Safety on The Camino
The Camino is safe. Is it 100% safe? We live in a world with humans.
There is no such place, unfortunately. It is probably 99.9% safe compared to walking home late in a big city.
Like in any other place you should be aware that there can always be folks around that have less nicer plans on their mind with you or your possessions. So just like anywhere, Safety on The Camino requires you to use your brains and your gut.
Although close encounters of the bed bug kind are a far more realistic thread than any villain intentions, we’ll give you a few tips & tricks on this page so you can be prepared for the most obvious safety ‘issues’.
Safety on The Camino
Keep your possessions safe and never leave your back pack unattended. On the camino people open up and ‘lowering your guard’ is something that happens naturally. Do not miss that experience, it’s priceless. However, when it comes to your belongings, keep your guard up. Never let anyone guard your pack.
Here are some ‘gadgets’ to make it more comfortable to keep your valuables secure:
- money belts
- money pouches
- anti-theft (day) backpacks
Many modern passports and credit cards contain RFID chips containing sensitive personal information. To protect you from unwanted people getting access to this data, there are accessories on the market that block RFID transmissions. These will soon be available in our shop!
A common question asked in fora is the one concerning to safety of women travelling alone. The question is consistently answered with stories about how safe the camino is, that you are never travelling alone since there are so many pilgrims. Just like in a small town, there is a feeling of ‘togetherness’. Use your brains though.
Let us give you an example: if you are a woman and walking alone and you meet a fellow pilgrim on the way (a guy) it’s okay to walk together. If that same guy proposes to share a room in a hostel to split the costs it might not be the best choice, because you simply never know.
It is safe, but always trust your own gut feeling!
Oh, and remember: your trekking poles can serve you well in multiple ways.
Scams when you least expect it
It happened to us on our first trail between Sarria and Santiago. On a beautiful path just before entering a forest area, two smiling local ladies came up to us. They were not talking, but the sounds they made clarified a lot: they were deaf. They carried information brochures talking about raising funds for a local school for deaf children. They pulled out a sign-on sheet where you could see that other pilgrims had signed and donated different amounts to them. It was a strange experience: while our gut told us that something was not right, we were unable to say ‘no’ and walk on. In a split second we decided to donate 5 Euro’s and get rid of the weird situation. While walking on, it just hit us that they were not only ‘local’ they were also gypsies. We felt stupid but also somehow relieved that it was a simple scam and that we had at least controlled the amount we had given.
Later that day we heard that the Guardia Civil was searching for a group of gypsies that were scamming but also ‘attacking’ pilgrims who refused to give any donation.
This does not mean you should always give in to these scams. Always consider the situation you are in. If you walk into a scam like that with a big group of pilgrims refusing would be the best thing to do. If you encounter them alone, maybe it is a good idea to give a small amount and walk on peacefully.
Always report this type of scams to the local police (Guardia Civil) since they are very keen in keeping the camino safe.
Beggars make a living too
We’re not going to advise you to not give any money to beggars. You will encounter many of them along the way and the Camino Spirit will probably make you more prone to ‘give’. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s your decision and your money.
However, we do want you to at least try to see the difference between a beggar who really needs it and a beggar who is simply scamming you because it’s his or her full-time job.
An example is a lady gypsy who you will encounter in the center of Santiago. She is usually on her knees the whole day in the Plaza del Obradoiro next to the Cathedral. She will usually have a sign with her saying something like ‘Don’t have resources and 3 children to take care of’ (or something similar). She lives outside of Santiago, takes the bus every day to the town center, getting off the bus well before pilgrim traffic gets busy. At the end of the day, she has more ‘resources’ than you. Stories go that this type of beggar makes a very decent monthly ‘salary’ that goes beyond the minimum wage in Spain. It’s a choice. You have a choice too.
Offer them food or water instead of money. If they don’t look very happy, chances are their refrigerator is already full.
Tips & Tricks on The Way
Be aware of your surroundings and listen to your intuition / gut.
Wherever you go, arrive during daytime hours and plan your trip and your walks in such way that you won’t get stranded unintentionally.
Even if you are the most honest person in the world: if you don’t feel comfortable with questions: lie. That guy that makes you uncomfortable by asking all kinds of personal questions? Maybe he just needs to be told that your husband or boyfriend is waiting for you at the next albergue.
Pay attention to where you are. Remember the names of the villages you are passing through.
Be aware of who is ahead of and behind you and chat with them to get to know them. They are your camino family and will keep an eye on you.
If you feel uncomfortable with another pilgrim on the trail, stop for a break at the next bar and let that person leave before you.
Take a mobile with a local SIM with you so you have the possibility to make an emergency call easily.
Don’t walk alone outside daytime hours, whether that is after dawn or before dawn.
Ask the albergue owner (hospitalero) to move you to another room if there is anything your gut feeling does not trust. This may be a dorm full of men-only, or it may be a pilgrim that your gut simply doesn’t trust.
Before you set out for the day, tell your Camino friends where you plan to stop that day. They will notice if you don’t arrive as expected and will take action as needed.
f you drink alcohol, don’t over indulge. A drunken woman can too easily become a target of unwanted attention. This actually counts for men too: did you ever try to run (drunk) after a thief who stole your wallet?
These are all precautions and chances are you won’t be needing to use any of these. Stay safe.
This post is also available in: Dutch