The Top 10 Student Travel Concerns (Don't Worry—Everyone Else Has the Same Fears)
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The Top 10 Student Travel Concerns (Don't Worry—Everyone Else Has the Same Fears)

When I was 15, I got on a plane by myself for the first time and flew to LAX from Ft. Myers, Florida, to meet up with a group of Rustic Pathways students. I couldn’t have been more excited for my Rustic Pathways program. I was going on an adventure of a lifetime! I knew this experience would be life-changing. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the world, other cultures, other ways of life, and about myself.

But I was also pretty nervous. Actually, really nervous. I wanted to pack the right things, I didn’t want to get lost, and most of all I really, really didn’t want to deal with big, scary bugs. What I didn’t know at the time though was that everyone else was nervous about these things too!

Looking back after several Rustic trips, here’s my list of 10 things you’re probably worried about, and everyone else is too.

  1. Forgetting to pack something
    I don’t think I’ve ever taken a trip and remembered to pack everything (and by now, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling!). But even though I almost always forget something, I can’t think of a time that forgetting an item ruined my experience. You won’t think twice about that extra shirt you wanted to bring because you’ll be too busy diving into local culture and getting to know everyone in your group. If you do forget something you absolutely need for an activity on your trip, like water shoes for whitewater rafting, your Program Leaders will make sure you get the necessary gear so you can safely participate in the activity.
  2. Getting lost in the airport on your way to meet your group
    I was nervous about navigating LAX by myself, but I knew that if I couldn’t find my group (which was pretty much a non-issue because I spotted several other Rustic t-shirts as soon as I walked off the plane) I could call the main Rustic Pathways line and a real person on the other end would help me connect with the flight leaders at the airport. Before you fly, we’ll send you a detailed airport map with instructions about where to meet up with your group. If you have any issues while you’re in the airport, call us at 800.321.4353 (save our main number in your phone now so you have it easily accessible on your travel day!)
  3. Losing your luggage
    The first time I remember silently panicking as the final bag rolled through the baggage claim belt and it wasn’t mine—my suitcase hadn’t made it all the way to Bangkok. What was I going to do without any other clothing?! Without toiletries?! A towel?! Without the gift, I had brought for my host family?! It took a few days for the airline to locate my luggage and get it on the right plane to Udon Thani. During that time other girls on the program let me borrow everything I needed. My Program Leaders also took me to a store where I could pick up some essentials (including underwear and a bra). At first, it felt a little bit weird to ask people I didn’t know to borrow stuff, but everyone was so kind and generous. After a few days, the entire group felt like family!
  4. Not making friends
    Meeting new people for the first time is always a bit nerve-wracking and scary, especially if you’re introverted like me. I knew talking to people right away would be hard for me, so I made it a personal challenge to go out of my comfort zone and make an effort to initiate conversations with people in my group. It’s been more than 10 years since I traveled with Rustic Pathways and I’m still friends with several people I met on my programs! Rustic Pathways Program Leaders are experts at facilitating activities and conversations that will get you and your group talking, and once you do, you’ll find that everyone is pretty awesome. Think about it: You chose to come on this experience because you’re open-minded and interested in learning more about the world. Everyone else in your group did too! You’re going to be surrounded by like-minded individuals on your Rustic trip who share a passion for discovering new places and ideas.
  5. Getting sick
    Getting sick is never fun, especially when you’re away from home. If you aren’t feeling well let your Program Leaders know right away. All of our Program Leaders have medical training and they’re expert travelers who know how to deal with funny stomach bugs that sometimes come with changes in diets. You’ll probably talk about poop at some point, which was something I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable about doing on my first trip. Thankfully, Rustic Pathways Program Leaders are experts at talking about poop. Seriously! Going and not going are directly related to your health and it’s something your leaders need to check in with you about. On the first day, my Program Leaders had everyone in the group shout “poop” super loudly, five times. After that, I didn’t feel weird about talking about poop as it related to my health during the rest of the trip.
  6. Feeling homesick
    Whether you’re traveling for one week or six, you probably will feel homesick at some point during your trip. Even the most experienced travelers miss home sometimes, especially during challenging moments. During these times, reach out to your Program Leader, the other students in your group (chances are they’re feeling the same way!), take a few minutes to write down your thoughts in a journal, or give your family back home a call. You’ll feel better once you acknowledge that you’re missing home. Then, challenge yourself to throw everything you’ve got into being in the moment and soaking up everything around you. By the end of the trip, you won’t be ready to head home.
  7. Missing out on something back home
    Knowing that your friends are hanging out without you doesn’t feel good. But not hitting up every party this summer with your crew isn’t going to change the strength of your friendships. Your friends will still be your friends when you get home from your travels. Embrace being in a new place and cherish the people around you. When you get back you’ll have incredible stories and memories to share with your friends back home PLUS new friendships and a home halfway around the world. Your friends back home will wish they had had an incredible adventure.
  8. That you can’t handle six hours of hardcore service
    Working on construction projects alongside community members in La Jagua, Dominican Republic was hard work! But at the end of each day, I didn’t care that I had blisters on my hands or that my arms were tired from digging trenches and mixing cement because I knew that what we were doing was positively impacting other people’s’ lives. Physical service work, especially in the summer sun, can be tiring, but Rustic Pathways Program Leaders will never ask you to work on a project that is too rigorous. They will pay extra attention to your physical and mental health during service projects that require manual labor. They’ll remind you to drink water, reapply sunscreen, and make sure you take breaks to rest and recharge.
  9. That some activity is going to be too scary for you and someone is going to force you to do it anyway
    Rappelling in La Fortuna, hiking in the Himalayas, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef—there are going to be some activities on your Rustic trip that push you outside your comfort zone. For me, it was white water rafting. I wanted to go, and friends had told me how much fun it was, but even so, I was still scared about it! If you’re uncomfortable about an upcoming activity, talk to your Program Leaders. They are there to support you! While they’ll encourage you to take part in the activity (because they don’t want you to miss out on a fun event and because they know that you’ll grow from challenging yourself) they will never force you to do something that really scares you.
  10. Bugs. Bugs. AND MORE BUGS.
    There will be bugs. They may skeeve you out a little (or a lot), but they will not kill you. I was terrified of bugs when I traveled with Rustic. All I can say is that after years of traveling “rustic-style” I can hold my own with spiders, beetles, cockroaches, bats, and lizards—but that didn’t happen overnight. It took me years to become less creeped out by crawly things, and that’s okay. Being worried about bugs is totally normal. Wear bug spray, don’t keep open snacks in your room, and zip up your luggage to keep anything from crawling in when you’re not looking. If you have a run-in with a bug, take a deep breath, try not to shriek, and remember that it’s more scared of you than you are of it. The more you travel, the more you’ll get better at dealing with bugs!

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About the Author

Scott Ingram