When I walked the Camino Frances, I chose to ride the wind with my sails and had no lodging booked upon leaving St. Jean Pied du Port. I loved the freedom of movement each day and the ability to stop and stay wherever my heart desired. That freedom of movement came to a screeching halt as I approached the town of Sarria. I remember entering Sarria a few hours after noon to find the first few accomodations fully booked. I was turned away at a few more places before finally finding a bed on the edge of town. From that point on, I had to pre-book each night, which wasn’t easy given the number of pilgrims on the final 100km of the Frances.
My experience on the Frances is a very common one. I walked the Frances back in 2012 though, and since then the number of pilgrims walking to Santiago each year has jumped from 192,499 to 301,036! Needless to say, the race for beds is hotter than ever. This jump in pilgrims is what lead me to search for pre-booking options for our Camino Portuguese adventure this summer. After doing some research, I realized that many pilgrims begin their Portuguese walk from Tui in the same fashion as pilgrims hopping on the Frances Route from Sarria. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure that I’d only have to think about the walking portion each day while on The Way with my wife and son.
After spending a few weeks researching options, I partnered with Pilgrim.es for the pre-booking of our entire Camino Portuguese. Pilgrim.es had a helpful and responsive staff that communicated in English via email and phone. They also worked with us to find accommodations that were toddler friendly. Having now walked the Camino pre-booked and free form, I can’t recommend the pre-booking option enough. It will cost a little bit more, but I think a lot of aspiring pilgrims will find the added cost worthwhile. Here are 8 reasons why!
1. You’ll Get To Avoid The Bed Race
The race for beds at popular albergues can be intense as pilgrims converge on Santiago. It isn’t uncommon for some walkers to begin their day an hour or two before sunrise just to secure a bed in the next town. That defeats the entire point of walking the Camino in my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I love hitting the trail early enough to catch sunrise…I just prefer that it be a choice and not a necessity. With your accommodations pre-booked, you can wake up and start whenever you want. You can take as long as you want at breakfast and lunch, and you can also take as many photos and videos as you want without fear of being without a place to sleep. Best of all, you can stop and chat with pilgrims and locals along the way without any pressure to end conversations to speed ahead.
2. No Stress Or Anxiety When You Enter Towns
When I look on Camino Facebook groups and forums, I see a lot of questions mentioning a fear and anxiety of arriving to a town and not being able to find a bed. I can remember this upon arriving in Sarria. I called a few of the numbers in my guide book, and still no luck. I’m lucky that I speak Spanish pretty well, as calling and asking around was always an option. For non-Spanish and non-Portuguese speakers, it can be even more of a stressor. When all of your accommodations are pre-booked, this is something you’ll never have to think about.
Another reason it’s nice to be pre-booked, is in the event of bad weather or extreme fatigue. I can remember days on the Meseta when I would walk into a town dog-tired and still have to find a place to sleep. It’s nice to have an end destination queued up on days like that.
3. You’ll Get A Better Nights Rest
There is a real charm and pageantry to the Camino albergue experience. A certain magic happens when you cram 10-200 people from all over the word under one roof to sleep. Meals and laughs are shared, pleasantries exchanged, and an overall feeling of warmth fills the air. Nothing shatters that blissful harmony quite like a chainsaw snorer in a room full of bunk beds. I’ve seen pilgrims throw pillows and forcefully wake nearby snorers in a desperate attempt to get some rest.
Remember the race for beds I mentioned earlier? Keep in mind that these people will be rustling through their backpacks and twisting around the room with headlamps on as they make their way back out onto the Camino. Part of me missed seeing this interaction that I became all too familiar with while walking the Frances. I was glad to have silent and unbroken nights of sleep on the Portuguese though!
4. You’ll Enjoy More Privacy and a Cleaner Accommodation
As a former college athlete, I’m not at all phased by sharing a public bathroom or shower with a lot of other people. I have my sandal and towel routine down pat. The one thing I’ve never been able to fully normalize in my mind is the use of a toilet after 20 other people have done their morning business. Albergue volunteers work hard and do a phenomenal job to keep most places really clean, but there is only so much you can do with the number of pilgrims passing through each town every night. If you opt for private rooms during your pre-booking, you’ll also get to have a private restroom on most nights. It’s a small thing you’ll learn to appreciate after enough time along The Way.
5. Allergies and Dietary Restrictions Can Be Taken Care Of
I’m fortunate to speak enough Spanish for basic communication, but I know a lot of people walk the Camino with little to no ability to communicate in a foreign language. For pilgrims with food allergies and other dietary restrictions, this can be a major issue. By pre-booking your Camino, you can have a Camino professional pick and choose restaurants for you, and/or call ahead to places on your behalf.
6. You’ll Be Booked In The Best Lodging For Your Budget
The worst part about being one of the last pilgrims in a town is that you tend to get ‘best of what’s left’. After all of the accommodations are taken by pre-booking pilgrims, early risers, and general tourists, you might be stuck with something on the outskirts of town carrying the same price you would have paid for something nicer if pre-booked. I can’t speak for all pre-booking agencies, but Pilgrim.es always had us staying in clean, well managed accommodations that were right along the Camino and close to restaurants and markets.
7. You’ll Have The Option Of Luggage Transfer
I’ve always been a ‘carry what your bring’ proponent, but understand that a lot of people are not physically capable of doing so. For pilgrims that need luggage assistance, the ability to have bags shipped from accommodation to accomodation is a very attractive option. We met a lot of pilgrims on the Camino Portuguese carrying only a light day bag with water, snacks, and layers. They had all of their other items shipped ahead to a pre-booked lodging that would be waiting for them upon arrival.
8. Families and Groups Can Always Be Together
While walking the Camino solo, I never truly worried about not finding a bed. As people say, “The Camino Provides”. That’s easy enough to say while walking alone, as it’s pretty easy to squeeze one body in somewhere. In larger groups or families, it can be a lot more difficult to keep everyone together or in the same room. For this reason, it’s really nice for groups and families to pre-book in order to stay together.
This is also very important as a Camino courtesy. While walking from Sarria, many of the albergues would get filled up with massive school groups and other organized tours. By pre-booking, you won’t overwhelm an albergue or hotel without warning, which makes things easier for hotel workers and fellow pilgrims.
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