January 27th, 2012

What a Walk in Spain Taught Me about Money

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Eight years ago, I walked 500 miles across the Northern Spain countryside on a pilgrimage whose route dates back to medieval times.

For five weeks, I woke up in a bunk room full of college pals and a professor, laced up my Gore-Tex hiking boots, heaved my pack onto my back, and stepped into the cold, Spanish winter to walk an average of 18 miles.

I learned a lot about life on that trip that now translates to smart money lessons in my life today.

camino de santiago


There’s a lot of “stuff” we don’t need.

Walking the Way of Saint James, you carry your life on your back, from your clothing to your food. After walking a few days, we realized we were all carrying too much unnecessary stuff. So we loaded the excess into a box, shipped it off to our final destination, and carried on with much lighter loads.

I still have too much stuff, but I’m learning when and where to curb my spending habits. I plan out most shopping trips, or open a savings account to stash away funds for a particular splurge.

Sometimes, our feet are the best mode of transportation.

I still have the hiking boots I wore for those 500 miles. And, after nearly a decade, they still fit perfectly. My feet carried me all the way across a country; why can’t they carry me a couple of miles to the store?

These days, I have it easy. I live in downtown San Francisco, where restaurants and markets reveal themselves at every corner. But it’s still tempting to hop on my scooter, catch the bus, or hail a taxi. So I force myself, every other day, to walk to work. I get exercise and have time to enjoy the ambience of the city.

Making your own lunch is usually cheaper.

Spanish cuisine is some of the best in the world. But I quickly realized on my pilgrimage that I would deplete my food budget by purchasing three meals a day. When I came across a food market, I would buy food that could easily be carried, like bread, cans of tuna, spreadable cheese and jam. My little hoard made for many a tasty roadside sandwich.

Lunch in San Francisco is never cheap, so I regularly brown-bag it. The savings allows me to treat myself to a lunch date with a friend every so often.

Patience is key.

One particularly frustrating day, I charged ahead of my walking companions because I wanted to get to the next town as soon as possible. I came upon a creek and hastily attempted to cross on what appeared to be a log, but what was actually just a floating branch. My foot slipped and I stepped right into the cold water. My punishment? I had to sit on a stump in my bare feet waiting for my boots and socks to dry, watching my companions pass me by.

Now, I would love to have so many things: a house, a dog a big savings account. But these things can’t all happen at once. For now, I’m working on the savings account and I know that patience will help me to stay sane in the process.

Memories are free.

I have over four hours of video footage from my time in Spain. My companions and I passed around a small video camera to document our walk, film the countryside, talk about experiences, and generally goof off. I have tangible souvenirs from that trip, too, but my favorite is the footage that I re-watch each year on the anniversary of the completion of my pilgrimage.

I’ve always been a big fan of photos as a way to remember vacations and good times, and that continues to be true. I may not have a refrigerator full of souvenir magnets from trips, but I do have thousands of free photos that make me smile.

What past experiences have taught you the most about money?

Buen Camino,

Bethy Hardeman, Social Media Maven

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  1. Reading this post brings back so many memories of my times in Italy and France. I really enjoy walking when I travel. It helps me discover places that most tourists don’t get to see.

    Besides that, I can relate to how it makes me realize that I can live life without all the stuff I own. It’s really amazing when you find that you don’t need to be connected all the time and can live without most modern technology.

    I wish I lived in a walking city, or one that was more public transportation friendly like you do. I do try to make up for it by walking the dog’s more often though. I think the biggest lesson, like you said, is patience. Nothing comes fast; and when you finally do reach your goals, it’s quite satisfying.

    Long at 8:23 pm on January 27, 2012
  2. Thanks for sharing! Even living in a walking city, I sometimes find myself wishing for a car. I think having dogs is a great way to motivate for exercise, though.

    bethy at 9:04 am on January 30, 2012

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