Teen Travel Safety 2024: What are the Best Destinations This Year
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Teen Travel Safety 2024: What are the Best Destinations This Year

Every year ranking sites list the safest places to travel worldwide. Wealthy nations regularly top the list, including several European countries. On other continents, Japan and Australia are in the top 15. These nations are good bets for teen travel, but they aren’t the only ones.

Many other destinations allow teens to safely experience non-Western cultures. They give students a glimpse at different languages, religions, traditions and lifestyles.

Children in Costa Rica teach Rustic Pathways students some traditional dances.

Children in Costa Rica teach Rustic Pathways students some traditional dances. Credit: Rustic Pathways

In 2024, our data shows a few non-Western nations are still popular choices for student travel. These countries have the best combination of safety, culture and adventure.

What are the travel hot spots for high school students in 2024?

Costa Rica and Thailand are among the safest and most popular nations for student travel. They’ve had that “hot spot” designation for some time. For years now, Rustic Pathways has hosted more students in Costa Rica than any other country. And Thailand ranks second in the number of enrollments.

Why Costa Rica is a Safe Place to Travel

The 2022 Global Peace Index recognized Costa Rica as the most peaceful place in Latin America. Most crimes in the nation are petty crimes, like pickpocketing. Crime also tends to be concentrated in places students don’t go. This includes certain sections of the capital San Jose and the city Limón on the Caribbean coast.

On the healthcare front, Costa Rica is known for having high quality care. The World Health Organization previously ranked Costa Rica as the 36th best country in the world for healthcare.

This has helped boost life expectancy in Costa Rica. It’s higher in this Central American nation than the United States, according to the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group.

On top of this, Costa Rica is renowned for its environmental sustainability initiatives. A focus on nature is a plus for travelers. It contributes to cleaner air and water. Unlike some other nations, you can drink the tap water in Costa Rica without fear.

Rustic Pathways help save endangered sea turtles at this beautiful wildlife refuge in Costa Rica.

Rustic Pathways help save endangered sea turtles at this beautiful wildlife refuge in Costa Rica.

The pura vida – pure life – motto in the country creates a warm and welcoming culture. And the stunning landscapes in the nation make it a perfect oasis for travelers. These are among the reasons the nation regularly attracts student travelers. It’s a perfect choice for middle school, high school and college students who want a safe and adventurous destination.

Why Thailand is a Safe Place to Travel

Thailand also does well in the rankings on a number of fronts. Global Finance places Thailand one rank above the United States in safety. The U.S. State Department also lists Thailand as a country that is  “Level-1: Exercise Normal Precautions.” This is the best safety ranking out of four options.

The country’s safety profile reassures travelers who want to head to Thailand for culture and adventure. In fact, Bangkok is now one of the most highly visited cities in the world. Throughout the country, the nation is called the Land of Smiles for a reason. It regularly is noted as being among the friendliest nations our students visit.

Joy is evident in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.

Joy is evident in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. Credit: Rustic Pathways

This welcoming nature makes it easier to address any problems that may arise. But there doesn’t seem to be many concerns.  The most common safety issue may be hydration. A common mantra is, ”Remember to drink water.”

A hydrated and healthy traveler has a plethora of activity options in Thailand. Students can learn about Buddhism, visit historical sites and immerse in the culture. They can snorkel, hike and enjoy the sweeping landscapes. It’s an unforgettable journey for travelers.

But it takes time to pull together a program like this that’s safe and meaningful. Many factors are considered when fashioning programs for teen travel.

How Are Travel Destinations Selected for Student Travel?

Safety tops the list when considering travel spots for teens. Because of that, only destinations with a good safety rating will be considered. Then having the right staff in place is crucial.

Rustic Pathways will only pick a travel destination if the local connection is strong. Rustic’s country directors and program managers live in the nation where they’re planning trips. Many of them were born and raised in the areas where the students travel.

The local expertise allows Rustic to pick the best partners for both service and adventure. Local communities select service projects that fill a real need. These community partners provide much-needed guidance for students. They also ensure the right experts are on site. This may include plumbers and carpenters or botanists and wildlife technicians.

Rustic Pathways students get help from local experts who oversee service projects.

Rustic Pathways students get help from local experts who oversee service projects.

Our local Rustic staff also know the best vendors for adventure activities. As travel aficionados,  they know the best spots for white water rafting, ziplining and other activities a program may include. They vet the vendors who provide these activities for safety and fun.

Once these pieces are in place, then a program may be added to the list. Once that program is added, a host of safety details must be addressed.

What Safety Factors Are Crucial for a Teen Travel Program

Safety elements that are essential for a student travel program include:

  • Food and water safety
  • Background checks
  • Program leader training
  • Communications
  • Incident management

Rustic Pathways uses trained cooks who can accommodate dietary needs and provide safe and delicious meals. For drinking, all water provided is bottled or purified.

For staffing, program leaders are selected for their backgrounds in education and travel. They undergo background checks and specialized training before the summer travel season begins. All full-time leaders are also Wilderness First Responders and seasonal staff are First Aid and CPR certified.

While programs are running, communication is constantly flowing. Parents receive emails when their students arrive and regular updates while the program is unfolding. The program leaders provide reams of photos, so parents can see what’s happening. Plus, students can use their cellphones if they need to contact their parents.

If a teen gets sick or something goes awry, the parents are contacted, and an incident report is made. Parents will decide what course of action they may want, such as the type of medical care they wish their child to have, if any.

An emergency line is also available. If the parents need to get a hold of their teen for an emergency, that connection is a quick phone call away.

Throughout all this, the staff’s professional experience matters. Most of our country staff members have been travel program experts for many years. They’ve handled a host of common problems from twisted ankles to anxiety issues. They’ve bent over backwards to assist students with less common issues. This may include helping students with significant travel delays. Or, it may involve altering a program for a student with special needs.

The focus is always on the students. If you want one key to safety, it’s that. The goal is to ensure the students have the safest and most memorable experience possible. That ignites a passion for travel, and that’s what makes all the work worthwhile.

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About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Lead Editor

Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.