I considered myself a pilgrim on my first Camino. I no longer walk a pilgrimage. I simply am here walking for my health.
I acted as facilitator for two small groups last year, charging just enough to cover my own costs and expenses. The trips were designed for those who were unable to take a full six weeks to walk from Roncesvalles to Santiago.
In my opinion, the people I helped are no less pilgrims than those who walk from anywhere else. If you start at your own doorstep, it is not always possible to walk. People don't swim across oceans. They fly or go by boat. Historically, many made this pilgrimage by horse, cart, or both.
My walkers did not generally take up space in albergues. We booked and paid for private lodging. But that doesn't matter because where you sleep is of no importance.
The ONLY criteria for this pilgrimage that I am aware of is that you walk the last 100 kilometers from Sarria and that you get two stamps per day.
You can walk, run, skip, hop, take a car, bus, train, fly on a broomstick, or go by horse or donkey. You can hire a man to give you a piggy back ride to Sarria. They don't care in Santiago.
You can walk barefoot, in boots, tennis shoes, sandals, or on stilts. You can roller skate to Sarria if you want to! They don't care in Santiago!
You can carry your pack, or have it transported. You can pull it on a cart or push it in a wagon. You can tie helium balloons to it or have it dropped each night by helicopter. You can tie it to your dog's back or give it to a local dragon in exchange for a daily roasted chicken! They don't care in Santiago!
You can wear the same clothes every day and carry no pack at all if you want. Nobody cares!
As far as where you sleep, you can sleep in an albergue, in a tent, in your car, under the stars, in a haystack or in a Parador. It does not matter in Santiago!
You can be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, Moslem, pagan, Wiccan, or atheist. You can be straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, sleep by yourself or with a different partner each night and if you have walked from Sarria and have two stamps per day on your credential, nobody cares.
You can be nice, mean, funny, angry, mentally stable or totally whacked. You can whine and cry and moan and groan or you can pray and help others along the Way. You can be a criminal, a sinner, a prostitute or a virgin and if you walk from Sarria and have two stamps per day, you are as 'real' as it gets.
You can hire a porter to carry your pack right up to the pilgrim office desk and if you yourself have walked from Sarria and you have two stamps per day on your credential, you are considered to have completed the requirements for the pilgrimage.
There you have it.
The answer according to Santiago to the question, "what is a REAL pilgrim?'
Whether or not Santiago's definition is the same as each person's own definition is another matter. Whether or not we like Santiago's definition is another, still.
But the fact remains...
If you walk from Sarria and you get two stamps per day in your credential...you ARE a pilgrim according to Santiago.