What Makes Rustic Programs Rustic? Part 1 - Lodging
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What Makes Rustic Programs Rustic? Part 1 - Lodging

Rustic Pathways first got its name when it offered eight-week-long trips in the rustic Australian Outback in the 1980s. Then in the mid-1990s, service programs were added that allowed students to have immersive travel experiences in other countries. To really understand how locals live, programs were formed that allowed students to spend time in small communities.

That form of travel remains to this day, and that means Rustic travel is indeed often truly rustic. Extremely few people in the world are living in five-star hotel conditions, and some of the most beautiful places in the world still don’t have corporate hotels spoiling the view.

Alumna Audrey Mitchell found the benefits of this style of travel when she took trips with Rustic. Any discomfort she may have experienced was outweighed by the interactions she had while traveling.

Audrey Mitchell takes a break from riding her camel into the Sahara Desert in Morocco where the students camped overnight.

“Experiencing Fiji, Morocco, Thailand and Laos as a traveler, not a tourist, meant our accommodations might be four hours deep into the depths of the jungle or a rocky dive boat ride to an island with no cell service,” Mitchell said.

“Most importantly, it meant that the people we met were farmers, monks, boat captains, surfers, mothers, fathers and school children. Without exception, the people we met welcomed us warmly into their homes, businesses, and places of worship.”

To get that kind of experience, families weighing travel options often need to consider what accommodations come with those programs. For students who want all Western-style amenities, there are a few programs that offer this.

Other programs have a mixture of accommodations. Generally programs with only one circle filled in next to “Accommodation Amenities” on the program information chart are going to have more rustic lodging arrangements than ones with two or more circles.

“Rustic” lodging can include camping, or staying in huts, or even boats. Students may only have access to bucket showers and squat toilets. A number of programs alternate nightly facilities so students may stay in a hotel or base camp for a few nights followed by a more rustic living arrangement. This information can generally be found in the itineraries.

Here are some of the lodging differences:

Base Houses

These are among the most comfortable accommodations available during Rustic travel programs. These facilities are located near communities that allow students to experience immersive service projects by day and some of the comforts of home at night.

Stay at the comfortable Volcano and Rainforest Service Base located on the outskirts of the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Copyright: © 2013 Rustic Pathways

Programs that use these facilities include those that are great for first-time travelers, such as Pura Vida Service in Costa Rica and Intro to Community Service in Fiji.

Alumna Linnea Martin says she did get the best of both worlds during her trip to Fiji when she stayed at the base lodge.

“Everything was perfect and amazing at the Eco-Lodge, and all the activities were amazing,” Martin said. “I really felt immersed into the culture and I felt so incredibly honored and blessed to be in Fiji and experience and honor the Fijian culture.”


This is a treasured opportunity for many travelers – the chance to stay with a local family. The availability of this option may depend on local health conditions related to the pandemic. There are hopes in 2022 that homestay accommodations will return.

Many alumni talk about how they were embraced by their homestay family, including Tal Nagar, who traveled with Rustic to Fiji:

Tal Nagar poses for a picture with her homestay family in Fiji.

“Here I found myself paired with a Fijian family who welcomed me with open arms into their home for the next few days,” Nagar said.

“Until this weekend, I underestimated the potential of human connection even when presented with a major language barrier. We sat on the floor of their living room and got to know each other better through our own form of language. My host mom also taught me how she makes her own tea and showed me how she prepares some of her special dishes.”

Traditional Housing

Some homestays and other accommodations occur in traditional housing that is quite different from what some students may consider a home. This includes the Mongolian gers or yurts and homes in the floating villages of Cambodia.


Many programs offer a night or more under the stars. These are the trips that are wonderful for nature lovers since they allow students to experience places far removed from the industrialized world.

Molly Caffry says she enjoyed being able to disconnect during the camping portion of the Andes to Amazon program in Peru.

“As we hiked up to a campsite we would be staying at for two nights, I knew this was going to be a great trip,” Caffry said. “Yes, of course, the views were incredible but the best part was being able to talk to people without social media and iPhones being a conflict. This was just the beginning of being unplugged, and I didn’t know how freeing it was going to be.”

A world away, students like Ashley Angrimson treasured their camping experience in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

“My favorite part was when we got back to our campsite, when the sun went down we all gathered around a campfire and our leaders taught us some traditional dances while a group of men played some traditional music on drums and when that was over we all just went stargazing. I will never forget that the sky was so clear you could even see the Milky Way,” Angrimson said.

And on yet another continent, Rachel Rowland, who traveled to three countries with Rustic, enjoyed camping in Mongolia.

Rachel Rowland and her fellow travelers take in the scenery at their camp site in Mongolia.

“Each country had dazzling wonders that were unique in its ways,” Rowland said. “I will never forget camping under the stars in the Altai Tavan Bogd mountain range national park in Mongolia.”


A few programs include nights spent on a boat. This includes the Hanoi to Ha Long program in Vietnam where students stay overnight on a boat in Ha Long Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Dive Expedition in Australia, where students spend seven nights aboard a dive boat.

Students stay overnight on a boat in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam during the Hanoi to Ha Long program.

André Mershad is among the alumni who enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef program. During the trip, he earned his Scuba certification and dove multiple times a day, collecting data on dwarf minke whales.

“I became mesmerized by the threatened, yet breathtaking reefs,” Mershad said. “My life had changed once again – this time from the inquisitive and magical creatures that surrounded me.  This trip solidified my passion for the environment and sustainability. ”


Okay – this is one of the more unusual accommodations, but on the Southeast Asian Adventurer program students can relive any childhood dreams they had of living in a treehouse. Weather permitting, students will hike in the jungle in Laos and stay in a treehouse high up in the canopy under the protection of a mosquito net.

Guesthouses, Hotels and Other Accommodations

Along the way, some programs include stops in guesthouses, hotels and other accommodations that can range from Western-style facilities to simplistic shack-like shelters. Details are available in the program itineraries or by speaking with our global travel advisors.

Whatever the facility, all of them are vetted for safety standards and all of them are part of the adventure. As one alumna named Julia said, her travel program allowed her to see the “most interesting and beautiful places I’ve ever been to.”  For more details, please visit our program page.

To read more about Rustic programming, please visit our part 2 blog about destinations here.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer