Before walking the Camino, we had never considered that children could walk the Way of St. James. When we walked the Camino, we were pleasantly surprised to see children of all ages walking the Camino: a baby (likely around one year old) being pushed on a stroller by his parents, a little girl on a cart attached to her dad’s bicycle, older children walking with their families, and teenagers walking with parents or as part of a group of other teenagers. Truly, the Camino is a place for pilgrims of all ages!
If you are considering walking the Camino with children, it can be done. Below, we share what we have learned, both based on our research and based on what we saw when we walked the Camino.
Can you walk the Camino with children (babies, toddlers, older children, teenagers)? You can walk the Camino with children of all ages. How you prepare and what you do will depend on whether your children are able to walk comfortably on their own (typically the case for older children and teenagers), or whether you will need to carry them yourself (typically the case for babies and toddlers). Below, we provide more information on the considerations of walking the Way of St. James with children.
Before You Leave for the Camino
Take the Time to Train. Whether your children are able to walk on their own or not, you all need to train before embarking on your pilgrimage. If you are curious about how to do this, we have a post on how you should train physically for the Camino.
If you have a baby or toddler, you will be carrying your child most or all of the way. This means that you should think about how you intend to carry your child. Most people might choose to bring a stroller, but you can also consider a wagon, cart, or carrier that you wear on your body (similar to a backpack).
Whichever option you choose to carry your child, make sure you practice walking with your child and all your gear. Taking the time to train will prepare you for the extra weight of pushing or carrying, and will prepare your child to be in that position for a long length of time.
Taking the time to train will also let you know whether your child is comfortable as well as if they do well with the mode of transportation you decided upon. If your child is uncomfortable, you will need to consider another mode of transportation, or will need to postpone your pilgrimage.
When walking the Camino with babies or toddlers, because you are dealing with the extra burden of carrying or pushing your child, you might need to rely on luggage transport services so that you do not have to also worry about the weight of your own backpack.
Older children and teenagers will need to train, like you and as we recommended in our post, using the shoes/socks and gear that they will be carrying.
For children who are old enough to walk but still somewhat young, you will need to assess how long they can comfortably walk. Will it be necessary for you to bring a stroller for them, in case they get tired?
For these children, also determine how much weight they can carry. It might be that you need to either carry the weight they can’t carry themselves, or that you will have to rely on luggage transport services to carry their bags from town to town.
Take the Time to Mentally and Spiritually Prepare. If you are bringing older children or teenagers with you on the Camino, many have recommended that you encourage them to prepare mentally and spiritually in addition to physically.
For example, some suggest encouraging them to learn about what the Camino is and who St. James is. If they are old enough, they can think about what they want to accomplish or learn about themselves by walking the Camino.
Some have suggested that involving older kids in the travel preparations and planning can also be beneficial. Being involved in the planning might get them more excited to take the time to train, and might result in them being more engaged and less bored while they walk the Camino.
Visit the Pediatrician/Doctor before Walking the Camino. It might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about what you plan to do with your child, especially if your child is a baby or toddler.
Let your doctor know that you are planning on walking the Camino, and how many miles (or kilometers) that you plan to walk each day. For a regular pace on the Camino, you will cover about 16 miles per day (or 25 kilometers per day). If you decided to go at half pace, you can expect to walk about 8 miles per day (or about 13 kilometers per day).
It would also be a good idea to talk to your doctor if your child has any conditions such as asthma, severe allergies, or any other chronic condition. Your doctor will let you know the implications of walking the Camino with those medical conditions, and will have information on how to deal with any complications.
To be on the safe side, you can also research pediatricians and hospitals along your Camino route, especially if you have a baby or toddler, and/or a child with medical conditions, and bring that list with you. Of course, if you have an emergency along the way, any local will be able to help you and inform you where the nearest hospital is.
Create Your Child’s Packing List. If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, you will have to carry your child’s belongings with you. It is advisable that you find a backpack that will hold both of your belongings, and also be comfortable for you to carry the extra weight.
Your child’s packing list will be very similar to yours in the sense that you will both need clothing and toiletries. Additional items that you will need to pack for your baby or toddler for the Camino de Santiago include:
If you end up having too many things to carry, luggage transport services are always an option, though it would mean an extra expense (usually 3 to 5 euros per day/transport).
For older children and teenagers, their packing list will likely be very similar to yours. They will need clothes, toiletries, and appropriate shoes, as well as a backpack that is comfortable for them to carry. For ideas on what to pack and what to avoid packing, you can see our post to keep your backpack under 10 lbs and our post on how to travel lightly on the Camino.
Pick the Best Route and Time for Your Children. You know your children best, and different Camino routes might be better for different personalities and temperaments.
If your children would do better without the crowds, you can pick a less popular route or choose to go at a less popular time of year. You can also pick the shortest route you can, so that the journey is more doable for you and your children. For example, you might consider the Camino Ingles (see our post for more information) or the Camino Frances starting from Sarria.
Pilgrims have reported that children (babies, toddlers, and younger children) on the Camino tend to be popular among the other peregrinos, and you might have strangers asking to take pictures with your little pilgrim(s). If this is not something you are comfortable with, then a less popular route would be a good option.
Know, however, that pilgrims have also reported that peregrinos will usually be very generous in offering help with your children, such as helping you carry your stroller up the stairs that you encounter along the Way, or pointing out harder sections of the Camino and the best routes to take with a stroller.
As You Walk the Camino
Think About How to Incorporate Rest Breaks. Whether your children are walking or being pushed/carried by you, you will all need to take breaks. Some suggestions for rest breaks are:
Bring Snacks and Water, or Plan to Buy Snacks on the Way. Older children and teenagers can bring their own water bottles, but you will need to carry water for younger children. Make sure you remind them to drink their water, so as to avoid dehydration.
Because of the increase in exercise (if your child is walking), extra snacks will be needed. You can consider packing snacks in your backpacks, or you can plan your rest breaks to stop at a cafe or albergue along the way to buy a snack.
Bring Entertainment. Children might be entertained for a while by looking at other pilgrims and animals on the way, but this will only last for a while. For children that will be in a stroller or cart, you can bring books, coloring books, toys, or a tablet with games or movies.
If you have a younger child who can from time to time walk alongside you, you can bring a pull toy or other toy that they can play with while walking.
Older children and teenagers who are walking might benefit from having a game you all play together as you walk. They can also listen to music or an audiobook as they walk.
Get Them a Compostela Certificate When You Arrive at Santiago...Maybe. We have a post that provides more information about the Compostela. According to the Pilgrim’s Office, babies and toddlers will not receive a Compostela. Instead, their names will be included in their parent’s Compostela.
According to the Pilgrim’s Office, older children and teenagers can receive a Compostela if they are mature enough to understand the spiritual component of the pilgrimage, or have already received the sacrament of Communion. If neither of these are the case, they do not receive a Compostela, but receive another certificate instead.
Do Your Research on Accommodations. Pilgrims have reported that not all albergues will accept younger children. If you have younger children and are sleeping in the dorm-style accommodations, their sleep might be disrupted by other pilgrims. Similarly, they might disrupt other pilgrims’ sleep if they wake up or cry during the night.
So, do your research online to find appropriate accommodations. Many albergues will offer private rooms with their own bathrooms. If several of you (say, mom, dad, and child) are sharing that room, it will many times be more affordable to stay in a private room, because you will be paying for a room rather than paying per bed/person. Plus, you get the benefit of more privacy and your own bathroom.
You can also look at private hotels, private apartments, or AirBNB. These may or may not be close to the Camino route, so you may have to do some extra walking to get there.
During our Camino, we stayed in private rooms at albergues, private hotels, or private apartments. Prices ranged from about 25-45 euros per night.
In addition, because some albergues do not accept children, and because you might sometimes be desiring special accommodations like a private room, it might be a good idea to plan your route and reserve your rooms ahead of time.
You Will Be Able to Find Diapers, Food, and Other Supplies. There will be many grocery stores as well as pharmacies and clothing stores along the Camino. You will find most, if not all, of the things you will need for your children, so don’t worry about packing things “just in case” or packing extras.
Have a Back-Up Plan. Think about what to do if you realize the walk is simply too much for your or your children. We have not come across stories of pilgrims who have had to cut their pilgrimage short due to walking with kids, but it is a possibility, especially if you are walking with younger children and/or children with a medical condition. It is good to have a back-up plan in mind, in case you realize that getting to St. James is no longer the best option for you and your children.
Some People Will be Judgmental. Pilgrims who walk with children, especially those walking with younger children, have encountered others who have demonstrated a negative attitude towards their decision to bring a child on the Camino. Be prepared to just smile and keep going on your way. If you have taken the appropriate precautions, your child will be fine. And while some might be judgmental, you will mostly find other pilgrims who will be helpful, supportive, and kind to the little pilgrims.
Based on the research we conducted as well as seeing other families walk the way, it is possible to walk the Camino with children. Older children and teenagers, who are able to walk for themselves and even carry a backpack, can for the most part follow all recommendations provided for adults. Younger children, babies, and toddlers will need to be pushed or carried either always or from time to time, and their belongings will also need to be carried.
Walking the Camino with your children will take time to train, require extra entertainment options, possibly extra time on the Camino to account for breaks and resting, and possibly more financial resources to pay for luggage transport services or special accommodations.
But, it can be done and can prove to be a fun and meaningful experience for your family.