How to Choose Your Next Travel Destination: 9 Best Tips
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How to Choose Your Next Travel Destination: 9 Best Tips

With 165 countries in the world, how do you decide where to travel? For Krish Khemlani his choice in the summer of 2022 was Nepal. When he arrived, his first impression was that the country looked a lot like certain regions of India where he’d been many times. So, maybe it seemed like his journey would be a repeat of previous experiences. But it certainly wasn’t.

The similarities faded as his group hiked into the mountains during the Himalayan Trekking and Temples program. One of Krish’s favorite moments was when the students reached a mountain summit near the well-known trekking destination of Poon Hill.

The views near Poon Hill in Nepal are stunning. Photo: Rustic Pathways 2022

The views near Poon Hill in Nepal are stunning. Photos: Rustic Pathways 2022

“It felt like you’re in heaven, and I say that word because there were clouds covering everything around you – the whole vicinity,” Krish said. “So all you see is where you are, and it feels like it’s a floating island. It was very, very unique.”

That moment was ideal for Krish since he had picked a travel destination that was perfect for him. He’s an experienced traveler who was ready for the program’s challenging aspects. He’s an athlete who could handle intense hiking. Krish also enjoys roughing it. And climbing Mt. Everest is on his bucket list, so trekking through the Himalayas was a good trial run.

However, sometimes it’s not obvious what the best travel choice will be. Most students won’t go wrong when picking a program. But it’s important to be realistic when making a selection. Not everyone will enjoy a strenuous hike, but everyone can find a travel experience that works best for them. Here are some key considerations to help you do just that.

What Country Do I Want to Visit?

This is where many students naturally start, though it surprisingly isn’t always the most important question. Often students find their best experiences may have not been where they expected.

Still, the country is an important consideration. Among the factors that play a role in this decision may be previous trips, family ties, recommendations from friends, the distance from home and the language spoken in a country. Constraints may include the amount of time you have available and the cost. Other country aspects like the landscape and people, which are covered below, are also key factors. You can read more about several nations in our country books to get started.

Type of Program

For student programs, this may be the most important consideration. There are student travel programs primarily focused on service and ones that are centered on adventure or cultural activities. Many students pick trips that have a combination of these aspects. Here are some examples that showcase the wide differences between programs within the same country:

Come with Nothing, Thailand – 60 service hours, includes activities like white water rafting and hiking

Southeast Asian Adventurer, Thailand – 0 service hours, includes a wide range of adventure activities such as white water rafting, elephant encounters, boat rides, rock climbing, and snorkeling

Copyright: @ Rustic Pathways

Turtle Conservation Project, Costa Rica – 30 service hours, includes weekend activities like a surf lesson and dolphin tour

Surf and Service in Costa Rica – 12 service hours, includes several days of surfing, along with white water rafting and a catamaran tour

These two articles are a good starting point to explore some of the available options with a stronger focus on service or adventure:

Seven of the Best Service Travel Programs
Top Four Programs for Thrill Seekers

Overall, when looking at the program types, here are important questions to consider:

  • Do you want service opportunities?
  • What kind of service do you prefer? (options may include construction, environmental conservation and restoration, working with animals, or interacting with children)
  • How many service hours do you want? (keeping in the mind the number of service days versus the total number of travel days)
  • What type of adventure activities do you want to try?
  • What kind of cultural experiences are interesting to you? (options may include interacting with indigenous groups, seeing historical sites, or learning about food or dances)

It’s okay if there’s some uncertainty about these questions. Part of the joy of travel is discovering new interests.

The Landscape

Witnessing striking scenery is one of the joys of travel and can play a large role in a program choice. Beaches, mountains, jungles, waterfalls, historic sites, city centers – there are many options. Thinking about the type of landscape you prefer to see can be a deciding factor.

The People

Some students want to spend more time with local residents to experience a lifestyle that’s different from their own. For them, they may prefer programs that spend more time in local villages. This includes options like the Sacred Valley Service program in Peru, which includes homestays, Come with Nothing in Thailand in Thailand, and Culture and the Crater in Tanzania.

Copyright: ©  Rustic Pathways

For other students, they may prefer to spend more time in nature. For that, there are a number of options for animal and nature lovers.

The Animals

If you want hands-on experience working with animals, a summer program is a perfect way to do this. The Turtle Conservation Project in Costa Rica is one of the most popular choices for this. Other good choices are the animal conservation programs in Australia and Tanzania and the eco-service program on the Galapagos Islands. Plus, there are marine options in the Dominican Republic and Thailand. In addition, coming soon is a program focused on helping elephants in Thailand.

Copyright: © Rustic Pathways

Animal Adventures: Where Students Can Best Learn About Wildlife While Traveling

Career Interests or Future Plans

Summer travel is a perfect opportunity to explore potential college majors or potential study abroad locations. Many Rustic students use travel to consider majors ranging from environmental science to international relations. There also are students who have gone on to law school after witnessing the challenges marginalized groups face around the world. Travel opens doors, so considering larger goals can help with program selection.


On each program page there’s a rating for accommodations, along with details in the itineraries about where the students will sleep. Some facilities are indeed very rustic. Some programs involve camping. Students should pick the level of accommodations they’re comfortable with.

Amount of Travel Time

This is also noted on the program pages. Some programs like Moroccan Wanderer, Southeast Asian Adventurer, Big Fiji Explorer and Seven Wonders of Australia spend more time on the road. That allows students to experience more of a country. However, some students prefer less intra-country travel. If that’s the case, there are programs like Pura Vida Service in Costa Rica that have less travel.

Amount of Travel Experience

The program that Krish enjoyed in Nepal tends to attract more experienced travelers. Generally longer programs with more rustic conditions are good choices for veterans. Other programs are perfect for younger or newer travelers.

This article looks at three of them:

The Three Best Programs for First-Time Travelers

Overall, a program choice is an individual decision that can really vary by person. Another resource that can help with the process is our Definitive Parent Guide to Teen Travel. For details about specific programs, please visit our 2023 program page. It lists currently available programs and is being updated on a regular basis. Keep the page bookmarked for future reference.

If you need more guidance, our personal travel advisors are available to help. They can be reached here. We look forward to welcoming more students for travel experiences in the coming months.

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.