In June, my brother and I hiked El Camino de Santiago in Spain. We walked over 300 miles (over 400km) of the Camino Frances, the French way. Be sure to get a peek at my thoughts and read my reflection about my first experience walking the Way of Saint James. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check it out. You can also see some pictures walking the Way by checking out this post of my Camino photo diary.
I’m a huge proponent of keeping a written account! It’s such a personal and individualized keepsake. I think its purpose is twofold. While you are hiking, it acts as a gratitude journal by writing your daily reflection. The other purpose is a record of your time, thoughts, and feelings that you can read at a later date. Already, my memory from my time has really faded. Of course, I remember the big bright spots and some of the dark lows, but with my journal I recorded everything. Like seriously, everything. What we ate, who we meet, conversation topics, ideas, beliefs, just all the things that came to mind as I sat that night and scribbled away. What a valuable gift to give yourself, a perfect recollection of the past as you saw fit to write.
Keep it light and take only what you need. This is what I had in my “pencil” bag:
- Black pen
- Blue pen
- Red pen
- Pencil with an eraser
- 2 rolls of washi tape
Along with my journal I had some other document type things. Again, only bring the essentials! For hiking El Camino I also had:
- Pilgrimage passport
- List of
alberguesand distances (obtained at piligrim’soffice)
- Guide book (this is the best one out there)
Tips for Journaling while Hiking
1) Get a journal! It’s important to get something rather small and light. The journal I used was a gift I received many years ago and hadn’t used yet. My boyfriend at the time purchased one with blank pages (not lines) so I could draw if I wanted.
When purchasing a journal consider these things:
- The lighter the better! But also consider it’s durability. You don’t want something that will easily crumple.
- Measure the size of the pocket or sleeve you would like to keep it in. Purchase accordingly.
- Type of pages
- Blank pages for drawing, lines for mostly writing, or dots for a bullet journal style.
- For me, free! But remember, you don’t want to get something too expensive. The journal, while important, is going to be tossed around in your bag and potentially exposed to elements (or spillage).
My journal was definitely on the heavy side (well, my whole pack was on the heavy side). But if I ever hike the Camino again, I have room (two thirds) in the journal to add my experience.
2) Set goals and ask yourself reflection questions. These are the questions I asked myself in late May:
- Why I am doing El Camino?
- What do I hope to gain?
- What are my thoughts on religion?
- What does El Camino mean to me?
3) Set up the beginning of your journal! This was so fun for me. I used fancy pens and watercolor (knowing I wouldn’t take these frivolous things with me on the hike itself). You can do whatever you want. I even put my packing list in my journal to keep track of my belongings.
1) Write, write, write
Write every day even if you are tired and don’t want to. It’s especially important at the beginning to get into a good habit and to not fall behind on documenting your journey when you’ve only just started. The longer you go without writing, the more you will forget.
2) Figure out what works for you and what you want to write about
You don’t want journaling to be a chore. I decided to write the events of the day, as a narrative. I kept track of the little details of what I ate, felt, and people I meet. For me, I would write at the end of the evening and it was a way to reflect on the day as a whole and to decompose before I went to bed.
Other things you could write about instead: ideas you thought on the way, drawings, essays, interviews of others on the trail (for personal recording only), drawings, facts about the Camino, fun facts about churches you visit, etc.
As you can see, I also taped things into my journal. Mostly hostel tickets and plants I found on the path. (I promise I found them already on the ground. I didn’t pluck them from plants. I mean I was staring at my feet a lot so I saw things on the path.) Besides being a diary, it can also be a sort of scrapbook.
If you don’t want to write a lot, then something I did was create a title for each day. For example, day 14 was “Plague of Mosquito Bites” and day 15 was “Ode to Mom, Follow the Cherry Pit Trail.”
I think it’s important to journal after hiking as much as is it to do so while you are hiking. Never will your thoughts of the hike and your experience be as fresh as right after finishing. Take the time to pause and reflect. Be mindful of the experience as a whole and who you are in the moment you are writing.
I asked myself these reflection questions:
- What do I think of El Camino after finishing it?
- What does El Camino mean to me?
- What did I gain?
- What do I think of my overall experience walking El Camino?
Have you ever journaled while doing a prolonged hike? Or while traveling for an extended period? I hope I’ve convinced you to journal on your next trip. It’s such a beautiful thing to have.