Chapter 1: Frequently Asked Questions From First-Time Travelers and Their Parents
First-time 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 things to know before traveling abroad for the first time.
Jump to Key Section
- Questions Students Have About Traveling
- The Benefits of Student Travel and the Importance of Traveling as a Teen
- Questions Parents Have Before They Send Their Child Abroad for the First Time
- Questions Parents Should Be Asking Before the Trip
Questions Students Have About Traveling
Students want to know where to go, how to plan, and what to bring. They have many questions about the exciting journey ahead. Here are some of the most common questions students ask. As you’ll see, traveling is nothing to fear, but 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. If you’re traveling from the United States, consider countries in Latin America. Costa Rica in Central America and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean are four- to five-hour nonstop flights from the East Coast.
You could also consider traveling within the United States. In addition to programs in Alaska, California, and New Orleans, Rustic Pathways now offers a program experience in Hawaii.
While not necessarily closer to home, Rustic Pathways also offers base house programs in 12 countries. These Rustic-owned or maintained facilities have more amenities for students who’d like their first international travel experience to include some comforts of home—like showers and flush toilets.
Our other programs for first-time travelers include an introduction to the local culture and blend community service and adventure for a well-rounded experience. Check out all our programs for first-time travelers.
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. In general, you will need the following documents to travel abroad:
- Medication documentation
- International driving permit
- Health insurance information
We’ll talk more about preparing for departure and how to obtain these documents in Chapter 3. If you travel with Rustic Pathways, your Personal Travel Advisor will guide you through this process 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 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 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. We’re fans of 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.
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.
- 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 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.
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 each Rustic Pathways program page includes a recommendation of how much to bring. All students will have a chance to exchange whatever money they bring to the local currency as soon as they land in their destination country and don’t need to bring it with them.
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 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 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!
If you’re not sure what program to pick, our Global Program Advisors are happy to help you decide based on your goals and personality.
The 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 travel abroad, 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. If 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. As a Rustic Pathways alumnus or alumna, for example, you’ll have access to exclusive internship and job opportunities.
- 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 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 new people, learn about yourself, grow, and have tons of fun in the process. As a student traveler, you’ll get to go on thrilling adventures 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. For example, in 2017, Rustic travelers helped deliver 9,490 meals, build 16 houses, plant 18,432 trees, and complete a total of 186,406 community service hours. 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 more than 10,000 students safely travel on a Rustic program. Our Health and Safety Team, which includes a physician and psychologist, as well as our local Country Operations Team, ensure student travelers are healthy, happy, and safe throughout their journey. The following Health and Safety Team members are available to help students feel comfortable and make the most of their program:
- Safety and Risk Management Director: Our Safety and Risk Management Director Dave Dennis has over 20 years of experience and a master’s degree in risk management. Before joining Rustic in 2014, Dave owned a consulting firm that specialized in creating risk management and emergency response programs for tour operators around the world.
- 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.
- Mental Health Director: Dr. David Baker, a psychological consultant, has taught psychology and theology at universities in Florida and Washington. Dr. Baker holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and has both a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in theology.
- Medical Screening Manager: Ann Dunphy, our Medical Screening Manager, has worked in emergency medicine for 35 years. She’s also been an emergency medical technician (EMT) and Wilderness First Responder instructor for decades. Ann holds a bachelor’s degree in education and certifications in specialized emergency medicine.
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 lead all of our programs. Our Program Leaders have backgrounds in experiential education, teaching, or international development. All full-time leaders are certified as Wilderness First Responders and all seasonal 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 before the summer travel season begins.
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), International SOS, World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We also partner with International SOS, 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. For students leaving from the United States, we’ve partnered with Trip Mate. Students outside the U.S. may sign up with our partner Trawick International. Each of these companies offers a travel protection plan specifically designed to protect our student travelers and their belongings.
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. Students and parents also have 24/7 support and access to Rustic Pathways and International SOS.
7. Are the Food and Water Safe?
All water provided during a Rustic Pathways program is bottled or purified. Meals are prepared by Rustic chefs or trusted local restaurants. If your child has food allergies or other dietary restrictions, we’re happy to find ways to accommodate their 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.
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?