Doing a Slow Camino

A slow down sign

Back in 1980s Italy, the land of homemade pastas, sauces, and delicious wines, where food is an art and a way of expressing love, Rome’s citizens protested plans for a McDonalds restaurant. Can you blame them? What an affront to la dolce vita, a proud way of life!

From that protest sprang a celebration of preparing food intentionally using locally-sourced ingredients. The movement was dubbed Slow Food (in contrast to fast food) and has since grown a following around the world. Some of Slow Food’s offspring are Slow Cities, Slow Talk, and Slow Travel—with the common theme being consciously stopping the hurry and choosing to be present with what you are doing. It’s called the Slow Movement.

A crash course in slow

When I was on Molokai for three weeks this summer, I got a front-row seat to slow living. I’m one wound-up chica most of the time and don’t even realize it. The daily, relentless slowness of the island made me downshift and truly relax. It made a difference for the whole experience. Had I whisked in to Teri’s bookstore like a selfish haole (literally without breath), I would never have been invited to sit with locals talking story or learn of the island’s sacred places.

The idea of intentional slowness on my next Camino has been coming up a lot.

What does a slow Camino look like?

I can only give you my version. Perhaps my reflections will give you a chance to think about what a Slow Camino is to you.

Deeply appreciating my environment

My journal from 2013 has numerous sketches of the birds and wildflowers I saw. A walking pace makes it easy to take note of the rocks underfoot, observe geological formations, and the changing terrain. Noticing my environment often leaves me in a state of wonder about my smallness in creation and gratitude for being alive. As I move through towns and open spaces, I want to be present enough to look gently and appreciatively into the faces of the people I pass.

Eating what the locals eat

No matter how desperately I may long for peanut butter or oatmeal, allowing myself to hunger for these familiar foods is a powerful spiritual practice. Sitting with longing can invite gratitude or show me how to be satisfied with what I have. Eating how the locals do invites delight in tasting foods grown nearby and prepared by hand, even if unfamiliar.

Being open to spontaneous connection

Some of the most profound moments of my first Camino came from a smile that led to a conversation and unexpected generosity. Locals gave me gifts, wine, invitations to dinner, good directions, tips on places to eat, a laugh, encouragement on a hard day, and so much more. But I had to be willing to connect, to look up and make eye contact. This takes vulnerability!

Often, the timing of these unexpected meeting was just what I needed—a tremendous gift for this self-reliant introvert. Connections reminded me that humans are communal creatures. We need each other.

Relying on signs, maps, and the kindness of strangers

I could carry a device with accurate maps, but I want to learn what I’m made of. Some might say this makes the journey unnecessarily harder. If I get off track, what does this allow me to discover? Can I ask for and receive help? Getting lost on the Camino can contain may prepare me for times when I get lost in life, where neither GPS or Google street view are an option. This takes courage, but the insights are worth it.

Space and time for reflection

Have you ever been in the middle of a short walk or a long shower and had a new insight about a long-standing problem? To me, this is what slow travel provides. Removing myself from the everyday habits and triggers of my life allows space for new thoughts and ideas to arise. On the Way, each unhurried day unfolds at walking pace, leaving ample time for reflection.

On my last Camino, writing each night was a priority, and I cherish the memories that arise when I read my journal. For me, journaling daily is a way to synthesize the many experiences that take place and mine them for meaning. Both walking and writing have an inherent slowness to them that allows the mind to relax its grip and the heart to unfold.

Little to no technology

This topic deserves its own post, but I’ll say that by its very nature, technology is fast. Technology today is also tiny. A sponge-sized computer allows us to make reservations, take photos, store endless songs and books, make connections via video, bank online, and perform countless other functions. It’s a miracle, really. There’s no denying the plentiful and myriad advantages of carrying a cell phone.

But. (You knew that was coming.) As a highly distractable person with a technology addiction, every second of screen time takes me away from my surroundings. It’s just that simple. For every dollar I’ve raised or saved to get myself back to Spain, I simply can’t bring myself to waste a single minute on Facebook or behind a lens. Will I get lonely and want to connect online? Absolutely. Will I wish I could take a photo of someone or something while I walk? Yes. Will I wish I could make a reservation somewhere? Possibly. The bottom line is I will be able to survive without these tools in the same way that an alcoholic can survive without wine and beer (and even thrive).

To me, the absence of technology is a choice that makes room for a different, less-controlled experience in spite of its myriad advantages. It’s this lack of control and decreased speed I’m longing for on my return to Spain.


With fewer distractions and a slow pace, the pilgrim can be fully present to notice herself think, hear Divine whispers, and witness the truths of other travelers. She can delight in discovering the world around her and connect meaningfully with fellow humans across generations and cultures.

Although pilgrims stay in a new place almost every night, it’s possible to know rural Spain and its provinces in a deeper way that even the Spanish themselves. I came away from my first Camino with an enduring love for its cultures and people.

For this reason, I’m not preoccupied with achieving a specific number of miles per day and am open to taking public transportation if needed. Some say you haven’t “done” the Camino if you haven’t walked every mile, but I’m not among them. I’ve met too many people who got injured on the Way and were still committed to getting to Santiago. If you enjoy the journey and learn something valuable from it, I say it counts as a pilgrimage without exception.

Slow is a state of mind

Years ago, I discovered a book by Carl Honoré called In Praise of Slow and read it cover to cover—twice. In it, he explores the many ways we can bring intention to our everyday lives. I highly recommend it.

As convenient as our speedy culture is, the calling so many hear to walk the Camino may be connected to our collective disillusionment with the pace of our lives. We’re longing for something deeper than fast. And to get it, slowing down enough to walk across a country is one incredible solution. How slow do you want to go?

I’d love to know your thoughts! What does a Slow Camino look like to you?

Divine nods

I believe in signs.

Since I avoid walking under ladders and throw spilled salt over my left shoulder, I probably should. But deciding to take a seven-week journey halfway around the world makes me look for affirmations—Divine nods—that I’m making the right choices.

Maybe I shouldn’t put this in print, but things are going really well.


I bought my airfare! I have a flight to Dublin and will soon purchase connections to Santiago and Biarritz. Oh, my Lord, was that scary! At my request, Mary held my hand in support as I clicked “purchase,” and now it’s done. I’m going! Good sign? The price jumped up the day after I purchased and hasn’t gone down since. Granted, I know there’s a corporate algorithm that makes this happen, but signs are in the eye of the beholder. (And, in case you’re wondering, the fare was $1077 from PDX to DUB.)


Second, after a few emails and a Skype call to talk about details, Muriel emailed me last week to confirm that she will be arriving in Pamplona for us to cross the Pyrenees together. “Just in time for pintxos,” she wrote. I am beside myself with glee that this sage soul and I will walk together over those mountains while having deep talks and laughs about life.

I feel the need to knock wood right now!

Camino connections!

Third, I’ve met three separate people in two weeks who have Camino dreams. Totally random places. Totally joyful conversations. I encouraged them to trust the call they hear. “Our meeting was not a coincidence,” one said gratefully. Exactly my point.

More Camino connections!

Fourth, a local peregrina friend invited me to attend a huge Camino-themed holiday potluck put on by the Portlandia Chapter of APOC. Our hour-long car ride was fun and meaningful (why have we not done this before?). As an introvert, groups overwhelm me, and I feared sitting alone awkwardly with no one to talk to.  I should not have worried! We pilgrims know how to connect with almost anyone. More than one hundred people were in attendance and at least half had walked the Camino. One peregrina I met had completed her pilgrimage a mere month before. Her sparkling eyes and relaxed jaw reminded me: you too will feel this way soon.


Fifth, two of my favorite Camino bloggers, Nadine and Elissa, both did Caminos this past summer. Both have been in post-pilgrimage processing mode and understandably quiet since they returned. In the last few weeks, they’ve both come out of the woods, reaching out and writing. This delights me as I’ve missed them (while understanding the need to take time to process the journey) and look forward to more reading and connecting with them both.

A draft!

Sixth, I spent time at my favorite mountain retreat center for five days of writing and—lo and behold—I finished a very rough draft of my Camino book. Good omen? You bet!

Happy knees!

Seventh (it just keeps going!!), I saw my awesome doc last week to talk about my knee progress. She didn’t say a word about hobbies or hiking. Instead, she was really encouraging and thrilled to hear that the supplements and exercises are working. I’m thrilled too. I’m not pain-free, but the pain is less and bearable. Now if I could just stop eating holiday goodies (I just learned how to make my own egg nog chai), I might make progress on the weight-loss side of things I’d be even happier. All in all, I’m thrilled my body is healing!

A serious one!

Finally, there is one sign I’m still sorting out. Since my post about risks on the Camino, the world’s axis seems to have shifted a few degrees in the wake of inexplicable violence. More than one caring person in my life has questioned whether it’s safe to travel in Europe right now. The US government advises caution. Here’s what I know in my gut: If I change my life or plans one iota because of fear, the evil side wins.

I mention this issue because signs don’t always confirm what we want to hear. Sometimes they challenge us to question how devoted we are to our call. Are you ready, they ask. Are you sure you’re up for the risks? Are you willing to lose others’ respect, your comfort, even your life to follow your heart? 

Yes. I am. Like life, the Camino may not be bed of rose petals, but nothing worth loving ever is. I’m trusting my conviction as a Divine nod—and proceeding with willingness, caution, and joy. May you do the same in order to follow what you love.