Pack light. Less is more. You don’t need much – just the essentials.
This was my mantra as I packed, two days ago, for the Camino de Santiago – a walking pilgrimage spanning 800 kilometres through northern Spain. It’s important to pack lightly because I’ll be walking over 20km per day, for 28 days straight, in order to reach Santiago, the endpoint of this pikgrimage. More baggage makes for a more painful walk – which is why I’m writing this on the notes app on my phone instead of my laptop.
This necessary austerity forced me to reconsider what I was planning to bring on the trip and evaluate which items would be most essential on my journey. Especially the bigger items – my laptop, which would make updating the travel fellowship blog much easier, and my camera. Writing my packing list alone required hours of research, reading other pilgrims’ advice and thinking through the scenarios in which I would actually be using these items. Through the process, I realised that I sometimes didn’t put as much thought into the baggage I’d taken along with me the past semester: commitments, time management, priorities that I let gradually creep into my backpack and weigh me down more than benefit me.
This pursuit of simplicity is therefore one of the reasons that led me to apply to walk the Camino de Santiago for my Travel Fellowship. Reflecting upon the past semester made me realise how little space and time I had away from distractions, clutter, and noise: almost like standing in an RC lift indefinitely, surrounded by colourful posters 24/7. I remember managing 15 different micro-goals at once, balancing a Tower of Babel of commitments and readings, constantly jumping from one task to the next. It left me with little time to fully absorb, reflect on, and understand a tumultuous first year of college, something that, in the past, I was more likely to do. My faith helped with that – as a Roman Catholic, reflection and prayer are two essential facets of my life that I forgot about in the flurry of my first year in college. While still having this inward desire to turn towards my faith, it was mostly overshadowed by things that were right in front of me; I was distracted very easily by the outward pulls of the world and forgot about the importance my spirituality previously held for me. The physical simplicity of the Camino de Santiago mirrors the inner simplicity I believe would help me – freeing me from the unnecessary to see, more clearly, the important.
These outward signs of inner changes are what I hope to foster during this pilgrimage. Having a clear sense of direction, with every physical step taking me towards the end goal. Enjoying this journey and making the best of it by lightening my load. Depending on the goodwill of volunteers managing the pilgrim hostels, finding a community of pilgrims that journeys with me to that goal despite our different nationalities, beliefs, backgrounds. Having faith in myself and in the route despite my doubts and fears. All these are relevant to the inward and outward journeys I hope to make over the next few weeks, and attempting to navigate on my spiritual journey both in the context of this pilgrimage and back at home, in Singapore.
Finally, while this is a deeply personal journey into myself, reflecting on the pilgrimage also makes me curious about how others experience it differently. What affects them, why they chose to walk it, and how it may impact their spirituality, if they even see it that way. One local I spoke to told me, “Every person has a different pilgrinage. Even though you’re all on the same route, you all experience a different pilgrimage.” Without understanding more the experience of other pilgrims, I will not be able to fully immerse myself in this pilgrimage and see how this Catholic tradition has been adopted and adapted by very diverse people.
These objectives, exploring the effect of the outside on the inside, developing my personal spirituality, and understanding how other pilgrims experience the Camino, are my main focus as I walk toward Santiago. I will document them in the Travel Fellowship blog, my own personal journal, and photographs, and collate them into a booklet of reflections at the end of this trip. A very personal and intimate book pondering the journey that I make during this month.
So, in summary, what does this pilgrimage do? In my journal entry from last night, I wrote, “It literally strips me of everything familiar, everything “normal”, sends me into the unknown Outside perhaps to turn inward instead.” Maybe I’m afraid of what things it will strip from my life, but I’m here, and I’m realising that my backpack needs to be light. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my journey on The Way as much as I do writing about it!