Pilgrim or Tourist (#CaminoTuesday)

The first time I came across a church along the Chemin du Puy that charged admission*, I laughed and walked out. I was a pilgrim, not a tourist.

I would swallow those words later, like so many of my early attitudes on the Camino de Santiago, when I started to understand that France’s nationalized churches were always open, and usually empty. Spain’s churches and cathedrals, on the other hand, relied on donations to keep their doors open, and struggled under the pressure of a sagging economy and the logistics of so many more visitors. I started willingly handing over my euros to visit the chapels and monasteries trying to stay afloat.

a strange little chapel full of relics
One of the stranger “tourist” stops along the Camino Frances was this chapel-museum near Columbrianos


The theme of today’s #CaminoTuesday – pilgrim or tourist?—is easy to ask and hard to answer.

What makes a “real” pilgrim?

I hope we can all agree it’s not the distance a person walks.

And that it’s not how you answer that nosy question in the Pilgrim Office of Santiago: “are you walking for religious, cultural, or recreational reasons?” (That made me squirm, because I was pretty sure the Church thought there was a “right” answer, and I didn’t give it.)

It’s not whether you carry your own bag, or sleep only on bunk beds (or outdoors, or in church-run programs), or turn off your cell phone.

After thinking about it (and re-writing these paragraphs more than a few times) today, trying to come up with something profound, I’m left only with this: the line between pilgrim and tourist is blurry, and it’s based on intent.

Tourists see a transaction—I will give you something, and in exchange I will get something.

Pilgrims see…something bigger. A destination. A purpose. A small place in a big story.


Most of us who have spent more than a few hours on the Way of St James have had moments of both. Perhaps that’s why Eric’s favorite mantra along the Way was “practice acceptance.”


 *in Moissac, and admittedly only to see the cloisters; the cathedral itself was open to all

Published by beth jusino

Editor. Writer. Teacher. Pilgrim. At home in the Pacific Northwest.

One thought on “Pilgrim or Tourist (#CaminoTuesday)

  1. The other question is: is it important to make the distinction? And if it is, a simple answer is that a pilgrim carries “credencial del peregrino”, a tourist does not, and because the pilgrim does she can lodge in albergues for less money than tourist accommodations will charge. I have to admit that I tracked my daily kilometers, carried my pack and practiced acceptance (love that concept and …practice), but ultimately anyone traveling with an open mind and an open heart, and making an attempt to live in the present moment is a pilgrim in my eyes.


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