Advice From Experienced Rustic Pathways Travelers
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Advice From Experienced Rustic Pathways Travelers

Last month, we addressed some common fears and worries that both first-time travelers and seasoned travelers alike could relate to before embarking on a new adventure.

We then took this list of apprehensions and dug a bit deeper by asking our greater Rustic family for their advice. Rustic Alumni from all different years, countries, and programs shared their pro-tips, taken from real-life experiences, in hopes that future travelers will turn their nervousness into excitement! Keep reading to learn how to pack wisely, make friends for life, survive long days of service, and become #sorustic!

Smart Packing

When I traveled to Peru two years ago, I struggled trying to figure out how to fit everything I needed into a duffle bag. Throughout the trip I was constantly getting annoyed because everything was just thrown in the bag and I could never find anything I needed quickly. One of my roommates, however, had these things called packing cubes. She seemed so organized and packing things up never seemed to be an issue for her. Two years later, I now have six packing cubes and use them on every trip I go on—whether it’s across the country or just down the road. They are mesh bags in various sizes that help to organize your things, in any way that you want to.

– Maia Parker | Williston, Vermont

Pack a change of clothes, toothbrush, and all other 100% necessary items into your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost!

– Tori Lineweaver | Broadview Heights, Ohio

Pack way less than you think you need and even less than what the packing list is. You really only need one pair of work pants and another pair of cozy ones because you end up buying fun elephant pants to wear every day. The most important thing to pack is loose cotton t-shirts; pack a few of them because they tend to get dirty.

– Jordan Johnson | Portland, Oregon

Bring a carry-on rucksack and keep all your flight-related items (such as your passport, tickets, etc.) in a folder in your rucksack. Check that you have all these documents!

– Jarred Fisher | Cape Town, South Africa

It’s better to size up your bag then tightly pack a smaller bag because it might be more convenient. Pick the bigger bag not so you can pack more, but so you can bring back more. I made the mistake of bringing a small carry on bag because I thought everyone else would have a small bag cause it was only 16 days and we had laundry in between week 1 and 2. And because of the small bag, I couldn’t bring back stuff for my family and friends. And yes, bringing back memories and pictures is nice, but so are thank you gifts for your parents for giving you this opportunity. Also to make last-minute space for the way back, purposely bring a towel that has seen better days and toss it when you’re done. Bam. Extra room for stuff to bring back.

– Simmy Penn-Kout | Ashland, Oregon

No matter where you go, having sunscreen and bug spray is always a good thing to pack. Having a reliable portable charger is always a nice thing to have; some outlets are sketchy. Always pack extra snacks and things that you know that you like to eat. The local food is good, but it’s nice having something you’re used too. Costa Rica and Fiji are gorgeous so bring CAMERAS. A headlamp might look dorky but you’ll be the coolest person on the trip because you’ll be able to see where the outhouses are. Also, don’t be afraid to share cold showers with a friend, you bring swimsuits for a reason—why not use them. Even if you think keeping a journal is nerdy, have one so you can write down all the things that you do—you’ll regret it if you don’t.

– Jamie Melvin | Springfield, Virginia

If you have to ask yourself whether or not you’ll actually use something on your trip, DO NOT BRING IT. Extra stuff = extra weight to lug around a village = extra body aches. You’ll need all your strength to put forward your best effort during service so try to pack only the essentials.

– Ava Ritchie | Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

Pack a lot of socks. A fresh pair of socks on a hot and wet day can really change your mood and help your health!

– Jill Campbell | Wellesley, Massachusetts

Keep a journal! Try to write something down each day, even if it is simply a funny quote from one of the locals. It will be helpful when reflecting back on your trip, and you will thank yourself later for documenting the small details, laughs, and memories during your stay with Rustic.

– Shannon Petty | Oakland, New Jersey

Flying on Your Own

Traveling without anyone I knew for the first time was so exciting and so terrifying, especially knowing that I would be one of the younger ones in the group. Once I got to the airport, though, I was greeted with smiles and joined the group seamlessly. Traveling and meeting new people is such a wonderful opportunity to grow your confidence and realize you can do just fine outside of your normal environment. When you know no one, you have no expectations and can truly be yourself, and find out who that is. So go into your trip with an open mind and be prepared to have an amazing time!

– Addie Duckett | Del Mar, California

I remember being so nervous about my Rustic trip as I was going all alone. Not only was this my first time flying alone, or traveling alone, it was also going to be my first time outside of North America. From the moment you reach the airport, the company’s flight leaders are super charismatic and energetic in helping you ease up and relax. Then, while you’re traveling in the buses to your base camps or hotels, you’ll feel completely safe and the program leaders really lighten the environment and are very chill and fun to talk to! They’ve all traveled to various parts of the world and have amazing experiences you’ll love to hear about. You’re also going to meet so many like-minded individuals, and remember everyone’s there for the same reason as you. They’re all big-hearted students like you that are wanting to make a positive difference in the world while enjoying the majestic wonders of the world.

– Ekanki Chawla | Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

My advice for a new traveler is to make friends on the airplane. Even if the other people on your flight aren’t going on the same trip as you, it is great to get to know the people who fly with you. Especially if the flight is long and there are many layovers, making friends makes the time go by much faster. Chances are you will probably fly home with them too and that way you have company for the long journey.

– Lydia Ruotolo | Vail, Colorado

Not making friends

Don’t go into the trip looking for a friend group—the entire squad should be your friend group! You don’t want to end up closing yourself off to so many funny and cool people by picking a select amount of kids you want to fit in with.

– Hallie Whiting | Louisville, Kentucky

Be open with everyone! I know that everyone judges people right away by looks, even I do it! But don’t let that hold you back. Get to know people on a deeper level and maybe they’re not like what you expected or you got the wrong first impression. I ended up meeting my two best friends on my trip to Thailand and I don’t know where I’d be without them. At the beginning of our trip, during a game of fear factor, we instantly clicked and never left each other’s sides. Once you make these friends, don’t let them go! These friends know you on a completely different level than your ones at home.

– Jordan Johnson | Portland, Oregon

Arriving at the airport I was shaking with fear thinking I would not enjoy my trip, I wouldn’t make friends, and most importantly I didn’t know what I would do without my phone. But, within minutes upon my arrival at the airport, I made three friends that were on my trip. These girls soon became some of my closest friends. Honestly, as corny as it sounds, it is so important to be yourself. The people on your trip are there for the same reason you are—because you are interested in what you are doing on your trip!

– Dana Saidnawey | Franklin Lakes, New Jersey

Getting Sick

My biggest advice to any new Rustic member: drink water. In New Orleans it was HOT. I have never experienced such extreme temperatures like that before, and I was constantly dehydrated. Any opportunity for a water break, take one. If you ever start to feel sick or have a headache, it’s usually because you are dehydrated. Rustic was such an amazing experience for me, and I have learned so many things from this trip. I got to hold a baby alligator, eat delicious food, and (most importantly) help people who were in need. I have learned to live my life always #sorustic.

– Emily Schwartz | Scarsdale, New York

Feeling homesick

Last summer, I was at the airport ready to head on my rustic adventure but then I panicked and tried to back out. I was scared to meet new people and not be able to go home whenever I felt like it. I just wanted a familiar face to help me through. I tried to take the next flight back home but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I’m so glad I didn’t! The program leaders are there to help you adjust and be your friend. I met one of my best friends, to this day, on that trip. He was a program leader and he supported me through all of the anxiety I experienced around meeting new people. His support allowed me to become best friends with two girls on my trip who I still talk to on a daily basis. By the end of the trip, I was having the time of my life and never wanted to go home. I guarantee that you’ll meet some of your best friends on the trip you take, I didn’t believe it when a program leader told me but trust me. It’s so true.

– Alex Devaux | Richmond, Vermont

If you’re younger and you’re scared of being away from your family for a long time, don’t worry so much. The staff can be really good friends of yours and they’re there to help you in whatever situation, you’ll feel right at home. Enjoy yourself because you’ll definitely have an amazing experience, forming memories with extraordinary people from around the globe, memories you will cherish forever. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t remember the amazing time I had with Rustic.

– Vanessa Silva | Macau, Macau

Service Work

Going on a Rustic trip was something completely out of my comfort zone. I was nervous about not fitting in with the group, and not being able to get through the long days of service. After my first few days with the group, I knew I had found a family. Anyone who decides to go on a Rustic trip all has similar traits which makes it easy to bond. Those long service days were manageable because I was with all of my friends. I remember my first day of SBP service, and three of my friends and I had to paint a room. It was boiling hot, and the room had poor ventilation. We put on music and got through painting altogether, and truly bonded from this experience. At the end of our five days working in that house, many people commented on how nice that room looked with a new coat of paint.

– Emily Schwartz | Scarsdale, New York

Taking Risks

On an Australia trip I took two years ago, I ended up going bungee jumping, skydiving, and I even licked an ant but that tasted like a lemon! Sometimes the most scary and weird things are the experiences that are the most fun!

– Alexa Portigal | Phoenix, Arizona

When I went on the Heart of the Jungle trip last summer to Costa Rica, there’s one single piece of advice that I wish I’d been given: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Whether you’re afraid of bugs, incredibly shy, or kind of a wuss. (Those three were all me before that trip, by the way!) Once you’re on a Rustic Pathways trip, surrounded by people just like you from all over the country, just remember that you hold in your hands a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you shouldn’t let it go to waste by letting a flimsy hesitation get in the way of having the time of your life. I promise, (and I say this with first-hand experience) that no matter how scary it may seem, once you make that one step forward (or off the waterfall’s side, in my case), you’ll be so surprised at how amazing it is to have done whatever it is you were once afraid of.

– Olivia Zalevsky | Orinda, California

Don’t be afraid to try everything. You really get the most of your experience if you aren’t afraid to say yes. Try the bug, volunteer to make elephant dung paper, make new friends. Make the most of this incredible experience.

– Catie Teodorescu | Los Angeles, California

Eat everything you are offered! I have always thought that a country’s essence is reflected not only on its people but in its food. Interpret the flavors of their food and compare it to its people, this will help you understand the country a little better so when you come back you have a lot to talk about with your friends and family. Also, many times not taking the food you are offered can be disrespectful to them.

– Maria Gabriela Ordaz | Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela

Dealing With Bugs

Start getting used to bugs and learn about the ones that will be in your country! During my trip last summer to Ghana I had no idea that termites could fly. When I was about to open up my door to my room and walk outside I was greeted by hundreds of HUGE termites. I slammed the door so quickly and eventually climbed out the window of my room and escaped only to be pelted by beetles. Don’t be afraid of nature’s little guys! They just want to be your friend and are probably more scared of you!

– Cozette Nash | La Quinta, California

My whole life I have hated worms, but in my trip I was offered to try the Amazon’s nutritious gift and I took it… even with my second thoughts. But I don’t regret it one bit because It felt amazing to have done something so foreign.

– Maria Gabriela Ordaz | Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela


I would definitely recommend not bringing a phone, I know it’s crazy, and I’m pretty sure I cried immensely before prying myself away from it, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was one of the only people in my group to not bring one and it didn’t make any differences because it’s not like you have service there anyways. What surprised me the most was that I honestly didn’t realize I didn’t have it, I never actually missed it. My friends were still my friends when I got home and it was fun for all of them to call me and fill me in. You also became so much more in touch with your surroundings and soaked up more of the culture.

– Mia Slone | Alexandria, Virginia

I had the best time on my trip by really immersing myself in the Fijian culture and learning as much as I could. Do not get caught up in taking the best pictures for your Instagram feed (although the view is amazing), so don’t forget to put your phone, go pro, or camera down for a moment and soak in your breathtaking surroundings, because sadly, it will go by too quickly.

– Haley Hartmann | McHenry, Illinois

Don’t worry about recording every single second of your trip. I’ve learned (especially during my Rustic trip) that the best moments are captured through your personal experience and memory itself, not through the lenses of a camera.

– Ava Ritchie | Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

>A tip I cannot stress enough is staying off your phone. On my trip, there were two parts (one where we had wifi and one without wifi) and I can honestly say I loved the part with no wifi. It forced the people on my trip to really interact with each other during the awkward moments of first meeting one another. I remember specifically first arriving to Costa Rica and walking into my room with my 13 new roommates. It was a moment that I know if I had my phone, I would have been on it avoiding introducing myself to a room of strangers, but not having phones forced everyone to talk and by the end of the first night some of the girls knew more about me than my good friends I had known for years knew about me. All in all, it is so important to take in all the moments as they come, because when you get home and look back on your trip you’re going to want to remember every moment you possibly can. You can’t remember them if you’re on your phone!

– Dana Saidnawey | Franklin Lakes, New Jersey

Are you a Rustic alum with something to add? Leave your advice below or tag us on social. If you’re thinking about your next program, but not sure where to start, click below to request a call from one of our global travel experts who can help you identify the perfect Rustic experienced for even the most experienced travelers.

About the Author

Scott Ingram