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What Makes Rustic Programs Rustic? Part 2 - The Destination
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What Makes Rustic Programs Rustic? Part 2 - The Destination

Alumnus André Mershad is among the students who have fully embraced the concept of getting off the beaten path. During his high school years, he selected travel programs that had him living on a boat for a week and traveling over rough terrain to see parts of countries most people never see. On his last trip with Rustic to Southeast Asia he says he was wowed by the scenery and the people he met when he got away from tourist locations.

Beautiful Hike Laos - André Mershad

Laos Photo: André Mershad

“I experienced a hilarious friendship with Soe Than, one of our local leaders whom I still think of often. We took two boat rides and a long hike in deep mud to reach his village, where his people greeted us with open arms and a delicious meal,” Mershad said. “I still crave the peanut and tomato salad to this day, and still cringe when I think of stinky beans.”

Rustic programs are designed to give students this kind of experience – the journey to places that give students lifelong stories and lessons to share. Here are just some of the rustic spots students are able to treasure during their programs:

The Floating Villages of Cambodia

Close to the resort town of Krong Siem Reap there is a floating village that many travelers think is fake and where complaints about scam artists are high. This is not the destination where Rustic students go.

Many years ago Rustic Pathways established a relationship with villagers in Prek Toal and Bak Preah. Prek Toal is about a two hour boat ride from the tourist floating village experience. Over the decades, Rustic students have traveled there to work on service projects with schools and homes, including an early project when they helped with a school that was sinking.

Students only have access to squat toilets and bucket showers there, but they also get a very different perspective on life, as a number of Rustic alumni have noted.

“Cambodia is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I’ve ever been to,” Julia said. “The best part about my trip was getting to stay in the floating villages and stay on a boat. The way of life in this village is drastically different than anything I’ve ever seen before.”

The Remote Regions of Western Mongolia

The Off the Map: Mongolia program lives up to its name, taking students to rugged regions where they stay in traditional gers without electricity, wifi, or showers. This program is one of the longer ones, spanning 22 days to give time to explore the vast expanse of this country.

Anya Buyanerdene - Mongolia Country Manager

The trip includes a journey to the Bayan-Ulgii province, which is home to the Kazakh ethnic minority. Students learn about nomad cultures and spend time with the last remaining eagle hunters.

Then they hike in one of the most remote regions in the world – the Altai Tavan Bogd mountain range – visiting ancient rock carvings along the way. Here the students camp in the figurative “end of world” – the place on earth that is farthest from an ocean.

The views are stunning and the experience is about as rustic as you can get, as alumna Rachel Rowland found during her trip in 2019.

“I will never forget camping under the stars in the Altai Tavan Bogd Mountain Range National Park in Mongolia,” Rowland said.

Come with Nothing Journey in Thailand

A Come with Nothing program pretty much means just that. Students are challenged to bring only a small backpack on the journey that takes students to a remote part of Thailand that is one of the most diverse regions of the world.

A number of indigenous ethnic groups fled to the Chiang Mai area in northern Thailand from what are now other countries, and they set up separate communities. The students will head into these remote regions to see how to live well with virtually nothing.

If students are looking for a rustic destination, this is certainly it.

Into the Jungles of Costa Rica

A world away in southern Costa Rica, students explore the biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula in the Heart of the Jungle program. This trip includes a three day kayaking expedition through Golfo Dulce – one of the world’s only tropical fjords, which is a long, narrow inlet with steep cliffs created by a glacier.

While in the region, students will camp out and enjoy an area that contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. It includes seventeen protected reserves, and an amazing array of flora and fauna, including the well-known howler monkeys and scarlet macaws.

Other Sites Across the Globe

There are an array of other rustic destinations that students visit during their trips. This includes hikes in the Andes Mountains of Peru, camel rides across the Sahara Desert in Morocco and the Outback of Australia, and boat trips to remote islands of Fiji and around the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

Wherever they go, students not only experience beauty, but they will make connections, get time away from their devices and see the world in a different way.

Photo: Isabel Arya

“Without access to the internet and a boat ride away from the nearest town, I learned to slow down my pace and focus on forging real and lasting relationships,” alumna Isabel Arya said. “This is why I kept coming back to Rustic – traveling farther distances and on longer trips. It encourages me time and time again to prioritize community.”

To read more about Rustic programming, please visit our part 1 blog about lodging here.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer