Rustic Pathways

Rustic Pathways


Travel and volunteer abroad with Rustic Pathways.

Choose from culturally-immersive adventure and volunteer programs in 17 countries. Make lifelong friends from around the world, work on sustainable community service projects, and discover new passions during a Rustic Pathways program.

Whether you're looking for summer volunteer programs or searching for the right gap year, Rustic Pathways has the right experience for you.


34900 Chardon Road Building 1, Suite #205
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
United States


Rustic Pathways Scholarships
Rustic Pathways Scholarships and Financial Aid

Rustic Pathways is committed to making life-changing opportunities possible for students worldwide. We know how impactful our programs are, and continually strive to make them more accessible to all students.

$1,000 - $5,000


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Yes, I recommend this program

My trip to Fiji with Rustic Pathways was absolutely amazing! I couldn't have asked for a better experience in my life. When I first thought about going overseas to Fiji, I was very nervous about flying and going to a country where I knew no one. However, when I met my Rustic staff at the airport, I felt like I was in the best hands. I always felt safe and never worried about not being safe. When I arrived, it was the most welcoming experience I could have ever imagined. Being far away from home made me feel nervous, but the Rustic staff made me feel at home. One thing I take away from my trip to Fiji is that I never had a bad memory or experience. I made life-long memories with life-long friends. I am so proud of myself for taking this huge step and will never regret it!

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Personally, I HAD a terrifying fear of the ocean, but that changed due to the confidence and courage that I had built up in Fiji because of the people I was surrounded by.
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Yes, I recommend this program

My time in Peru was amazing. I spent a total of four weeks there on the Andes to Amazon and Sacred Valley programs. Between the two programs, I got to see the diversity of different parts of the country as we travelled throughout the Andes, Lima, the Sacred Valley, and the Amazon. One of, if not the largest factors in having such a wonderful experience, was the people on my programs. I met some of the most interesting, unique, fun people that I made such strong connections within in the first day or two of each program. Not to mention, the group leaders were fantastic; they were extremely interesting people, who did so much more than just lead our group and make sure that we were safe. Through my experiences in Peru, I learned so much about this world as well as myself. We did so many incredible things between the two programs, and while not everything was not what I quite expected, I had an incredible time last summer.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Goodbyes are always hard on rustic trips. For me, transitioning into my second group from my first group was hard. I was really missing my friends from my first program at the start of the second program; but I kept an open mind for the kids on my new program, and in the end, made another group of really great friends.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Program: Wonders and riches of south east Asia.

Great experience that was full of immersive opportunities. Travelled from Thailand, to Laos, to Cambodia, to Vietnam. Everywhere we went we got to see famous sights, but not only that, we truly got to learn more about different countries cultures whether that was trying individual delicacies or adventuring through the countryside. On one memorable day we took a bike ride through the Cambodian countryside. It was a hot day, but a truly unforgettable experience.
In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we spent one day at an elephant conservation center. We splashed around in the water with baby elephants and got to help make the elephant's food.
Ultimately, Rustic Pathways in south east Asia was an amazing trip that including a diverse offering of activities and experiences.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Getting to see a monument a famous as Angor Wat in real life was incredible and surprising.
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Yes, I recommend this program

When signing up for my Rustic Pathways trip, I had extremely high expectations. My sister had gone to Costa Rica the summer before and she had the best experience of her life. I thought that it would be the same for me. Little did I know, my extremely high standards were completely topped. I do not think I could have prepared for the amazing experience I was about to have. On the first day of arrival, I was placed in a group with ten complete strangers. By the first night, we were already staying up past curfew getting to know each other. Every single day we were given an opportunity to not only see a new part of the amazing country that we were in, but to form connections with the people of Fiji through service. Of course, improving someone's home or building a chicken coop is extremely meaningful, but when you get to meet the people that you are helping, it is a truly incredible experience. By the end of my trip, the girls in my group had become my best friends. Our dramatic goodbye in the airport and the entire trip itself seemed to be something straight out of a dream.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
The most nerve-racking moment of my entire trip was when I went skydiving. Anyone in my life could tell you that I am not the one to do anything risky, let alone skydive. Most people did not believe me until I showed them the video! Sitting on the small plane, sitting 14,000 feet above Fiji with my legs dangling in the wind was probably the scariest moment of my entire life. But the second we fell, my scared screams turned into screams of joy and disbelief. The feeling of flying and the ability to see Fiji from the sky was unbelievable. Overcoming the fear in the moment was very difficult. I don't think I had fully overcome my nerves until I actually fell out of the plane. This was another amazing experience that made my trip more unique.
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Yes, I recommend this program

“How was your trip?” A necessary and welcomed question, usually followed by a description of some event that happened or a couple of pictures. A quickly forgotten conversation by the asker but not by the teller. Coming back from Mongolia, answering this question countless times left me with another: How could I ever tell people that seeing real poverty made me want to change the world without being that kid who never stopped talking about his trip to Mongolia?

Seeing poverty in its purest form moved me in a way I never could have predicted. One of the service aspects of my trip to Mongolia entailed delivering food to the people of Sogoog; one bag of flour, one bag of pasta, and a couple of other smaller goods for a single family. This delivery would need to last these families for several weeks. In my world, these supplies would last my family one night.

When I dropped off the food, I was surprised by how I was welcomed into the houses of strangers. With beaming smiles, they allowed me to enter into their homes not fearing judgement in the slightest. When I looked at their cracked walls and dirty attire, one part of me felt guilty, but as soon as I saw their faces, I realized that they were the ones who had it all figured out. These families were elated to have us privileged foreigners cramming into their crumbling dwellings, yet we stay in our suburban lives wondering if our bay windows poke out too much.

Genshu, Aishu, and Kinshu were a trio of sisters who ran over to my camp as soon as I arrived in the West. Within ten minutes, I was giving more piggyback rides than I thought my legs could handle. When I mistook the youngest girl, Genshu, for a boy because of her short hair, I discovered the girls belonged to the poorest family in Sogoog. Genshu wasn’t a boy; her mother was just forced to shave her hair because she couldn’t afford shampoo.

When I entered the girls’ home, their grandmother brought out a few pieces of candy as well as bread and butter. It was everything they had. This is when I realized I was living my life completely wrong. I felt a sense of guilt that I had not made the most of the opportunities given to me from my privileged background. I knew I couldn’t be distracted by this guilt, though. I needed to finally practice what Gandhi has told me millions of times: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

I returned from Mongolia late at night. It must have been around 10 pm when my sister and I pulled into the North Avenue McDonald’s. I stepped up to the electronic cashier to order my food, not really feeling like reality was reality. Just two days ago, I was shampooing Genshu’s scalp. Now, I was selecting an instant hot meal through a touchscreen wall. I’d like to say that this disparity made me sick, but it didn’t. I destroyed that quarter pounder.

I was changed when I came back from this trip. It wasn’t for the better or worse (maybe the better), but I felt almost uncomfortable in my own skin. I just spent three weeks in the part of the world farthest from the ocean and even farther from my town, and it felt like I never left. So what is this feeling I still can’t shake? I felt more responsible about what I could control. If someone were to have thrown a bottle out the window while I was in the car before the trip, I would disprove of their actions but I probably wouldn’t have said anything. Now, I had to speak up. Two years later, I still feel the same way. If I don’t, who will?

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
In Mongolia, I accidentally disrespected an entire town square by pronouncing Chinggis Khan "Genghis Khan". For everybody reading this, never say "Genghis Khan" ever again.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Carolina Auerbach

Carolina is a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is interested in possibly studying Environmental Science or Marine Biology in college, and in her free time, she enjoys surfing and hiking with friends.

Why did you choose this program?

Over the past year or so I have been challenging myself to push my limits and face my fears and had so many friends recommend Rustic Pathways to me, so I decided to try it out. Ultimately I knew I wanted to do an adrenaline packed trip that would allow me to disconnect from the internet and really connect with the people around me, so I decided to pick a trip diving on the Great Barrier Reef for two weeks.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Rustic Pathways was incredibly helpful with providing extensive packing lists and checklists including all of the necessary components for my travels. This helped me get all of my documents and packing in order without any hassle. They also provided leaders at all of the airports we traveled to, who helped us navigate our way around and not get lost. I had to book my connecting flight to get to LAX where our group was meeting, but other than that, Rustic Pathways provided assistance with almost every other aspect of our travels.

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

Live in the moment. It's cliché, but it is true; there will be some opportunities during the trip to use your phone, but make an effort to disconnect and engage with the beautiful world around you. Two weeks seems like a long time, but it will fly by and you should make sure to take advantage of the amazing opportunities being presented to you.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Our schedule during this trip tended to switch day today, but for the majority of the trip, we were on a liveaboard diving up to five times a day!

We would wake up super early to catch our first sunrise dive which would have us going under before the sun had risen, and resurfacing during sunrise. We had three more dives throughout the day and then finished off with a night dive using torches to see.

In between our dives, we would whale-watch, play cards, have impromptu dance parties on the deck, and most importantly, eat delicious meals to help fuel us.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I went into this trip with a few main fears: sharks, heights, the dark, and being deep underwater. Obviously, these seem like a terrible combination for a diving trip but I was surrounded by the most supportive and amazing leaders and friends on this trip. They all helped me to overcome my fears and come home with a newfound appreciation for the ocean and all of its amazing creatures.

If you could do this trip again, what would you change?

If I were to have done anything differently during my trip, I definitely would have packed less.

I wore basically the same two bathing suits every day and opted for comfy clothing most of the time. Since we moved around locations quite a bit, it was definitely hard to relocate with a massive duffle especially coming home with all of my new goodies.

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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Connor Stowe

Job Title
Global Program Advisor
Connor has worked for Rustic Pathways over the past 8 years having run programs in 15 different countries for the organization. He now helps families find good program fits for students that align with their passions, interests, and desires to explore the world!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I think one of the largest benefits of travel is simply just seeing and learning about cultures and backgrounds different from the one that you grew up with at home. It has allowed me to consider different points of view, put myself in other people's shoes, and overall has made me a more compassionate person.

It's really exciting to be a part of that opportunity for growth with other students because having knowledge and empathy for people in different communities other than your own ultimately leads to a stronger global community where we all want the best for one another.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

There was a girl who traveled with us in India and then later went on to win a design contest for Tom's shoes where students could create and submit an idea for the company.

Her inspiration came from the time that she spent on a Rustic Pathways program in Northern India and the colors and patterns she saw in the country. I love this story because there are some really easy ways to see how travel can shape students and expand their world-view, but it reminds me that travel opportunities can inspire and ignite our students in smaller, more subtle ways as well.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I have a personal affinity for our Panda Conservation project in China because I've spent so much time developing educational content for the program.

Students are just able to learn how researchers manage captive species as well as how much work goes into the field of conservation, and we work at a center that has 20% of all pandas in captivity in the world. It's just a very unique opportunity to work on a project that you wouldn't be able to do on your own in personal travels later in life.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

I think the thing that makes Rustic Pathways stand out is our long-term commitment to sustainable growth in the countries and communities that we work in.

We have full-time staff year-round in the countries where we operate that allow us to more easily control our safety policies as an organization, but also be a part of year-long planning with the communities where we work setting up volunteer projects and continuing to make sure that former projects keep their momentum after our students leave their program.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I think one of the biggest factors to being in a successful organization is being able to adapt and make changes when necessary.

Being flexible also allows us to work with a wide variety of students from a wide variety of backgrounds so that our trips on the ground fulfill the goals of individuals that may have different passions. Adaptability also allows us to innovate and create new programs that fulfill program wishes for our future students with new and exciting content!

The world of international development is always changing and it allows us to be able to work with communities in an ever-changing environment of what is most beneficial to those communities.

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