Women’s Packing list for Camino de Santiago

It feels like a decade ago since this walk.

As I start to tentatively fantasize about local backpacking adventures for the PNW summer (that is very far away) I looked back to what I packed for the Camino. It will probably be a very long while before it’s safe to travel, let alone walk a Camino again. But we can look at photos and research and daydream for now.

A lot of people will say you need a 40-65L pack for this walk. If you plan to camp, then sure. If you plan to stay in hostels/albergues along the way, no way do you need a pack that big. I packed everything into an Osprey Kyte 36L backpack. It’s a hideously ugly pink pack and totally comfortable. That baby and I were fused for 550 miles. Less is really more on this. Unless you’re camping, it shouldn’t be hard to keep the weight of your pack down. I didn’t obsess over weighing every ounce that I packed or rip out the pages of my guidebook as I walked. But carry the absolute least amount of shit possible. If you can stuff everything into a 30L pack — even better! Trust me, your knees will thank you.

I met one woman with a very small daypack who had walked the Camino several times and now carried “Half the weight for twice the price.” If you can afford lighter weight, fancier stuff, go for it. For the rest of us, I am a big advocate for taking what you already have.

I walked from mid-August through the end of September. Six weeks total from St Jean Pied de Port to Finisterre. It was blazing hot in August. September was really pleasant — cool at night and in the mornings — very cold on some of the rainy, mountain pass days — but otherwise sunny and grand.

Packing List:

  • Merrell’s trail running shoes
  • 3 shirts, all synthetic – 1 tank top, 1 t-shirt, 1 long sleeve
  • 3 pairs underwear (no cotton!) + 3 pairs of socks – 2 wool, 1 with wool exterior and polyester interior
  • 1 pair roll up pants
  • 1 pair stretchy polyester shorts
  • 1 sports bra
  • Lightweight Marmot rain jacket and pants
  • Long rimmed floppy hat
  • Flip Flops
  • Fleece jacket
  • Tiny microfiber towel
  • Tiny bag of toiletries (with first aid stuff)
  • Journal and pens
  • Brierley’s Guidebook
  • Lightweight sleeping bag
  • Phone + charger
  • Water bottle
  • Earplugs – for the love of god bring the best you can get. Roncadores (snorers) in the albergues will destroy your sanity otherwise.
  • Waterproof liner for the inside of backpack — it will rain, this will keep your stuff dry
  • Splurge item: a pillow case
  • Walking stick — I bought this for 10 euro in Spain. I will never, ever go on a long distance walk without one. It saved my knees so many times going downhill. My first day walking I foolishly didn’t buy one because I thought walking sticks were for old people with knee problems. And I was twenty-nine. Nope. Young and dumb. My knees SCREAMED at me on the steep descent to Roncesvalles on day one. I bought a walking stick the second I got there. SHUT YOUR EGO UP AND TAKE A WALKING STICK.

Things I bought when the weather turned cold in September:

Warm beanie hat, scarf, gloves, and leggings

I was always afraid of running out of snacks, because hiker hunger is real and I couldn’t seem to get enough in me. I carried far more food on a daily basis than was necessary. You’re passing through towns every few miles so there’s rarely a time when you’ll be far from a food source.

Snacks I carried too much of but love for walking through Spain:

  • Tuna, tuna, and more tuna. Tins of it are drenched in olive oil. Add a baguette and some fresh tomatoes and you got a right fine lunch.
  • A tiny bottle of olive oil — ridiculous to carry. But delicious on everything.
  • Dark chocolate. Duh.
  • Avellana (hazelnut) bars and juice boxes for breakfast snacks (Fruits of the Forest or OJ)
  • Tiny tangerines
  • Digestive biscuits — I was never without a roll of these in my pack. I grew up on them so I felt like my childhood from growing up in Madrid was also sustaining me. The best ones have a smear of milk chocolate on them. Great dunked in coffee. Or when you’re really cranky in the morning. Or when you need an afternoon push because it’s so rainy and cold and you just need something sweet to get you through.

Then there are hopes and fears that will add weight to your pack on a long distance walk, arguably more than the physical stuff we carry. But hopefully the fear part of that load lightens as you go. Stay safe and Buen Camino when the time comes one day!

Writing routines before and during the pandemic

Photo by Viktoria Alipatova on Pexels.com

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away before the pandemic I did so much writing in coffee shops. It’s a luxury I miss. Often a friend and I would meet after work and chit chat and then write for several hours. It has been a lifeline during PNW winters of grey, rain, more grey, and more rain. Until of course this winter.

Background noise helps me focus. So at home, to mimic a coffee shop and to induce my brain into getting into that “flow” state quickly, I put on one of those “Monday Coffee Jazz” YouTube channels with a mug of coffee on the cover. I am partial to anything bossa nova. Bonus points for having an aesthetically pleasing cover of black coffee with some tasty treat on the side. If the cover has saltines as the tasty treat or a mug of coffee with CAPPUCCINO written on the mug my snobby foodie side finds another channel.

Writing must be accompanied by a tasty warm beverage. My go-tos are tea or Cola Cao–my beloved childhood hot chocolate mix from Spain.

I wish I was able to sit down and write for six hours a day straight with a break for lunch. But at this point I’ve learned that I write best in short spurts. 45 mins to an hour at a time. Then I can take a break and do something else. Like go for a walk or do the dishes or run an errand. And then I can write for another hour. Rinse, repeat.

If I write in the morning — which is when I write the best — I can knock out 1000-1500 words in a hour. I’m on a roll with the shitty first draft of this second book, and much of it is dialogue at this point, which is my favorite thing to write, so it’s coming out fast.

If I write in the afternoon it’s like putting a sloth in front of a computer. I’m lucky if I get two sentences down. And there’s lots and lots of spacing out the window and staring at the squirrel highway in front of my living room. When I was working on the graphic memoir this was when I would do all the easy, mostly mindless stuff — inking and coloring.

I get a second wind in the evening, after dinner, after showering. In the realm of 6-8pm, because I work baker’s hours and aim to be asleep at 9pm. If I get that second wind, and force myself to sit my butt down in front of the computer, I can sometimes get 500 words out. I give myself a victorious pat on the back and then go to bed.

Most of the writing gets done on the weekends when I have the mornings all to myself. Since it’s damn near impossible for me to sleep past 5 or 530 now, I relish having hours before the sun comes up, before the neighborhood wakes up, before my phone starts blasting texts. Plus in the dark I don’t get distracted by the cute dogs outside or depressing PNW grey skies.

I value my morning writing time more than any other time of the week. Except maybe sleep. It’s a toss up. I love hearing about other people’s writing routines. What’s yours?

Some Good Things

At the end of every year (or in this case, beginning of the new one) I make a list of all of the good things that happened or in general am grateful for in the past year. I usually have to scroll through my photos and backtrack month by month to help me remember. 2020 made this a harder exercise…but there are still many things that were good. While I’m not an advocate for forced positive thinking — that can be toxic in its own right — I am a big advocate for finding every little thing to be grateful for. Here are a few good things from 2020 beyond having my health, family’s health, a job and a new president elected:

SO. MANY. WALKS. (And bike rides.)

My world has felt very small this year but my neighborhood, beloved Forest Park, and one truly wonderful hike on Mt Hood have been sanity savers and mini-adventures this year. Mt Hood took the cake for being the furthest outside of Portland I’ve gone in over a year. On the other hand I spent more time on my bike than years past and cycled all over this city in Spring and Summer. I made friends with 8 of the neighborhood cats…the best being Handsome Tuxedo Cat with the stinking cute little plaid bowtie. Crossing my fingers for some longer backpacking hikes back on Mt Hood and beyond this summer…

View from Mt Hood in all its glory


I got some stories published which was exciting. I finished a book, started another, and wrote a few short stories — finally dabbling in fiction which has been really fun. This was a good year for sitting my butt down at my desk, spacing out a lot out the window overlooking the squirrel highway, and drinking enormous quantities of tasty warm beverages typing away. (Favorites: Coconut Oolong Tea and Cola Cao — hot chocolate mix from Spain that tastes like childhood and nostalgia and malty deliciousness.)

Double rainbow the day Biden and Harris won


I work with some of the best humans I know. It’s a ridiculously great crew that cracks me up all day. I wrote about them here (scroll down to the November 12 entry.) When I was a kid I watched a lot of Jetsons cartoons and the idea of talking to someone via a screen seemed UNREAL to me. Thank you, technology, for making it easy to see family’s faces via so many screens. Friends have been an anchor for me this year (and every year) and family talks that hopefully sometime this year will turn into IRL talks.

Little America

My nonfiction story “Little America” found a home at Litro.

A young woman grapples with loss and lack of direction while driving across the U.S. and exploring Wyoming’s finest, and most ridiculous, truck stop.

Check it out here

Gâteau Basque

The only time I’ve ever had this cake, the real deal, was in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees.

Many of us are still in quarantine. We can’t travel, but our taste buds sure can. I dug through the internet for a recipe that would replicate the texture of the Gâteau Basque I had in St. Jean and this one did it. If food tastes like memories then, for me, this cake tastes like adventure and new beginnings and excitement and freedom. Which are all of the things many of us are craving right now.

This is why I love this cake: it’s not fluffy or frosted. It’s a shallow, thin cake with some kind of decadent filling. Often vanilla pastry cream, lemon cream, or cherry preserves. The texture of this cake is somewhere between a crumbly tart and cake. There’s this papery thin layer on top that I was determined to replicate. It’s kind of dense, kind of crumbly, very buttery. Oh yeah, and RIDICULOUSLY DELICIOUS.

Gâteau Basque Recipe

The dough recipe adapted from here.


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour + 1/8 cup
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp unsalted, soft butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

In one bowl whisk flour, baking powder, salt. In a standing mixer (or a large bowl) fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and then whole egg along with almond extract. Beat until thoroughly mixed. On low speed add the flour mixture and almond flour.

Form into two disks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Lemon Curd Filling

Thank you, Ina Garten, for this recipe.

  • 3 lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 or 4 lemons)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Optional: A handful of raspberries, fresh or frozen, to add later during cake assembly

Cream the butter and beat in the sugar. Add zest of three lemons. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the lemon juice and salt. Mix until just combined.

Transfer to a two quart saucepan and cook over low heat 10 -20 minutes, until thickened, stirring constantly. If the mixture looks grainy whisk it the whole time. The lemon curd thickens around 170 degrees or just below a simmer. Remove from heat and cool then refrigerate several hours. It will thicken up a lot more when it cools.

Assemble the cake

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8-inch cake pan or tart pan with removable bottom. Cut out a circle of parchment or wax paper to line the bottom of the pan and grease that too if you are using a regular cake pan.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the first disk of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and cut out an 8 inch round. Use the scraps with the second disk. Slide the round onto a lightly floured baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll the second disk out to a little over 1/4-inch thickness. It should be bigger than the 8inch pan. Transfer it to an 8-inch pan. Lightly press the dough onto the bottom and up the side of the pan. Trim off the excess and refrigerate the tart shell until firm, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the lemon curd. Dot the top of the curd with a handful of fresh or frozen raspberries. Place the 8-inch disk on top of the curd and seal the edges. Trim the edges. Brush with egg wash. Using a fork, lightly skewer the top to make a diamond pattern.

Place on a baking sheet and bake on the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Then transfer to the top third of the oven about 40 minutes longer until golden brown on top. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy warm or room temperature.

Excess dough can be made into cookies! Roll them out to 1/4 inch thickness and bake at 350 about 20 minutes or golden.

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Imagine you’re here while you eat.

Hostel Life in your Thirties

Portugal has a reputation for fantastic hostels

I get it. Staying in hostels isn’t for everyone. But for saving money, traveling solo, and meeting others it can be great. Yes, they are more often than not primarily occupied by younger folks in their twenties. But there are plenty of us in our thirties traveling on a budget – and until I feel either way too old to stay in them or just uncomfortable in any way, and until my budget allows for fancier accommodation – I’m happy staying in hostels.

A nice middle ground, if budget allows, is to stay in private rooms in hostels. So you get to sleep (far more of a priority in your thirties, I’ve found) and still meet others if that’s what you want. Plus, hostels tend to organize day trips or walking tours which I love.

I research hostels via hostelworld.com and booking.com and read many, many reviews before choosing one. I tend to favor quieter hostels instead of party hostels because, again, sleep is a priority.

Here’s a list of a few of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in (in my thirties):

HOME LISBON HOSTEL in Lisbon, Portugal

View from my room

When researching for my Portugal trip I discovered Portugal has a reputation for fantastic hostels. I stayed in several, all but one were really wonderful, but this one in Lisbon took the cake.

24 hour reception, a common room that is both a bar and extremely cozy, it’s SUPER CLEAN, and the offer family dinners. I’m a sucker for family dinners.

The hostel is run by a family and friends. Mama – head matriarch – cooks dinner many nights and sits and eats with everyone. The food is simple, tasty, and really it’s all about the company. At the end of the meal she gives everyone a splash of moscatel or ginginha, dangerously tasty Portuguese liqueurs, and raises her drink for a toast, often declaring “It’s not a shot!”

One night she made a cake for my new Dutch friend for her birthday. Need I say more?

I stayed in a four bed women’s dorm – very cozy rooms, sturdy beds, thick walls, and clean bathrooms. There are group tours available many days to Sintra, surfing in Nazare, or Obidos. There’s also a daily walking tour of Lisbon, which is always recommended.


Views of Meteora

I chose this hostel because it was highly rated and had glorious AIR CONDITIONING in the rooms. (Temperatures were in the mid-nineties when I visited in early June. Uffda.)

It’s run by a couple who also own the bar/restaurant downstairs. Small hostel, with a nice women’s dorm sturdy wooden bunk beds instead of squeaky metal ones. There was a curtain over each bed for privacy, outlet and little lamp inside each one, with a tiny shelf, and huge lockers underneath the beds.

This place was not busy when I was there. Meteora seems to be more popular with older folks who bus around the monasteries and stay in hotels and BnBs.

Also there’s a cute back patio to hang out in.

I ate very well there at tavernas and gyro stands recommended by the owners. The smoothie shop across the street is pure heaven after a hot day hiking. The local KTEL bus stop is across the street if you want to take a bus up to the top of the mountains and monasteries. Or hike from Kalambaka to the top via one of the old pilgrim trails. Loved my stay in Meteora!


Rome in March

The hostel is two blocks from Termini Train station in Rome. I don’t like taking taxis at night alone, so I picked this place because it was highly rated and a quick walk from the train station. I fucking loved this Hostel.

Run by an American couple that moved here twenty plus years ago, it’s located in two buildings a block apart. There’s the traditional hostel dorm rooms and common area in one building, with a terrace garden, and the private rooms on the fifth floor of a building a block away. This is where I stayed. As I get older I’ve come to prioritize SLEEP. It was also mid-March, so lower prices. 50E for a private room and bath.

They host group dinners three times a week. Steve, one of the owners, cooks. The breakfast room is cozy and lovely, they make their own bread and pastries. It’s small so easy to chat to your neighbor if that’s what you want. Also the staff and owners are just really down to earth, good people.

Beehive was one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in. They have a great app with recommendations of where to eat in the Termini neighborhood and beyond. They recommended a Napoli restaurant around the corner from the hostel which was the best pasta I’ve ever eaten. They also host a writing/book club night once a month (I was bummed I missed it!). I will 100% stay here next time I’m in Rome.


Jericho Beach in Vancouver…before the rain hit.

The pod bunk women’s dorm gave me some of the best sleep I’ve ever had in a hostel. I also love tiny spaces—they are comforting to me. If you get claustrophobic…maybe don’t sleep here though. Six bunk beds in a room, lockers too. Each pod has its own little light, curtain, and fan above your head, along with a tiny shelf for charging your phone. Basically a brilliantly designed bunk. Comfortable beds, bedding and towels provided.

Vancouver is expensive and this is why I stayed in a dorm. ($50/night for a dorm bed. Yikes.)

It’s right downtown, a half mile from the Skytrain. Not my ideal location – it’s surrounded by several bro-y Irish bars. But despite that, I slept really well (always bring earplugs for dorm hostels, btw.)

Breakfast is a basic contintental but at least included.

It’s an enormous hostel. The common room and kitchen are pretty big but also cozy for hiding out on a rainy afternoon. I met a lot of folks of all ages staying here.

Also a few blocks around the corner are several really great ramen restaurants which are total comfort food on a rainy Vancouver day.

What other hostels have you stayed in and loved? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations!

Visiting Monument Rocks in Kansas


The U.S. is full of weird, random sights right off the highways (like the World’s Largest Armchair in Anniston, Alabama) and no cross country road trip is complete without stopping for at least one of these sights.

On my long cross country drive from Georgia to Oregon a couple springs ago, I decided to visit Monument Rocks in Kansas.

I was driving alone, with my car packed with all my earthly possessions, so I didn’t want to make a lot of stops along the way. I mainly wanted to haul ass across the country. But I saw a photo of Monument Rocks somewhere on the internet and decided this would be my one random stop.

I arrived in Oakley, Kansas after a 12 hour boring yet sunny drive that began in Illinois. The receptionists at the Sleep Inn told me sunset was a perfect time to visit Monument Rocks.

Around 530 I headed back out. These rocks are technically on private property that still welcomes visitors on a goodwill basis. You drive down a dirt road that if wet would be a total muddy nightmare, so definitely don’t go if it’s rained recently. I lucked out with dry weather, so the dirt road was passable, though very bumpy. My little car was filthy afterward.

It feels weird to drive on someone’s private property.

Cows meandered on the road. The babies came up and sniffed around the car. The moms peed on it.

You drive down this bumpy dirt road for a good while, with no other cars around, and then suddenly these massive limestone rocks appear out of nowhere. From a distance, they reminded me of a chalky stonehenge.

A couple other cars parked nearby. I got out, camera in hand, and wandered around.

These chalky, limestone rock formations have a few different names such as “Eye of the Needle” and “Charlie the dog”. Visitors are asked not to touch or climb the rocks in order to preserve them.

Charlie the Dog

I met a girl in her late twenties wandering around too. She asked if I’d take her photo, which I did, and then we spent an hour talking and taking photos. One of my favorite things about traveling alone: the random people you meet. Even in what feels like the middle of flat nowhere.

I also learned that night: in tiny rural American towns, places often close early. Even restaurants. I wound up eating gas station food for dinner in my hotel room (yogurt, granola, banana, a bag of potato chips) and called it a night.

Monument Rocks are not something I expected to find in Kansas. They aren’t as grand as the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, say, but they are definitely worth a detour and arguably one of the coolest things in Kansas.

Getting there:

Going South from Oakley on HWY 83, turn left (east) onto Jayhawk Rd. There will be a sign at this intersection for Monument Rocks. Travel down Jayhawk Rd about 4 miles then turn right onto Gove County Rd 14 which turns into 16. You’ll see the rocks appear on the flat horizon.

How to Stay Sane on a Solo Cross Country Road Trip

Somewhere in Tennessee, I think.

I have driven across the U.S. between Georgia and Oregon twice. The last time I drove solo. It is roughly 2600 miles (or 38 hours of driving time, without traffic) between Atlanta and Portland. That is a lot of time to spend in the car by yourself. If you are moving with all your earthly possessions crammed into your car like I was, the drive can be even more stressful.

Here are my tips to stay sane driving solo as a woman across the U.S.:


Okay, first, shitty fast food coffee is your best friend. And actually, you’ll discover that it isn’t really that shitty, because it will taste like hope and comfort and pure joy. As much as I hate fast food the burnt coffee in McDonald’s and precious wifi saved me from having a breakdown in Wyoming. (I was driving through a snowstorm, with no cell service, for the entire day, with hardly any cars around me. Stress was high. Coffee and a call to my Mom in McD’s helped.)

Also, when you’re in Wyoming and find yourself asking: Is it worth it to go ten minutes off the highway exit for Dunkin Donuts coffee and chocolate cake donut holes? The answer is ALWAYS.

MUSIC. Download all of the music you can onto your phone and then add more than you think you’ll need otherwise you’ll end up listening to the same ABBA album over and over again. Also, Podcasts. Because then you’ll be both entertained and feel like you have company. Especially necessary to keep you from falling asleep out of boredom when you drive through Nebraska or Kansas.


SNACKS. It’s okay to just graze. You’re driving solo. You’re bored. Also, I get really hungry on long drives and refuse to feel guilty about snacking constantly. I tend to always crave crunchy, salty foods so nuts and crackers and popcorn are always in my snack pile. Plus dark chocolate. Because if you’re having a bad hour, or feeling angry and hopeless driving through a rainstorm in Wyoming, dark chocolate will help you feel like everything will be okay. My car trip snack pile: trail mix, salty crunchy crackers, corn chips, bananas, apples, and granola bars.

EMERGENCY SHIT. I carry at least a gallon of water that I often don’t touch unless there’s an emergency. Have a car jack and lug wrench and LEARN HOW TO CHANGE A TIRE yourself. Just in case. Keep your phone charged at all times. Have a paper map too! A flashlight and plenty of food in case you get stuck somewhere is also essential. Carry a blanket and extra layers if you’re traveling during a cold season and for the love of God get AAA.

TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS. Your butt will thank you. Your lower back and shoulders will also thank you. Inhale the sweet, sweet smell of fertilizer in Kansas. Marvel at the Rockies on the horizon in Colorado. Make friends with the old couple and their pomeranian at a rest stop. Call someone you love periodically to check in and let them know where you are.

SENSE OF HUMOR. Seriously, this along with dark chocolate is a lifesaver. This country is huge and weird. Laugh at it. Kansas has a lot of funny yarn store billboards like “Knaughty Knitters” and “Second Friendliest Yarn Shop in the Universe!” (What is the FIRST friendliest yarn shop in the universe??) Laugh at yourself as you almost shatter your windshield with your terrible rendition of “It’s Raining Men.” Laugh at that truck driver picking his nose, too.

Monument Rocks in Kansas.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS. If you have the time and means, find places or people along the way to visit. It makes the trip a hell of a lot more fun. On my last trip I checked out Monument Rocks in Kansas, visited friends in Boulder, Colorado and stayed with family in Salt Lake City. If I’d been with someone and didn’t have a car full of all my belongings, I would have taken my time driving across the country more. I would have visited Yellowstone, the John Day Fossil Beds, and possibly just gone out of my way to drive through Montana, which I’m told is insanely beautiful.

ACCOMMODATION. Everyone has a different safety threshold. I do not like to camp by myself. In the U.S. I generally feel safer staying in hotels rather than motels. Sometimes I book a place ahead, sometimes I don’t. I rely on my gut instinct for where to stay a lot. Does this place feel weird or sketchy in anyway? Are there creepy dudes hanging around in the parking lot for no discernible reason? If your car is packed with all of your belongings, as it was with mine, definitely bring the most important things into your room with you.

CHECK YOUR GUT. I’m obviously not talking about nausea or flatulence here. As a woman traveling solo, trusting your gut is ESSENTIAL. If anything feels off or weird about a place, I get out immediately. It’s not worth the risk.

I’m an introvert, so like and need large stretches of time alone. This last drive probably pushed me a bit to the edge there. This country is vast and varied, and even when I felt like I would never leave Wyoming, I felt just fine on my own. Take photos, think deep thoughts about your life, and have fun.

Arrival in Oregon! Beautiful Columbia River Gorge.