Here I go...

Join me on my new adventure - Van Living!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Where's My Hair!!??

I got all my hair chopped off for the Camino. 

No brush!
No product !

Just freedom. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What is in Annie's Backpack?

Well, only 2 more sleeps and I'm off to Madrid!
I'm really excited!

Today I called my bank ONE MORE TIME to be sure the Traveler's Alert was set.
I also got my backpack all packed up!
I thought you might be interested to see what I take on a 6 week Camino walk.

First, what I will be wearing:

Black Macabi Skirt
Money Belt (both in beltloops and another one sewn into my skirt - see Blog)
Black short sleeve shirt (to be discarded in Madrid)
Black fleece (old one to be discarded in Madrid)
Black fleece leggings (it gets COLD on those planes!)
Wool socks

Next, what will be in my pockets:

Change purse

Vogmask (Face Mask)
Flight Spray (nose spray to keep me from getting cold/flu)
NO JET LAG pills
(It all packs up into this little bag I made from a recycled sweater.)

In my backpack I have packed the following items:

Another Macabi Skirt
1 short sleeved merino wool tee
1 short sleeved gauze shirt
1 long sleeved tee
1 long sleeved gauze shirt (for sun)
3 underwear
3 socks

My Brierley Map Book
My Anniewalkers Walking Booklet
Bus tickets for my group

Sleeping Bag

Elastic Clothesline
Safety pins for hanging clothes
1/3 bar of cold water laundry hand wash soap

Liggets Shampoo bar
Scrubby cloth
Sea to Summit Wet Sack  (for taking electronics into shower with me)
Green and White Cotton Towel (see in last photo)

Extra glasses
Sleep Mask
Hearos Ear Plugs
Plug Adapter

Duct Tape
Deodorant (in tiny red case)
nail clippers (keep those toenails SHORT)
Small plastic jars of ibuprofin, gaviscon (reflux), and benedryl (sleep)
Fluimucil and Flumil packets (2 of each)
2 Bandaids
All of this will go in a tiny red bag you'll see further down.

Camino Buff
Cashmere hat
Rain pants
Altus poncho (in next photo - red)
Merino Wool Sweater (not shown)

 * * *

All this packs up into these various stuff sacks to keep it organized.

I am also taking a water bladder for the walk from Madrid to Sahagun,
but will most likely switch to bottles when I get up on the Camino Frances.
There are long stretches with no services on the Madrid route,
so I thought I'd better take a bladder.

And that's it!
Here is my pack, all ready to go!
And all of THAT goes into my backpack which weighs exactly 13 pounds!

It measures:

If I have to, I can take the sweater out and carry it.

One last thing will be in my pocket (the Macabi Skirt has HUGE pockets).
That would be my guidebook/journal!
I have begun making my own for these trips.
Inside I have all the information I need, including flight information, hotel reservations, calendars.
Everything has been printed at 50% and glued inside or handwritten.
It's my Camino Bible!
I paid $1 for the little book at Office Depot!

That's it!
I'm packed


Tomorrow will be last minute double-triple checking.
I'll pick up Joe and bring him to my house to spend the night.
Our friend, Patty Moak, who was on one of our 2012 Treks, 
has offered to drive us to the airport.

Getting close...

Buen Camino!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DIY Hat Pocket

I have a Tilley Hat.
But honestly, I don't like it.
It's too heavy and doesn't crush small for packing.

I have an REI hat I like better.
But what's missing is the pocket on the inside.
That convenient little pocket for carrying the day's cash 
or copies of your passport and important credit card numbers, 
your room key,
or whatever...

So guess what I did?
Yup… that's right.
I sewed a pocket into my inexpensive REI hat.

Easy as pie and didn't cost a penny.

Here's how I did it?

First, I cut off a piece of inner lining fabric, 
18 inches long and about 4.5 inches wide,
and doubled it.

Next, I divided it into thirds and ironed it.
Then I folded down the top and ironed it.

Now fold up the bottom.
Fold down the top.

Then make the last fold.

Serge or zig-zag the side edges.
You now have a lightweight but strong pocket.

Place the pocket inside the hat.

Sew it in!

Here's what it looks like from the outside.
The photo makes it easy to see the stitching,
but in real life, it's pretty much invisible.

The pocket does not need a snap or zipper.
To use it, you put your fingers UP under the edge
and then DOWN into the pocket.
Anything you put inside is going to stay.

Cool Beans, huh?

Now go do it!

Buen Camino!

DIY Secret Pockets

So I have been alarmed at the increase in reports about pickpocketing and theft on the Camino.
I have tried various types of money belts and secret pockets and in the end I had decided I liked the kind that threads onto a belt (which goes around your waist) and hangs inside your waistline. But there is always the threat of someone cutting that off and grabbing it and what do you do with it at night, etc.

So I decided to sew some secret pockets into my Macabi Skirt.

This project would work on any skirt or hiking pant.
You just need to be aware of beltloops, and not sew over them.
I did that the first time around, and had to remedy it.

This entire project (with mistakes and corrections) took me a total of 20 minutes.
Here's how I did it.

First, you will need a "secret pocket" of some type.
I had several old neck versions like this:

You will also need some strong but flexible fabric 
to make the little extra "tab" that the pocket hangs from.  
I think some strapping or strong ribbon would work great.
However, I felt old wool clothes, and had some interfacing fabric I'd cut out of some pants
and so I used that.
You can see it under the pocket.

The first thing I did was cut the straps off the pocket.

Next, I folded a piece of the interfacing into a strip 4 thick.
It was very thin and I wanted it to be strong.
I serged this strip onto the top of the pocket,
being VERY careful not to cut the pocket itself.
If you don't have a serger, you could just zigzag this a couple of times.

Here is the pocket with the strip serged on.

Here is the front with the serged strip folded up.

Next, I serged the sides of the strip.
Here is where I made a mistake and serged down the closing tab of the pocket. 

Luckily it was easy to fix when I found it.
I just used a seam ripper and took out those stitches.

Next, I topstitched the strip onto the front of the pocket.

Here is the finished pocket with the strip sewn on,
and the mistake stitches removed.

It still opens nicely.
You have to be careful and be SURE you catch the top of the pocket
but stay VERY close to the edge so it will still open.

Here, I've placed the pocket on the inside of my skirt.
NOTICE the opening FACES THE inside of the skirt.
This is so when you flip it to the outside,
the pocket is facing outside.
You'll see...

This part is tricky.
You must sew the pocket onto the waistband of the skirt or pants.
You must be careful to stretch the waistband if it is elastic.
In my case, on the Macabi, the waist is elastic.
In some pants and skirts, it is not such an issue.
When stretching the bottom layer, 
you must hold BOTH layers and pull them apart,
and at the same time, keep your pocket in place.
It takes some sewing practice.

Here is the pocket sewn into my Macabi skirt.

This is what it looks like from the outside.
You can't even tell it's there.
I did make a second mistake and sewed across one of the belt loops.
I fixed that by sewing two short lines DOWNward on each side of the loop,
then removing the stitches going across.
Does that make sense?

Here is the pocket from the inside of the skirt.
The soft part is toward your body and the "pocket" part is facing the skirt.

Here is the pocket flipped to the outside.

Here is the pocket flipped to the outside when I'm wearing the skirt.
I'm so stoked!

Remember, this is NOT how you wear the pocket.
It should always be INSIDE your skirt!
I just flip it out to get into it when I'm in private, like in the bathroom.
NEVER in a public place.

* * *

After I finished, I rounded up another pocket I had laying around
and I put it into my black Macabi skirt.

I measured out some lining fabric and doubled it.

Here, I have made the Strip (using my serger)  from which 
the pocket will hang.

Here is the back of the pocket:

And here is the pocket flipped out for access.
I can't believe I haven't done this until now!

Again, this is just to show you how the pocket flips out.
NEVER take it out in public.
Access it in the privacy of the bathroom or your bedroom.
I'm going to put pockets in EVERYTHING!
Next, I have a blog on putting pocket in my HAT!

Of course, what this means is that I will have to 
remove everything from these pockets at night
and put them into the pockets I"m going to sew into my night clothes,
or ..
just wear the skirt or pants to bed and be dressed for morning!

Think it through,
but whatever you decide to do,


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FREE Travel Insurance

Do yourself a favor and check out Hostelling International USA's membership!
Last week, Sandi Smith, one of my Facebook Friends and a kindred spirit, told me about this option.

I just rejoined Hostelling International USA and got FREE TRAVEL INSURANCE!
It is a basic policy but for the $18 I paid for my senior membership, well worth the cost.
You can upgrade if you wish.

I wish I had known this earlier - they have just begun the travel insurance program.
Go here to see detailed description of the travel insurance.
If I'd had this last year, I would have been able to get home for my sister in law's death.
HostelCare Basic coverage includes:
  • $1400 Medical Expense coverage
  • $3500 Repatriation of Remains
  • $1250 Trip Interruption
  • $2000 Accidental Death & Dismemberment

For my $18, here is what I got:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Figuring the Cost of the Camino

Pilgrim dinner at San Anton, one of my favorite stops! Donativo!
Today, someone asked on Facebook, "What does it cost to do the entire Camino?"
Answers varied from $1000 to $6000.
And honestly, that's right.
It just depends on you!

Are you a person who needs a private room every night?
Are you willing to sleep on a mat on the floor?
Are you willing to take a tent and sleep under the stars?
Must you eat restaurant food each night or could you picnic?
How often do you need a shower?

Are you already covered by medical insurance?
Are you a person who needs travel insurance?

These are all considerations when figuring the cost of the Camino.

I will cover travel insurance in another post, but it can come in handy. Last year while on the Camino, my sister in law died and I could not get home without paying a huge amount of money. You can often purchase travel insurance directly from the airlines when you purchase your ticket. Or check with AAA if you are in the USA.

Every year, I walk one of the routes of the Camino as well as taking a small group for 24 days.
I suggest you do a spreadsheet on Excel or even on paper and calculate your costs ahead of time.
Here are the things you need to consider:

AIRFARE.  First and foremost, consider flying out in shoulder season.  Before May 15 and after September 15, your tickets are going to be as much as 20%-50% less.  In tourist season, the fares shoot up! And honestly, it's nicer walking the Camino in early spring or late fall when there are fewer pilgrims.

I buy my airfare at least 150 days early. The earlier you buy the ticket, the less it is. So figure out when you can leave and get that ticket.

The closer you get to your departure date, the higher the fares will be.

Don't buy the first ticket you find.  Shop around.  I use CheapOAir and have found some exceptional deals. Despite what people say, airfare is a good value right now. I spent $970 on my round trip ticket to Madrid for this year.  In 1996, I flew to Portugal and the round trip ticket was over $700. That's almost 18 years ago! So I'm not complaining about airfare.

Try different airlines and different routes. Once I found a round trip ticket to Madrid on Aer Lingus (an Irish airline) and the only issue was it went through Dublin. If you can sleep anywhere, you can get really good fares if you're willing to make stops along the way.  Long layovers can be a blessing if you're flying from the West Coast of the US. They give you a chance to get out of your seat and walk around, find food, even get a hotel for the night or explore a US city you've never seen. Just budget it into your trip.

Try flying out of a SMALLER international airport. When I fly out of Fresno, California instead of Los Angeles, I can often save $200 !!  Why? The airport taxes are much less because they want to encourage people to use it.

If you plan even earlier, you can use mileage credit cards to help.  Sign up for a credit card that gives mileage, then use those to help on the cost of your ticket.

BUS OR TRAIN MADRID TO PAMPLONA.  No matter where you fly in, you'll have to get to St. Jean Pied de Port or to Roncesvalles. Experience has shown me that the BEST way for me to arrive from the USA is to fly into Madrid, then bus to Pamplona and catch a bus or taxi to St. Jean or Roncesvalles.

I love seeing Pamplona first for two reasons. I stay there a couple of days to adjust to the time change. Also, if you see Pamplona first, then when you're walking the Camino, you can just walk right through and stay in the very cool albergue at Trinidad de Arre (before Pamplona) or in Cizor Menor (after Pamplona). Getting to the point you walk "between" the stages in Brierley's book will get you out of the herd of pilgrims who follow the stages like a Bible, and into a place you don't have to rush for a bed each night!

There are buses all day long from the Madrid airport Terminal 4 (T4) to Pamplona.  You literally just have to walk outside the terminal to find the bus.  The bus is nothing like the nasty old Greyhound bus we have here in the USA. Spain has excellent, beautiful Mercedes buses with HUGE sightseeing windows. The trip to Pamplona is very comfortable and it will give you an opportunity to see the scenery.  The cost from the airport to Pamplona at this time runs around €30.  So add €30 to your costs.

I do not suggest the train unless you are planning on staying a night or two in Madrid. The train is more expensive and it's more difficult to catch. You must take the Cercanius (do a search on this blog) to the Atocha train station then catch a train to Pamplona from there. The bus goes directly from the airport to Pamplona.

PAMPLONA TO SJPP or Roncesvalles.  Book a hostal that first night in Pamplona. Add this to your costs. Go onto and find an inexpensive place in the old section of Pamplona and book it.  Look for a place near the bus station so you can just walk to the station from your hostal.  You will have to give a credit card number, but if you are careful, you can book a place that allows you to cancel up to 48 hours before the stay.  Add this cost to your spreadsheet. For a single room you will pay €25-50. If you're with a friend, you can almost always find lodging for €30-60 and split it!

During the season, there are buses that go directly from Pamplona to SJPP. They cost €20. Add this to your costs.

If there are several of you, consider booking a taxi. Up to 9 people can go in one taxi and the cost can be split. If you are interested in this option, email me for more information. Marapi taxi runs this service and up to 9 people can fit in a bus taxi.

Another option is to book at Gite Corazon Puro. For around €43, they will pick you up in Pamplona, take you to their Gite in France, feed you, give you a bed, and drive you into St. Jean next morning to begin your walk. That is a great price! I have not stayed there, but have heard it is a most excellent Gite!  More information at their website:
Corazon Puro

The First Night in SJPP or Orisson or Roncesvalles.  Whether I'm staying in SJPP or Orisson, I book my first night.  In SJPP and Orisson, you can expect to pay €18 for a bed. In Roncesvalles this year it is €10 for a single pilgrim at the albergue.  Groups can book, but not individuals, but don't worry. The Roncesvalles albergue is HUGE and there is plenty of room. There are also several nice hotels there  - you can find them online along with their fees.  Add this to your spreadsheet.

Orisson will book you a bed. They will also book "half-board." This means you get dinner, your bed, and breakfast next morning. Not a bad deal and remember, things will get less expensive as soon as you cross the border into Spain. The Camino in France is known for being spendy.

The next 32 days.  Figure out how many days you think you'll need private lodging (if any). A private room is a wonderful way to treat yourself. It's especially nice in the larger cities, where you can take a rest day and tourist around.  I often will find a fellow pilgrim and split the cost of a room in one of the larger cities. But you can find inexpensive private rooms in most villages and cities with no problem.  Figuring high, I'd multiply the number of days you want a private by €35. But if you're careful, you can find a private room for under €30 pretty easily.

Then multiply the remaining days by €10.  This is an average. Some days will be donative (which does not mean FREE, but means leaving a donation on €5-€10, depending on if they feed you. Some days might be more. But €10 will work out as a good average cost per night in albergues and refuges.

If you are willing to sleep out or carry a tent, you can save most of the lodging costs. You could stay in a donativo refugio every few days to shower. I have slept out under the stars on the Via de la Plata and it is a wonderful memory! Last year, I watched for camping spots and found that if a person is stealthy, you can camp along most of the Camino. Tip: Most of the good camping spots are AFTER the villages. That's a good thing. You can shop for your food or eat at a bar, then walk on to find a place to pitch the tent or lay your sleeping bag. Just please carry out your trash and leave no trace!

On the other hand, a night in a Parador can be quite spendy!
But it just might be worth it to treat yourself once on the trip…
On my first Camino, walking the meseta was a cold, windy experience and I was sick. I got into Santo Domingo frozen and weary and the albergue didn't open until 4 pm!!!  I made an on-the-spot decision to go to the Parador. I didn't even ask the price. I just laid down my credit card and sighed with relief at the big cushy white bed and REAL bathtub!  I took 3 hot baths that night and was treated to breakfast in bed next morning. When I got the bill back home, I almost had a heart attack, but you know what? It was worth every penny!

A night at the Parador with bathtub and this breakfast cost me $300!
FOOD.  My personal food budget is €20 per day and I manage fine. I have a coffee and pastry or a slice of tortilla in the morning. I find a Menu del Dia for lunch (a better value than the Pilgrim Plate dinner), buy or make a bocadilla, and I picnic often.
Joe enjoying a picnic
Menu del Dia is a 3 course meal and averages €8. Pilgrim Plates for dinner range from €6.50 to €12, depending on where you are. A picnic lunch can be as little as €3 for bread, cheese, meat, and wine or juice. I've made pasta, sauce, bread and wine for €3 with food left over to share. See my blog on food on the Camino.

Pilgrim meal for 2 =  €3
Many albergues have a kitchen where you can cook.  You can buy inexpensive food, like pasta and sauce or sandwich makings at the tiendas along the way.
A €5 bowl of caldo verde and a €1 glass of wine can go a long way in satisfying you!
Some of the best meals and the most FUN meals I've had have been in donativo refugios, where there are family style meals served. You can't beat the company, especially if there's wine and a guitar!

Anyway, decide what type of meals you would like, multiply it by the number of days and add this to your budget. But for me, €20 is a good average.

After dinner wine at San Nicholas

Paella with our host, Pepe
Lodging in Santiago.  You can find lodging in Santiago for €15 and up, depending on your tastes. If you are adventurous, you can walk into a bar OUT of the tourist area and ask if they know of rooms.  I found a wonderful room last year for €15 this way.

If you aren't that bold, I would book private lodging ahead here. If you want a pilgrim room at San Martin Pinario, you can book via email. The cost is €23 and it includes a huge buffet breakfast. The rooms are sweet, clean, simple, ensuite and the Hospederia is gorgeous!  Again, consider sharing a double or triple with other pilgrims and you can save quite a bit of cash.

Pilgrim room at SMP. Sometimes the window is much smaller, but the room is clean and ensuite!
Train or bus BACK to Madrid.  There are trains and buses from Santiago to Madrid each and every day.  I do not like the night train. It's noisy and uncomfortable, and I like to see the scenery.  But there is an afternoon train.  I prefer the lovely Mercedez Benz buses in Spain!  Find bus ticket costs on or on   Don't forget to add this cost in.

By the way, if you're booking bus tickets on ALSA, use Paypal. They don't like credit cards unless they are Spanish.

If you're flying out of Madrid, consider adding a day of touristing. Lots to see in Madrid and if you book early, you can get a hostal right near the Atocha station so you can just train back to the airport when you are ready to leave. Check for prices.

I add in a couple of hundred bucks for incidentals and that's it.
This budget can have a wide range, but this will get you started.

If you're really wanting to go SUPER inexpensively, do the following:

1) Shop around and buy airfare early
2) Buy gear at Goodwill or borrow it
3) Use what's in your closet - you do NOT need special gear
4) Eat picnic style
5) Carry a featherweight tent and camp
6) Research and stay in parochials when possible.

Remember, if the albergue or parochial feeds you, please leave a donation from your food budget as well as your sleeping budget. They don't run on air! Tomorrow's pilgrims will eat according to what you donate tonight - so please pay it forward.

If all of this overwhelms you, consider walking with one of our small groups.
We do "the best" of the Camino, in our opinion in 24 days.
Our 2014 trips are full, but we still have some spaces for 2015.
In 2015, we are taking two "women only" groups and one mixed group.
We are also taking 7 day groups from Sarria to Santiago and we provide a LOT of support,
including a walking companion.

Learn about that here:
Anniewalkers Camino

I know I haven't covered everything,
but this will sure get you started.

Have fun planning and BUEN CAMINO!
Feel free to post questions.