Our theme for the month of June is “snapshots.” Writers were asked to submit a piece with a cover photo that they took or created.

Last month I met my mom in Spain to hike the last section of the Camino de Santiago. Lots of people asked me if I had any big reason for doing it. It was mostly an excuse to see my mom and another corner of the world, but I also really liked the idea of making a pilgrimage.

However, I soon realized how difficult it was to conceive of myself as a pilgrim in the twenty-first century, starting with the moment I walked into the running shoe store and stared at the dizzying grid of Hokas and Brooks and Sauconys. I’m still puzzling over the pilgrim question, but I have more answers than I started with. What follows is a medley of recommendations for pre-Camino Michal (and for you, if you’re thinking of making a pilgrimage).

Let’s assume you already know what to pack and that stretching and sunscreen are good.

1. Choose one little project before you go. Fill an entire tiny journal. Walk a day in silence. Memorize a poem. Keep your phone on airplane mode. Write one haiku a day. You might feel silly halfway into your project, but I’m confident it will be edifying in the end. Though I attempted a few of these halfheartedly, I wish I had gone in with a plan.

2. Give yourself permission to not think big thoughts. In fact, spend day one only taking in all the sensory things (and maybe all the days after that). Pet the cats. Moo at the cows. Find a good shell. Eat a lot of cheese. Inhale the herbal post-rain morning smell like you’re trying to store it in your toes. Listen to your creaking hips and whining stomach. These are things I learned to do, but not soon enough.

3. Go with someone who a) you love, b) has the same enthusiasm toward food and drink as you, c) has a higher extravert quotient than you if you are the introvert (and vice versa), d) will start singing random songs from your childhood after three hours of walking, and e) loves the New York Times spelling bee. This one I did right.

4. Bring RunGoo and Compeed for blisters. Thankfully, I have a mom who thinks of stuff like that.

5. You will feel two types of imposter syndrome: the modern kind and the ancient kind. When you regret not bringing the guide book or you wonder if Dueter is better than Osprey or you watch some spritely pilgrims (probably Germans) get on the road as you’re stumbling down to breakfast, you’re feeling modern imposter syndrome. You can be comforted by the fact that thirteenth-century pilgrims didn’t have guide books! Which will lead you to imposter syndrome type two: the fear that you’re really just a tourist masquerading as a pilgrim, coddled by all the comforts of the global economy and enslaved to the built-in dopamine bursts offered to you along the way.

For this, I think you can spare some guilt. Just don’t let it immobilize you. Let the blind man in the tiny chapel stamp your passport. Let the priest in the gift shop say a blessing over you. Lay your stone at the Cruz de Ferro next to the stone with someone’s Instagram handle. Stop fretting about authenticity. It’s a wild time to be alive, but it is your time.

6. When you reach the cathedral of Santiago, jump and cry and collapse or whatever, but—this is important—don’t take off your shoes!! You will be tired, scatter-brained, and dying to change into your sandals, and you will LEAVE BEHIND your shoes in the frenzy of the moment. (This, tragically, is true.) The one consolation for this loss is that it will make you feel more like a pilgrim. Something about sacrifice and material possessions.

7. When you go to the pilgrim’s mass, listen to the kind clergy people when they ask you in seven languages to refrain from taking pictures of the thurible swooshing its incense over the congregation. Everyone will pull out their phones anyway. Take a deep breath and remember that you can find it on youtube!

8. When you start to get sad about returning to normal life, remember that you never stop being a pilgrim even when you come home etc. etc. etc.

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