Frequently Asked Questions From First-Time Travelers and Their Parents

Frequently Asked Questions From First-Time Travelers and Their Parents

Chapter 1: Frequently Asked Questions From First-Time Travelers and Their Parents

First-time international travelers and their families have a lot of questions before they enroll in a student travel program. In this chapter, we’ll answer frequently asked questions for the first-time student traveler. We’ll also answer questions parents have about sending their child abroad, and we’ll share important travel tips and safety tips before traveling abroad for the first time.

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Questions Students Have About Traveling

Students want to know where to go, how to plan, and what to bring for the entire trip. They have many questions about the destination itself, such as the local food and local language, as well as practical questions like how many checked bags are allowed when flying internationally. Here are some of the most common questions students ask. As you’ll see, traveling is nothing to fear, and it does provide unforgettable experiences!

1. Where Should I Travel for the First Time?

Some first-time travelers may want to stay closer to home. For those traveling from the United States, consider visiting countries in Latin America for international travel destinations. Costa Rica in Central America and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean are 4-5 hour nonstop flights from the East Coast.

You could also consider traveling within the United States for domestic travel opportunities. Rustic Pathways offers several programs in Hawaii and is adding new programs across the nation.

Other factors to consider:

  • What country do you want to visit?
  • What type of program do you want? Do you want service, adventure, culture or a combination of all of these?
  • What type of landscape do you prefer? (Beaches, mountains, deserts)
  • How much interaction do you want with the local people?
  • Do you want to spend time with animals?
  • Do you have certain career interests you want to foster?
  • What kind of accommodations do you prefer?
  • How much travel time do you want both to your destination and during your trip?

Read how to pick your ideal location here. We’ll also have more details about picking your destination in the chapter to of our guide: How To Choose a Travel Destination if You’ve Never Traveled Before

Many first-time travelers with Rustic Pathways prefer programs with base houses or hotels that include some of the comforts of home—like showers and flush toilets.

Popular programs for first-time travelers also often have a taste of everything like Pura Vida Service in Costa Rica, which includes an introduction to the local culture, community service and adventure for a well-rounded experience. Check out our community service programs here.

2. What Documents Do You Need When Traveling to Another Country?

First, you’ll definitely need a passport to enter another country, and in some cases, you may also need a visa. For details on getting or renewing a passport, view the latest passport guidelines here. In general, you may need the following documents to travel abroad:

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Medication documentation
  • International driving permit
  • Health insurance information

We’ll talk more about preparing for departure and how to obtain important documents in Chapter 3. When you travel with Rustic Pathways, your Personal Travel Advisor will guide you through this process and on any visa requirements to ensure you have all of the required documents before departure.

3. What Do I Need as a First-Time Traveler?

What you need mostly depends on where you’re traveling and how long you’ll be gone. As a first-time traveler, it’s best to try not to overpack. You can always buy additional items you might need after reaching your destination. We cover packing in Chapter 4, but here are a few helpful tips for a first-time traveler:

  • Pack light! Any travel expert will tell you carrying only what you need is most important.
  • Put a change of clothes in your carry-on for your long-haul flight just in case your checked luggage takes a detour.
  • Bring reusable items, like a water bottle and tote bag, to minimize your travel footprint.

4. What Type of Luggage Should I Use?

All Rustic Pathways programs include detailed packing lists to let you know exactly what to pack and include a luggage recommendation. One option is the 60-liter Patagonia Black Hole duffel bag. It’s waterproof, durable, and includes straps that convert it to a backpack—all of which make it perfect for any scenario you’ll encounter while traveling.

While suitcases with wheels are convenient and easy, pulling your bag behind you may not be ideal for some surfaces you’ll encounter while traveling abroad. Unless you can pick it up easily and carry it, we recommend a duffel bag with straps or a backpack. Make sure to put your essential items such as your phone, charger, passport, wallet, glasses or contacts, medications and a change of clothes in your carry-on. We also recommend wearing money belts to securely store valuables while traveling.

5. What Do I Need to Do Before Traveling to Another Country?

Here’s an overview of what you should do weeks before take-off:

  • Have all your documents ready and prepare digital copies.
  • Review the packing list and make sure you have everything you’ll need.
  • Research your destination and get excited.
  • Practice the basic phrases you’ll use in your host country’s language.
  • Ask your Personal Travel Advisor any additional questions.
  • Prepare your mind for new, transformative experiences.

We cover everything you need to do before you depart in Chapter 3.

6. Do I Need a Credit Card?

It’s a good idea to plan ahead for travel purchases, and bring a credit card to ensure you always have money and to reduce the need to carry cash. You can use common credit cards just about anywhere in the world at locations that accept credit cards.

Travel Tip: foreign transaction fees can add up, so it’s wise to check with your bank about any associated charges and consider using a credit card that doesn’t charge these fees if you plan to make purchases abroad.

Tip for first-time travelers: Keep essential items like phones, chargers, passports and wallets in your carry-on bag

7. How Much Money Will I Need?

How much money you need depends on where you’re going and what you plan to do. The general rule is $100 to $150 per week, but it does depend on the destination since U.S. dollars have more spending power in some countries than others. Most banks allow you to order currency before departure so you have it in hand before you leave. When that’s not possible, students have a chance to exchange currency after they land in their destination country.

8. How Early Do I Need to Be for My Flight?

We ask that students get to hub airports in the United States four hours before their international flight. It’s best to get there early, so you have more than enough time to get your luggage checked, get through airport security and make it to the gate. Rustic Pathways employs airport coordinators and flight leaders to assist with these processes.

Most airlines have mobile apps that let you check the status of your flight, confirm you’re checked in and view gate information—the gates may change depending on schedules and availability, but the airline apps typically keep this information up to date so it’s easy to see if your gate has been switched. So download this app the night before your flight.

When you arrive at the airport, find the airport coordinator who will introduce you to other Rustic Pathways students and help get you checked in. After checking your bags and getting your boarding pass, you’ll hang out with the other students until heading to airport security together with your flight leader, who will be with the group until you land in the country.

9. How Do I Plan My First Trip Abroad Through Rustic Pathways?

To enroll in a program at Rustic Pathways, you’ll:

  • Choose a program and dates that work for you.
  • Complete an online form to enroll.
  • Let your Personal Travel Advisor help you with the rest!

When you’re not sure what program to pick, our Global Program Advisors are happy to help you decide based on your goals and personality.

Benefits of Student Travel and the Importance of Traveling as a Teen

Traveling as a young adult has many benefits and is important for education. Here are some reasons why you’ll want to start traveling when you’re young:

  • Helps you get into college: Traveling while a teen can make your college application stand out among the others. It takes courage to step our of your comfort zone and travel to a foreign country, and college admissions officers will recognize that when they see your application. It also shows you’re mature, independent, adaptable, and open to learning and growing. When you learn more about a certain subject while abroad, colleges will see you’re passionate about the topic you wish to continue studying.
  • Opens up potential internships or career paths: Traveling teaches you about yourself and what you want to do. You’ll also come across opportunities that you may not have considered otherwise.
  • Teaches you important skills you can use for life: You’ll learn dozens of skills as a student traveler that will benefit all aspects of your daily life, including your education and future goals. You’ll learn language skills by immersing yourself in a new culture, and you’ll feel more confident speaking the language.
  • Nurtures personal growth: After traveling, you’ll be more aware of current events, more flexible, more creative and a better problem-solver. You’ll also have a greater appreciation for other cultures as well as your own culture. Overall, employers and colleges will value that you’re independent and well-rounded.
  • You’ll have fun: One of the best parts of being a teen is having the time and freedom to explore, meet other travelers, learn about yourself, grow and have tons of fun in the process. As a student traveler, you’ll get to go on thrilling adventures and find hidden gems in breathtaking settings, participate in exciting activities, laugh with friends and so much more. Having fun is a great way to de-stress, stay healthy and enjoy being young.
  • You’ll make an impact: For those who participate in service projects during their programs, they’re also helping to positively impact the lives of others. Each year Rustic travelers provide thousands of community service hours to improve infrastructure, educate children, clean up the environment, help threatened and endangered species and more. That’s something to feel good about long after your program ends, and may inspire your future career choices.

Questions Parents Have Before They Send Their Child Abroad for the First Time

Parents usually can’t wait to see their child explore the world and blossom into a more mature, independent individual. But they also want to make sure their first-time explorer is safe and will benefit from their adventure above all else. In this section, we address common questions parents have before their child takes flight. With Rustic Pathways, families can rest assured knowing their child is having a life-changing experience while setting their worries aside.

1. Why Should My Child Travel Abroad?

Traveling fosters growth in ways a child cannot experience at home. It teaches a child important skills they can use in their personal and professional lives for many years to come and helps them develop independence.

2. Who Is Responsible for Health and Safety at Rustic Pathways?

Each year thousands of students safely travel on a Rustic program. Our Health and Safety Team, which includes a physician, as well as our local Country Operations Team, ensure student travelers are healthy, happy, and safe throughout their journey and return with the best memories. The following Health and Safety Team members are available to help students feel comfortable and make the most of their program:

  • Medical Director: Dr. Will Smith practices emergency medicine in Jackson, Wyoming. Dr. Smith is well-known for his leadership in wilderness medicine and also serves as a co-medical director for Grand Teton National Park.
  • Medical Screening Manager: Zack Kraushar, our Medical Screening Manager, is an emergency medical technician (EMT). He also has traveled to 59 countries and holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Each year more than 10,000 students travel safely on a Rustic Pathways student travel program

Our Health and Safety Team is part of who we are at Rustic Pathways. Along with program leaders and our Country Operations Team, our experienced staff members work together to make sure students have a positive and healthy experience. Student safety is our top priority.

3. Who Leads Rustic Programs?

Trained program leaders are in charge of all of our programs. Our program leaders have backgrounds in experiential education, teaching or international development. Many leaders are certified as Wilderness First Responders and all program leaders have minimum certifications in Wilderness First Aid or CPR. Program leaders also receive an additional 64 to 80 hours of specialized online and in-country training about local medical issues, emergencies and critical incident protocols.

In addition, our Program Staffing Team spends four months carefully choosing the most qualified, passionate applicants for our program leader positions.

4. How Does Rustic Monitor International Safety and Security?

We monitor global security and health through government agencies such as the United States / United Kingdom / Australian State Departments, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We also partner with one of the world’s leading providers of medical and travel services to monitor security.

5. Does Rustic Sell Travel Insurance?

Students are strongly advised to purchase their own comprehensive travel medical insurance. We’ve partnered with Roam Right to offer students an optional travel protection plan when purchasing travel insurance.

6. How Does Rustic Handle Emergencies?

Rustic’s Crisis Response Team works with Country Operations to respond to serious incidents, while program leaders and Country Operations Teams work together to manage minor illnesses and situations.

7. Are the Food and Water Safe?

All water provided during a Rustic Pathways program is bottled or purified. Meals are prepared by Rustic Pathways chefs or trusted local restaurants. For those with food allergies or other dietary restrictions, we’re happy to find ways to accommodate your child’s needs for the trip. Please contact a Global Program Advisor to discuss specific dietary requirements.

8. Are Accommodations and Transportation Safe?

All student travelers stay at Rustic-owned base houses or carefully chosen, trusted and vetted hotels, camps, guesthouses or host families. Transportation is provided by Rustic drivers or local vendors who have satisfied Rustic’s safety assessment for driving safety-inspected vehicles.

Student travelers stay at rustic-owned base houses or trusted hotels, camps, guest houses or with host families

9. How Should My Child Prepare for Their Program?

Preparation includes the following:

  • Complete Rustic’s Medical and Emergency Form.
  • Ask your Personal Travel Advisor about vaccinations, visas and what to pack.
  • Attend a pre-trip information session in person or online.

Your child’s personal travel advisor and program leaders will guide them every step of the way to answer questions and provide assistance before, during and after travel.

10. How Can I Help My Child Choose a Program?

Consider the location, duration and program type. Communicate with your child and choose a program together based on their comfort level, their goals and the destinations that inspire them.

11. How Do I Know Which Countries Are Safe?

You can check travel warnings through the Department of State. Rustic Pathways does not take students to any locations that the U.S. State Department deems dangerous. Contact us to learn more about sending your child abroad with Rustic Pathways.

Questions Parents Should Be Asking Before the Trip

We covered a few questions parents commonly ask, but here are some other questions you should ask to make sure your child is ready for their new experience:

  • Does your child have travel medical insurance?
  • Have you discussed how to keep belongings and money safe?
  • Have you made a photocopy of your child’s passport (kept securely at home)?
  • Does your child know about safety basics such as staying hydrated, avoiding food from strangers and staying in designated areas?
  • Have you discussed the importance of proper hygiene, including handwashing before all meals?
  • Does your child know what to do and who to contact in case of an emergency?
  • Have you and your child reviewed specific laws in the country?
  • Will your child have access to a backup credit card for emergencies?
  • Have you learned the basics about the host country, including cultural norms?
  • Does your child have a list of important Rustic Pathways contact numbers?
  • Does your child know how to keep in touch?
  • Have you organized a plan to keep routine medications on schedule?