Linnea Martin says her service-oriented trips with Rustic Pathways have had a deep impact on her life. The time she spent in Peru and Fiji led her to pursue a degree in international affairs and education. It also helped her gain confidence and countless other skills, for which she says she is forever grateful.
“My experiences with Rustic Pathways gifted me with the space to feel like myself, learn new things about the world outside my comfortable bubble, and make lasting connections,” Martin said. “From my own personal experience, when the usual crutch of a phone, internet, or the safety of familiar surroundings is taken away, the real magic starts to happen!”
That magic is reflected in the reams of thank you notes that showcase what a difference a journey can make. Here are seven ways that Rustic Pathways’ alumni say their trips have helped them.
Finding Your Life’s Purpose
There is no doubt that it’s challenging for teenagers to figure out what they want to do in life. For a number of alumni, their trip helped them find clarity. Rustic alumna Jill Frazo is among them.
In 2017, she traveled to Huilloc Alto, Peru, where she struggled with the altitude that she says left her “winded beyond belief.” There she helped build a school and met some amazing villagers. Later, she traveled to the Dominican Republic for more service-oriented projects. After that trip, she said the programs didn’t necessarily solidify a career path, but they did something broader for her.
“I am still unsure about where life will take me, but I have learned enough about myself to put myself into a career where I can work towards the service of others,” Frazo said. “Without these projects I would have never known what I was capable of.”
Many other alumni have echoed these thoughts after traveling, and for some of them, it has helped them make decisions. It’s not uncommon for Rustic alumni like Martin to find that their travels have helped them pick a major for college or a career path.
Alumna Kristen Gadbois is like Martin in that her travels help her find a career path. She pursued a degree in nursing after taking service trips with Rustic Pathways to Thailand and Fiji.
“The spark created almost six years ago continues to inspire me daily as I pursue a career in healthcare,” Gadbois said. “My goal is to one day provide healthcare to marginalized populations who need and deserve it most. My dream is to work for a humanitarian organization such as Doctors Without Borders, and to continue to build relationships within our global community.”
Learning to Connect with Others
One of the biggest reasons alumni find their purpose during their travels is because the people they meet along the way are so inspiring. Alumna Isabel Arya began her journeys with Rustic by signing up for a summer adventure trip to Costa Rica. She says it didn’t take long for her group to become her family.
“Without access to the internet and a boat ride away from the nearest town, I learned to slow down my pace and focus on forging real and lasting relationships,” Arya said. “This is why I kept coming back to Rustic – traveling farther distances and on longer trips. It encourages me time and time again to prioritize community.”
Other alumni like Gabrielle Antolovic have made similarly strong community ties during their journeys. Antolovic says the connections she made during her four trips with Rustic Pathways. have become a central part of her life.
“I forged lifetime friendships that continue to enrich my life,” Antolovic said. “Although my first trip with Rustic was nearly ten years ago, the friendships remain.”
Enhancing Global Competence
One important aspect of a trip with Rustic is that students are fully immersed into the local culture – often traveling through remote areas to meet with villagers. Abigail Evangelista found that during her four trips with Rustic to Thailand, Laos, Fiji and Peru this type of travel was quite different.
“I have never felt closer to a culture than on my Rustic trips,” Evangelista said. “Living with locals in Fiji and having native guides allowed me a greater insight into their culture than I could have ever gained by being a tourist.”
This immersion often teaches important lessons to students, such as how to appreciate little things. Zach Gross says a village he visited in Peru completely changed his perspective.
“Despite the fact that these villagers lived in circumstances unimaginable to the ordinary American, they were far more satisfied with their lives,” Gross said.
On top of this, many alumni gain an unmatched appreciation for cultures around the world and have continued to travel to learn more. As alumna Victoria Tadewald notes, “I have now visited every continent and still have an insatiable thirst for travel that was undeniably influenced by my high school travel experiences. Rustic Pathways changed the course of my life forever.”
Penning a Great Essay
The global lessons learned can provide great fodder for a college or scholarship essay. Rustic trips often provide more insight than your average trip abroad because of the immersion aspect. A number of alumni have gained entrance into some of the most elite universities in the United States with the help of their Rustic Pathways experience.
In April 2021, Rustic received a thank you note from Frederico Araújo who traveled with Rustic on the Come with Nothing journey to Laos and Thailand in 2018, the Off the Map trip to Mongolia. His note said in part:
“I wanted to inform you that I received a… letter from Harvard saying I got admitted to Harvard’s class of 2025!!!! Without a doubt, Rustic’s trips and my involvement afterwards contributed to this outcome, so I’m happy to share this awesome news with you and Rustic’s team!”
Years earlier, Rustic alumnus Alex Boulet also used his travels to help him get into his college of choice. He showed how these experiences can be used to pen a great essay. He shared his college essay that gained him acceptance in the University of Pennsylvania here.
Trying New Things
This one may be obvious. If you want to try new things, there is nothing like travel to help you do that. Alumni often comment on the new foods, languages and activities they try while traveling with Rustic, particularly adrenaline-raising moments.
“I was scared to even zipline, and then a couple years later I went skydiving!!!” said Annabelle Bragalone, who has traveled with Rustic to seven countries. “There’s a quote that says, ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,’ and I full heartedly stood by that on every trip I went on because these were once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I needed to take because if I didn’t, I would regret it.”
Forming a Service-Oriented Mindset
Rustic Pathways forms long-term relationships with villages around the world to support the communities and provide mutually beneficial service-learning experiences. Alumni often talk about how much they benefit from spending time with the local residents they meet.
“Doing service with Rustic showed me that yes, I am ‘helping others,’ but in reality, they are the ones helping me by showing me how happy they are with little to nothing,” alumna Annabelle Bragalone said.
After returning home, many Rustic travelers continue their service. Among the endeavors that have been launched post-trip was Charlotte Maracina’s Girl Scout Gold Award project. She worked with Rustic Pathways for months to create, develop, and raise money for a nonprofit smoothie cafe called Sun, Sand, and Smoothies.
Others have used their new service-oriented mindset to create longer term goals. Alumna Gabrielle Antolovic directed her education onto a path that would ensure she could help others. As she shared, “I vowed that I would forge my path in others’ service and devote my career to becoming an advocate for women and marginalized people with the highest echelon of education I could – with that being law school.”
Creating an Independent Spirit
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Rustic Pathways experience is that it helps teens learn to stand on their own two feet and think for themselves. With this strength, they can more easily overcome obstacles. Alumna Abigail Golden says this made her Rustic experience quite different than school.
“The trip leaders fostered a light heartedness that making mistakes was not a big deal – it wasn’t even a mistake,” Golden said. “In high school there is a pressure to know the answers to questions rather than be the one asking questions. Rustic Pathways helped me undo that mentality and let me open up to asking and digging deeper.”
For alumna Camille Greening she learned to dig deeper when it came to her fears. She says before she traveled with Rustic she was painfully shy and sometimes struggled with self-doubt and anxiety. Her trips to Australia and Thailand helped her realize she could do whatever she set her mind to.
“I have learned that I can survive – no, thrive – in unfamiliar environments,” Greening said. “I am so grateful for these experiences and will always carry them with me.”