Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prettying Up on the Camino

When people are packing their sundry bag for the Camino, they often find themselves wondering what to take and what to leave behind.  

I have one suggestion:  SIMPLIFY

One of the first things you will notice about Pilgrims is 
they are not beauty book material.
You won't see curling irons or pantyhose,
nor will you see eyeliner and mascara.
Nobody cares if their pants matches their shirt.

Most have chosen their clothing because of the WEIGHT 
rather than the looks.
Their shoes are not clean,
but mud-spattered and dusty.
Their socks are grey, not white.
Their hair is either chopped short for ease of washing (often in cold water)
and care, or twisted up inside a ballcap.

Nor do they bother with makeup and beauty routines.

Shower time on the Camino is short and very sweet.
A person lolligagging in the shower, using up all the hot water, 
while fellow pilgrims stand groaning in line, 
will soon find themselves confronted.

You get in, soap up, rinse, and get out.
And if the water is hot, you thank God and St. James.

You won't see pilgrims standing in front of a mirror at night 
doing a beauty routine.
They're too tired.
They've been on their feet for 6 to 8 hours.

Nor will you see primping in the morning. 
After the first one or two hospitaleras shoo you out of the building at dawn
with the wet cold cream still on your face... 

after your dripping sweat leaches your makeup into your eyes,
blinding you and leaving you resembling a zebra...
and once you realize that every single OUNCE you are carrying 
makes a huge difference in whether or not your feet 
are going to carry you through to Santiago
or blister up like a pig on a spit, 
you begin to get the picture.

The moment that light bulb goes off is a moment of freedom.
I've seen so many pilgrims reach this point.
They immediately begin unloading their pack
with no thought of cost or loss.
It's a defining moment on the Camino
when you realize just how much you can happily live without.

You not only gain precious hours, 
you gain a sense of who you REALLY are under the facade. 
As you drop weighty items, 
as you leave behind un-needed equipment and clothing, 
you find yourself also dropping routines you thought were important,
and trains of thought in which you were invested,
in favor of time spent being human, 
connecting with others, 
and living your life unfettered.

Here are some suggestions for prettying up on the Camino.
In the end, it's YOUR Camino,
and these are only suggestions,
not rules.
There are as many ways of doing a Camino
as there are pilgrims.
However, these ideas are what works for me.

Buy a bar of soap. Cut it in half. 
Give half away (extra weight). 
Use it for washing your body and your hair. 
If you live near a health-food store like Whole Foods, buy handmade soap... 
or order it on Etsy. 
Hand made soap is great for both body and hair washing.

One of my favorite body/hair washing soaps is Liggets Shampoo Bar.  

This bar is small, lightly scented, and lathers well in cold as well as warm water.
It leaves your body and hair feeling clean. 
It's lightweight, and will last the 6 weeks of the Camino 
if you keep it dry between showers.
You can find it online.

You also could simply bring your favorite soap or buy a bar in Spain. 
A mesh bag that can be safety-pinned to the outside of your backpack
will allow the soap to air out and dry between showers.
(Don't forget safety pins)

Don't bother bringing a hair-dryer.
Figure out a way to do without.  
Remember, any electric appliance you bring will not only mean more weight,
but it will mean bringing plug adaptors and carrying them
and hoping there is a plug somewhere near your bed.
Many of the places you will stay are older buildings,
some erected before electricity was common.
Not all will be able to feed your need for electrical outlets.
I always cut my hair in a short pixie before walking. 
That way I don't even need to bring a comb!
I just wash, dry, and go.

 To dry yourself, don't bother with expensive micro travel towels. 
They smear the water all over you instead of sopping it up. 
Instead, consider an old worn cotton dish drying towel.  
Or cut an old terrycloth towel into thirds and take 1/3 to dry your body.

DEODORANT.  Buy a travel size and pick up more in Spain if you run out.

PERFUME.  Please don't bring it.
First, it's heavy.
Second, it's unnecessary.
Nobody wants to smell it except maybe you.

Instead, smell the smell of the wildflowers,
the forest, and the clean morning air. 

Perfume gives some people a migraine, leaving them very cranky...
It feels like an assault to people who have allergies.
In an albergue room full of pilgrims,
one person slathered in perfume
can really make the rest of us suffer.
Generally, those who DO wear fragrance don't realize how strong it is.
Please, leave the fragrance at home.

Much of the laundry you will be doing on the Camino will be by hand.
Unlike the USA, there are not convenient laundromats in every neighborhood 
or even in every village. 
Self service laundry is pretty well unknown in Spain. 
Most people either do their own laundry 
or take it to the laundry to be washed for them.

Most of the laundry you will be doing on the Camino will be in COLD water.
Regular laundry detergent is not safe to carry in your backpack. 
If the bottle opens, you have a mess.
It's also not always made for cold water washing. 

The best product I've found is Fels Naptha soap. 
It is MADE for cold water hand washing. 
It comes in a large bar that can be cut into thirds or fourths and shared. 
It lasts a long time.
It gets clothes clean, 
and you'll learn to use and love it.  
You can buy it in St. Jean Pied de Port at the hardware store 
or in just about any tienda in Spain.
It will cost under 3 euros.

This soap has a long history, and I love looking at the old advertisements. 
Ask your great-grandmother what she used to do her laundry!

Most albergues provide a place to hang your clothes - 
usually a folding rack.
I always take a little elastic clothesline or rope, just in case. 
You can pick them up in travel stores like Rick Steves online, 
or you can make your own.

These also come in handy when you want privacy in your bunkbed...
just hang them between the bedposts, hang some clothes, 
and voila! 
Instant privacy!

Don't bother with an electric toothbrush. 
Just bring the old fashioned kind, and a small travel tube of paste.
It's lightweight, easy to replace, requires no electricity,
and you can pick up more toothpaste in Spain if you run out.
Add a comb and you're ready for pilgrimage!

If you have exceptionally dry skin, 
you can pick up lotion in Spain.
You can try bringing a small tube of your own, 
but you may have difficulty getting it through security unless it's a very small size.  

You can also get any first aid supplies you may need on your first day in Spain.
St. Jean Pied de Port has a nice farmacia, as do most larger towns.

That's it.
That's all you need.
It should all fit into a 1 quart ziplock bag.

I challenge you to try it.

I can't say it enough:
Buen Camino!

See my website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Pilgrimage Trails of Europe
Walking the Camino Santiago


  1. where can I get the replacement toothpaste for the little travel toothbrush?

  2. You will find travel sized toothpaste all up and down the Camino. You probably have a better chance looking for it in the larger cities, so be aware you are running short. But many markets cater to the pilgrims, so it won't be a problem.


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