Alumni Spotlight: Laurel Smith

Laurel is 18 years old and was born & raised in Southern California. She will be moving to Houston, Texas to attend Rice University in August. Last summer, she completed a GoOverseas interview about her experience with the Rustic Pathways Thailand program (go check it out!). She is fluent in Spanish, and loves food and traveling, two things that go together very well. She has been to almost 15 different countries and 6 out of 7 continents, and is hoping to visit at least 20 different countries by the time she turns 20.

Adventuring around Australia with Rustic Pathways

Why did you pick this program?

I chose this program for a few reasons. First, I only had two more continents to check off my travel list - Australia and Antarctica - and RP doesn't offer programs in Antarctica (yet!). Second, Rustic Pathways left such a good impression on me in Thailand that I knew I wanted to travel with them again, and maybe even work for them when I get older. Lastly, I knew I wanted to do a road trip, because you see so much more of your destination that way, but without rushing through it and getting the time to appreciate everything.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I always say, "go for it!". I personally believe that travel is one of the best ways to educate yourself in so many aspects, and is so much more fun than just reading about a place. I love to experience the cultures and destinations I am interested in firsthand, and I always encourage everyone to do the same. Whenever you travel abroad, you'll meet so many people and make so many connections that can last a lifetime; on both of my RP trips I have made friends close enough to buy plane tickets to visit (or have them fly out and visit me).

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My advice is to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You will do more hikes than you think you are physically capable of doing, you will be covered in dirt and sweat 24/7 despite easy access to showers, you will eat wraps for lunch so many days in a row that you can't bear to see another tortilla in your life, and you will get cuts, scrapes, blisters, bruises, and aches from your community service, sleeping on the floor, and general adventuring. It WILL suck sometimes, yet you will have the experience of a lifetime if you buckle down, don't complain, and commit to a positive attitude.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

This story goes along with my advice about being comfortable with the uncomfortable. I had some pretty bad luck medically during the time I was on this trip. Two days before I was supposed to leave, I didn't use sunscreen and got a nasty sunburn all over my chest, stomach and arms. The day before I was supposed to leave, I found out that I had mono, and a possible throat infection. Luckily, my mono wasn't contagious, so I was prescribed an antibiotic for my throat and sent on my way. The morning of my flight, a piece of granite in my shower broke off and landed on my toe, breaking it. Going in to this trip I was already not at my best, but I wanted to make the most of my experience anyway. For my first week in Australia, everything was more or less running smoothly, but hiking with a broken toe and peeling skin still kind of sucked. About a week in, I noticed a rash on my chest. Because of my previous sunburn, we assumed it was a heat rash from hiking all day. How wrong we were. The next morning, I woke up swollen, painfully itchy, covered head to toe in hives, and unable to feel my face. One of the Rustic staff members took me to the ER at 6 am, where we waited for several hours to see a doctor.

The area we were in was pretty rural, so the doctor didn't arrive until almost 9 am. I was told that I was having an allergic reaction to the earlier-prescribed antibiotic for my throat because the mono was weakening my immune system. Basically, I was a mess, but not in any kind of life-threatening situation. There wasn't really much I could do aside from taking prescription-strength Benadryl (hello, drowsiness), and wait. My mom really wanted me to come home, but I was determined to finish my time in Australia. Luckily, my hives mostly cleared up after a few days, and I was able to participate in everything I had been wanting to since the beginning. I am so glad I decided to tough it out and stay on the trip, because I otherwise would have missed out on a huge opportunity that I might never have again. I got extremely comfortable with the extremely uncomfortable, and I made some of the best memories and the best friends of my life. I don't regret it for a second, and I wouldn't change my choice even if you paid me.

Laurel's experience with Australia's wildlife:

When my family and friends hear about my trip, they all really want to know what kangaroos are like. We saw a lot of kangaroos in the wild on our trip (they hop REALLY fast). We also got to help out at a rehab center for Australian wildlife and hang out with some 'roos up close and personal. We got to bottle feed them (they love milk!), and helped clean their enclosures. The babies are adorable. Because there are more babies than adults at the center, the owners create fake "pouches" for them to sleep in out of fleece blankets. Adult kangaroos are strange. The way I usually describe them is that they look and feel like large dogs, and so you would expect them to act that way, but they really act like cats. They're kind of jumpy and don't like to play games, but they love attention. They're cats trapped inside of dog's bodies, basically.