Disclaimer: I’m something of a Luddite; objectivity may not be my forte in when it comes to this subject (I still use a frackin’ flip phone.)
Obviously, whatever gadgetry you choose to take with you on the Camino is a personal decision. If you want to live-tweet the formation of your blisters, far be if from me to judge. I would’ve brought my phone — “just for emergencies” — if I’d known it was going to work in Spain. I knew it wouldn’t, so I didn’t. It would have been unnecessary, anyway. If I’d gotten into an emergency along the way, there were plenty of people at hand to help. I did have a list of emergency contact numbers in my backpack though, in case I died or got amnesia.
I probably won’t be able to convince many — or any — future pilgrims to leave your tech stuff at home, but consider this: the more you interact with your devices, the less you are in the moment. The Camino is about contemplation; it’s also about connection, with yourself and your fellow pilgrims. I would wager that the more you try to stay in touch with friends and family, the less removed you will feel from your life at home. Which is sort of the point of going on a pilgrimage. Also, people who haven’t taken a pilgrimage aren’t going to “get” what it’s like, no matter how many pictures you post or how well you describe it in your status updates; it’s kind of pointless.
While you’re on the Camino, it may seem like you have loads of time. Time may even seem to stretch like taffy. But in reality that month you spend walking is going to be over before you know it: use it wisely. You can surf the web anytime, but you won’t always be able to chat up a 65-year old Basque woodworker, or spend an afternoon watching baby ducks paddle around beneath a 900-year-old stone bridge, or to just sit quietly inside a cathedral with no pressing appointments on your agenda. Another thing to keep in mind is this weird law of the universe: sharing an experience with someone who is there with you broadens the experience; trying to share it with someone who is not somehow diminishes it.
Many alburgues and cafes have computers available to the pilgrims for a small fee. One euro gets you fifteen minutes to half an hour. For me, this was more than enough time to assure my mom that I was still alive, and to check in with our house-sitters. Sometimes for several nights in a row, I wasn’t able to log onto my email at all. During these periods of radio silence, my mom got a little antsy, but for me it was very freeing: an excuse to really leave my life in another dimension and fully immerse myself in the Camino. I didn’t have to contend with anyone else’s worries on my behalf. If the poop hit the fan at home, other people could sort it out. If that strikes you as highly irresponsible, consider how within the span of about twenty years, technology has put us permanently “on call” and ask yourself if you think that’s a nice way to live.
Okay, I’m on my soapbox. I did warn you.
Also, I’m no purist; I took my iPod. I planned to use it only on the plane, but one day, a couple of weeks into the walk, I realized I was going to have to climb a shadeless mountain at about 2:00 p.m., and I needed the encouragement of Aretha Franklin if such a thing were going to be accomplished. And it worked: I didn’t just climb the mountain, I boogied up it. After that, I relied heavily upon Aretha whenever my spirits were flagging and I needed to infuse my trudge with a little boogie.
Other things to consider: 1.) That sleek iPad that seems so small inside your briefcase or purse is going to seem huge inside your backpack. The further you walk, the bigger it will get. Trust me on this: it’s another weird law of the universe. 2.) There aren’t places to lock up your belongings at night. Everything is just inside your pack at the foot of your bed. I never heard of any problems with thievery on the Camino, but do you really want to worry about it? 3.) Same goes for rain. You could get caught in a downpour; everything in your pack could get a little soggy. No big deal if it’s just your BVDs.
One thing most pilgrims will say approximately one week into their journey is that they realize they’ve brought too much stuff. A guy we made friends with along the way brought his guitar. You could tell that his pre-trip vision of the Camino had included a campfire and group songs. One week in, the guitar got shipped back to California. Remember, you’ll be passing through major cities and towns regularly, where you’ll be able to purchase anything you might need, even if it turns out to be a guitar — or a phone. But ultimately, the less you bring, the less you’ll have to carry, both literally and figuratively. And this will make a big difference when you’re walking 30k a day.
Photo to the left: Yours Truly at summit of shadeless mountain, still boogieing to Aretha.