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!

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.

METEORA CENTRAL HOSTEL in Kalambaka, Greece

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!

BEEHIVE HOSTEL in Rome, Italy

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.

SAMESUN HOSTEL in Vancouver, BC

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

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.:

COFFEE

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.

Exciting!

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.