Expert travel tips: Five things to know before walking the Camino de Santiago

For the past 25 years, author John Brierley has spent each spring and autumn walking the Camino pilgrim routes, and in winter, he writes Camino guidebooks. "To experience the Camino directly, you have to listen to your heart," he says. "Listen well; it might only come as a whisper. But beware! If you have truly heard the call, you have become infected by a disease which will become fatal to your limited ego identity." See caminoguides.com

STEP ONE

We generally know the Camino as the Camino Francés route, which starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and ends at the medieval cathedral in Santiago de Compostela; a distance of 800 kilometres or 40 days (and nights!). But there are more than 80,000 kilometres of authenticated and waymarked routes, on which every nation on Earth has set foot. Last year alone, 180 different nations were represented en route.

STEP TWO

Eighty per cent of all pilgrims arrive in Santiago on the Camino Francés (the French Way). But the Camino doesn't judge where you start or which route you take: you can start in Aachen or Astorga, Budapest or Burgos. I love the Camino Portuguese, starting in Lisbon or Porto: it's relatively untamed and very beautiful. You can walk the coastal or central routes, or one of the new routes opening up.

STEP THREE

The caminos wend their way through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world but they are not hiking routes per se; they are a pilgrim network. As pilgrims we travel two paths simultaneously; the outer physical path and the inner path of soul. To help preserve these pathways for genuine seekers, it is necessary to apply for a pilgrim passport or "Credencial", which is required in order to stay at the hostels en route. These can be obtained by applying to the Australian Friends of The Camino. See afotc.org

STEP FOUR

The route doesn't judge your religion. I have walked this path with those professing to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist... but mostly, I have walked with people who profess no religion, but are searching for deeper meaning and purpose in their lives, and a spiritual truth that lies beyond all dogma. On the path, everybody's talking about the same thing: what is life all about?

STEP FIVE

The Camino is a quest. It's a powerful agent for the Great Turning; that paradigm shift in consciousness now required to deal with the myriad challenges confronting humankind at this time. So prepare a question that you need answering before you go. That is the incredible gift of the Camino – it provides time in the silence of nature to empty out our outworn belief systems and allows time new insights to arise in the spaciousness of higher mind. And then tighten your backpack belt. It might just be the ride of your life! Buen camino....

UTracks' new Camino experiences for 2020 include the eight-day Lighthouse Way between lighthouses in northwestern Spain, the Magna Via Francigena along ancient paths in Sicily, and the Camino Sanabres to Santiago, one of the oldest Camino routes. See utracks.com

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