Do you dream of walking the Camino Portugues but worry about the finances? Then I urge you to stop.
In fact, the Camino was one of my cheapest adventures.
My route starts in Porto and ends in Santiago de Compostela, 10 days of intense walking in-between. As a stingy traveler I was keen to not cross my budget of 12 to 15 euros per day. And it worked out.
All you need to do, is to stick to the points in this article and focus on what really counts: the Way.
Before heading towards your starting point, your gear should be ready.
I purchased almost my entire hiking outfit at Decathlon. I only splurged some more on hiking shoes. And you should too. They will be your carrier for all those days and need to fit well. That’s why you should not order them online, but visit a sports store and try them on in person. Consider buying them at least one, or better yet, two sizes larger. Hiking socks as well as swollen feet require the extra space.
Functional sports wear has ideally a light fabric but still would keep you warm and dry. A microfiber sports towel is a must.
trekking backpack: 50 €
light sleeping bag: 35 €
microfiber towel: 10 €
rain poncho: 15 €
hiking shoes: 70 €
To reach your budget goal, you won’t get around staying at municipal albergues. The highest we paid was 8 euros, with Portugal being cheaper than Spain.
To find the public albergues, we advise you to use a GPS navigation app like Maps.me. There are many GPS tracks with marked facilities online that you can download and import into all standard navigation apps and GPS devices.
We used the resources from the Dutch Confaternity of Saint James (Het Nederlands Genootschap van Sint Jacob). Here is a list of pilgrim routes and facilities with both KML/KMZ and GPX files.
Municipal albergue: 5 – 10 €
Private albergue: 10 – 15 €
Hostel: 12 – 18 €
Now that you know which albergues to target, you need to plan your time. If you arrive past a certain time, all beds will be reserved, leaving you no other option than to stay at a private albergue or at an even more expensive hostel. You would want to avoid this situation.
With the exception of 2 days, we were able to catch a bed in a public albergue.
To say a few words about the type of accommodation. You will share a dorm with up to 20 people in some cases. It can happen that no bed sheets are provided, although they usually are. I brought a light sleeping bag and a sleeping bag liner which kept me warm enough. However, that was in May. If you walk the camino during colder months, bring a light fleece blanket or put on more clothes while sleeping.
From my experience, the temperature in the dorm is cozy but don’t take that for granted. Your stay at an albergue is not only good for sleeping. Make sure to take care of other tasks while you’re there. For example: hand-wash your clothes, make some dinner and prepare breakfast for the next day.
You will also meet a lot of other pilgrims you can chat with or even team up to prepare dinner. There is no better way to socialize than during a delicious meal and drinks after a long day of walking.
Food & Snacks
To save money and time, I brought these small instant porridge bags for breakfast. Just add hot water and you have a warm, filling meal. The rest of the hot water you can use for tea. Bring your own tea bags. They don’t weigh much and warm up body and soul.
Be mindful when buying snacks along the way. Try to stock up on nuts, seeds and grains rather than cookies and candy. Apples are great to store in your bag while bananas need to be consumed faster.
Always make sure to have enough water and drink plenty of it.
If you are really hungry and need to get a warm meal, opt for a daily soup from a local restaurant or a baguette. There is also places offering Pilgrim’s menu’s. However, they will most likely break your bank.
We did not take lunch breaks, but snacked on fruit, vegetables and selfmade sandwiches.
After arriving at the albergue and getting accommodated, we would head out to a nearby supermarket and buy some groceries. Most albergues have a shared kitchen with appliances.
pilgrim’s menu: 7 – 10 €
sandwich: 2 – 3 €
coffee: 1.50 – 2.50 €
At least eat a warm dinner every second day. After walking the whole day, we had no energy to prepare a fancy meal, so we warmed up tortellini or pizza. This we paired with a healthy side dish like salad and all kinds of vegetables.
Tips to save money
Small things can make a difference. This is also true for the camino.
Small expenses might look harmless at first sight, but in the end, it all adds up. Even if you manage to save money on food and accommodation, but then spend it elsewhere, you will not achieve your budget goals.
Here is a list of the small things that you’ll might consider to purchase along the Camino and tips how to save money on.
This is also called the Pilgrim’s passport and officially makes you a pilgrim. It will grant you access to municipal albergues as well as the pilgrim’s certificate or Compostela at the end of your journey.
Stamps need to be collected as a proof of fulfilling the requirements to receive the certificate. Each stage on the route can be determined through a stamp. You need at least 2 stamps per day collected throughout the last 100 kilometers.
The stamp should not cost more than 2 euros. You can pre-order it or buy it along the camino at churches, albergues, hotels and tourist offices.
Buying a Camino shell
Even if you have not heard of the pilgrim’s tradition to attach a shell to your backpack, latest at the camino you will. The scallop shell is the most iconic symbol for the Camino de Santiago.
The most popular ones have an emblem of a red cross on the outside of the shell. However, there are variations. I bought one with the yellow arrow depicted.
There are many legends and theories about this symbol but the most striking is that it is used to recognize pilgrims all over the world.
After finishing the camino, I left my shell on my backpack and other people do the same. I already spotted several shells in different parts of the world, uniting as all as pilgrims.
There are many places selling such shells at different price rates. If the price seems too high at one place, just keep moving and you will pass plenty other shell vendors along the way. Prices over 5 euros are too much.
Pay in cash
To keep track of your expenses, I recommend to withdraw money at the beginning of the walk. If you pay everything by card you can easily forget some items that you bought. Seeing the cash that you have left in your wallet, will increase your mindfulness and lead to less spontaneous purchases.
Avoid drinks when eating out
If you allow yourself to eat out on some days, try to avoid ordering drinks along the food. Like in any restaurant, the prices for drinks are noticeably higher.
If you don’t have the opportunity to buy souvenirs along the way, latest in Santiago de Compostela you will get one. After reaching the final stage on the route and resting a bit, you would want to stroll around the city and maybe purchase a nice souvenir for yourself or others.
Shell: 2 €
wristband: 2 – 3 €
You will notice wide price differences. Vendors in the center offer the same items for a higher price than those on the outer parts of the city. I was looking for some wristbands and could save at least one euro per wristband.
Now that we covered money saving tips, it’s time to share some practical tips.
Before leaving the albergue at dawn, we would fill up our bottles with water. This would last us until reaching the next stage.
In some places, you can find drinking water fountains. Carrying a 1.5-liter bottle in your backpack does weigh on shoulders and back.
An integrated plastic bladder is a better alternative. Many hiking backpacks are equipped with an extra space to store such a bladder. The bladder is connected to a tube through which you can access the water. All while you keep walking.
Snap hooks should be part of every pilgrim’s gear. They are real life savers. With the help of snap hooks, you can attach several things to your backpack.
For example, a wet towel that can dry during your walk. Or your trainers. Or a bag of fruit. There are so many ideas snap hooks are useful for.
Foldable shopping bag
You can buy those in any store. They are light and folded into a miniature bag. If you buy shopping that does not fit into your backpack, you can put it in the shopping bag and attach it to your backpack via a snap hook. They are also better for the environment than plastic bags.
After making it to your next stage, you would want to quick wash some of your clothes you wore. Most albergues have a water tank or sink in the backyard.
To prevent your clothes flying away while they are drying, bring some pegs.
Don’t rely on the albergue to provide those too.
You should never walk around barefoot in public bathrooms. Flip-flops are an essential that should not be missing in your backpack. You can also put them on during the walk if your feet start to hurt in the hiking shoes.
Sun screen is the most important item to bring. It should be on top of your packing list. Skin damage due to sun exposure is something you should not underestimate. Even on cloudy days, the sun can do harm. Add sun screen to your daily routine and apply frequently throughout the day.
Stock up on band-aids before starting your journey. Even wearing the best socks, cannot prevent blisters. Don’t forget to bring disinfectant and clean pads.
Like any other trip, it is possible to walk the Camino on a budget. If you have the right mindset, your focus will be on the camino.
Paying for accommodation and food are just necessities, however the true adventure is for free.
If you want to read more about my experience on the Camino de Santiago, check out the 10 Lessons I learned.