The Stories Behind These Award-Winning Travel Photos
All Articles

The Stories Behind These Award-Winning Travel Photos

This past summer students submitted hundreds of travel photos for our annual #soRustic photo competition. Every Friday the best photo of the week was crowned. Those 11 winning pictures were then put in the running for an award recognizing the best photo of the summer. Students and staff voted, and now we have a winner!

Olivia Venneman’s Joyful Moment in Thailand

Olivia Venneman’s photo from the Southeast Asian Adventurer program in Thailand has taken the prize. Her photo shows pure authentic joy. You can see her photo and the other winning pictures below, along with the stories behind the photos.

It was pouring rain the day this photo was taken. Olivia says the students were supposed to take a bike ride at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ayutthaya. But then the skies opened up. Rather than running for shelter they decided to skip and dance in the rain, and while doing that, they ran into this temple – Wat Mahathat.

It is one of Ayutthaya’s oldest temples and was one of its most sacred since it once housed one of Buddha’s relics. The temple was severely damaged by a fire in 1767 and was abandoned.

Olivia asked her friend Carsey to sit on an old broken pillar that once held the roof up. She wanted to take a “cool photo.” Carsey sat in a meditative position and then they swapped spots for more photos. Olivia thought they were finished when Carsey took one more click.

“I didn’t really know she was still taking a picture… She had put the phone down for a second, and then I put my arms out like that,” Olivia said. “We have a special place in our hearts for the rain now.”

Maddy Stikeleather shared this photo from the Heart of the Jungle program while the students were in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica. Maddy says this photo was shot after she and her friend conquered their fears during a rappelling activity.

“We had just completed a super steep hike and when we got to the top, we got to rappel down a waterfall! My best friend from the trip and I volunteered to go first, which was terrifying but it was such a cool experience, and I wish I could go back and do it again!” Maddy said. “This photo was taken after we had reached the bottom of the waterfall and were waiting for everyone else to come down. We had to walk through the base of the waterfall to get to our lunch spot so we were all soaking wet! My favorite program leader took this photo!”

The picture was taken during the Moroccan Wanderer – College program. Dani Nisbet shared the photo, which was captured during a stay at a riad in Boumalne Dades in Morocco. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard or garden.

It was about halfway through the trip, and the photo shows Dani and his friends from left to right – Felicia, Frederico (looking out), Dani, and Anna. They were getting close as a group. After an incredible drive across desert landscapes and oases, Dani says:

“We were stoked about our beautiful riad and the sunset view we had out of our windows – Decided to take this picture as a tribute and a memory. Best trip I’ve taken.”

Felicitas Hagen took this picture while in Peru on the Andes to Amazon – College program. She says the students had hiked the 7 Sacred Lakes and saw the Ausangate Mountain at 5000 meters above sea level. Then an equipment problem happened that led to this photo being taken.

“I lost the sole of my shoe on the hike so our leaders told me to ride the horse back down to where we were sleeping,” Felicitas said. “It was a very fun hike!”

Lizzy Lindner shared this photo after traveling on the Marine and Rainforest Conservation in Thailand program. It captures a moment at the Phang Nga Elephant Park, which cares for elephants that previously had been used as labor animals. At the refuge, the students were able to wash, feed, and play with the rescued elephants.

Lizzy says, “This specific photo is really special to me because we were able to just be in the moment with the elephants. It felt good knowing that I could make an impact on these animals by sharing my experiences and teaching others about the projects being done in Thailand to protect them.”

Walker Carrington shared a different perspective of the Marine and Rainforest Conservation in Thailand program in this photo. It showcases the aqua waters off Thailand’s coast and the joy of snorkeling in the region. Walker says he had dived to see fish at the bottom, and this photo was captured as he was resurfacing. An underwater paradise!

This photo was captured during the Hawaii Service program. The students had stopped at Volcanoes National Park. Amelia Giblin, who shared the photo, said they were on their way to the other side of the Big Island.

“This picture was taken by our Program Leader Emma. I remember it being windy, but the view was absolutely gorgeous,” Amelia said. “At the time this picture was taken, the group was excited to take on the second half of our trip in Hilo.”

This photo shows the road right outside the Momi Bay Base House where students in the Sun, Sand and Service International program in Fiji stayed. Joana Santos Silva, who shared the photo, says her whole group had put their sulus on and headed to Momi Batter Historical Park for a sunset hike.

“The sunset hike was the last activity of the two weeks. So I just wanted to keep a memory of the last day,” Joana said. “Looking back now, this photo was taken right before we shared our Rustic Ties, which was a very emotional and heartwarming time.”

This photo submitted by Winnie Bird was taken in La Fortuna, Costa Rica in between zip lines during the Summer Camp Leadership program. The students had spent the morning in the rainforest, ziplining over the beautiful Arenal Volcano.

“Being able to see the volcano, the lake at the base of it, and the endless rainforest was incredible!” Winnie said.

We’ve seen some great photos from the Sahara Desert before, but this one is stunning! Pia Michel shared it after traveling with the Moroccan Wanderer program. The students took a break from their camel ride and cultural immersion to take an unforgettable selfie.

Sarah Grabowsky showcased the historical treasures in Nepal in this shot. It was taken in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, which is a royal palace complex in the city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley. Sarah says it was a bustling place.

“There were people everywhere making and selling pottery on giant wheels, as the city is known for its beautiful clay work,” Sarah said. “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent the day admiring the beautiful architecture and buying beautiful handmade souvenirs. It was our last day, as we left for the airport that night.”

Congratulations to all our #soRustic photo contest finalists and our winner Olivia! Thank you to all the students who entered the competition. Many great photos were taken this summer. For some of the best ones from Costa Rica, view our photo blogs part 1 and part 2. You also can view some 2022 photos from Morocco and Peru.

We’ll share more photos from the other programs in the coming months. In the meantime, peruse our 2023 program offerings to see what magical moments may await!

About the Author

Scott Ingram

Scott is the Director of Admissions at Rustic Pathways. He has spent the last 15 years in the student travel and experiential education world. Before helping families find the perfect Rustic Pathways program, he led gap year programs that took students around the world and spent three years teaching English in Japan.