Last summer, Caroline and Ben Shepard did a 10-day pilgrimage along Spain’s Camino de Santiago with their two preteen girls (read all about it here). She came away with tips and memories, a few too many blisters—and a surprising realization that the trip had fundamentally changed her daughters. Here, what they learned:

1. You don’t need much to get on in life. ”Other than food and shelter, it turns out that all we really “needed” was a good book and a change of clothes.”

2. It’s OK to be friends with your sibling. “In Brooklyn, my girls are competitive with each other no matter how much we try to encourage them to be friends. On the road they only had each other and they responded to each other’s needs with more empathy. They helped one another along the way, chatting and cheering the other one on when the hike felt difficult. The Camino bonded them together.”

3. The world is a very big place. ”The conversations the girls were privy to from so many diverse people with so many different stories to tell gave the girls direct access to other worlds and different perspectives. Though they were strangers, the people we met along the way would immediately would speak to us as if we were picking up a conversation started long ago. This was new to the girls and loosened up all their preconceived ways about we communicate. We were there to protect them, but they felt more invited to engaged with others, especially adults. One evening, I found Scarlett playing cards with a German woman one evening, laughing and playing as though they were old friends.”

4. It is possible to leave materialism behind. ”The lack of advertising on the trail is a relief. The girls only noticed how much they are surrounded by advertising when it wasn’t there. They also became acutely aware of the fact that their desire for things they ‘need’ is tied to the constant bombardment of advertising in the city and access to stores.”

5. We are strong. ”Siamo Forit (we are strong) was our motivating chant when we felt exhausted, but more than anything else, this was the lesson the girls learned. They can do it. Anything that seems impossible, deserves a try to see if it truly is. If they can climb a mountain, they certainly can complete their math homework.”

6. School is nothing compared to a 300-mile hike. ”After the hike, my girls had the best year yet in school. Their grades were great and moreover their resiliency was impressive. Middle school isn’t for the faint of heart!”

Photo by Flickr user Cotaro70s