The Rustic Experience is Like No Other

The Rustic Experience is Like No Other

Leelee Caudill

Peru 2014 | Fiji 2015 | Southeast Asia 2016

B.A. Auburn University, Pursuing M.A. in Nonprofit Leadership and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver

All images have been provided by Leelee. Read her story below!

I first heard of Rustic Pathways in the fall of 2013 when a family member’s girlfriend introduced the organization to me having gone on a trip herself with Rustic to Costa Rica. By the new year, I was signed up for my first trip to Peru exploring the Andes and Amazon for 18 days.

During that program, we traveled from deep within the Andes Mountains in a small village pouring the concrete foundation for a kitchen, to a jungle oasis set in the Amazon Basin hiking, farming, and immersing ourselves in the environment.

For the next two summers, I would go one some of the best adventures of my life with Rustic Pathways. In summer 2015, I traveled to Fiji for another 18 days. We started on an island I believe is called SomoSomo, where we participated in the laying of concrete to expand the local school.

We proceeded to an area called Nasivikoso, the Nasouri Highlands, where we hiked, jumped off waterfalls, camped under the stars, and dove headfirst into the flourishing culture. The program ended with surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and some of us even skydived over the crystal-clear blue waters filled with scattered, endless reefs.


One year later, I am on my way to LAX to meet my new family for the next 25 days while traveling around four countries in Southeast Asia. Starting in Luang Prabang, Laos, we played with elephants and floated in long, skinny boats down the Mekong River. Then, onto Hanoi, Vietnam, jumping around the busy city, with absolutely no traffic laws, learning about their deep history and rich culture. At a local market, some of us even tried crickets, maggots, and other critters that are considered snacks.

From Hanoi, we took a train to the Sapa Valley, a Northern farming region bordering China. Here, we set out on a three-day trek, living off the generous local communities and out of our backpacks, eating one too many Pringles. While here, we engaged in service projects with local farmers, like harvesting corn, and spent our afternoons cooling off in the river.

Leaving Vietnam, we arrived in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), which is by far the most beautiful country I have been to thus far. In Myanmar, we spent time in Bagan and Inle Lake, exploring the cities, temples, and monasteries as if time had stood still for hundreds of years.

As the trip was entering its final days, we traveled into Thailand, arriving in Bangkok and then onto Phuket, where we took a boat to the beautiful island of Kho Phi Phi. Here, as the sun painted the morning sky sitting next to people I had grown to love, in a place I knew I may never go back to, I absorbed every minute of the last 24 days to its entirety.

Leelee and a friend during first week on the SE Asia trip.

The last few days of a Rustic trip feels like your world is ending, you do not want to leave the beautiful places and wonderful people you have made to feel like home. Whether you go on a nine-day trip, 18 day, or a month, the Rustic experience is like no other. Being exposed to service and sustainable community development at such a young age instills certain values in oneself and can ultimately alter the way you look at life.

I consider Rustic to have played a significant role in my decision to pursue an undergraduate minor in philanthropy at Auburn University and in choosing philanthropy and nonprofit as my future career. I am currently working towards a master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver.

At the time I did not know it, but over the course of those three programs with Rustic I grew, matured, and learned more about myself than any other experience I have engaged in. For me, Rustic Pathways changed the perspective of my purpose on this earth.

I am so lucky to have been introduced to Rustic Pathways in 2013, the person who did is now marrying my brother in May. I owe much of who I am today to my leaders, guides, peers who became life-long friends, and the communities I served across six different countries.