The cost of doing the Camino de Santiago is a primary factor to consider when you are planning your pilgrimage. If you choose to walk the Camino Frances (the most popular Camino route), you will be covering 790km, which takes 30 to 35 days to complete on foot.
Expenses begin to pile up for 35 days of traveling, especially considering you will most likely be paying for an airplane ticket and a month’s worth of lodging and food.
We walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018 and researched the best ways to save money. We compiled everything into this list and we hope you gain a couple of ideas on how you can save money on your upcoming pilgrimage.
This list is meant to enhance your Camino trip, and not subtract from it. There are alternative forms of doing the Camino that can both encourage the pilgrim spirit while also saving you money.
17 Ways to Save Money while Walking the Camino
1. Stay at Albergues with Kitchens
By choosing to stay at an albergue with a public-use kitchen, you will be able to buy food from grocery stores and prepare your own food. Most people know that grocery store food is less expensive than eating at restaurants, but may not know what food to expect to find at a grocery store in France or Spain.
From our experience, you will be able to find just about everything at a grocery store. They offer the healthiest eating options, as well as the most variety. Grocery stores are also the best option for those with dietary restrictions. The price of food is a fraction of what you would find at a restaurant.
Purchase ingredients for some easy-to-prepare meals (things that you are used to making) and return to the albergue to prepare your food. You may want to pack travel utensils to eat the food you prepare.
The best place to find out if an albergue has a kitchen is www.booking.com. Before you head into your next town, check to see what albergues are there and see if they have a kitchen listed as an amenity.
One last point, you do not need access to a kitchen to eat dinner from a grocery store. We ate food from a grocery very frequently for dinner, and rarely cooked. We would typically grab some bread, hummus and a salad and this tasted great (and saved us a lot of money).
2. Grab Lunch Items from Grocery Stores
As mentioned earlier, grocery stores will be your least expensive eating option on the Camino. If you are preparing lunch, choose easy-to-carry items like a sandwich. A couple of ideas would be a meat and cheese sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For gluten-free vegans, you can find gluten-free bread at most grocery stores and have a hummus with spinach sandwich.
You will most likely buy your groceries the day before you need them. Carrying your food will add extra weight to your bag for walking, but it will save you money that would have been spent at a restaurant for lunch.
We decided to separate our food from our backpack, choosing to carry all of our food items in a reusable bag (you could use a plastic grocery bag too), while the rest of our belongings were in our backpack. It was easier to carry a small bag of food rather than to add it to our backpack!
3. Walk a Shorter Camino
Decreasing the amount of days you walk the Camino will save you money on lodging and food (while still getting a chance to experience the Camino). You can decide to walk a shorter distance of the Camino Frances (deciding to start in Sarria, for example, would only take 5 to 7 days to complete with a total of 111km of walking), or you could decide to walk an entirely different (but shorter) Camino route. The Camino Portugues (Portugues Camino) is a good alternate route as it starts in Porto, Portugal and makes its way up to Santiago de Compostela, covering about 240km.
Or you could choose to walk the shortest complete Camino route, the Camino Ingles (English Camino) which covers 118km.
Many choose to walk the entire 790km of the Camino Frances because they want a more authentic or true Camino experience. If this is you, then definitely go for it, as the more days you walk the Camino, the more transformation you may experience.
However, it is becoming much more common to split the Camino up into multiple trips, or to walk only a portion of an ancient route. We ran into several people who have walked multiple Caminos, covering as much ground as they could each time that they walked it.
We did not have 35 days available to walk the Camino, so we opted to walk a shorter Camino for our first pilgrimage. At no time did we feel that we had a “lesser” Camino because of the short time frame. On the contrary, it inspired us to plan another pilgrimage for the future!
4. Cycle the Camino (and Travel Twice as Fast as Walking)
The biggest cost savings of cycling the Camino is the reduced amount of money you will spend on lodging and food. Because you can generally cycle twice as fast as you can walk, you can cover the Camino Frances in 14 days (instead of the 30-35 days that it would take to walk).
While the savings from decreasing your days on the Camino will add up, you need to keep in mind that cycling has additional costs associated with it. You will either need to rent a bike when you arrive (or pay to transport your own bike). You will need additional gear as well as biking clothing. You may also find that you eat more food due to the large amount of calories that you burn while biking.
For a complete guide to cycling the Camino, which includes all of the extra costs that you may incur, check out our post complete-cyclists-guide-to-the-camino-de-santiago.htmlhere.
5. Camp the Camino
We hesitated to put this one on the list because of the many camping laws in Spain, but if done correctly, you can save money by camping the Camino.
If you speak Spanish well, and feel comfortable communicating with the landowners in the rural areas on the Camino, you can ask them for permission to camp on their land. If they agree, you can set up your tent for the night and save money that you would have spent on an albergue.
You will have to follow rules like the overnight stay rule (you will not be able to camp more than one night at the same location) as well as other rules like no camping near an urban area, no camping close to a campground, and no fires allowed. Also, there are parts of Spain that do not allow camping at all.
If you decide to camp, please read our entire guide to Camping the Camino, which covers everything you need to know (including the many laws) before bringing your tent.
If you decide to stay at public campgrounds while walking the Camino, the cost would be about the same (or a little more expensive) than staying at private albergues.
6. Walk the Camino During Off-Season
If your schedule allows for it, you can save money by choosing to walk the Camino during non-peak travel times. The walking traffic on the Camino is lighter starting in October and does not pick up again until May. You can save money on airfare as well as on some lodging costs.
The best times for this would be late Fall (October or November) as well as late Spring (April or May). For a breakdown of the best times of the year to walk the Camino and what to expect, check out our post here.
7. Split Costs with a Fellow Pilgrim
This is one of our favorite ways to save money on the Camino de Santiago. We feel lucky that we were able to walk the Camino together, which allowed us to share many moments along the way, but also saved us a lot of money.
If you feel like making some Camino friends on your pilgrimage (or bring a friend), you may be able to help each other save on costs.
Here is a short list of things you can share on the Camino to help each other save money:
8. Carry Small Bills
As you may have already come across, much of the Camino is cash only. Most of the municipal albergues (and some private albergues) as well as some restaurants will only accept cash as payment.
Making sure that you always carry some smaller bills on the Camino will offer you a few benefits. The main benefit is that you will be able to pay in exact change. This will be most useful at cash-only municipal albergues, who, depending on the time of day, may not have small bills to break your larger bill. They may ask you to go to the back of the line to wait until they have smaller bills to check you in.
Another benefit is that you can negotiate the price at some local markets and local stores. If you have smaller bills, you can ask for a lower price. Although you may want to learn some Spanish before trying your hand at negotiating prices in Spain.
9. Buy Walking Gear in Advance
If you plan on buying clothes or gear for your upcoming pilgrimage, you will save money by purchasing these in advance.
We visited a couple of gear shops on the Camino and found that, overall, the prices were higher than what we would have paid if we had bought our gear before leaving. Other pilgrims have shared the same experience.
Buying things like your backpack, shoes, and toiletries before leaving will be the most affordable option.
Also, you may not need to buy as much new gear as you think. Try walking for a couple of hours in the shoes you currently own to see how they hold up. We used the sneakers that we used daily. See if your current backpack will work, and if so bring it along.
For clothing, don’t forget to check out thrift stores and secondhand clothing shops. We found several sweat-resistant shirts at our local thrift store that worked very well on our Camino (and only cost us a couple of bucks).
10. Share a Large Home-Cooked Meal (One Person Cooks, Everyone Eats Together)
This is a great way to save money on the Camino de Santiago while also getting to know your fellow peregrinos.
You will be able to find all of the ingredients you need at the local grocery store. As you walk during the day, ask your fellow pilgrims what food they are in the mood to eat that evening. One (or all) of you can head to the grocery store to buy food to prepare. Bring it back to your albergue (with kitchen) and cook up a delicious meal.
The best idea is to split the cost of the meal between the pilgrims for that evening. This is another good reason to carry small bills on the Camino.
We have talked about saving money on food extensively in this post because of the large difference in cost of eating at a restaurant compared to preparing your own food.
11. Walk the Beginning of the Camino Frances
The Camino Frances is the most popular route, and because of this, the cost will be less expensive than other less familiar routes (due to the extensive infrastructure of the Camino Frances). The Camino Frances is designed for the walker in mind and has ample resources along the way.
However, the last 100km of the Camino Frances (from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela) is so popular that prices have begun to rise for this portion of the Camino as compared to other Camino routes. Most pilgrims agree that the most expensive part of their Camino Frances was the last 100km or so.
One way to save money would be to walk the beginning of the Camino Frances rather than the end. This will still give you the benefit of a shorter Camino, while also providing more time for introspection since there is less walking traffic at the beginning of the Camino Frances.
Make sure you train physically before taking on the beginning of the Camino Frances. We have a complete guide for preparing to walk the Camino which can give you some ideas for training ahead of time, check it out here.
12. Stay at Municipal Albergues that Charge by Donativo (Donation)
There are two main types of albergues on the Camino de Santiago. The first is the municipal albergue, which is typically run by the local government or church. The second is a private albergue.
The municipal albergues are less expensive than the private albergues. Many of the municipal albergues will only ask for a donation (typically 4 euros or so) to stay for the night. This will give you a bed in a large dorm-style hall filled with other pilgrims.
The religious albergues are the most basic (typically no wifi), while the state-run albergues offer a couple more amenities. The private albergues typically offer the most amenities (including wifi and smaller rooms), but charge about 8 to 12 euros per night per bed.
You may have heard of the daily Camino “bed race” that pilgrims undertake when walking the Camino. This is referring to those who are choosing to stay at the municipal albergues (many pilgrims are drawn to the inexpensive price), and thus creates a larger demand for those beds. Sometimes municipal albergues will fill up before the end of the day. Be prepared for this when choosing to stay at the donation-based and less expensive municipal albergues.
13. Pack Lightly
Choosing to pack lightly will save you money in two ways. The first is that you will not have to buy as much gear if you decide not to bring certain items. We wrote an entire post of things NOT to bring on the Camino, you can find it here.
The second way that you will save money packing lightly is that your backpack will be easier on your body, and will reduce the risk of injury during your walk.
Choosing to bring less stuff was one of the best decisions we made for walking the Camino.
14. Check for Left-Behind Toiletries at Albergues
On a really tight budget for your Camino? One way to save a couple of euros is to check for toiletries that were left behind at the albergue you are staying at. Before heading out in the morning, ask the person who runs the albergue if any small toiletries (like shampoo, soap, toilet paper) have been left behind.
This is one way to save some money and also try out some different shampoos or soaps!
15. Buy Train or Bus Tickets Well Ahead of Time
Advanced preparation can be your friend when it comes to your Camino pilgrimage. The more time that you have to wait for good prices on transportation costs, the more likely you will be able to find them.
You will need transportation to your Camino starting point, and most pilgrims choose to either ride the train or the bus. You will pay less money for these tickets if you buy them ahead of time. Bus and train tickets are more expensive if you buy them while walking the Camino.
16. Keep an Eye on the Cost of Flights
Like the previous tip on buying train or bus tickets ahead of time, you will want to keep your eye out for inexpensive flight costs.
When looking up flights, always use an incognito (or private) window for researching so that you always know you are seeing the best prices available.
Two good websites for checking flight prices are Kayak and Skyscanner.
17. Borrow Gear
One last way that you can save money on your upcoming Camino pilgrimage is to borrow gear. Check with your outdoorsy friends and family to see who has a good backpack, sleeping bag, rain poncho or walking poles. By borrowing some of your gear, you will decrease the amount of money you spend for your Camino.
These are just some of the many ways to make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage fit any budget.
If you would like to read more about how much money you can expect to spend on your upcoming Camino pilgrimage, check out our post that covers all the expenses you can expect in detail. We even break down the exact expenses we spent on our Camino in 2018.
We hope our research (and experience) for this money-saving list pays off for you and saves you money on your Camino!