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Why You Should Disconnect When Traveling Abroad
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Why You Should Disconnect When Traveling Abroad

At a recent gathering of our Program Operations Team, one of our Country Directors told the story of his arrival in Thailand about 20 years ago.

He spent the better part of three days trying to call his family to let them know he’d arrived safely. In the comedy-of-errors tale, he crisscrossed Bangkok and navigated broken phone booths and calling card scams, sought the mythical dial-up internet cafe, and tried many complex international calling codes on the hostel landline.

In spite of every obstacle he faced to make that call, the episode helped him develop the skills to ask for help, communicate across cultures, use a map, navigate public transit, trust his gut and solve problems through trial-and-error. It also gave him a healthy (and humorous) dose of humility, determination, and grit—which continue to serve him today.

Today, travelers can simply turn off airplane mode seconds after the wheels touch down, use relatively cheap international data plans or abundant Wi-Fi, and fire off a text saying—”Made it! (insert emoji of choice)” before even taxiing to the gate. This is a marvelous convenience and a great relief to any parent sending a child abroad, especially for the first time.

Travel has always provided a unique opportunity for individuals to embrace their independence, push their limits, and test new ways of interacting with others unbounded by reputation, family, background, and other forms of “baggage” back home. In so doing, travelers weren’t distracted from embracing new places, experiences, and friendships.

The hyper-connectivity of the technology age offers fewer opportunities for escape and rest. Phone usage is so woven into our social fabric that it now takes very intentional choices to ignore each buzz or beep.

Rustic’s Cell Phone Policy

To help curb the distraction, we restrict on-program phone usage to set downtime typically before breakfast or after the evening’s activities. During the day, students should not use their phones, except as cameras. This includes during meal times, program activities, community service, and discussions. While our Program Leaders will offer gentle reminders, please commit to being mindful of your connectivity.

(There is a wide variety of service and / or Wi-Fi availability on our diverse program set, you’ll receive clearer expectations from your Country Team as your trip draws closer.)

Our Challenge to Students

As you prepare for your trip, try to reflect on your travel goals. Consider whether staying up on the drama back home, scrolling through the latest memes, or taking 30 of the same photo to optimize your feed is really a priority during your limited time in a new and interesting place.

We also ask that if you have any issue at all while traveling, please speak with your Program Leaders! Just calling home about an upset stomach could lead your parents to call the emergency line, which requires our Operations Team to reach the Country Management Team, who contact your Program Leaders. They’re well-trained and in the best position to offer you direct support.

Our Challenge to Parents

If you receive one of these calls the best thing you can do for your child is first ask whether they have informed their Program Leaders. If they haven’t, please ask them to. Again, they’re in the best position to provide immediate support and are trained to react accordingly.

We know it’s hard to leave your children in the care of someone else, especially if it’s the first time. But we ask that you also respect the cell phone policy and give your children the space they need to have a transformative travel experience.

So before travel day, sit down as a family and pledge to each other that you, as a student, will disconnect as much as possible during your program, and you, as a parent, will allow your child to engage completely in their travel experience. We hear from students after each summer who say they’re glad they disconnected. We’re sure you’ll feel the same.


For help finding the right Rustic Pathways spring break or summer teen travel program, request a call from one of our global travel experts.

About the Author

Kevin Porter

Global Program Operations Director

Kevin has been  directing our global program operations since 2014, after serving as Ghana Country Director for three years. Now based in Boston, he manages our team of diverse country directors and ensures the quality of the programs we deliver on the ground. Prior to joining us, Kevin worked with development organizations in East Africa, completed research for the United Nations in South Korea, and oversaw wilderness leadership programs while attending Harvard University.