The first time I ate McDonald’s abroad was in Rome during my semester there in the spring of 2014.
My “burner” Italian phone that I occasionally loaded with money was dead. My iPhone didn’t work in Europe. I had been sitting on the Spanish Steps for over an hour with an Eagle Eye out for my two girlfriends, who I was supposed to link up with to try a famous apple pasta.
They never came. There was a transportation strike I didn’t know about since I’d been in town all morning on foot.
I was hungry. I was irritated. I was lonely.
Then I saw them: the Golden Arches.
In that moment, I swear I saw a spotlight shine down from the heavens, or maybe it was just the glare from a passing Vespa, but I knew I was saved.
Since then, McDonald’s (and Burger King, Starbucks, etc.) has been an oasis for me on my travels. Especially as someone who experiences travel-induced anxiety, the ability to follow a routine, no matter where I am, is a lifesaver.
You’re supposed to eat fast food alone. People do it all the time, even when they’re not traveling. At McDonald’s, I can walk in, order, sit down in a booth by myself, and no one gives it a second thought.
I’m not pitied and I’m not bothered. I’m just allowed to eat. While I sometimes challenge myself while traveling and eat at a local sit down restaurant alone, indulging in regional foods, I typically don’t feel like working through the social stigma attached to eating alone.
Grabbing a quick bite from a fast food place or grocery store is just easier. And that’s okay.
It Offers a Familiar Routine.
I know what’s expected of me at McDonald’s. I know how to order and how to find a table. I know to clear my place when I’m finished eating and place the tray above the trashcan to return it, because the routine is the same in each restaurant, no matter the country.
One of my pet peeves is restaurants whose structure and concept isn’t immediately clear; one’s that you walk into for the first time and are like, “Wait, how does this work? Do I wait to be seated or just sit down? Do I order at the counter or from the waiter? Where do I pay?”
So in foreign countries, where literally everything else is brand new and in need of decoding, I take solace in putting my brain on autopilot for a little while.
When my friend Smoky and I were in Budapest, we booked an 8PM dinner cruise, but at 6:30, as the sun dipped below the skyline, the temperature plummeted. Our teeth chattering, our bladders full, and our fingers growing stiff, we sought refuge in a nearby Starbucks — walking in immediately felt safe and familiar, so the time flew past.
The basis of fast food menus is the same in most countries. It’s also always combined with pictures of the food and numbers, so if I get stuck behind a language barrier, I can locate the picture of the food I’d like and hold up the corresponding number of fingers.
This method came through for me in France, Turkey, and Costa Rica. And I didn’t even have to mime my drink choice in the latter because the beverage station was on my side of the counter.
There Is Guaranteed Wifi.
I typically just put my phone on airplane mode when I travel and look for free wifi along the way. This is because I only recently got an iPhone that has a SIM, so the idea of purchasing a temporary SIM is a new concept for me, and I have Verizon, whose international coverage would cost me more than my soul. Because of this, I’ve gotten pretty good at winging it, but knowing that anytime I see the golden arches I can reload a map or call my mom is very reassuring.
It’s also nice to be able to catch up on social media or research destinations while I’m eating alone, instead of just staring out the window…which I do sometimes, or people watch, but I don’t always want to.
If it dies, I know I could finesse the situation, but I just prefer not to. At McDonald’s, I can sit down at a table and plug my phone in, no questions asked. You don’t even have to buy anything; it’s just a familiar place to sit for a moment and catch my breath.
Locals Eat There (Sometimes)
That’s the wildest thing about fast food. For locals, every single day of your once in a lifetime vacation is just another day. So why not eat at McDonald’s?
When I was in Costa Rica, I had been eating at mom and pop places, but everything there is so tourist-oriented that locals never seemed to be eating with us. On our last day, my friend Smoky and I ate at a McDonald’s in San Jose because we had to drop off our rental car at 1:00PM, but our Airbnb wasn’t available until 4:00PM. We needed to kill time, so to McDonald’s we went…along with every other young professional in the city.
So this is where they’d been hiding.
Men in suits. Women with fancy purses who looked like they just ran a board meeting. Moms with kids. Couples who probably had been married for 50 years. All together. At McDonald’s.
So go ahead. Judge me while you eat your artisan cheese in “the cutest little place that you just stumbled upon where nobody speaks English.” I’ll just be over here enjoying my french fries and memes. Everyone needs a break sometimes.
Dierks Bentley may have made it sound like a blast (after all, the 737 was rockin’ like a G6), but getting drunk on a plane is one one of the trashiest things you can do and a huge violation of flying etiquette.
I’ve been stuck in a tube of metal hurling through the sky at 500mph with drunk girls too many times.
Two of the most memorable experiences:
My 8:30AM flight from Chicago to Houston.
I was going home to Houston for spring break, but the three girls behind me were just connecting for a week of debauchery on South Padre Island.
One of them drank three Bloody Marys of her own before downing her friend’s when she got up to use the bathroom. Rows 17-20 were then treated to a graphic story of her exploits from spring break last year. Don’t be that girl.
My 10-hour flight to Paris from Houston next to the lady who inspired this post.
This girl drank like, six mini-bottles of Chardonnay in the first two hours of the flight and then got so belligerent with the flight attendant that she got cut off.
And I say “like six” because that’s how many I counted after she spilled over half of the last one onto my lap. Who knows. The discarded bottles were clustered around her feet. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple had rolled back a few rows.
With my trusty travel backpack (and an angry mountain goat) at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
Put your headphones, medication, and snacks in the small bag that will go under the seat in front of you. If you only bring a rolling suitcase, or would prefer to have all the leg room you can, get the things you think you’ll want from your bag out and place them in the seatback pocket.
Don’t be that girl; the one who needs to get into the overhead storage (STORAGE being the key word here, y’all) bin 50 times during a two hour flight and has so much junk with her that it spills over into her neighbor’s lap (side eye at you, Houston to Paris rowmate. I didn’t really want to read your Spanish homework, but you put it open on my tray table soo??) Please plan ahead.
Sit Up during Meals
The Dining Room at the Royal Opera House in Vienna, Austria.
I’m of two minds on whether or not reclining your seat on an airplane is rude. I mean, I definitly hate it when my forward neighbor comes careening into my lap, but I also definitly like to lean back when I’m trying to take a nap.
So, my general rule for flying etiquette is this:
Only recline your airplane seat when you are 100% going to take a nap and always sit it up during the meal service. Nobody wants to eat out of their laps.
And, if the person behind you asks you to put your seat up, work with them. It doesn’t mean you are required to sit straight as a board for the entirety of your flight, but don’t be like my Houston to Paris rowmate who actually got out of her seat and almost tried to fight the gentleman behind her (who was well over six feet tall) when he asked her if she would put her seat up for a little while.
My lovely seatmate also played the entirety of Nicky Minaj’s Pink Friday on repeat while she took a snooze. I honestly love me some Nicki, but there’s only so many times you can listen to her jams blasting from your neighbor’s headphones before getting irritated.
Tbh “so many times” roughly translates to the first 30 seconds of the opening track. Seriously. There’s this amazing trick you can do where you take your earphones out, see if you can hear what you’re listening to when you hold them at your shoulders, and then adjust your volume accordingly.
This also goes for how loudly you speak. Please use your inside voice on airplanes. They are very small. We can all hear you.
Also (wow this post is getting a little bit ranty), flying etiquette 101: if you’re taking a flight before 8am, maybe don’t speak at volume level 10000000 to the person next to you, even if y’all are best pals, until we are AT LEAST all the way to 35,000 feet. Have some compassion on the sleepyheads who don’t want to hear about your next meeting.
Take the Lead of Your Rowmates
My buds and frequent travel buddies (Rachael and Brittney) at the MFA in Boston, Massachusetts.
Have you ever sat down on a plane and felt immediately trapped by a chatty Cathy? Or maybe you feel disappointed the man in 14C isn’t more chipper?
People want different things on planes. Some (most?) prefer to just get to where they are going and not learn their neighbor’s life story. Others are looking for a talking buddy. However, no matter which camp you fall into, it’s a important part of flying etiquette to maintain your civility.
If you don’t want to chat, a quick “Hey, I’m going to get some rest. Nice to meet you.” Or “Enjoy the flight! I’ve got some work to do.” should be enough for most to get the picture. If you are out here trying to make friends, be sure to be alert for the these subtle brush offs.
At the baths in Budapest, Hungary. I definitly got OUT to pee because I’m not nasty AF.
As a lover of the window seat, I can promise you that I hold it as long as I can because I don’t want to bother you, but sometimes a girls gotta go.
If you sit on the aisle, even if you’re in a dead sleep, proper flying etiquette says that you don’t have the right to be irritated if one of your rowmates wakes you up because they need to use the restroom. People need to pee.
Unlike frequent access to the overhead bin, frequent trips to the bathroom are definitly something to accommodate.
Shower the Day of Your Flight
Rubber Duckie, you’re the one. Houston, Texas.
I’ve started carrying peppermint essential oil to rub under my nose with me on flights because so many people seem to think it’s chill not to shower when they are about to embark on a hours-long journey in a metal tube with recycled air.
Please you guys. The day of your flight is not the day to skip your shower.
Sometimes tight airline connections sneak up on you!
You thought you had two full hours to grab a bite to eat and wander to your next gate, but then your first flight has a mechanical delay and suddenly you have 30 minutes gate to gate.
Sometimes airline’s minimum connection times don’t take the reality of airport sizes into account, so even if your first flight is on time, you still have to channel your inner Usain Bolt to make it to your next gate.
We’ve all been there.
Here are my best tips for Tight Airline Connections
Speak to a flight attendant about mid-way through your flight about your options. If your first flight was significantly delayed, you can work with the onboard team to ensure a quick exit from the plane. I’ve been on flights before when they’ve asked us to remain seated so connecting passengers can bolt.
I’ve also seen people moved to the front of the plane during the final portion of the flight so they can hit the ground running to make one of their tight airline connections.
If your connection is on the same airline, the flight will sometimes wait for you if they know you’ve landed and are rushing over, but you have to speak up and check in with the cabin and ground crew as you go.
This is especially important when traveling internationally, as you often need to go through security again, even if you are just a transit passenger. If the lines are long and slow-moving, you can approach agents at the beginning of the line to ask about your options, as some airports have “mercy” programs in which the security team will pull passengers from the line to help them make their tight airline connections.
But if you don’t speak up, they won’t know you need help!
If the officials aren’t interested in expediting the process for you, consider asking your fellow passengers if you can cut them in line. I’ve gladly let frantic travelers ahead of me at security when they have 20 minutes to take off and I have 90.
If you want to make your short connection, you need to prepare!
Don’t keep your ID in the darkest depths of your backpack. Make sure your toiletries are all under the limit and in a clear bag that’s accessible, preferably near your laptop so you can take them out at the same time. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
It drives me crazy to be stuck behind travelers in the security line who don’t seem to know what is expected of them, even though there are signs and security agents everywhere explaining the procedure.
Some quick things to remember when packing for short airline connections:
Liquids, gels, and aerosels must be less than 100ml (3.4 oz) that fit into a 1 quart (or smaller!) clear bag.
Your laptop should be taken out of your bag and placed into a bin by itself.
Don’t put anything in your pockets while going through security.
You might not need to take your shoes off; it depends on the airport. Listen for instructions.
This way, you won’t be scrambling through security. You can progress through it quickly and be on your way to your gate in no time.
This step is usually undertaken by travelers who know they have a short connection because it was assigned during booking. You can check the airport website for the campus layout and make note of which terminals their airline uses and how they are connected.
However, for surprise short connections born out of delays, you might not have this luxury. Luckily, most airlines have maps of the major airports they service in the seatback magazines. It might also be worth it to pay for in-flight wifi so you know what to expect when you land.
Stopping for a bathroom break can cost you precious minutes when trying to make a tight connection! Instead of waiting in long lines for the airport bathroom, make sure to use the facilities on the plane.
A good time to go is when the captain announces your initial descent, this way, even if you have an active bladder, you can make it to your next aircraft before you need to go again.
I spent about 10 minutes waiting in line for the toilet at Charles de Gaulle in Paris last fall, and ended up arriving at my gate at 10:10…for my 10:10 flight because the passport control line was so long. 0/10 would not recommend.
Take a picture of it on the screen, text it to yourself, write it on your hand, whatever you have to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running through an airport chanting “2A” to myself and have suddenly been like “Wait…what’s my gate?” Having to find the monitors, stop, and check again costs precious time.
Sometimes you just gotta book it. I connected through Paris Charles de Gaulle both to and from my Grand Tour of Europe last fall and due to an apparent lack of staff, it was packed both ways.
On the way in, I was late getting off my flight from Houston because the jetty had an issue attaching to our plane, but luckily there was a man on my flight who was also going to Berlin. He was going there to run the marathon, so he sprinted ahead and let the ground grew know I was on my way.
On my way back, it was all up to me, so as I ran through the airport in flip flops and superman pajamas pants, I tried to concentrate on just not throwing up. I made my flight, coughing up a lung and probably with shin splints, but I made it.
Airlines usually have a minimum connection time, so if you miss a tight connection due to no fault of your own (like long lines at passport control, or delayed first flight for mechanical issues), you can work with gate agents to rebook your flight at no charge.
If the next flight to your destination isn’t until the next day, the airline should provide lodging and food vouchers, but you usually need to bargain for them.
Remember to be polite! In many places (including the USA!) there are no laws around passenger rights, so kindness will get you a long way.
If you miss one of your tight airline connections due to weather, airline employees are usually not willing to book you into a hotel, but they will work with you to rebook your flight.
Fighting on vacation is an unfortunate reality of travel.
Some of my best friends from college during our “senior week” trip to Cape Cod, right before graduation in May 2015. Brittney, Cassidy, and Rachael. Taken by Lauren!
Too many hours in the car, the stress of a new place, and the exhaustion of jet lag are all things that can make even the best of friends start actively hating each other.
I’ve been in situations over the years where I needed to take a step back. My sister and I went on a Grand Tour of Europe together and I swear to God I wanted her dead because of how loudly she breathes while sleeping.
Another time I had a terrible migraine on this bus ride with a random baby that wouldn’t stop crying, so I kept fantasizing about just stoping the bus and leaving it with a nice couple at a gas station.
Both terrible, terrible, intrusive thoughts.
So how do you work past these instead of always arguing on vacation?
You have to address the triggers and make a conscious choice to be zen.
Quick tip to avoid fighting on vacation: you can’t control others’ behavior, but you can control your own.
My friends Elizabeth, Char, Meagan, Mary, and me on an orientation trip for our study abroad program to a Mozzarella farm in Campania, Italy in January 2014.
People are cranky when they are tired. This is a given. Advice like “make sure to get a good night’s sleep!” is trite. Sometimes that’s impossible.
What is possible, however, it not setting yourself up to fail. Do hostels make you restless because of squeaky beds, thin mattresses, and inconsiderate roommates who turn the lights on at three am? Don’t stay there! Ask your traveling partners if you can book a private room, at least every couple of nights.
Can you never get to sleep on long-haul flights? Then don’t try to hit the ground running on your first day and pretend like you’re well-rested. Take it slow. Pace yourself.
Does your partner snore or just breath freakishly heavy when they sleep (like my sister)? Always bring some ear plugs, just in case or have a soothing sounds playlist queued up on your phone.
You can’t always guarantee you’ll sleep well, but you can still create a relaxing environment for yourself.
Quick tip to avoid fighting on vacation: avoid “one night stands” and stay in each location for at least two nights to ensure better sleep.
Nik, Emily, Jessica, Mike, Rebecca, Maggie, and myself in Florence, Italy. April 2014.
Let’s be real: I get hangry even when I’m not traveling. It’s realllly hard to handle even minor inconveniences when you’re starving, so don’t let yourself get to this point!
Sometimes you have to skip lunch so you can see everything you wanted in a city or the local cuisine doesn’t sit well with you.
Still no reason to be a brat! Always, always, always, have an apple and snack bar in your purse. If you’re going on a shorter trip (like less than a month) bring five or ten RXBars (or the like) with you to nibble on until you can sit down for or cook a meal.
My literal other half, Siobhan, and I at Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island May 2017. Luckily we both love historic houses.
If your boyfriend wants to stop for a coffee one more time, you might have to end the relationship. Your best friend has no interest in shopping in Paris? She’s the worst!
Traveling teaches us that we don’t have as much in common with our loved ones as we might think we do. Your mom might be a foodie and want extravagant sit down meals three times a day, while you would rather just eat a sandwich while running between monuments and museums.
It can be really frustrating to feel like you are “wasting time” on a trip you’ve been really excited for. To avoid fighting on vacation because of this, you can try a “quid pro quo” approach in which each person in the group gets to pick one activity each day OR you can occasionally split up. Which brings us to…
Quick tip to avoid fighting on vacation: occasionally suck it up and do what the other people in your group want to do, even if it means missing out on something you wanted.
Me, my sister Kerry, and my mom Debbie at Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas. We spend a looooot of time together 🙂 March 2017.
This seems to be a bigger obstacle for couples or friends traveling pairs to overcome. After a few days of just one person, you might be desperate to interact with a human being who isn’t them or just really want some alone time.
So take the day off!
Your best friend can spend the evening at the theater while you people watch in a coffee shop. You can check out that sale while your boyfriend sleeps in. These mini solo adventures are the perfect way to recharge, so that the time spent together is enjoyable and not tense.
Quick tip to avoid fighting on vacation: communicate beforehand to find out what the rest of your group absolutely doesn’t want to do, so there’s time to schedule concurrent activities.
My sister Kerry and her husband Chris taking the time to destress in the Dead Sea. November 2017.
When you miss your bus, mess up your hotel reservations, or get lost, it’s so, so easy to start blaming the rest of your group or start lashing out because you are scared or stressed.
Stressful things will happen when you travel. Things will definitly go wrong. That’s still no excuse for fighting on vacation. This is where mindfulness comes in.
You have to actively decide not to be angry. Not to respond to your boyfriend’s, or sister’s, or best friend’t goading. Let them be angry! Let them lash out! Choose to be calm.
If you are having a hard time staying calm in a tense or scary travel situation, I find it helpful just not to respond at all. Sometimes I even separate myself from the group. I don’t mean that in a “huff off and pout” sort of way, I mean it in a, “Hey, I’m going to go sit on that bench for a minute so I can think of a game plan” sort of way.
Arguing on vacation can also be avoided through preventative communication.
Quick tip to avoid fighting on vacation: assign group members with tasks according to their strengths before the trip, like navigating, driving, translating, negotiating, etc. This way, in a time of crisis, there’s no fighting over who needs to take the lead.
Mindfulness and communication are key to a great trip. If you find yourself getting a little heated, quickly work to address the trigger. Am I hungry? Tired? Bored? Then you can work to fix it.
Remember: talk to your group about interests, budgets, and accommodations BEFORE YOU LEAVE.
You can avoid like 75% of potential fights if all group members are upfront about their expectations; however, if things aren’t going well, if your traveling companions are excessively irritable or unwilling to compromise, just remember: take a deep breath, get through this trip, and then choose not to travel with them again.
Looking for Camino de Santiago advice for women? You’re in the right place! My pal Reagan did the entire 780 kilometer (nearly 500 miles!) trek and lived to tell the tale. Here’s how she did it:
Why did you choose to do the Camino?
I’d heard about the Camino when I was younger, from the movie called The Way that stars Martin Sheen. So I was always interested in walking it one day, but honestly thought that I would do it when I was retired in my 60s. But, as luck would have it, it was at that point in senior year where I was trying to get a job and was being rejected from every place I applied to.
One of my college friends Julia (who also went to Mount Holyoke) said she was going to walk the Camino and I asked to join because I literally thought “Why not?! What else am I going to do this summer since I’m unemployed.”
But in all seriousness, I felt that I needed time to contemplate what I was going to do after college. I’d just spent 20 years of my life in school, so finally being able to do nothing but walk for 5 weeks seemed like a good way to come to terms with adulthood.
Why did you want to do walk the entire Camino, instead of just a portion?
I honestly wish I had done portions of it instead after the injuries and bedbugs, but Julia and I had a plan that we wanted to stick to based on a guidebook by John Brierley and felt that completing it would be a real accomplishment for us both.
We also both thought that since it’s so expensive to fly to Europe, it’s a lot easier to take the five weeks and do it all in one go rather than in segments. In hindsight, I probably should have planned for more rest days and extra travel but the 32 days it took us was just enough time.
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: Make sure to budget rest days into your schedule!
Which town was your favorite to stop in?
There were so many, it’s hard to choose. After a while, they all started to blur. But I’ll say this:
Best party town: Leon and/or Pamplona
Best Cathedral: Burgos
Best “bum-f-middle-of-nowhere” town: Tardajos (because it had the best Albergue!)
Best “Provincial Town” or Most Quaint: Villafranca del Bierzo
Best Town Story: Santo Domingo de la Calzada,
The story goes, “there was this family of German pilgrims walking the Camino in the middle ages, mother, father and son; they stopped at a bar and the bar owners daughter fell in love with the son but the son did not reciprocate so she got mad and put a silver chalice in his bag and then accused him of theft. So they hung the son.
The mother and father continued on to Santiago and on their way back to pay respects at their son’s grave, they found him still alive hanging. The son told them to get the bar owner to cut him down. So they went to the bar owner and told him that their son was alive.
The bar man replied, “Your son is as dead as these hens I’m eating” and then the hens came alive. So the church in Santo Domingo keeps live hens and roosters in the monastery and in the cathedral itself. They were approved to do so by the Pope.”
Moral of the story that I took away was not to mess with women. That Barmaid caused all of this cause a boy didn’t reciprocate. Her name should be up somewhere, not a chicken.
Your least favorite town?
There were two I think, one was Najera where there wasn’t much to do and not the best albergues. The other was this albergue a little outside of Triacastela that sounded good on paper (vegan/vegetarian dinner, hammocks, all ecological) but honestly, it was the worst just because it was where I got really bad bedbugs. There wasn’t much in the town either.
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: at the first sign of bedbugs LEAVE your accommodations and immediately begin the clean up process.
What was a major obstacle on your journey?
Field of dreams
The biggest obstacle was the physical side.
I’ve always been a physically healthy person. I’d participated in sports all my life and I’ve never broken a bone or had any major physical injuries thankfully.
But, unfortunately, I pulled a groin muscle only a few days into the journey, so I had to take buses for a while along the way. It taught me compassion, especially for my grandparents who have a hard time walking and for those who need accessibility.
I learned a lot of patience and how to pace myself. The hardest part was just remembering that just because I’m not necessarily a fast walker doesn’t mean I can’t get to the same place as someone who is faster. It just meant that it took me a little longer. It was an interesting metaphor for my life as a dyslexic, that I just need that extra time and not everything is a competition.
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: know your limits and rest if you need to.
Oh my god, yes! like at least 2x a day I thought about it. Especially when my feet were throbbing.
The first day was really the worst and there was a point where I thought about going to Finland with this Finnish couple I met, but once I got into the pace of it, it quickly becomes meditative. There was only one really bad day when I pushed myself too hard after only just recovering from my groin injury. I ended up in a field, lost and in a lot of pain in my leg.
To put it bluntly, I had a mental breakdown for a good 20 minutes before retracing my steps and finding Julia. But that was a moment when I was close to lying on the ground and calling it quits.
What made it bearable is seeing that I wasn’t alone. Later that day, I talked to fellow pilgrims and heard some worse stories about a guy who broke his leg or another had shin splints. There’s this great misery-love-company feel so you know that you’re not alone. My best Camino di Santiago advice is to remember that your pain is the same as the person right in front of you or behind you. You’re all in it together and everyone is there to support you. It’s what kept me going.
Should you have prepared more?
I definitely thought it was going to be easier than it was. I did do some research before hand, like reading a guidebook and watching a ton of youtube videos and movies, but in the end, I got lazy and went from “Couch to Camino.”
But from what everyone was telling me on the Camino, your first time is always the hardest cause everything is new. Next time, (some Camino di Santiago advice to heed) I’m packing a lot lighter and hitting the gym before I go.
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: work up to all the walking you’ll be doing.
It really was any and everyone you could think of. There were the more religious pilgrims, the retirees, the Americans, and a lot of Europeans: Swedes, Finns, Germans, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Brits, Scots, Irish, Norwegians, etc. As well as Koreans, Japanese, and Columbians.
There really isn’t a stereotypical Pilgrim because everyone is doing it at different stages in their life or for different reasons. There were for sure the hikers and those that were more outdoorsy, but a lot of the people I met were ordinary people who just got up one day and decided to go.
What I did love about it was the number of solo female hikers. I met a lot of women and it is one of the few trails where solo female hikers feel the safest. I never felt like I was in an unsafe situation and I was by myself plenty of times.
But what I loved most about meeting fellow pilgrims was how open everyone was. I think because people are so open the experience and the hardship of the Camino, they are more open to talking to random strangers or sleeping in less than ideal places with 30 other people in the room. Everyone acknowledges each other on the Camino by saying “Buen Camino” no matter what language you speak. It has an “adult camp”-like feel.
Everyone is there for different reasons, whether it’s personal, losing weight, or just wanting to travel. You meet some really interesting people and I was able to have my own Camino-family that I met up with at the Albergue at the end of the day. They all watched out for me.
The best part of the Camino is the people you meet and make friends with. Even though we came from different places and backgrounds, we ended up bonding. At the end in Santiago, our Camino-family met up again spontaneously after having walked different paths. It was like seeing friends at a college reunion. I still keep in touch with some of them.
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: be open to making friends (no matter how tired you are!)
Was there ever a moment you felt completely at peace?
It’s hard to say.
I felt more at peace at the very end when it was done, but there were some moments that I really cherish, like moments when I was walking along beautiful scenery at sunrise or bonding with fellow pilgrims in an Albergue.
But the moment I remember best was when Julia and I got up at 3AM am to beat the 90+ degree heat and walked through part of the Meseta (flat-grass land area in Spain). We were by ourselves completely in the dark walking through this field, and above us, we could see the milky-way and all the stars so clearly. We were talking about college and making jokes and it was just a lovely moment. I mean, when in someone’s life time can you say you reminisced with a college friend while under the milky way at four in the morning in Spain!?
Can you recommend a packing list for the Camino?
First off, bring less than you think. I have a packing list on my blog (among other bits of Camino De Santiago advice) that I wrote while walking, but here is a brief Camino De Santiago packing list for women:
(Note: You can buy the Seashell that pilgrims wear on their backpacks, along the Camino. A lot of stores sell them)
Most things you can get at the pharmacies in Spain like sunscreen, blister kits, etc.
The things I wish I had bought and highly recommend is a can of bed bug spray, flip flops or something to wear at the end of the day with arch support, and a whole bottle of Aleve (those achy muscles will thank you!)
Quick Camino de Santiago advice for women: follow this list and pack lightly!
It felt like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, except maybe when I was a competitive swimmer in middle school (a story for another time).
On the last day, when we entered into Santiago de Compostela, it took another hour just to get to the city center where the cathedral is (“the finish line”).
Once I saw the spires of the cathedral, I felt a surge within me and my body just went into this no-pain-mode. I literally ran to the front of the cathedral and fell to the ground. It felt like all this weight was off my shoulders, some what literally.
There really is nothing like it, to feel this sense of personal accomplishment. When you asked earlier about “a moment I felt completely at peace”, it was really following this moment. The whole next day, we hung out in Santiago and I felt like I had woken up from a yoga class – feeling relaxed and slightly sleepy.
I walked around kind of glossy eyed, but also so proud of myself for finishing something that I thought I physically wouldn’t be able to do. I imagine it’s what Michael Phelps or Simone Biles must have felt like when winning an Olympic gold medal.I don’t have an Olympic Gold Medal, but I do have a nice certificate with the distance I walked, as well as my Pilgrims Passport that has stamps from every place I stayed.
In the end, my takeaway from the experience was that finishing the Camino solidified my belief that all things happen for a reason and that life is a journey we take day-by-day, it isn’t a race, everyone does it in their own time. We may not get stamps along the way, but it’s the accumulated experiences and people that step into our lives that are the most important.
Reagan – a Peregrino (Pilgrim), native New Yorker, and photographer who has a love for travel. She is a recent graduate from Mount Holyoke College and currently is working, like a typical Millennial, at a non-profit that supports Photographers, called Aperture Foundation.
She hopes to one day live in Italy and ride a Vespa. Fun fact: she’s almost fluent in Italian, can play piano, guitar, and viola; and favorite bands include Coldplay, Iron & Wine, 1975, Fleetwood Mac, Lord Huron, and Fleet Foxes. You can find her blog here and her Instagram here.
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