Backpack Across Europe with Nieces and Nephews!
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long-term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She just completed the 450 mile Camino De Santiago journey herself this spring and covered the experience on her around the world travel blog Ottsworld. She’s also a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, a website and national event offering career break or sabbatical travel inspiration and advice. In the past, she has written a guest post for Savvy Auntie on The Niece Project.
Are you looking for a unique travel bonding experience you can have with your niece or nephew? How about going out for a walk – not just any walk – but a walk across Spain?
The Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage is an ancient walk with multiple routes leading from places as far as Germany, the Netherlands, and Prague to Santiago, Spain. Before you panic and think that you could never take on such an intense walk by yourself – let alone with your niece or nephew – do know that you can do any parts of the pilgrimage, as short as a week up to 2 months; whatever your schedule allows.
Why is it a great trip to do with nieces and nephews?
This is a classic “backpack across Europe” opportunity to do with your nieces or nephews. Escape the “plugged-in” world and its distractions for some dedicated one-on-one time outside, in nature. It’s a chance to spend a lot of time together, working toward the same goal – and you will have to lean on them as much as they lean on you. For some, the pilgrimage is a sort of walking meditation, a chance for you to really give your brain a vacation and simplify your life down to the necessities. It’s a super experience for young adults to get this dose of simplicity before they head out into the complex world. In addition, they will not only be traveling through Spain and get to experience the Spanish culture at a slow, digestible pace, but they will meet people from all over the world who are also walking on the trail. I think the greatest gift you can give any child is exposure to the world, and this trail provides that in large doses. Trips like this can change lives and perspectives of people of any age.
Routes and Difficulty
There are numerous routes to choose from, but the most traveled and probably easiest is the Camino Frances, which goes from the border of France and Spain, over the Pyrenees, and across northern Spain through large towns and small villages. The route is well marked, and there are plenty of people always on it – you are rarely completely alone.
This is not a technical or hard hike, physically. There are a couple of climbs in elevation, but the highest you ever get is 4,970 feet. This is more of an endurance challenge than a physical challenge. The path is rolling hills most of the way with a section in the middle, which is quite flat. Generally you are walking directly through farmland and small villages.
Lodging and Food
You don’t have to camp or carry a lot of food or equipment, which makes this hike even more accessible for anyone. You can stay in villages located on the trail about 4 to 7 miles apart. There are a number of sleeping options, ranging from shared space and bunk beds (albergues) to pensions and hostals (2 star hotels) to luxury hotels. The albergues provide a great form of socialization and bonding with other walkers as well as each other, as you have to deal with loud snorers, early risers, and everything that goes along with sharing space with people.
Food can be eaten at any of the villages, or you can also go to a market and get food to cook in the albergue kitchen. There are plenty of markets to get anything you need for the day.
Best Time to Go
The best mild weather is in the spring and fall months (i.e., April, May, September, and October), which might make it a great spring break trip for your niece or nephew. The summer is also a vibrant time to go, but expect it to be much hotter and filled with more people on the trail, as well as in the albergues.
Walking the Camino is probably the cheapest way to travel through Europe. Once you begin, you can easily get away with a budget of 30 Euro per day per person. The albergues cost from 4 to 12 Euro a night for a bed, and you can get low-cost and filling three-course pilgrim meals at 10 Euro for lunch or dinner.
Of course, you can always spend more money than that if you want a bit more comfort, but the key is that this can be done very cheaply.
Things to consider:
-This is probably ideal for your older nieces or nephews, but I did see kids as young as 14 doing the pilgrimage with parents.
-You don’t have to do the complete Camino Frances all at once. You can make this an annual trip with your niece or nephew and do a week at a time each year. I met many families who do this as their family vacation each year, completing a new section of the trail and eventually getting to Santiago.
-If your niece or nephew is studying Spanish as a language, this is a great opportunity for them to really get exposed to the language – and they can lead the conversations for you!
-This is a physical endeavor. You don’t necessarily have to train for it at all, but do be prepared that at some point you, or your niece or nephew, will want to give up. It’s like any other physical and mental challenge; there are ups and downs. There are blisters, aches, and pains. You’ll have to deal with them together and support each other.
-Even though this historically was a religious Christian pilgrimage, you do not have to be religious to do and enjoy the hike at all.
-For Camino FAQ’s, click here.
Photo: Courtesy of Sherry Ott, Global Photography
Published: July 9, 2012