Overwhelmed and soaked through with rain, I received my Compostela on the 12th June 2015 in Santiago. Two and a half months, over 1,600km, and a multitude of experiences later my Camino as I knew it had come to an end.

They say that walking the Camino de Santiago changes you, transforms the way you are and the way in which you look at the world. Upon setting out on my journey, back in April, I wasn’t sure whether this fabled ‘transformation’ would happen to me. I’d decided it was like hearing a lot of hype about a bestselling book, or a box-office-smashing film, and then discovering that it didn’t live up to overly-elevated expectations.  I didn’t want to think about it too much for fear that it wouldn’t happen in the way that I’d wanted.

Now that I’m back in the UK, back in the same old bedroom, typing at the same old computer, I sometimes find it difficult to see or quantify how I’ve changed – for I know that I have, but how?

I see change as a lesson learnt, or maybe of lessons to be learned. After all, awareness is the first step towards any form of progression.  In this spirit, I am going to share with you the top five things that the Camino taught me.  I’ve structured these as a ‘to do’ list of sorts: whilst on the Camino, I mentioned to my fellow walker that I was a sucker for ‘to do’ lists – I have notebooks full of them, pages and pages of instructions, many of which (most of which, in fact) I never end up fulfilling.  Rather than approaching these points as things that I must absolutely do, then, I’m choosing to treat them as simple intentions to keep in mind when launching back into my professional life in a couple of weeks’ time.

  1. Don’t stick rigidly to plans, or even try to anticipate how the future will go

If you’d asked me what shape I thought my Camino would take back in April, I can guarantee that my answer would have been completely different to what it actually turned out to be. I have the Excel spreadsheets to prove it. Yes, I did plan out my Camino on Excel – each stage, and each form of accommodation.  When I arrived, however, I quickly learnt that I didn’t need to stick to my plans at all – I had the luxury of being flexible with regards to my return date- and besides, I had no idea who I was going to meet, and whether or not I’d want to walk with them for a few days, or more. To put this into context: I’d originally planned to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago via the Via Podiensis and then the Camino Francés. I actually ended up walking the Via Podiensis, then the Camino Francés to Leon, at which point I took the Camino del San Salvador up to Oviedo to join the Camino Primitivo (adding over 100km further kilometres to my journey). Had you told me this some weeks earlier, I would probably have panicked and rushed out to buy five new guide books (I didn’t even know what the Camino del San Salvador was at that point!)

My point is that my Camino journey turned out to be much more varied, exciting and instructive that I ever could have imagined or planned for. Sometimes the best things in life are unexpected. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until it comes to you quite naturally.

  1. You don’t need as much as you think you do

When I look back at my earlier post, detailing everything I brought in my rucksack, it makes me laugh. My rucksack had weighed in at around fourteen kilos at its heaviest (including water), which I was then able to reduce down to seven kilos at its lightest.  That’s HALF of what I’d originally decided to take with me.  Even with hindsight, though, I wouldn’t have changed a thing: we don’t know what we do or don’t need on the Camino until we actually arrive and begin walking. You can tell someone to bring less, but unless they see for themselves what is necessary, and what isn’t, it is a lesson only half-learned. What’s more, everyone’s rucksack contents are vastly different depending on their needs and what they deem to be important. I, for instance, decided that I didn’t need my lunchbox, the six or so guidebooks I’d brought with me (Miam Miam Dodo was by far and away the most useful, and the only one I kept); however, I’d also decided that – for me- some comfortable pyjamas to change into on an evening were very important. Living out of a rucksack, quite happily, for over two months showed me that I don’t need to be surrounded by lots of possessions in order to be content. Indeed, my contentedness seemed to stem from the liberation experienced by travelling lightly.

  1. Spend time developing relationships with those around you (with TIME being the operative word)

On the Camino, I was astounded by the generosity of others and their readiness to share things: whether it be food, time or a helping hand. People stopped to listen to what others were saying, asking pertinent questions with genuine interest. Relationships formed within a matter of days, and people made friends with ease. The magic ingredient in all of this was time: on the Camino there’s plenty of it – after all, we are only walking and know we’ll arrive at our destination eventually.  There’s no rushing off to finish work, or to catch a train, or to run errands. There’s time to listen.

  1. Don’t try to ‘find yourself’ – instead, try to find other people

I had time walking alone on the Camino, and time spent with others in a group.  Whilst I value (and often need) alone time to recharge, I found that being amongst a group of people was integral to understanding myself, and others, a little better.  I enjoyed discussing topics and beliefs that I’d kept to myself for years and years, not having the opportunity to alter, refine or strengthen them.  If the Camino gave me any form of faith at all, it was faith in other people.

  1. Find something meaningful to do in life

This is probably the most difficult one of all. I realised that I am happiest when close to nature, and when living as simply as possible in good company. I now wish to seek a lifestyle that allows me to experience this as closely as possible – with an emphasis on quality of living, and NOT quantity of money.

Did you experience changes whilst on the Camino? Do any of these intentions speak to you? Do let me know!

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