The other night, my wife and I were talking about raising our three sons and how important we feel it is to take a family Gap Year. In 2022, when our sons hit ages eleven, nine, and seven, we will journey around the world by planes, trains, boats, bikes, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, and our collective 10 feet. This begged the question, why is travel so important to us?
For some people, travel shows them that they need to slow down, breathe, and realize what is truly important in their lives. For others, it teaches them the importance of breaking through a barrier, making a crucial decision, and it creates a sense of urgency around having a positive impact during their lifetime. Travel teaches that we are all one, that we all have the same basic needs, and that our individual actions impact our neighbors and ultimately our global community. At the same time, it teaches that we are different, we are not all born with the same opportunities, and we don’t all want the same outcomes in life. There are hundreds of motivations to travel, and thousands of lessons learned as a result, but there are five universal outcomes: Travel challenges people’s perspectives, it softens their hearts, it prepares them for success in the future, and it surely makes our world a much, much better place.
As we head into a new year and prepare for our 33rd summer of travel programs, I wanted everyone who makes up the Rustic Pathways team to pause and think about why travel is important to them, and where they hope 2016 will bring them. Our 250 full-time staff come from 23 countries, speak over 15 languages, and are different in 100,000 ways, but we are all united behind the power of travel. Here are some of the their answers that articulate why we believe in what we do:
“I left home when I was 18 with nothing but a single bus ticket from Budapest to London, a 36 hour ride. No English, no real money–I just knew I was meant to be on that bus. I have not stopped traveling since. It has changed my perspective of the world, and therefore life as I knew it.
I have been an au-pair, a farmer, a butcher, a chef, a waiter, a bartender, a dog sitter, a painter, a camp counselor. I have starved as an exchange student, I have cooked with Jamie Oliver and ate the best food ever. I learned English and Spanish on the streets of the world. I started off as a Magyar (Hungarian) and along the way I have become a Gypsy, a Latino, a Gringo, and a citizen of the world, really. I have become a better son, a better brother, a better citizen, and a better father for the most special angel life has given me. No real home, no real strings attached, just flowing with the wind. I understand my place in the world. Traveling is my life!
My parents were not even allowed to travel until 1989 so the fact that I have left the country and did so on my own has been a huge thing for them. I am me, I have always been, but traveling has brought the best out of me.
2016? Well…I don’t plan ahead too much these days. So I would say, let’s leave it up to the wind.”
— Sammy Gacsi, Groups Coordinator
“I travel for perspective on what matters. It makes my daily stressors (the wifi crashed, I forgot to move the car for street cleaning, the sink is filled with dishes, my inbox is out of control) seem so trivial. When I travel, my day becomes all about essentials–where I’m going, how I’ll get there, where I’ll sleep, and what I’m going to eat next. Especially what I’m going to eat next.
I’m embracing the anti-bucket list mentality. I’m going to look for reasons to a return to a place.”
— Lauren Anderson, Global Staffing and Training Manager
“Travel is important because it forces you to examine the way you live your life in your own community. By experiencing other cultures and ways of being in the world, you can better understand what is important to you and why.
If I could travel one place in 2016, I would go to Istanbul. I am most interested in seeing how different cultures have converged on a grand scale over thousands of years in this city.”
— Tara McCarney, Laos Country Director
“I believe that we are the sum of our experiences. And I want to be the sum of experiences that include as many people, places, and perspectives from around the world as possible.
After a few years out of the country, 2016 is my year to explore the USA! I’m most excited to see areas of the States that I’ve not visited yet; Austin, Texas; Portland, Maine; and New Orleans, Louisiana.”
— Casey Atchley, Gap Year Admissions Coordinator
“Since I was an infant i’ve been in a state of motion that had me going between the U.S and the Dominican Republic. This shaped my perspective on the world in so many ways; from the foods I’m comfortable eating (everything) and how I interact with others (with open arms), to the way I try to lead my life (compassionately). It’s important because it puts things into perspective. My little bubble that is La Casita in New Orleans is only a small speck of what’s out there to understand and experience.
I’m super excited about possibly going to Southeast Asia. Oddly enough, I’ve never travelled anywhere where I don’t speak the language. I want that feeling of confusion, lostness, and tiny-ness that comes with not being able to communicate the simplest needs.”
— Harry Alvarez, Dominican Republic Country Director
“Travel makes me feel alive. I always wanted to be a professional student and travel fulfills my insatiable yearning for learning. Travel has taught me more about the world and about myself than I could have ever imagined.
China is my top travel destination for 2016. I’m going in March with Rustic and I can’t wait!”
— Emily Harney, Client Recruitment Manager
“I travel for the moments. Whether it’s clapping in a samba circle, sipping tea on a family’s floor, squeezing six people in a rusty tuk tuk, jumping in a pickup game of cane ball, or joking with the aunties about your (lack of) love life, these are the moments when I can take a step back, smile, and know I’m experiencing something genuine, real, and human.
Fiji sticks out the most right now. Beyond the insane natural beauty, I keep hearing about the warmth of the people and unique connection Rustic Pathways has developed with the communities there.”
— Braden Betts, Burma Country Director
“Learning, understanding, giving back; none of these very important things can happen on an empty stomach. Filling my belly with good stuff I can’t get at home in Massachusetts is one of the greatest aspects of traveling. Crispy fried catfish tossed in a spicy red curry in Thailand. Warm homemade tortillas with fresh cheese, fried plantains, and beans and rice in Costa Rica. A much-needed 4 a.m. dinner of Chicken Tikka Masala and buttery naan absorbed in reverent jet-lagged silence in Delhi.
I’ve been itching to check out the area between northeastern Cambodia, southern Laos, and Vietnam. I’ve flown over this region many times traveling and just been blown away by the vast expanse of jungle with few signs of roads or villages. There’s so few places like that left. I’d love to strap a tent to a scooter and see what’s out there.”
— Tim Porter-DeVriese, Vice President of Gap Year
“I often tell students that I’ve noticed three qualities in every successful person I’ve met: A genuine interest in other people; frequent questions; and a willingness to make oneself vulnerable. Travel fosters these qualities in just about everyone – whether you want it or not. Plus, it makes you a much more interesting person!
I’m getting married in August, and my fiancé and I talk more about the honeymoon than we do the wedding. Our favorite idea is to ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Russia to China by way of Mongolia.”
— Ben Welbourn, Dominican Republic Program Manager
“Travel is part of my life. I travel to new places not to just see the scenery of its sites but to learn and adopt new things which can make a difference in my communities, my work, and my life. I also travel to create networking partnership with others who share the same goal and vision on what I am pursue.
I would like to travel to Australia and Costa Rica, where I can have the opportunity to share knowledge with others under the same vision of conservation.”
— Robert Waquiquma, Fiji Program Leader
“I come from a small town in Wisconsin and quickly realized that I’m one of few people from my hometown and in my friend group that has seen a lot of places and met a lot of people from different cultures. After a while of hitting some more of the more common travel destinations, I started going to more unique destinations like Antarctica, Burundi, Kyrgyzstan, and North Korea, because I realized I could become an agent of change and cultural education for people asking me, “what’s it like in North Korea?” or, “How did you get to Antarctica?” It’s an awesome opportunity to use travel as a way to change your own perspective, and it becomes even more incredible when your travel decisions and enthusiasm can help inspire other people to learn more about the world we live in!
My ‘win the lottery’ destination for 2016 is the North Pole. It’s a little bit pricey to get to the Arctic, but I would like to see firsthand what the landscape is like and experience polar climates. My more realistic travel destination for the travel year is Madagascar because I think there are some really unique animal populations on the island and some beautiful scenery to discover!”
— Connor Stowe, Global Program Advisor
“I travel because it changes me; how I think about life, how I view the world around me, how I feel about myself, and how I live as a citizen of the world. It can be a weekend or a month long adventure, either way I come home feeling that I have discovered a part of me I didn’t know existed.
This year it would be my dream to visit Tanzania. I want to challenge myself physically and emotionally by climbing Kilimanjaro.”
—Colleen Liggett, Personal Travel Advisor
Why is travel important to you, and where are you traveling in 2016? Let us know in the comments below.
An expert on travel and service-based education, Chris leads Rustic Pathways with an eye for innovation and excellence. Since graduating from Harvard in 2001, Chris has worked in virtually all areas of our organization, from running programs in Costa Rica to managing our global team. He works diligently with our team to develop future leaders who embody a broad perspective and compassion for the world. Chris lives in San Francisco with his wife and three young sons.