Last month, when elementary school-age children learned about pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, they may have crafted paper hats and enjoyed Thanksgiving snacks of dried cranberries, pretzels and candy corn. We know, of course, that pilgrims aren’t merely people from childhood history lessons. In fact, many modern-day travelers embark on pilgrim adventures every day.
Last summer, one modern-day pilgrim, Laura Paulisich of Hudson put on her favorite pair of flip-flops and trekked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Also known as the Way of St. James, it is an ancient pilgrimage route, pre-dating Christianity, that has significantly gained popularity in recent years as a spiritual path or retreat, where people walk to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
Paulisich left Minnesota on June 10, 2015 with a backpack, some provisions, a parasol from Thailand and her favorite pair of flip-flops. “Everything I read said to wear what you are used to wearing when you walk, so I walked in my flip-flops,” she says. Traveling alone, she landed in Paris, then took a train to the south of France. She became an official pilgrim by registering at the pilgrims’ office and receiving her peregrino (pilgrim) passport. From there Paulisich took a bus to her starting point and, on June 14, she departed St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, to begin her trek.
During her journey, the passport was necessary to stop at the alberques, low-cost hostels that are located every 10 to 20 kilometers (six to 12 miles) along the camino in villages and large towns. Paulisich was reassured knowing she always had a place to stay at night.
Paulisich was surprised by the looks she received along the way, as most people don’t spend 31 days walking the coast of Spain wearing flimsy footwear. In fact, many stopped to take photos with her and she quickly became known as, “the girl in flip-flops.”
To imagine a woman walking alone on a journey, one can’t help but wonder about her safety. “The only fear I had was that my body would just stop working. I didn’t really train and had never walked this far, so I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up,” she says.
What shines through Paulisich’s story is how amazing and life-changing the entire experience was for her. Though she was immersed in the culture of historic stone cities, majestic shrines and often rocky terrain, the people left the biggest imprint on her. “The people were amazing. There was something about being out there on the trail, you would just meet people and you would become close so quickly,” she says. “There was a guy from Italy who just walked behind me. I did two of the 31 days with him, and I would take a bullet for him—that is how strong the bond is that is created out there on the pilgrimage.”
She pushed her body beyond what she ever believed she could accomplish, marveled at the extraordinary history in the cities and landscapes she walked through, and created unique and lasting relationships with people all over the world.
“[It] felt like a dream—such a huge accomplishment,” Paulisich says. “I could burst into tears just talking about it. I fell in love with Spain, the people, and the walking (even in flip-flops). All of it was life-changing.”
To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, visit the website here.