It has been almost two months since I finished the EPW, and it's been so awesome to follow all the Peacewalkers adventures through the Facebook group! It is crazy to think that all of the 2017 Peacewalkers are done -- A HUGE CONGRATS! Now that I've done a bit of traveling and have been able to slow down, I think it's a great time to give some reflection on my walk and advice to future Peacewalkers :)
I think expectations would be a great place to start. Having never walked the Camino in Spain before (or done any long walk!), I went into the EPW unsure what to expect and determined to walk the whole way. For me, experiencing new countries, meeting people, and finishing the walk were my goals, and this helped me be excited and pleasantly surprised by random events and great conversations that would happen along the way. A majority of the other Peacewalkers had previously walked the Camino, and as I understand the EPW is a very different experience. You walk in a group of 10 or less people for most of the trip (the groups could shift depending on the optional days), meaning if you didn't click with the people, it would best to switch days, but also meaning you got to form deeper relationships with your group. The accommodations are set for every day in a mix of villages, towns, and cities, meaning that you have to complete the allotted distance for that day (with taxi help if wanted!), but there is no rush to find a bed, and many of the hosts are absolute treasures. Since the EPW goes through Eastern Europe, you can see the difference in affluence in places, meaning that sometimes towns will be very sleepy, no shops will be open, and there will be a lot of open fields, but it also means that you have the opportunity to really interact with locals, see their authentic lives, and experience these countries in such a unique way.
This being said, I think expectation and perspective matters a lot on the EPW. I came in with no expectations from previous experiences, and got extremely lucky with my group, who became an eclectic family--especially as I had come onto the walk by myself. And especially since the EPW has really only been going for 4 years (which is incredible how much it's grown!), there are still a lot of variables and unplanned things (getting lost in a wheat field), but that made other random things all the more special (dancing with a group of Slovenians at the Vinarium tower, while eating bread and drinking wine!). As I mentioned above, the distances are set, so if you want to send baggage forward or take a taxi to cut some of the distance, it's important to keep in mind that these costs are often expensive, especially if you are the only person doing it (normally there is a fixed cost that will be shared by everyone using the service and the more people that use it, the cheaper it is for everyone). Furthermore, since the accommodations are set, their prices are also set, and many include dinner and breakfast along with the bed itself, which makes it more expensive. Since both the arrows and the guidebook are done voluntarily (thank you to the amazing Cressy who has walked the EPW every year and painted beautiful arrows this year), they are not perfect, but every year will just continue getting better (and we made it every day just fine!). I know there are a lot of great improvements to come and I'm excited to see how the walk will continue to take shape in the future!
For me personally, I thought it was a really awesome, worthwhile, and challenging experience. I loved going through different countries and seeing how scenery changed (flatter farmland in Hungary to rolling hills in Croatia), and honestly, I thought it was so awesome to just clear my mind and let my feet just walk--the physical challenge (apart from my blister) was very fulfilling to me, as I felt accomplished every night going to bed. Yes, there were many times where the walk was silent for a stretch, but there was beauty in it, as everyone went at their own pace, and I loved that time to just listen to music, podcasts, or simply be in nature. I also so appreciated the conversations I had with everyone I walked with or had met in passing, from cultural differences to life experiences to cracking jokes to politics to righting the whole dang world. It gave me the space to hear and learn from different perspectives, form new opinions, reflect on the past, orient myself for the future, and also, just be completely in the present, trekking through Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.
If you are thinking about doing the EPW, I would say you should 100% go for it. It's not for everyone, but I think Peacewalkers are a certain type of people--interesting, humble, open-minded, good natured, and unbelievably determined. Be open to the differences in foods or housing and get to know the accommodation hosts because many of them are honestly incredible. Every EPW experience is different, and I believe it's up to initiative and perspective to shape it--maybe you too will end up drinking homemade Hungarian wine with locals & swimming in the night, learn the polka from a group of Slovenians, meet the true forest keeper Lotti (who has vowed to protect all PWs!), listen to two free, impromptu concerts, take part in a burger&beer fest, be shown a guy's personal church in his house (which was full of drinks), meet incredible people, and walk over 500 kilometers across Europe.
Thank you EPW -- you have made me into a "life walker," and I have a feeling I'll be seeing you again :)