Walking the Camino de Santiago

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Note: This post is part of a weekend series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do (or learn) during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. Congrats to Donna from our Facebook page who was the winner of this week’s giveaway.  There’s a copy of my book The Bell Lap on the way to you Donna.

There’s just something about a good hike.  Maybe it’s because modern life so often has us cooped up inside.  Maybe it’s the fresh air and scenery.  Maybe it’s just getting a chance to stretch our legs while we’re still healthy and active.  Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that retirees tend to front load their Bucket Lists with activities that include walking and hiking.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to share a story with you today from my friends over at One Road at a Time.  Patti and Abi started their blog a few years ago and are writing about their adventures as they try to see the world (you guessed it) one road at a time.

When I saw that they were hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I emailed Patti and asked her if I could interview her for an article on hiking the Camino.  She graciously agreed and when they were taking a break to let their blisters heal (the hike takes more than a month), she took time to answer a few questions.  Enjoy.

For those that aren’t familiar with it, tell us about the Camino de Santiago (e.g. What is it?  How far?  How long does it take?  Etc.)

The Camino de Santiago – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an ancient pilgrimage.  It is believed the ashes of St. James are buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and pilgrims dating back centuries would travel the Camino to pay homage to St. James.  It is a pilgrimage of faith, or dedication, or discovery, or a personal challenge.  The distance from the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago, Spain is about 800 kms (500 miles) and most pilgrims walk it in about 35 days, although there are many pilgrims who walk just a section(s) and there are those who walk sections of the Camino on different visits.  Every pilgrim walks his/her own pace on the Camino. We know and have talked to people who have done the entire walk multiple times.  There are pilgrims who also bike the Camino.

Where are you right now?  How many miles have you gone so far?

Right now, April 30, we are in Leon and we have walked about 150 miles. We walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Burgos, Spain and from Burgos we took the train to Leon.  We chose not to walk across the meseta (approx. 100 miles) because of my foot ailments.

Sometimes the “why” of these trips evolves over time or only comes months or years later once you’ve had time to process the experience, but what initially made you want to do it?  Did it just sound like a fun challenge or was there some other reason?

We jokingly say we have no idea why we are walking.  We love to walk and we wanted to see Spain.  We have no deeply profound or spiritual reason.  We are here, living it.  But I can tell you it was important to us to do it now, while we are able.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Blisters!  I have been plagued with blisters on both feet.  At home, we walk all the time, up to 20 – 25 miles per week and I have no memory of having a blister in the past decade or more.  Here on the Camino, I refer to myself as a walking blister.  Because of the blisters, we chose not to walk the Meseta, using the days instead to rest and heal in Leon before continuing on to Santiago.

Where do you stay on the route?

We stay in hotels, B&B’s, pensions, casa rurals, etc. because we want the privacy and because we want to ensure a reasonably good night’s sleep. And let’s face it, we want to be comfortable! Many pilgrims, of all ages, stay in albergues (hostels), which are either municipally or privately owned.  Municipal albergues are usually free, asking for a donation and the private albergues charge anywhere from 5 to 10 euros for a bed in a dormitory or 30 to 40 euros for a private room.  Albergue accommodations are most often co-ed dormitory style.

Have the people been nice so far?

Yes!  Pilgrims have a comradery because they all understand what it means to be on the Camino.  The locals are also incredibly nice.  There is a phrase, “Buen Camino” and people passing by will just stop and say, “Buen Camino.”  And the locals are so willing to help with directions or information if needed.

Are there any pros and cons to doing the trip with your spouse?

I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than my husband, Abi.  There is nothing easy about making this journey and having the emotional support of my hubby is essential.  Plus, we know what the other one needs, wants and likes.  There is no second guessing.

I’ve heard two types of fun described.  Type 1 fun is fun while you’re doing it.  Type 2 fun is painful and challenging while you’re doing it, but fun once it’s over and you have a chance to reflect back on it.  Does the Camino fall more into the second category?

Absolutely! About day 5 we asked each other, “Are we having fun yet?”  The answer was a resounding, “No!”  Fun is going to Disneyland or playing cards and drinking tequila with good friends.  The Camino is damn hard, physically demanding.  But it is also incredibly rewarding and if you want to get to know a country and its people, walk across it.

What is the typical daily cost (food, hotel, etc.)?

The cost is really determined by your journey.  I know a young woman who walked the Camino solo and I believe she averaged about $33 per day because she stayed in albergues and ate pilgrim meals.  I would guesstimate we average $100 per day for the two of us.  Our average accommodation stay is $60.  Pilgrim meals (a preset 3-course meal) average $11 – $13 and they can be found most anywhere.  Incidentals such as snacks, toothpaste, sunscreen and band-aids, we purchase along the way.

Did you train for it at all?

We did.  We did a lot of extra walking for a couple of months before we left home, but we traveled for 5 weeks in Europe and the Middle East before starting to walk, so it didn’t really pay off.

Do you meet a lot of people and/or participate in different traditions/gatherings associated with the walk or is everyone pretty focused on the hiking?

We’ve met and talked with people from all over the world but there aren’t any traditions/gatherings that I know of, although there is a large social media network.  I believe there is more social interaction with those who stay in the albergues because after all you’re eating and sleeping with so many others.  During the day we’re pretty much just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.  We have however, come across groups of up to 20 that appear to be walking together and there are organized tours available also.

Any tips for people considering doing the walk?

Don’t do this on a whim!  I researched for over 2 years. I believe the most critical component in preparing for this walk is your gear.  The right shoes, the right socks, a pack that fits well and choosing wisely what you will carry with you because every ounce counts when you have to carry it.  Do your homework.

Any short/fun stories or travel serendipity you’d like to share?

The owner of our hotel kidnapped us.  It’s a long story.  Those interested can read about it over here.

Do you have any major takeaways, life lessons, etc. from your walk so far?

Yes!  Don’t jinx yourself by saying you never get blisters!  Other than that not really, but ask me again at the end of our journey.

Anything else you’d like to mention about the experience that I didn’t ask about?

The terrain of the Camino tests the walker from beginning to end.  On day 1 we climbed over the Pyrenees Mtn. with a summit elevation of 4,600’ and we had to slog through snow and mud. I’ve had an ongoing debate about which is the lesser of 2 evils, uphill or downhill?  Loose rocky downhill grades to flat broad farm roads to asphalt to washed away sections of the trail; the Camino throws everything at you. Walking in the spring has gifted us with the most beautiful vistas anyone can imagine.

Tell us a bit about your blog “One Road at a Time.”

I launched One Road at a Time in October of 2012.  It started as a creative outlet for me; I love to write and tell stories. I try to capture the human interest side of the story with details and photos. I designed every aspect of the site, with the support of my husband, Abi, and my wizard webmaster.  To get to know me and Abi a bit better scroll through the archives and read a few of our posts. You’ll find a variety of content including classic road trips, hospitality intrigue and adventures abroad.  We retired early and downsized our lifestyle and while we don’t live large, we have a home base and the resources to travel.  By sharing our journey we hope to inspire others to redefine retirement…One Road at a Time.

Thanks Abi and Patti!  Good luck with the rest of your walk.

Medicare: A short primer

Medicare: A short primer

Quick Summary:  The basic information you need to know about Medicare.

If you (like most) plan on using Medicare as your primary source of health care coverage during retirement, you should have a basic understanding of how it works.  Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the National Council of Aging and UnitedHealthcare, a majority of baby boomers don’t.  So here’s a short primer to bring you up to speed on the essentials.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a government health insurance program that is typically available to people sixty-five and older, or those with certain disabilities or diseases.

How do I apply? 

If you are already receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, you do not need to do anything to enroll in Medicare.  You will automatically become entitled to the benefits on the first day of the month you turn sixty-five.  The government will mail you your Medicare card about three months prior to your sixty-fifth birthday.

If you have not started claiming your Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits by the time you turn sixty-five, you will need to apply for Medicare.  You can do this up to three months prior to the month you turn sixty-five, but not later than three months after the month you turn sixty-five.  If you miss this initial window, you will likely have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which runs from January 1 through March 31 of each year (Beware that penalties apply to those who sign up after their initial enrollment window.).  You can make certain changes to prior elections during the open enrollment period each year from October 15 through December 7.

You can enroll online at http://www.ssa.gov/.  You can also enroll by phone or in person at any local Social Security office.  If you don’t know the number to your local office, call the Social Security Administration directly at (800) 772-1213 or use the office locator at http://www.ssa.gov/.

What are the “parts” of Medicare that I have heard mentioned?

Medicare has four parts: A, B, C, and D.  Think of Part A as hospital insurance.  It covers all or a portion of the expenses associated with hospitals, critical access hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, inpatient psychiatric care, hospice care, and home health care.

Part B covers physician services like doctor fees, outpatient services, lab tests screenings, and ambulance services.

Part C is also referred to as Medicare Advantage and is a way to combine the benefits received under Parts A and B, as well as receive additional benefits.  To be eligible for Part C, you need to be eligible for Part A and enrolled in Part B.

Part D provides prescription drug coverage.  If you are eligible for Medicare, you are eligible for Part D.  There are two ways to get Medicare prescription drug coverage.  If you have Parts A and B you can sign up for a Medicare approved drug plan offered by an insurer in your area.  If you have Part C, drug coverage is probably included in your plan.

What are the costs for each part?

There are no premium costs for those eligible for Part A.  If you are 65 and not eligible, however, you can still purchase coverage by paying a monthly premium.  The 2011 monthly premium for Medicare Part A is $450 for someone with 29 or fewer Social Security credits, and $248 for someone with 30 to 39 credits.

Part B is optional for those eligible for Part A, but those buying (i.e. not eligible for) Part A must also buy Part B.  The 2011 premiums for Part B are $96.40 per month.   If your income exceeds certain amounts (currently $85,000 for single tax-filers and $170,000 for joint filers) your premiums will be $110.50 per month.

Part C is provided by private health insurance companies that contract with the government.  Because of that, the cost of Part C plans varies from state-to-state and insurer-to-insurer.  To enroll, you need to be enrolled in Parts A and B, which means you will need to pay your monthly premiums with Part B as well as any premiums charged by the private insurer for your Medicare Advantage Plan.

Costs for Part D will vary.  If you have Part C, chances are that prescription drug coverage is already a part of your plan.  If you have Parts A and B, you can sign up for a Medicare approved drug plan offered by an insurer in your area.  Premiums and medications covered will vary by plan.

What are the deductibles and or co-pays for each part?

Part A deductibles are based on the length of your hospital stay.  For 2011, the deductible for hospital stays is $1,132 for the first sixty days.  For days sixty-one through ninety you will be required to pay a co-pay of $283 per day.  After ninety days, you have a lifetime reserve of sixty days that you could choose to use.  If you decide to use the reserve days, your co-pay would increase to $566 per day.  You are responsible for all costs beyond 150 days.

Part B has a $162 annual deductible.  Once you reach your deductible, Part B covers 80 percent of the cost of covered services.  To help cover the remaining 20 percent, you may want to consider purchasing a Medigap policy (discussed below).

Part C co-pays and deductibles vary by plan.

Part D co-pays and deductibles also vary by plan, but in general, the average premium is $30 and the annual deductible can be as much as $310.  Once you’ve reached your deductible, you typically need to cover 25 percent of the costs up to a certain threshold.  Once you reach that limit, which is about $2,840 in 2011, you become responsible for 100 percent of your costs up to another limit.  After that higher limit is reached ($4,550 out-of-pocket for 2011), your coverage kicks back in and Medicare picks up most of the additional cost.

What is Medigap?

As you can see, Medicare doesn’t cover everything.  To fill some of those gaps, there is Medigap.  Like Part C, Medigap is provided by private insurers.  There are twelve kinds of Medigap plans that cover a variety of different services.  This could include coinsurance, additional hospital days, deductibles, preventative care, skilled nursing, and hospice care.  If you have Medicare Advantage or qualify for Medicaid, you probably won’t need a Medigap plan.  Not every state offers all twelve plans, so call 1-800-MEDICARE or check http://www.medicare.gov/ to find out what is available in your area.

What is Medicaid?

Medicaid is a program administered by the states and is designed to assist those who can’t afford to pay for their medical care.  You can qualify for Medicaid if you belong to a certain category (disabled, elderly) and you are financially needy.

Other Resources:

Social Security website: http://www.ssa.gov/

Medicare website: http://www.medicare.gov/

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: http://www.cms.gov/

“Medicare and You” handbook:

Medicare plan finder for your area:


How can I help you?

How can I help you?

My primary goal with Intentional Retirement is to help you create a remarkable retirement doing the things you want with the people you love.  That is the driving force behind the articles and resources that are currently on the site, as well as those that soon will be.

With that in mind, I’d like to know: How can I help you? 

For example, are there any topics you’d like me to cover in future posts?  Are there any resources you’d like to see me offer that would be helpful and solve a particular problem that you’re facing?  Just email me your thoughts at joe@intentionalretirement.com

To say thanks, anyone who emails me their ideas and/or opinions will receive a free copy of my Retirement Budget Worksheet.

The worksheet is part of a new retirement resource kit that I’m creating.  It will be an amazing tool for anyone planning their retirement adventure.  If there’s anything you’d like to see included in the kit, be sure to let me know.

Thanks for reading!