Rustic Pathways Gap Year
94% Rating
(17 Reviews)

Rustic Pathways Gap Year

By Rustic Pathways Reviewer Verified Badge   Reviews (17)   94% Rating
There's still time to book summer travel!

A gap year is not a one-kind-fits-all experience. That's why Rustic Pathways offers four unique types of gap semesters, ranging from group adventures to self-directed internships. You can choose where you want to travel and what you want to get out of it! Every semester offers unique advantages, and we’re happy to help you decide which is ideal for you.

  • Service and Exploration: for those looking for a group-oriented experience, explore multiple countries within a region and take part in meaningful service projects along the way.
  • Spanish Language Immersion: perfect if you want to become fluent in Spanish, live with families in a home stay, and gain essential backpacking skills.
  • Rustic Internships: for go-getters who want to gain practical, professional skills working with an organization in our partner countries.
North America » United States of America
Asia » Thailand
Africa » Tanzania
South America » Peru
Oceania » New Zealand
Asia » Myanmar
Africa » Morocco
Asia » Laos
Asia » India
Africa » Ghana
Oceania » Fiji
North America » Dominican Republic
North America » Costa Rica
Asia » Cambodia
Oceania » Australia
Program Tags
Adventure Travel
Hands-On Learning
Language Immersion
Volunteer Abroad
1-3 Months
Starting Price

Program Reviews

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Program Reviews (17)

20 years old
Western Washington University

Gap Review


The greatest decision of my life! Rustic trips are so unique in their content and character. We did things in the South Pacific that few people get to do. We stayed in an authentic Fijian village, skydived, learned how to save lives on an Australian beach, road tripped around New Zealand and had countless adventures along the way. This program is expensive, but for what you get it's actually rather cheap! If you tried to do everything we did on your own it would cost much more than doing it with Rustic group discounts and loyalty discounts. The Rustic experience wasn't like any other group trips I've done, it felt like a family. We all supported each other and genuinely cared about each other. We had conversations about life and traveling and school and adventure and we all grew as people. I've changed as a person from my experience in ways that I hadn't expected. I'm excited to go to college this year and have a new outlook on life that I've gained from this experience and to have more perspective on the world and its people than my classmates. Taking a gap year is a choice I will never regret and I highly recommend it to anyone who is unsure about the future after high school. There are so many options out there for post high school education, don't overlook the ones that take place in a Fijian village or on an Australian beach. Those classrooms are by far the most effective!

How can this program be improved?

One month in each country would be nice!

21 years old
Mexico City

A life changing experience


Before going on my gap semester I was a little nervous of getting out of my comfort zone, especially when it came to Southeast Asia! Looking back, it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. With Rustic I visited places that I would not be able to point out on a map. Doing service in the villages was incredible, living like the locals made me aware of many people's reality. We are so used to our comfortable lives we sometimes forget those around us. When working in the villages, we were able to make connections with the locals. I remember in one village our homestay father called Su would greet us by name every morning. He would also come during dinner with his English-Thai dictionary, eager to learn. Overall, Southeast Asia is a great destination. The people, FOOD, places, and culture are like nothing you have ever experience, and Rustic Pathways really helps you make the most of it.

19 years old
Boulder, Colorado
California Polytechnic State University- San Luis Obispo

Rustic Pathways South Pacific Gap Year


I went on this trip with a lot of expectation which I think is natural. Although I do would not say that my expectations were necessarily exceeded, I did learn more about myself and the world than I ever have before in my life. My experience in Fiji was one of my first real exposures to poverty. This seriously impacted the way I see my life at home and how the lifestyle I was living before may not have been beneficial to other people. My time in Fiji living in the villages and working with families was incredibly humbling and absolutely provided me with perpspective that I wouldn't have orherwise. New Zealand changed my life in an entirely different way. I realized the kind of lifestyle I want to pursue and fell in love with the country and its jaw dropping scenery. Australia brought new adventures and a whole new set of skills. From ocean lifesaving to surfing to sailing, I left feeling more competent and proud of the achievements I had made. The absolute best part of this trip was the leaders. At first I resented the fact that I had any sort of supervision but this was quickly replaced by gratefulness for their kindness, humor and insight on so many issues. I constantly felt safe and at ease because of these leaders but they always challenged me to try harder and push myself out of my comfort zone. After I came home from this trip, I had the courage to travel solo to Nepal for three months. I absolutely would not have been able to do this with out all I learned on my rustic trip.

How can this program be improved?

It would be nice if it were a bit cheaper!

24 years old

Life Changing experience


I joined the Rustic Pathways because i had some extra months of freedom before entering a Japanese university after graduating a high school in the states. I have always loved learning about new cultures and exchanging my thoughts with people who had different perspectives and backgrounds, so when I heard about the program from my friend who went to Fiji the year before, I knew this was kind of thing I wanted.

The month I spent in Fiji literally changed my life for sure, through so many interactions with the locals, program participants and staffs.
I think the program was supportive and at the same time gave us some freedom and chances to explore in the environment more than I expected. There were some specific rules that we had to follow for our safety which was needed, but I loved how it really depended on us of how deeply connected we get with the locals, especially during the week of the home stay. The relation I built up during the program is something i would like to cherish forever. I am still connected with the members of the rustic on fb and one of them even traveled all the way Japan to see me! I now have so many travel buddies who would help me find more adventures in our lives.

The rustic pathways led me experience so many things I couldn't have experienced by myself and through all the things I experienced, I learned to be always fearless. Now I think that being scared or nervous of something is just a waste of time, just give it a try, give it your best of what you can do, and see if it works! I won't even be able to fail without trying.

24 years old
Nashville, Tennessee

Bula, Kia'Ora, G'Day


The three months I spent with Rustic Pathways in the South Pacific were the most memorable three months of my life thus far. I learned more about myself and the world that we live in more so than I would have ever been able to learn in a classroom at college this year.
Taking a gap year was an amazing decision for me and I would encourage everyone to think about it. I already knew how amazing Rustic was through an earlier trip to Ghana.

We started out in Fiji and for me, that was my favorite experience in all the countries we visited. The Fijian culture has so much to offer to anyone who enters their country. Their idea of community is completely different than ours and they welcome you with open arms. My favorite part of Fiji was definitely travelling to Nasivikoso in the Highlands.

Next we went to New Zealand and there I learned to push myself farther than I ever had. We did a lot of physical activities in NZ that I had never done before and that alone was a challenge. My favorite moment in NZ was when we hiked to the top of Mt. Roy.

In Australia it was all about skills. I learned how to tie knots, to sail, to save a person's life in the middle of the ocean, to surf and so much more. Australia was a different experience than the two previous countries but still just as rewarding.

I have pictures up at if you want to see my experiences and I would encourage anyone to work with Rustic and consider this gap semester!

24 years old
Boston MA
Harvard University

Expectations Exceeded


When I first found out about this program I looked at the schedule and was immediately excited. Even then, the trip exceeded my expectations. Rustic Pathways does a great job of keeping you busy with activities while still giving you time to socialize and explore on your own. The activities are diverse so you are guaranteed to love lots of them and push yourself in other areas. The program doesn't just guide you through Fiji and New Zealand, it's a trip during which you'll experience lots of firsts and leave with lasting friendships. I definitely recommend it!

For more reflections and links to videos, check out the links below which are posts from my gap year blog:

How can this program be improved?

During the trip lots of people got sick. This is normal when traveling to new countries but people sometimes need to be reminded. In the recommended packing list I think it would have been helpful if there was something about taking vitamin C to strengthen your immune system.

19 years old
Hong Kong
Tufts University

Beautiful Places, Beautiful People


I did only the second block of the program (Highlights of the South Pacific), so I unfortunately can't speak to the entire semester. However, I had such a wonderful month in Fiji and New Zealand.

Fiji was paradise. From the idyllic retreat locations to the kindness of Shalini at the eco-lodge, from the zip-lining to the snorkeling through coral caves at Dolphin Bay, Fiji was definitely a welcome place to begin my block.

However, New Zealand was even better. I think I enjoy the mountainous and lake-filled environment a bit more, and by this part of the block the group was comfortable with one another. Highlights were doing the AJ Hackett bungy jumps, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Taupo, and especially Wanaka.

The friendships were indispensable, the people drawn to this program are incredibly fun, big-hearted, positive. And, the 3 instructors (Julie, Alejo, and Kayla/Freshie) for my program had a definitely love for the areas we traveled to and were so eager to learn more about our lives and interests.

Definitely recommend the program!

24 years old
Weston, CT

Rustic South Pacific Odyssey


My experience with Rustic changed my life and will continue to change me forever. I had always been a unconfident individual and a bit of a introvert and scared to push myself into new experiences. Rustic changed all of that. Yes we travelled to beautiful places and had unforgettable experiences abroad but what was most beautiful was the change I experienced within myself. I began to feel confident, accepted, and truly appreciated for the first time in my life. In my opinion you get the most out of the experience if you give it everything you have and fully invest your mind. Travel is such a valuable form for growth and you don't know who you have the potential to be until you have seen what the world has to offer you. Rustic helped push me outside of my comfort zone and gain the confidence I knew was inside me all along but couldn't quite reach. I have made friends that I will love forever and experiences that words can not even do justice. If you want to go abroad, you go Rustic. Its as simple as that.

How can this program be improved?

The website definitely needs some updating as we did not go by the itenary day to day.

24 years old
High Point University

A month in the sea


The South Pacific Odessey trip was amazing! From bungee jumping, to swimming with sea turtles at the Great Barrier Reef, to hanging out with locals in a remote Fiji village located on an island you can only get to by a four hour long ferry ride, to helping cook meals on a gas stove under the stars. This trip was full of excitement and unique once in a life time experiences.

How can this program be improved?

A better idea of an itenerary posted on their website.

19 years old
Potomac, MD
Brown University

Trip of a Lifetime


I traveled to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and India with Rustic Pathways during the spring semester. I am at a lost for words when describing the trip and the overall experience. The combination of the rich Eastern culture, passionate trip leaders and fellows students, and fantastic local staff enhanced my love for each country.

Rustic Pathways fulfilled my wanderlust. I was able to travel to 6 countries in three months and I do not know how I would have done it otherwise if I were not on a program like Rustic Pathways. The local staff told me everything I wanted to know about their specific country. Being a big foodie, my appetite was satiated from all the local cuisines. Whether it was sipping on Pho on the streets of Hanoi to enjoying a seafood feast on the beaches of Cambodia, I ate every last morsel! Not only did we eat copious amounts of food, but we saw so many famous sites and landmarks. Angkor Wat, Death Railway, Shwe Dagon, and the Taj Mahal are just a few of the incredible sites we were fortunate to visit.

This review can not sum up my three months in Southeast Asia. Go and experience it yourself. You will not regret it. I promise.

24 years old
Meredith, NH

Life Changing


If you are soul searching this is one of those trips that'll help beyond belief. This trip helped me find out new things about myself and overcome obstacles on the trip and in my life. This trip was emotionally trying, mentally trying, and physically trying at times but I walked away what i thought was a much happier guy. I owe my trip leaders so much for helping me get through what i though were tough times. Aside that the trip takes you to places that will blow your mind and leave you speechless at times. If you take this trip bring a camera or something to capture all the run you have because i filled over 100gb worth of camera cards trying to get everything I wanted. The South Pacific trip is a trip for the ages, something you wont forget, trust me if you can go on the trip DO IT!!

How can this program be improved?

I know there could be teeny tiny things that the program directors could find but I cant think of a single thing on my trip that I didn't love!

24 years old

India Gap Block Month


I spent a month in India with Rustic Pathways during my gap semester and it was the trip of a lifetime. The service work was fulfilling and always interesting, and I had the opportunity to interact with incredibly moving individuals -- I even got to hear the Dalai Lama speak! My trip advisors were two Rustic employees from the U.S. and two from India, and all four made me feel extremely comfortable and safe, while making sure that we were always smiling and having a great time. (Side note: they were also all hilarious and the best entertainment during long bus rides.) I participated in three home stays throughout the month, and all three families welcomed me into their homes as if I was their own child. I was so moved by how each family treated me and how close I grew to each of them in such short amounts of time.

I've always dreamed of going to India, and I couldn't have picked a better trip to live out the dream through. I honestly feel as though I got to see all that India had to offer -- and I mean all of it. Rustic's itinerary was so well balanced, and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for an adventure that will open your eyes to new cultures and take you off the beaten path to life changing places.

How can this program be improved?

I'm sure while in India I could've thought of a few complaints, such as more access to meat during my home stay with my vegetarian family, but looking back there is no criticism I could think of other than silly things like that. I truly only have great memories from this trip, and any momentary discomfort eventually turned into a hilarious story.

19 years old

"Eh" experience - Mixed Feeling


I participated in the Helping Hands Gap Year Block.

I traveled in Laos for two weeks as part of the Helping Hands gap year block.

I think that Laos is an incredibly beautiful country, and each of the cities we were in were stunning. There are a lot of outdoor activities which we participated in (kayaking, hiking, swimming, etc.). In addition, we visited temples, caves, night markets, and other cultural attractions which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, many of our night time group discussions were focused on personal reflections which meant that we did not get to learn as much about the history or culture of Laos as I would have liked.

The service project was a disappointment. We were meant to be building two public toilets but lacked the technical skills required to do much of the actual work. There was not enough work to do to occupy fourteen, unskilled teenagers so many of us spent hours sitting around waiting for the work day to be other. At points, the villagers would grab the tools from us and take over. It felt as if the construction project would have been more of a success if done entirely by the villagers, as opposed to with our half-heartedly attempts to assist.

In addition, two volunteers taught each day at the village school which was a touching experience as they had never received English instruction before. As we were extremely untrained teachers, it's not clear how much we were able to teach them but they did pick up a few words and those who like being around children enjoyed the experience.

The two local staff were pretty good, although one was much easier to interact with than the other. Between them and the Western staff, we were always safe and healthy. At times staff did show questionable judgment however (for example, encouraging us to put whole raw eggs in our mouths as part of a group Olympic event, despite the risk of salmonella). There was a great deal of supervision, perhaps more than I personally would have liked or required, which meant that many of the decisions such as what to do or what time the lights would be turned off were made by staff instead of students, despite the fact we were all adults and could have been trusted to be a part of the decision-making process.

Two final notes about the gap year program was that although this was never explicitly stated, Rustic only covers two meals per day and participants are expected to pay the third from the spending money they bring, and, although it is marked as a gap year "block" because this was a part of the greater semester program there were only three new students for this month and the remaining eleven members had been together for one or two months already.

Laos was an incredible country so I'm thankful I had the opportunity to visit, I am just not sure that this was the right fit of a program for me. There were some really great memories but overall, the trip was a disappointment for me.

I spent two weeks in Cambodia this November on the Helping Hands gap year block. Overall, I felt the experience was okay but not great.

I started off the trip with being forgotten at the airport and desperately trying to get ahold of someone to pick me up. I was shocked upon arriving into the group to realize that although it is marketed as a gap year "block" since it is a part of the larger semester program, only three of the fourteen students were new. Everyone else had spent one or two months together already and although they were very nice and welcoming, they already knew one another and were established in their friendships. One of the local staff members was great and the other one was very sweet but spoke significantly less English so it was difficult to communicate with him. The leadership from the Western staff was at times lacking, although all staff always made sure we were safe and healthy.

I enjoyed all of the "touristy" things we were able to do in Cambodia, from visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh to exploring Ankor Wat, and taking a boat ride to visit the floating villages. I thought there was a good mixture of activities that helped me learn about the country and its history/culture.

I was not as excited however by our service project which was building a brick wall. We, as American teenagers, do not have the technical skills required to do construction very well, even as simple as building a brick wall. As a result, our van driver ended up doing a significantly larger portion of the work than our entire group combined (including tearing down a section we had already completed to re-do it since it wasn't straight or steady). Thinking about the materials wasted, it would have been a larger benefit to the community if we had used our expensive fees to hire local technicians to do the work in half the time.

And finally, I was disappointed that Rustic Pathways never informed Gap Year program participants that only two meals each day were included in the already hefty program fees you pay. This meant that each day we had to purchase one meal, often dinner, on our own. In addition to creating hectic situations at restaurants when our group had to pay the bill, many students had not budgeted one meal a day into their spending money since Rustic never disclosed that they were not purchasing all meals (and although dinners were not particularly expensive, it does add up over the course of a month or two or three).

My feelings about this program were extremely mixed-- there were some great moments and some not-so-great ones too. Overall, I have to admit that I was disappointed but I think for the right person this type of program could be great. Like I said, you get to see and learn a lot about the country but you do not get to participate in a community-driven project for which you are actually needed.

Response from Rustic Pathways

Hi Rhiannon,

We are glad to see that although your experience did not meet your expectations, that you still found both Laos and Cambodia to be beautiful and interesting countries.

We apologize that you were not aware of the two meal policy before embarking on your trip. We have since changed this policy and are now providing three meals a day on all of our Gap Year programs.

We are constantly evaluating our service projects and working with the local communities to set up purposeful projects that are identified by the needs of the community and can be accomplished by collaborative work between the locals and our students. Surely, the preparation and planning does not always play out on the ground. Our Director of Global Community Service is currently out in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, reviewing our service projects and making sure they are up to our standards.

Once again, although our program did not quite meet your expectations, we are glad to see that you enjoyed parts of your trip and thank you for participating in our Gap Year Blocks.

24 years old
Boston, MA
Framingham State University

Amazing Program and Amazing Trip


I have nothing but great things to say about the company and locations they work in. The program is well developed with adventure, community service and site seeing. I would recommend this location or any other trip with Rustic, I have done two others besides the Fiji one and was equally impressed. It is a great opportunity to travel in a safe organized environment while also seeing more than the touristy bits of a location.

How can this program be improved?

I would say that sometimes the online itinerary can make you think you will be doing more than you actually will be. Maybe the wording of it should be more "this could happen or you could go here" but not make it seem so guaranteed.

24 years old
High Point NC
High Point University



Fiji days were spent hard at work constructing better schools for the children or in total relaxation snorkeling 3 times a day and having local staff scale coconuts for you to drink. A genuine life style with constantly positive people who are rich and full of life and wonder. You will find your nights filled with laughter surrounding a Kava bowl with interested locals whose voices ring in harmony as they sing along to a guitar. The local staff made me already make plans too come back and see them again in life.

New Zealand is filled with adrenaline pumping action whether it be 5 hours spent caving, or jumping off of buildings, planes, and bridges. The food is as fresh as it gets and all organic. The markets were always so fun to explore after you built up a hunger from the action earlier in the day.

Australia is all about the locals showing you their home country with pride. Singing along to Australian folk songs featuring local instruments was one of my favorite things on car rides towards the beach. Getting an Australian perspective, personality, and accent to teach you the Australian way couldn't have been more awesome of an introduction to this great country.

The South Pacific gap semester with Rustic Pathways was unmistakably one of the best trips of my life. Every moment was filled with laughter, adventure, and a shared genuine interest in life and each other by the leaders, local staff, and students. Life long friendships were forged throughout three countries that I will definitely be visiting again in life due to my experience and the unforgettable people along the way.

How can this program be improved?

No program is perfect and I think with this one I occasionally wanted a little more free time and some down days, however , thinking back I wouldn't want to give up one moment to sleep in or pass up on any opportunity.

19 years old
Tucson, Arizona



I participated in two programs in Laos. The first being Mystical Caves and Shamans, the second was Sticky Rice.

This program was incredible. I cannot stress it enough. It opened my eyes to the world around us. We stayed in the base house where we were sleeping on mats under mosquito nets; I still miss my mosquito net... Every morning we would wake up and after breakfast begin work on our service project. During my trip our service project was building a volleyball court for the village. I definitely enjoyed experiencing building something from scratch. As we went to the river to gather rocks and sand so we could make concrete, we were required to push the tractor back up the hill because the road was too slippery. The laughs exchanged were definitely a highlight. After lunch we would do an activity such as teaching kids, visiting a cave, seeing a shaman, going to a waterfall, etc.
I would definitely recommend this trip to all students looking for a unique way to experience Laos in its true beauty. And I will probably do this program again because it was so extremely amazing.

This program is for students who are looking for a more touristy experience in Laos.
We flew into the city Luang Prabang where we stayed for three nights doing things like visiting temples, monks, waterfalls, markets, etc. Then we took a three hour drive to a village called Nong Khiaw where we stayed two nights. There we kayaked, hiked to a waterfall, did service work (painting a school and teaching children), and swam in the river.
This program is not as Rustic as Mystical Caves and Shamans, however still enjoyable.
We stayed in hotels the entire time and had the luxury of western toilets the entire trip.
Though I would not do this program again due to its lack of Rustic-ness, it was still an enjoyable program.

In a nutshell, Laos was the most incredible country I have ever visited. I do plan on returning. The programs I chose have opened my eyes to the world around me. I am so fortunate to have chosen these programs.(:

How can this program be improved?

Mystical Caves and Shamans: Nothing. It really was perfect.

Sticky Rice: More rustic-ness and more service.

24 years old
Amherst, MA
Hampshire College

Rustic Pathways Laos


I did the elephant program in Laos along with the " Wonders and Riches of Southeast Asia". Both of these were very different trips and I liked them for different reasons. I have been back to Laos on various Rustic Pathways trips over the last three years and loved each of them. Rustic has a smaller program in Laos, which allows for smaller groups of students and more focused goals: a key aspect for positive experiences.
The local staff are warm, fun, and knowledgeable. The programs give you a taste of everything. From fun and shopping in Laung Prabang, to riding elephants in the Mekong River, and to riding boats four hours to a far off village. They offer a plethora of experiences for any type of traveler.

How can this program be improved?

Would love to experience more of the rural side of Laos, but this was due to the trips I chose. They offer "Come with Nothing" that will take you to those far off places for the experienced travelers.

About The Provider


Travel and volunteer abroad with Rustic Pathways to one of many exotic locations.

We take students on unique, rewarding, and safe programs to some of the world's friendliest and fascinating countries. Immerse yourself in a new culture, work on purposeful community service projects, and expand