Last summer, Caroline and Ben Shepard took their two preteen daughters on a 10-day hike along Spain’s Camino de Santiago trail (read their full saga here). In case you’re thinking I could never get my kids on board with that, consider that the Shepards had never done anything like this before—they live in New York, far from the Pacific Coast Trails of the world, but they learned quickly. Here, their hard-won tips. Use them to plan your own family Camino trek or, if you just can’t deal with the logistics, book a kid-friendly hike with one of these seven outfitters.
1. Snacks are a must. Everyone is burning calories and kids have fewer to burn. Give them ice cream along the way. In the larger towns, stop at a candy shop and put together a trail mix with raisons and nuts, but also throw in any sort of chocolate you can find. It’s a small sugar and protein boost that keep ‘em going. Also, lollipops are great. Spain is famous for Chuppa Chuppas and the girls had plenty.
2. Set an end goal for them. Say that you will indulge them in a special treat, be it a shopping spree or some item or event they have been coveting. It might feel like yet another expense, but it’s very helpful to get them through the hard moments thinking there is something really good waiting them at the end.
3. Pare way down. You must keep backpacks as light as possible. Only pack quick-drying materials—no cotton. Here’s our packing list: Two t-shirts, one long-sleeve lightweight sun shirt, one lightweight rain jacket, one pair of zip-off pants that become shorts, one pair of shorts, two pairs of underwear, and one pair of PJs. I recommend bringing beach towels. They are light and durable. That’s all you need, believe it or not. We like to pack everything into large ziplock bags. Not only can you squeeze out the extra oxygen, but the bags protect you from any unwanted pests along the way. God forbid you encounter bed bugs or lice.
4. Bring a device—but only one! Load all of your books and music and movies onto one device. Too many plugs and devices will make your pack heavy. Also, I recommend a solar charger that you can hang from your backpack. While you walk, it will soak in the sun’s intense rays so that everything charged by the time you stop for the day. Don’t depend on being able to find WiFi.
5. Occasionally splurge on a hotel with a pool. Yes, the Camino is about being rugged and sharing dinner with fellow travelers but every now and then you want to soak in a bath all by yourself. Plus, the kids will long for a swim. It feels luxurious and fantastic.
6. But consider one extra piece of gear: If you are going to hike the entire Camino, bring a lightweight sleeping bag or a mummy sack. Even though this will add two pounds to your load, it’s worth it to be comfortable at night. Everyone needs to sleep. Bring ear plugs too!
7. With kids, it’s good to build up to the trip. Read them stories about hiking or show them movies. We watched The Way before we hit the road. Also, let them have some ownership in what they bring. Let them choose their stuff and pick out music. Consider bringing something on the the trip that you can read together. Last year, we read Walt Whitman, and this year we are bringing How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig. It helps to distract them from their aching bodies! Plus, you have their undivided attention.
8. No blisters: Your feet and knees will take a beating and NOTHING will ruin a day like a blister. Avoid them. Get good hiking boots and break them in before you go. Make sure you buy the good wool hiking socks, as well as silk liners. Get two pairs of each. I recommend bring knee braces for everyone to wear when and if they start to feel any strain on the knees. Also, there is such a thing as blister bandages. Get them. Better yet, get the blister kit at any outdoor store.
9. Most importantly, be flexible. Things are unpredictable and thats the beauty of an adventure. You can always hop a bus if everyone needs a break, or stay a day longer in one of the larger cities. Get your Camino passports before you leave. You can do that here. You can’t stay at the Alburgues without it. Also, don’t make reservations before you go. You don’t need them and will wind up loosing money if you don’t make the stop. Have faith! It will all be ok.
Photo by Flickr user Chris Frank