In the Camino forums and the pilgrim gatherings I’ve attended, a lot of people have a lot of questions and anxiety about one important matter: sleeping. So much so, a lot of prospective pilgrims I met put their feet down and booked private accommodations before they even laid a foot on the path.
Experienced pilgrims will tell you, “Everyone walks their own Camino,” and sleeping is no exception. There is no right way to sleep across Spain, but I’m of the opinion you’ll get more out of the Camino experience if you experience more than a private room with ensuite. Except for two nights, I stayed in the common room of public and private albergues every night, which I ended up really enjoying in a “We’re all in this together!” sort of way and recommend for all of the good, bad and indifferent things that go along with that.
Will I sleep on the Camino?
Short answer: yes. There are days where the walking will be so exhausting, you’ll spend stretches daydreaming about the epic nap that will happen upon your arrival. I’m not a great sleeper, and I had no problem falling – and staying – asleep. Since the Camino is a very physical undertaking, people tend to go to bed early. I was in bed most nights by 9pm and usually slept until 5:30am-6:00am the next morning. However, I relied on ear plugs and sleep mask to reduce the noise (and snoring) and light that is found in a typical albergue.
Packing list: sleeping
I used a standard bedroll learned decades ago in my Girl Guide days, to keep my bedding neat and organized. My bedroll was based on comfort, ease of use, and practicality. The temperature varies greatly across the Camino, and this array of options helped me stay warm when it was cooler, and sleep comfortably when it was warm. My bedroll components are described in more detail in my packing list, but here’s a brief summary:
- “Equatorial weight” sleeping bag, rated to 15C.
- Silk sleep sheet
- Zippered pillowcase
- Sleep mask and ear plugs
- 5L ultralight dry sack (for compressing and keeping everything dry)
- Extra boot laces (for compressing and tying)
The best preparation is to start using your gear. Experiment with your gear (i.e.: sleep in it) before your departure and add it to your pack to get used to the weight. As well, practice organizing your bedroll, rolling it up, and compressing it in the dark.
Since bedbugs are an unpleasant – but entirely possible – consideration, I treated all of my gear with permethrin and encountered no problems along the way. I was also incredibly lucky and didn’t stay in any places that had bedbugs, though I heard of some reports at a couple of spots.
Accommodations pricing and budget
Like I mentioned in my earlier Camino budget post, there are accommodations for every taste, budget and pilgrim style along the way. Among the many resources available to price accommodations, my favourite was the list maintained on one of the Camino forums (free account and sign-in required). I downloaded this PDF, saved it on my phone, and had the pages for my part of the route handy. I found it more comprehensive than Brierley – worth a look!
Finding accommodations on the Camino
The best-known Camino route, the Camino Francès, is very busy these days, particularly from June to September. I didn’t have any trouble finding a bed, for a few days. After Villafranca del Bierzo, my group started booking beds a day or two ahead. In doing so, we saved ourselves some additional walking at the end of the day, and were able to enjoy our daily walking without the pressure of having to hurry.
As for where to stay, ask other pilgrims, take a look at the place before signing in, and trust your gut. There are lots of people around who have walked before and have lots of suggestions and recommendations and warnings. There are more and more English-language apps and websites for checking out albergues online, as well as booking ahead.
What can I expect at the albergues?
I can be … particular … about space and needing some introvert alone time to recharge, and so I was delighted to find most albergues were welcoming environments, where the overwhelming majority of guests respected the space and needs of others. Including the need to sleep.
Here’s my best albergue tip: don’t choose a bed next to a door or the bathroom. Just don’t. If you arrive late and that’s all that’s left, it’s fine, but if you have other options, take them.
There are few hard and fast “rules,” do your best to apply common sense and basic decency and you should have a great albergue experience:
- Be quiet and respectful of others who are sleeping
- No food in the beds
- Keep your backpack off of the bed
- Pack as much as possible the night before to minimize morning noise
- If you use the bathroom in the night, or leave early in the morning, be quiet and keep the light and talking to a minimum.
For the extra curious, I’ve put together a gallery of everywhere I stayed on the Camino, from Villar de Mazarife to my last night walking in O Pedrouzo.
If I’m picking favourites, I’d definitely recommend Albergue de la Piedra in Villafranca del Bierzo and Santa Maria Magdalena in Vega de Valcarce – simply the nicest people you will encounter. That said, I had pretty wonderful experiences at most of the albergues.
If you have any questions about sleeping on the Camino, fire away in the comments or tweet me at @bitesizedtravel! Buen Camino!