Pilgrimage Planning Step #4:
Finding Your Place

St John's Church in the Wilderness, McLeodganj

Pilgrimage planning step #4—figuring out where you’re going—is one many people start with straight out of the gate.

I think it comes best after you know why you’re going—what your purpose is—and have begun some inner and outer preparation. It helps you narrow down the options. 

But it’s one of the fun pilgrimage planning steps, and for some, the “where” is the starting point. (Maybe you’ve wanted to walk the Via Francigena pilgrimage route for years, and you’re starting from that idea.) So think of the order of the steps as a sometimes-changeable guideline.

The point here is that if you’re going on pilgrimage for spiritual reasons, you may be looking at different options than if you’re walking in honor of a friend who’s passed away. Your pilgrimage planning and your motivation are closely tied.

Destination Thoughts to Consider in Your Pilgrimage Planning:

Here are some thoughts to narrow it down as you choose your pilgrimage path:

  • WHY ARE YOU GOING?

    o   If it’s a religious/spiritual pilgrimage, it’s easy to start with traditional routes—for instance, the Chemin de Croix in Rocamadour or California Missions Trail if you want something Christian, or the Kumano Kodo for Japanese spirituality along one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Site pilgrimage paths in the world (the other being the Camino de Santiago)

     o   If it’s in memory of someone, you may choose a religious pilgrimage destination, but then again, you may simply take a path that has personal meaning for that relationship.

     o   There are also historical or patriotic pilgrimage routes—even anime pilgrimages. In that case, you may choose traditional tourist destinations like the American cemeteries in France or World War II memorials in Hawaii. Only your focus or method for seeing them might be different.

     o   Idea- or experience-based pilgrimages. I heard of a woman who approached the stages of her pregnancy as a pilgrimage. There can be a pilgrimage of the mind as you read, meditate, and walk. Something like the Appalachian Trail or Palmetto Trail, generally approached as a long through-hike or section hike, can become a pilgrimage as you seek out particular landmarks or immerse yourself in the history and meaning of the path. You bring your pilgrimage with you.

  • HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE? Can you let it take as long as it takes, or do you need to walk the route in segments or choose something that fits your window of time?
  • WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?

     o   If it’s very limited, you may need to pack more supplies or stay on a path that allows for camping out to keep expenses down. This would mean a heavier pack and, potentially, a slower walk.

     o   It budget is less of an issue and accommodations are available, you might carry very little. You could simply eat at restaurants or cafes in towns you pass through and room in an inn or pilgrims’ hostel at the end of the day.

  • WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL NEEDS AND/OR WHAT'S AVAILABLE?  If you know you need a bed and shower at the end of the day, you’ll need to make sure that pilgrims’ hostels or other room & board options are available on the route you’re considering. Some routes offer that, and others don’t. You’ll need to account for that in your pilgrimage planning.

     o   Well-established pilgrimage routes typically have accommodation options. For instance, on the Camino de Santiago, it’s very easy to find budget-friendly hostels and meals or to get pilgrims’ discounts (for those with pilgrim credentials).

     o   In the U.S. pilgrimage routes are less common. If your route passes through a town, you can likely find a hotel, if you want to. Otherwise, you may need to camp out.

  • IS THERE A PLACE YOU'RE REALLY EXCITED ABOUT OR THAT HAS MEANING FOR YOU? I’m all for planning systematically, but let’s not overlook the value of enthusiasm. Especially on a long walk, that can carry you a long way. If there’s a place you really like, run it through the other criteria to see if you can make it work (or see if your criteria can be flexible if this aspect is important to you).

Once you’ve figured out where you’re going, you’ll be ready to start digging through resources to help you learn more about what you can expect and what you’ll need for that pilgrimage route.