forever.

      • Reply Julie Ireland March 9, 2017 at 5:22 pm

        I’m planning to walk the full camino via the French Way with my 11 year old daughter this June and July 2017. Did you walk the “full” camino? If so, how did your kids handle the physical rigor of the journey? My daughter and I are both active and hike regularly but others keep questioning my plans to bring my daughter with because of the distance – this is causing me to doubt my decision.

        Thanks!

        Julie
        Boulder, Colorado

        • Reply Wandermom July 20, 2017 at 1:36 pm

          Buen Camino! We didn’t walk the entire way, but I am sure my kids could have managed just fine. It’s all about pacing yourselves and enjoying it all–keeping your days fun and taking breaks. Would love to see photos and hear about your adventure!

  • Reply Shannon October 22, 2016 at 2:58 am

    We are hoping to travel to the Camino around Christmas. We have 5 children…8,6,4,2 and our youngest will be 6 months. I want to make the most of this experience, but I also want to be realistic about what we should expect from the kids, and how much they can really handle. Any thoughts?

  • Reply Claudia November 8, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Getting ready to walk the Camino with my husband and two kids (ages 7 and 10) in April. It’a great to hear other people’s positive experiences. Thank you!

  • Reply Anne November 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    I love this, and so happy to find your blog. We’ve been homeschooling/unschooling our four kids for the past eleven years (yes, one is getting ready to “graduate”). A dream of mine is to walk part of the Via Francigena, a route that goes from Canterbury to Rome. I’d like to do just the section from Lucca to Rome (about 270mi). The trail is much much well-traveled and well-marked than the Camino, but it’s partly for this reason I’d like to do it. I am also fluent in Italian, the kids know some, and I’ve lived there for a bit so this would certainly be a kind of homecoming for me. My husband gets three weeks vacation total, so he could join us on the last week or so, but that would be it.

    A couple of issues: 1) the two kids who are most interested in doing it are the younger two (9 & 11), whereas the teens…not so much. The irony of course is the teens (esp. my oldest who is 17) could easily keep pace with me. I’m curious how you got everyone on board.

    ) How did you budget mileage? I am estimating 10 miles a day with the younger ones, but I wondering if they will eventually get more habituated to the walking and be able to do more (up to 15mi/day). We might be more constrained in walking the Via Francigena because pilgrim accommodations are a little more sparse, so there may be days where we really HAVE to walk X amount of miles.

    3) I’m also thinking we will need a “cushion” before and after our walk, to adjust to jetlag (especially with the idea of getting up early, when it will be hard enough getting up before noon! How did you manage that?

    Again, I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog! Wanderschooling absolutely fits what I’ve been trying to do recently (we’ve been unschooling all along. The hardest part is financing it on what is basically one salary. Although I work, I am a doula, so my work really requires me to be around! But when I am off call, I want to wander! 🙂

  • Reply Sue November 25, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    What a lovely adventure, we have been wondering how many families walk the Camino, so it was good to hear about yours. Did you walk the french trail? We would like to do the trail from France with our 6 year old daughter. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Reply Renee Bourke February 6, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Hi, I’m hoping to do the Camino for my 40th birthday my oldest will also turn 10 4 days after I turn forty and our youngest will be 8.5. I know much can change in this time but I have some questions. What time of year did you travel? Did you travel the entire Camino? Thank you!

  • Reply Heather February 13, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    Hello! I have created a group in Facebook exclusively for those who are looking for information on walking the Camino with children. I have added a link to your page in the files so people can learn from your journey.

    I will be walking this year myself with children and have been researching it as much as I could. I found a lot of helpful information, including yours, but haven’t found a site where I felt like I could ask questions without judgement. When I have asked questions, I found there are some who don’t agree with taking kids on the Camino and aren’t shy about voicing their opinion of it. This is why I created the group.

    If you are on FB (I know not everyone is), I hope you will join us and give advise to anyone who needs it. https://www.facebook.com/groups/caminobabies/

    Please let me know if you have any questions or are not comfortable with your page being shared.

    Thank you!

    Heather
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/caminobabies/

    • Reply Wandermom July 20, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you, Heather! Have you already walked? I will check out the FB page. Buen Camino!

  • Reply Nell February 24, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Wandermom, i am both inspired and full of admiration. I have four children too. But we are just taking the 5 year old, for a week, and it is this younger age that I am nervous about. She is tough, but I don’t know how you do it – if you have 20km or more to walk in a day? We have brought a buggy for her, so that she won’t tire too much, But when she walks I think that will slow us, and she will need to have some more freestyle time I thought, not to go stir crazy, and all this will take toll on our time. We have a week to get from Santiago to Finisterre – we are doing the last bit.. so it also a less busy route. How did you manage with the 5 year old stamina and pace and frustrations that can come at that age? And the two year old – I saw a pic of a buggy – was that for the 2 year old? I am thinking we should have done this when she was a baby then could have carried her, and we have left it too late. But your post gives me hope! It sounds like you are a lot more confident than me with your children along for the ride. Any practical things you can recall I would be really grateful to hear! Thank you <3

    • Reply Wandermom July 20, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Best wishes! Buen Camino! Keep your days fun, take breaks, laugh off the anxiety and stress when it comes up. Your adventure will be something you and your kids talk about nearly everyday forever! Enjoy!

  • Reply Justin May 23, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    I am hoping to walk the Camino with my 9 year old (he is a fluent spanish speaker) sometime in the next 2 years. Did you guys walk the whole way? Also, did the kids carry their own packs?

    • Reply Wandermom July 20, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      We walked. The kids carried their own packs! We kept everything to a minimum to ensure light packs! Best wishes to you and your 9 year old! It’s true what they say, the Camino experience stays with you for the rest of your life!

  • Reply Sam Davies December 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    The Camino de Santiago is a fantastic experience! I did three routes – French, Portuguese & Northern Camino – and can’t wait to do it again. However, now that I want to get pregnant I had serious doubts about doing it with children… although this post has given me courage! I also came across this one with tips about doing the Camino with your family and I think it’s a great adventure!!
    https://www.pilgrim.es/en/plan-your-way/how-to-do-the-way/with-your-family
    However, it says that you should wait until they’re 8 y.o. I see yours is 10. From your experience, do you think it´s worth waiting or you can bring a 5 – 6 y.o. to do it?
    Cheers, Sam.

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