What Really Matters

What Really Matters

Lil Keller

Peru | Sacred Valley Service 2016

Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Cuba | Ultimate Latin America 2017

Thailand | Elephants and Amazing Thailand 2018

Lil is a photojournalism student from Ohio University Class of ‘21 originally from New York City. With a love traveling, they have incorporated their passion for wildlife into major studies and travels.

All photos have been provided by Lil. Read her story below!

Rustic Pathways has had an enormous impact on my life. My name is Lil Keller and I have been to all seven continents and over 60 countries and I can say with absolute confidence that the three Rustic Pathways trips I went on are in my top 5 of all time. I have loved traveling my whole life and have always done the tourist attractions when I went on vacation. In 2014, my mother and I had taken a trip to Antarctica and there I found my passion for photography. I loved capturing animals in their natural habitat, and I loved the way that it made me feel when I knew I got the right photo. It also gave me more confidence when my friends would compliment me on my photos.

In 2016, I took my first Rustic Pathways with two of my best friends, Hannah and Mikhail, to the Sacred Valley in Peru. There, we were on the side of a mountain living “bare” and getting to know the locals while we were completing the community service project. The limited use of our phones allowed us to bond in a very personal way. Since I came from a high school that used iPads for learning, it was a nice change to sit around the table eating and playing games without anyone being distracted by anything else. The friendships that I made on that trip in the two short weeks we were there are unforgettable. I believe that I learned a new type of friendship that will be my favorite type of friendship. The friendships where you know you love the same things and can immediately find that connection while going on a totally awesome adventure somewhere in the world.

In 2017, fresh off a trip from Belize, I headed to meet my group in Peru for the Ultimate Latin America trip. I was very excited to be adding three new countries to my list. Since the previous summer, I was waiting to make more friendships and hoping that meeting them in Peru wouldn’t hinder that. I tried making connections with everyone there and didn’t give up on having a good time on my trip. It wasn’t the feeling I had on the Sacred Valley trip which made me sad, but opened my eyes to a new kind of experience. It was an experience that I learned a lot about myself and those lessons helped me to adapt to college a lot better.

Finally, in 2018 I headed off to Thailand after finishing my first year of college. I was determined to make this one of the most memorable to finish my memories of Rustic Pathways. I arrived at JFK airport five hours early so I could meet everyone and get to know them right from the get-go. I don’t think there is any event that brings a group of people together better than multiple flights from New York to Chaing Mai, Thailand and everyone trying to get onto “Thailand time” as fast as possible. We all tried to stay awake during our overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany so we could sleep on our 11-hour flight to Singapore, and it would be nighttime in Thailand. Long story short, we bonded by the time we got there and set off to have a wonderful trip throughout Thailand. By the end of the fastest two weeks, we were all inseparable. I can say by the end of the trip, I had twelve good friends that I wanted to keep in contact with always.

My three experiences with Rustic Pathways were all different and taught me a lot about myself. Throughout the memories that I will always cherish close to my heart, the most important part of those trips will always be the friendships I made. The days we all spent laughing and going around the country like we lived there I will always keep close to my heart. Since I am a photojournalist, I brought my camera on every trip I went on. I still have every single photo I took on every trip and I often look back at all the good days I had with friends that were strangers just a couple of weeks prior. Even though it is hard to stay 100% in the moment with a camera, every photo reminds me of a different moment and why I decided to point my camera. Every photo is a treasured moment that I wish to never forget. My photos and my journals bring the memories back to life and I can see Peru, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Thailand so clearly with everyone around me just enjoying life to its fullest. Rustic Pathways changed my life in many ways through the lessons we learned, but the friendships will always be my favorite part of Rustic Pathways.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in the Peru and Thailand, or view more Alumni Stories here