Since 2014, I’ve traveled with Rustic Pathways, each summer to a new location with a fantastic new group of fellow students. In 2015, I became an Impact Ambassador for the Rustic Pathways Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Rustic Pathways.
Last summer I became the first Global Fellow for the Foundation. In this two-part blog series, I’ll share my experiences during this fellowship and what I learned from it. My first stop was Fiji.
Responsible travel should be on everyone’s mind when abroad. Traveling responsibly means being culturally and environmentally aware in the places you visit. Following some simple steps will allow you to not only immerse during your visit, but also shows the community that you care and respect their traditions.
Dress To Impress
Besides using bula (Hello) and vinaka (Thank You), another common word you will get to know in Fiji is sulu. A sulu is a type of long-wrapped skirt people across the islands wear. At the beginning of a program with Rustic Pathways in Fiji, each student receives a sulu so they stay in appropriate attire for their journey around the country. Dressing culturally appropriate is so important wherever you travel. Yes, it might not match your everyday style back at home, but you’ll be more comfortable in this new setting when you fit in and act respectfully.
You can’t visit Fiji Islands taking part in a traditional kava ceremony. Kava can be traced back 3,000 years in the South Pacific and is still a part of the culture today. When you enter a village, it’s customary to present the chief with kava root, and later that day, take part in a kava ceremony. Only then are you welcomed into the village.
I was lucky enough to participate in multiple kava ceremonies in Fiji, which were some of my favorite parts of the fellowship. I learned so much about the Fijian culture through these ceremonies and asked questions to deepen my understanding of their history, which is why you should immerse in the culture. Whether it’s a kava ceremony or another tradition, don’t be afraid to jump right in and become one with the community around you.
Love the Outdoors and the Outdoors Will Love You Back
One of my favorite activities was exploring part of Fiji’s incredible natural world by snorkeling! Swimming with the aquatic wildlife was incredible—we even saw manta rays one day!
It’s hard to believe that all the coral could be wiped out simply by wearing the wrong type of sunblock. While it protects us, most sunblocks actually bleach coral. Oxybenzone, a very common chemical found in most sunblocks, in even the smallest doses, can bleach and slow the growth of coral. I was frustrated when I learned this. Sunblock is supposed to be beneficial but the majority are far from that. While no sunblock is perfectly good for the environment, purchasing ocean-friendly sunblock is a small but strong step a responsible traveler can make to help the oceans one swim at a time.
My time in Fiji was one of my best experiences with Rustic Pathways. From seeing familiar faces from past Rustic travels to cheering for the Fiji rugby team, the trip was filled with memorable moments.
Check out part two of my blog series, about my experience in Southeast Asia.
Interested in putting Cate’s responsible travel tips to use during an immersive student travel experience this summer? It’s not too late to enroll in a program.
As a high school student, Cate traveled to Australia, Costa Rica, Laos, Tanzania, and Thailand with Rustic Pathways. After traveling to Tanzania in 2016, she and two other Rustic students started Miles for Maji, fundraising events to raise awareness about the global water crisis and support Foundation education projects. She became the first Rustic Pathways Foundation Global Fellow in 2018 and added Fiji and Cambodia to the list of countries she's visited with Rustic, in addition to returning to Laos and Thailand. Cate now attends Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.