- Mary Rogelstad
- May 26, 2022
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A student travel program that’s called Come with Nothing may trigger some confusion. Does it literally mean teens don’t pack anything for the journey? Well, almost. Students who travel with this program in Thailand are asked to only bring one small backpack with a change of clothes, toiletries, medicine, and no more than five personal items. They’re also given $50 to buy other needed essentials for the program. But that is all for a journey that’s 25 days long.
During this time, the students are busy with service projects in remote locations. There are only three Rustic Pathways programs that have 60 service hours, which is the highest available. Come with Nothing is one of them. The others are Summer Camp Leadership in Costa Rica and Sun, Sand, and International Service in Fiji.
The program in Thailand may be the most remote. Its service projects occur in three villages in northern Thailand that take several hours to reach from the city of Chiang Mai. Among the villagers the students meet are those in the Karen Hill Tribe, which is Thailand’s largest ethnic minority group.
It’s believed this tribe originated in Tibet but then settled in Myanmar. In that country tribal members faced persecution with the Burmese military burning many of their villages. That led to many of them fleeing to Thailand for safety.
The villagers live in primitive conditions with many residing in bamboo stilt houses. They rely on farming for their subsistence.
Rustic Pathways students help with community development projects in the Karen village and other remote areas. This summer this work will include installing a water tank and fixing a concrete floor. The teens also may provide English language enrichment and farming assistance.
But who are the travelers who sign up for such a unique program?
In the past they’ve included students like Besart Copa, who is originally from Albania and received a scholarship to attend the program. He says his group got very close during the trip, and those bonds created many memorable memories for him that helped him grow as a person.
“What really stays with you are the feelings and the change they’ve engraved to your soul—so embrace every moment of the trip,” Copa said. “Leave the artificial Western environment for a while and explore the mystical world of the exotic destination you are visiting.”
It’s hoped this year’s travelers will do just that. This summer’s program is almost sold out, and the students attending are from three different countries. Some of them are well-traveled, visiting nations ranging from Belize and Iceland to India and Israel.
Other students like Lía, who is from Spain, have had more limited travel experiences.
“The furthest I’ve traveled is Portugal, but I have never traveled outside of Europe so I’m quite excited about going,” Lía said.
Regardless of their travel experience, all of the teens who are going are ready to try something different.
Why They Picked the Come with Nothing Program
Before the trip leaves, we asked students a few questions about their expectations. When asked why they picked this program, their responses included:
“I picked the Come with Nothing program because I wanted a challenge… In an age where over packing and traveling with extreme material excess is the norm, I want to reject that and truly leave myself open to all that comes when I land in Thailand. I also want to be of service to others, and Come with Nothing has Rustic’s most service hours in a program this year.” – Catherine
“The challenge of “coming with nothing” is very appealing to me and of course the other aspects such as service, exposing myself to new cultures, meeting new people, and traveling as a whole made me want to pick the program.” -Jaiden
“I liked the length of time the program lasts, the location, and the idea of traveling to a foreign country with nothing except a toothbrush.” -Will
When it came to other questions their responses varied. When asked what they hope to learn and what they’re most excited about, Catherine is focused on the local people she will meet.
“I hope to learn more about the Thai culture as well as how to transcend language and form connections with people although you may not speak their language,” Catherine said. “I am super excited to experience real village life and live with people whose lives are drastically different than mine.”
Jaiden said he is also looking forward to learning about Thai culture. Plus, he is eager to meet his fellow travelers.
“I am very excited to make new friendships with everyone else on the trip that can hopefully last a long time,” Jaiden said.
Will is taking a different approach when thinking about his upcoming trip. He says he is trying not to have expectations so he can stay open minded to what may come.
“I prefer to know solely the idea of the trip – come with nothing,” Will said.
He’ll find out what’s in store soon enough. We’ll follow up after the trip to see how it went. In the meantime, if you want to join these students on this program, two spots remain. You can view more program information here.