Rustic Pathways

PO Box 429 Chardon, Ohio, 44024 United States


About Rustic Pathways

Year Founded: 1983

Rustic Pathways offers superior quality travel and service programs for students and families in some of the world's most welcoming countries. We strive to empower students through innovative and responsible travel experiences to positively impact lives and communities around the world. We enrich the lives of our students and our staff, benefit the parts of the world we serve, and build cultural bridges that lead to greater global understanding and cooperation.

Discover Programs

Irrawaddy Village Service

Myanmar : Bagan

Form connections with Burmese students as you lead English-language activities and run a day camp in a village along the Irrawaddy River. Admire the splendor of Bagan's ancient...

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Island Living and Eco-Service (Spring Break)

Dominican Republic : Jarabacoa, Santo Domingo

Explore mangroves, reef formations, and marine wildlife at Los Haitises National Park and Samaná peninsula. Get your hands dirty as you work on ecological restoration projects...

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Surf and Service (Spring Break)

Costa Rica : San Jose

Learn to surf or take your skills to the next level during this one-week, spring break program. Live at our base house and soak in the laid-back culture of beach town life....

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Traveling Soccer and Service Team

Costa Rica : Cartago, Nicoya Peninsula and 2 other cities , San Jose, Turrialba Show less

Get ready to travel, work, and play your heart out on this intensive two-week soccer and service project through the heart of Costa Rica. Using the game you love as a medium,...

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Island Survival

Australia : Brisbane, Gladstone and 2 other cities , Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Show less

This is Survivor Rustic style! Undergo mental and physical challenges after you’re marooned on a deserted island. Carrying only three items of your choice, you will learn...

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The Minke Whale Research Expedition

Australia : Brisbane, Cairns and 1 other city , Great Barrier Reef Show less

Join a four-day live-aboard dive expedition and partner with marine biologists to research Dwarf Minke Whales. During this exclusive expedition, you’ll venture to the far...

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Innovation in Action: Cuba

Cuba : Havana, Trinidad

Turn your ideas into solutions! Sharpen your critical-thinking and design skills with this 2-week crash course on design-thinking where you’ll help solve real world problems....

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Viva Cuba! Culture and Conservation

Cuba : Havana, Trinidad

Experience Cuba from a local perspective. Work alongside conservationists and farmers, hike through beautiful waterfalls, and, of course, explore historic Havana.

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Silk Road Service

China : Kunming, Shanghai

Step outside the big cities and into the lesser-known countryside of the Yunnan province where you'll interact with ethnic minority groups and volunteer with the Heart 2

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African Wildlife Conservation

Tanzania : Arusha, Dar Es Salaam and 1 other city , Kilimanjaro Show less

Work with the famous Jane Goodall Institute and gain hands-on experience in wildlife research. You'’ll become the ultimate safari biologist when spotting chimpanzees in...

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Beyond Capitol Hill: Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment

United States : Baltimore, Washington D.C.

Become a teacher and mentor to the refugee youth of Baltimore, Maryland and get a chance to explore our nation's capital and its gorgeous monuments. Learn about humanitarian...

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California Dreaming

United States : San Francisco, Santa Cruz

Join us in our road trip through the gorgeous Golden State! From San Francisco to Monterey, we’ll hike and camp through the state’s best national parks and enjoy the

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Off the Map: Alaska

United States : Anchorage

Venture into America'’s last frontier to explore the gorgeous glacier view that Denali National Park has to offer while sharpening your camping and survival skills!

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The Cambodia Children's Project

Cambodia : Rural Areas, Siem Reap

Spend the week enriching the lives of Cambodian children by teaching English and work on other community improvement projects with a local organization, the BSDA (Buddhism...

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Life in the Bateyes (Spring Break)

Dominican Republic : Rural Areas, Santo Domingo

Make it a meaningful spring break by working on building and renovating homes in marginalized Haitian-Dominican communities called Bateyes.

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Souqs and Service

Morocco : Casablanca, Marrakech and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

This is a two-week adventure service program in the villages of the Atlas Mountains. Provide any combination of educational, environmental, infrastructural, or economic service...

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Indian Wildlife Conservation

India : Agra, New Delhi and 1 other city , Rajasthan Show less

This is a week-long adventure service program in Agra where you work with Wildlife SOS to learn about conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and the Indian environment while...

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Highlands and Islands Service Immersion

Fiji : Rural Areas, Yasawa Islands

Come to know the real culture of the native Fijians who have inhabited these islands for thousands of years and whose cultural traditions and knowledge of the natural world...

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Mountain Air and Village Service

Dominican Republic : Jarabacoa, Rural Areas and 2 other cities , Santo Domingo, Sosua Show less

This is a week-long adventure service trip based in the mountainous villages of the remote DR. Provide educational and infrastructural service while immersing yourself in...

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Marine Life and Coastal Restoration

Dominican Republic : Rural Areas, Santo Domingo

This is a two-week adventure service program focused on enironmental conservation and research. Spend your free time relaxing on the beautiful sandy beaches of Bayahibe or...

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Introduction to Public Health in the Caribbean

Dominican Republic : Rural Areas, Santo Domingo

This is a two-week adventure service program on the eastern coast of the DR. Spend time learning about local public health issues while practicing your Spanish in a medical...

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Golden Sands and Helping Hands

Australia : Brisbane, Noosa

This program is a great combination of adventure across the Outback coupled with environmental and educational service in local communities along the Sunshine Coast.

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Off the Map: Mongolia

Mongolia : Ulaanbaatar

This is a three-week adventure service program with extra emphasis on the adventure. When you're not providing valuable community health and educational service to local

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Sticky Rice Service Adventure

Laos : Luang Prabang, Rural Areas and 1 other city , Vientiane Show less

This experience is designed for those with an adventurous heart who want to have a variety of experiences in Laos. To be eligible for this trip, students must be between

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Lao Elephant Retreat and Luang Prabang

Laos : Luang Prabang

This is a week-long adventure service program focusing on elephant care and conservation in the mountains on northern Laos. Ride and care for your elephant pals, explore

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Come With Nothing: The Mekong Expedition

Laos : Luang Prabang, Rural Areas and 1 other city , Vientiane Show less

This is a three-week adventure service expedition down the Mekong River through Laos and Thailand. Immerse yourself in local village life and culture during homestay experiences...

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Off the Map: Cambodia

Cambodia : Kep, Phnom Penh and 3 other cities , Rabbit Island, Rural Areas, Siem Reap Show less

Take an adventurous road trip across the country of Cambodia as our fun-loving local staff show you the best sights, hidden gems, and rural villages of their country. This...

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From the Ground Up: A Seminar in International Development

Cambodia : Phnom Penh, Rural Areas and 1 other city , Siem Reap Show less

For students interested in learning about international development and non-profit work, this program is an ideal, hands-on introduction. Meet with various NGOs in Phnom

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Floating Village Service Expedition

Cambodia : Battambang, Phnom Penh and 1 other city , Siem Reap Show less

Take a ride on our Rustic Pathways boat down Cambodia's Tonle Sap River as you stop into floating villages to meet locals, teach English, and learn about floating village...

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Andes to Amazon

Peru : Huaraz, Lima and 2 other cities , Puerto Maldonado, Rural Areas Show less

Students looking to experience the Amazon Rainforest, but also wanting to work side-by-side with locals on community service projects are ideal for the Amazon and Lunahuana...

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Off the Map: Peru

Peru : Cusco, Lima and 3 other cities , Machu Picchu, Puno, Rural Areas Show less

This is a two-week long backroads adventure through rural Peru. Travel the Amazon, hike through the Andes, visit Machu Picchu, and provide valuable infrastuctural service...

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Sacred Valley Service

Peru : Cusco, Machu Picchu and 1 other city , Sacred Valley Show less

Sacred Valley Service is great for students who want to visit Machu Picchu, participate in adventure activities, and work on construction based service projects. The accommodations...

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Lake Titicaca Service Adventure

Peru : Arequipa, Machu Picchu and 2 other cities , Rural Areas, Sacred Valley Show less

This is a two-week adventure service program through southern Peru and the areas surrounding beautiful Lake Titicaca. Trek through Colca Canyon to bubblingn hotsprings, visit...

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Summer Camp Leadership in the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic : Dajabon, Jarabacoa and 1 other city , Santiago Show less

Develop leadership skills on this program over the course of two weeks and 70 community service hours in the Dominican Republic. Camping, rafting, hiking the Dominican Alps,...

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Island Living and Eco Service

Dominican Republic : Jarabacoa, Santo Domingo

This is a week-long adventure service trip in the tropical Samana Peninsula. Community service focuses on environmental conservation and improvement of local infrastructure.

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Life in the Bateyes

Dominican Republic : Punta Cana, Santiago and 1 other city , Santo Domingo Show less

This is a two-week service-heavy adventure trip through the Dominican Republic that combines educational and infrastructural service in the Batey communities with both rural...

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Big Fiji Explorer

Fiji : Nadi, Suva and 1 other city , Yasawa Islands Show less

Big Fiji Explorer is one of our most popular adventures. It has enough action to keep seasoned explorers' adrenaline flowing, and it is also a great introduction to travel...

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Marine Service and Adventure

Fiji : Nadi, Rural Areas and 1 other city , Yasawa Islands Show less

Fiji is home to the third-largest reef system in the world and thousands of exotic marine species. Most tourists who come to this island nation dive in its warm waters and...

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Sun, Sand, and International Service

Fiji : , Nadi

Join us for two weeks, four weeks or the entire summer on Sun, Sand and Service at the Rustic Pathways Eco-Lodge. Spend your days contributing to a variety of meaningful

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Intro to Community Service in Fiji

Fiji : Momi, Nadi and 2 other cities , Natandola Beach, Sigatoka Sand Dunes Show less

A Real Introduction to Community Service Wake up to the morning sun rising over the Pacific Ocean and get ready for an exciting day in a South Seas paradise. Introduction...

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The Turtle Conservation Project

Costa Rica : Esterillos, Jaco and 2 other cities , Playa Hermosa, San Jose Show less

Live for a week in an actual park ranger station on a private, protected beach in a wildlife refuge as you work to save endangered sea turtles. Be sure to surf and zip line...

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Young Explorers

Costa Rica : Arenal, Samara and 1 other city , San Jose Show less

This is a two-week adventure service program exclusively for middle schoolers across the entire country. This program combines educational and infrastructural service with...

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Introduction to Community Service in Costa Rica

Costa Rica : Arenal, San Jose

This is one week of service and adventure at our Volcano & Rainforest base. Complete various educational and infrastructural service projects in the surrounding communities...

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Nicoya Turtle Expedition

Costa Rica : Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Carrillo and 2 other cities , Samara, San Jose Show less

Join an expedition to help save the endangered sea turtle! Spend one week working in a stunning landscape, living amidst exotic wildlife, enjoying beautiful sunsets, and

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Sarapiqui: A Tropical Service Adventure

Costa Rica : San Jose, Sarapiqui

This a week-long adventure service program in the remote Sarapiqui region. Live in luxurious tent suites in the rainforest while providing valuable educational and infrastructural...

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Summer Camp Leadership in Costa Rica

Costa Rica : Arenal, Puntarenas and 2 other cities , San Jose, Turrialba Show less

This is the only exclusively children-based community service program in CR. Earn 70 community service hours over the course of two weeks working as a summer camp counselor...

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Heart of the Jungle

Costa Rica : Dominical, Osa Peninsula and 1 other city , San Jose Show less

This is a two-week backroads adventure service program that ventures into the incredible biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula. Combine camping, adrenaline pumping activities,...

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Bribri Villages Service Experience

Costa Rica : Bribri, San Jose

Live and provide valuable service for one week to local villages in the Talamanca Mountain Range while immersing yourself in Bri Bri culture. Includes an overnight river

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Surf and Service

Costa Rica : San Jose

Relax and immerse yourself in the tranquil flow of life in the friendly Tico beach town of Bahia Ballena. Stunning sunsets, palm-fringed beaches, and clear blue water will...

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Moroccan Wanderer

Morocco : Casablanca, Marrakech and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

Spend two-weeks of adventuring across Morocco while providing valuable service on the side. Ride camels in the Sahara, homestay in a local village, visit the Todra Gorge,...

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Volta Village Life and Service

Ghana : Accra, Elmina and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

Picture yourself walking along a dirt path lined with flowers under a canopy of banana trees to a small village preschool where smiling children await you each morning. Now,...

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Off the Map: Ghana

Ghana : Accra, Cape Coast and 3 other cities , Kumasi, Rural Areas, Tamale Show less

Akwabaa and welcome to a grand adventure across West Africa's most welcoming country. You will travel by tro-tro from the remote villages in Ghana's north to the castle-studded...

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Faces of East Africa

Tanzania : Arusha

Join us for a comfortable one-week stay in a rural Tanzanian village with a service emphasis on educational and infrastrucural projects. Visit a coffee plantation and local...

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Culture in the Crater

Tanzania : Arusha, Karatu

Join us for a two-week, service-heavy adventure program in rural villages along the edge of the immense Ngorongoro Crater. Provide valuable educational service with local...

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Service in the Clouds

India : Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh and 2 other cities , McLeod Ganj, Rural Areas Show less

This is a two-week adventure service program that includes homestay with local Indian and Tibetan families in the shadow of the Himalayan Mountains. Complete educational

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Children of India

India : Jaipur, Rajasthan

Known for its brilliant colors, friendly people, and delicious cuisine, Rajasthan is considered the heart of India and will offer the perfect glimpse into traditional culture....

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Rebuilding New Orleans

United States : New Orleans

Join us to help rebuild homes and community gardens damaged by Hurricane Katrina for two weeks while exploring eccentric New Orleans on the side. Explorations include an

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Rebuilding New Orleans: Spring Break

United States : New Orleans

Join us to help rebuild homes and community gardens damaged by Hurricane Katrina for two weeks while exploring eccentric New Orleans on the side. Explorations include an

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Community Health and Wilderness First Aid

Thailand : Rural Areas, Udon Thani

Join us to spend one week living at our Ricefields Service Base while you obtain WFA (Wilderness First Aid) and CPR certifications, and then put those skills to use by providing...

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Tribal Issues: Youth in Remote Areas of Southeast Asia

Thailand : Rural Areas

Join us for a two-week adventure service program in tribal areas along the Thai-Burma border. Travel from village to village as you learn about the challenges faced by villagers,...

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The Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Camp Experience

Thailand : Chiang Mai, Rural Areas

Join us for a two-week stay at our beautiful base in Mae Sariang while working at the Rustic Pathways Children's Home. Help educate 25 local hill tribe students and visit...

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Come with Nothing, Go Home Rich

Thailand : Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

Join us for a challenging three-week service program in three rural villages along Western Thailand. Arrive with just one pair of clothes as you bargain for the rest of your...

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Elephants and the Amazing Thailand Adventure

Thailand : Bangkok, Chiang Mai and 2 other cities , Lampang, Mae Hong Son Show less

Join us for a two-week long combination of our Thai Elephant Conservation Project and Amazing Thailand Adventure programs! Work daily with your elephant friends under the...

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The Thai Elephant Conservation Project

Thailand : Chiang Mai, Lampang

Join us for a one-week service experience at the Royal Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Northern Thailand. Work daily with your elephant friends under the supervision...

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Ricefields, Monks, and Smiling Children

Thailand : Udon Thani

Join us for a two-week service-heavy adventure trip at our Ricefields Service Base in Northeastern Thailand. Choose between nine week-long service projects for each week

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Intro to Community Service in Thailand

Thailand : Udon Thani

Join us for a week-long version of our Ricefields, Monks, and Smiling Children community service program at our Ricefields Service Base. Choose between nine valuable community...

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Awesome Aussie Service Adventure

Australia : Brisbane, Cairns and 3 other cities , Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Sunshine Coast Show less

A two-week service exploration into the Outback and along the Sunshine Coast. Make a difference with local schoolchildren while also surfing, hiking, ogling at wildlife and...

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Seven Wonders of Australia

Australia : Alice Springs, Ayers Rock and 7 other cities , Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Great Barrier Reef, Hamilton, Port Douglas, Sydney Show less

A two-week journey through the heart of the Land Down Under to witness the absolute best that Australia has to offer. This program combines adventure in the Outback, Glasshouse...

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You, A 'Roo, and Australia Zoo

Australia : Cairns, Great Barrier Reef and 1 other city , Port Douglas Show less

A week-long, service-heavy program that emphasizes environmental and wildlife conservation and places students as volunteers alongside rare, exotic animals at Steve Irwin's...

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Epic Outback

Australia : Brisbane, Darwin

A two-week long, authentic backroads service expedition through the remote regions of Northern Australia, this trip from Rustic Pathways heavily emphasizes community service...

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Chinese Language Immersion

China : Dali, Hangzhou and 2 other cities , Shanghai, Suzhou Show less

This is a two-week comprehensive private, or group-based language immersion experience in Shanghai. Stay on campus for the feeling of a real university-like experience and...

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Panda Conservation and Wild China

China : Ya'an

This is a two-week adventure service trip through wild China. Care for Giant Panda friends at the Panda Conservation Center in Ya'an and interact with other exotic animals...

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The Amazing Thailand Adventure

Thailand : Bangkok, Chiang Mai and 1 other city , Mae Hong Son Show less

Join us for a week-long, action-packed adventure across Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Trek through remote hill tribe villages in the northern mountains, relax on sandy...

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Island Hopping and Diving

Thailand : Koh Samui, Phuket and 2 other cities , Rural Areas, Surat Thani Show less

Join us for a two-week adventure program in Southern Thailand. Snorkel and scuba dive while you observe stunning marine life in these tropical waters, explore lush island...

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The Wonders and Riches of Southeast Asia

-Multi-Country Locations : Cambodia, Laos and 2 other locations , Thailand, Vietnam Show less

Join us for a two-week luxury adventure program through Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Stay in the region's best hotels, dine in celebrated restaurants,...

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Himalayan Photo Expedition

India : Ladakh, Leh and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

Join us on a two-week journey through the incredible world of India! Women in vibrant saris fill your camera frames, vendors bargain in the city marketplaces, and a colorful...

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Climbing Kili

Tanzania : Arusha, Kilimanjaro

Join us for one week of pure adventure climbing Africa's tallest peak and the world's tallest freestanding volcano. Feel the awe and accomplishment rush over you as you finally...

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Safari and a Splash of Paradise

Tanzania : Arusha, Serengeti and 1 other city , Zanzibar Show less

Join us for one week of pure adventure that begins with safaris through two incredible national parks and ends with relaxation, sailing, and snorkeling off the white-sand...

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Advanced Photography Workshop

Morocco : Casablanca, Marrakech

Known for its golden sand dunes, desolate mountains, and colorful spice markets, Morocco is home to stunning landscapes and striking imagery - offering limitless opportunities...

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Spanish Language Immersion

Costa Rica : San Jose, Turrialba

This program is perfect for students of every level, from those who have never studied the language to those who have finished four years of high school Spanish. After a

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Costa Rican Adventurer

Costa Rica : Arenal, Dominical and 5 other cities , Manuel Antonio, Nicoya Peninsula, San Jose, Tamarindo, Turrialba Show less

This is a two-week version of our Carribean Adrenaline program that covers the entirety of this breathtaking country. Covers all the Carribean Adrenaline activities and adds...

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Caribbean Adrenaline

Costa Rica : Limon, San Jose and 2 other cities , Tortuguero, Turrialba Show less

This is a week-long program jam-packed full of pure adventure and adrenaline along the Carribean coast. Thrill inducing activities include: whitewater rafting, kayacking,...

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Fiji Diver's Dream

Fiji : Momi Bay, Nadi

Grab Your Gear! Fiji is comprised of 330 islands that are spread across the glistening waters of the South Pacific. The nation is renowned for its crystal-clear water,

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Pacific Adrenaline

Fiji : Nadi, Suva and 1 other city , Yasawa Islands Show less

Pacific Adrenaline is an exciting three-week exploratory trip through Fiji and New Zealand, designed for seasoned student travelers and created with a small group of adventurers...

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Escape to the Fiji Islands

Fiji : Nadi, Suva and 1 other city , Yasawa Islands Show less

Have you ever dreamed of living on a beautiful remote island and experiencing the thrill of tropical adventures? Escape to The Fiji Islands is a brilliant combination of

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Off the Map: Burma

Myanmar : Bagan, Mandalay and 2 other cities , Rural Areas, Yangon Show less

A two-week backroads tour of Burma's essential attractions from unseen vantage points with a perspective unavailable to normal tourists. Explore truly undiscovered areas

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Snapshots of Southeast Asia

Cambodia : Phnom Penh, Rural Areas

Experience a homestay in a floating village while learning about Cambodian history and exploring the majestic Angkor Wat. Take one excursion into Laos and experience Luang...

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Marvels of China

China : Beijing, Shanghai and 1 other city , Xi'an Show less

This is a week-long cross country adventure through ancient China. Walk the Great Wall, explore Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing, visit the Terracotta Army...

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Ramp Up Your Spanish

Costa Rica : San Jose, Turrialba

This program is a one-week homestay in the mountain town of Turrialba that features half-days of language classes with rainforest adventure activities in the afternoons.

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Namaste India

India : Agra, Cochin and 3 other cities , Delhi, Jaipur, Kerala Show less

This is a two-week adventure program that covers breathtaking monuments and cultural sites throughout Northern and Southern India, including the Taj Mahal.

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The Rustic Pathways Children's Home

Thailand : Bangkok, Chiang Mai and 1 other city , Rural Areas Show less

Join us for a week-long stay at the serene Rustic Pathways Children's Home in Northern Thailand. Teach English local Karen schoolchildren from the nearby mountain villages...

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Wilderness First Responder

Thailand : Rural Areas, Udon Thani

Join us for a two-week adventure service program at our Ricefields Service Base in Northern Thailand. Work with local Thai and Lao professionals as you work together to get...

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Elephant Training and the Hill Tribe Experience

Thailand : Chiang Mai, Rural Areas

Join us for a two-week program that begins with a week of educational service at the Rustic Pathways Children's Home on the Thai-Burma border, and then transitions into a...

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Peru by Backpack

Peru : Cusco, Huancayo and 3 other cities , Lima, Machu Picchu, Pisco Show less

For our super adventurous students who want to sharpen their backpacking skills, get ready for one of our most independent student programs! Create, plan, and embark on your...

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Southeast Asian Adventurer

Thailand : Chiang Mai

Discover the lush landscape of Thailand and Laos by climbing the Wat Phou, hiking the Phousi Mountain, and exploring the untouched wonders of the Thailand's hidden beaches.

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Elephants and Amazing Thailand (College Program)

Thailand : Bangkok, Chiang Mai

Created specifically for college students, this program is the ultimate experience for animal lovers and those interested in conservation. Learn how to guide, communicate,...

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The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve Project (College Program)

Australia : Brisbane, Cairns and 1 other city , Great Barrier Reef Show less

Designed for our college students, this program partners Rustic Pathways with the Australia Zoo to give students a chance to explore the rare plants and animals in the wild...

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The Ultimate African Adventure

Tanzania : Arusha

For our Rustic Alumni, this trip begins in South Africa and takes you through 4 African countries for the ultimate adventure! Safari through wildlife sanctuaries, scale Mt....

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Alumni Interviews

Staff Interviews

  • Patrick Ziemnik - Tanzania Country Director

    Patrick Ziemnik - Tanzania Country Director

    Patrick began his career in experiential education when he became to co-manager of Harvard’s First-Year Outdoor program while he was earning his undergraduate degree. After receiving high honors from the Harvard University Social Studies Department, Patrick took his passion for social entrepreneurship and joined AmeriCorps as a fellow with New Sector Alliance, a nonprofit focused on building leadership capacity in the social sector. Moving on to Rustic Pathways Patrick became country director of Mongolia and now directs programs in Tanzania. Patrick is focused on crafting experiences that transform Rustic Pathways’ participants and at the same time benefit local partner communities.

    How has your international experience evolved overtime to make you an even more valuable addition to the Rustic Pathways team?

    I graduated with a bachelor of arts in social studies from Harvard University in 2009, with a focus on public health, and had only limited international experience by that point (a summer internship-abroad program in Greece through the Center for Hellenic Studies, unrelated to my major). My extracurricular experience was mainly in experiential education and leader-training through the Harvard First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP), so when I was hired by Rustic Pathways three years later, that background served me well in my first summer in the back country of Mongolia. Since then I have traveled extensively with Rustic Pathways as well as on my own!


Hiking in Tanzania

    Students and staff after a hike and swim at a waterfall

    Photo Credit: Meg Vogel

    How did you get involved with Rustic Pathways?

    A fellow member of the Harvard FOP student Steering Committee was already working for Rustic Pathways. At the time I was working in the “traditional” nonprofit sector at a community health center in Boston, but wanted to work for a more nimble, innovative social enterprise, whether for- or non-profit, someplace that was really doing interesting and dynamic work in sustainable development. I didn’t necessarily think that travel was a means to do that, until I started talking to my friend and learning what Rustic Pathways was really about.

    How long have you been working with Rustic Pathways?

    I was the Mongolia director for about a year-and-half after my first summer there, and then transitioned to Tanzania in January of 2014.

    What makes Rustic Pathways different from other international program providers?

    It comes down to two things: the quality of our discussions and the depth of our partnership with local communities. In our discussions, it’s not enough that students come, learn a few things, have fun, and leave; we want them to do all of that and be different and better people when they return home.


Walking in a forest in Tanzania

    Discussing a proposed project site with community leaders

    Photo Credit: Jackson Paul

    My best example of this is actually a teacher-led group trip we ran in Mongolia for one of the top, top English international schools in Hong Kong. The teachers were all great and clearly beloved by their students. At the end of the trip, one teacher was giving some feedback to my colleague Connor, his partner for the trip, and he said, “I think I’ve learned more about being a teacher in this past week than in my past few years of teaching.” That’s as verbatim as I can remember it and it was so incredibly powerful, because that’s the bar we want to set, that students and teachers alike are absolutely transformed by these experiences. Do we hit that goal every time? No, but that’s what we aim for. Anything less means that we need to do better.

    In our partnerships with local communities, we really focus on the medium-to-long-term benefit. We don’t just want to repaint a classroom and then leave; we want to help build the capacity of the school, community, or nonprofit, so they can better develop themselves or accomplish their mission. So each session of each trip we run is designed to fit into some bigger goal.

    In Tanzania we’ve been partnering with one community for four years and another for eight, and we’re always seeking to deepen those relationships so that we can be sure that the service projects we undertake are genuinely helpful to the people who live, work, and play there, and meaningful and educational for our students.

    Again, at Rustic we don’t pretend like we get this mix right every time, but it is an iterative process and we are constantly seeking new knowledge and ways to improve.

    What do you consider the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

    It’s really hard to pick the most fulfilling aspect of my job! I love the people I work with. They’re some of the smartest, most dedicated, most professional individuals I’ve been around. It says a lot that we are so dispersed and yet the team culture is probably stronger than at most organizations.

    I’d also add that seeing the students at the end of their programs is inspiring. The same student who was nervous and uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to call home on his first day, simply doesn’t want to leave on his or her last day, and is already talking about coming back to the area and scheduling a reunion with his or her new friends.

    What is a typical day like for Rustic Pathways’ program participants in Tanzania?

    A typical day varies a lot based on the program, and we currently run six different programs. One group of students might be summiting Kilimanjaro at sunrise, while another is prepping their tools for a day of mixing concrete under the watchful eyes of village masons while they build a home to host a permanent healthcare professional or a new teacher. A third might be laying the bricks for a community center, while other groups are plastering rainwater harvesting tanks or learning how to take surveys on community attitudes toward wildlife, with our partners Save the Rain and the Jane Goodall Institute, respectively. The following week, some of those same students might be kicking back on a beach in Zanzibar.


Safari in Tarangire National Park

    On safari in Tarangire National Park

    Photo Credit: Jessie Wachter

    What makes Tanzania the perfect destination for international programs?

    Here’s the thing, it’s not! There’s no such thing as the perfect destination, but it might be the perfect destination for you. We don’t do the luxury resort experience, so are you comfortable being a little rugged, a little “rustic”? Are you ready to have your attitudes and preconceived ideas challenged? Are you open to meeting new people, to sharing your culture with others, and for them to share with you? If you say “yes” to all of these then I think you’d have a great experience in a lot of destinations, but Tanzania might just be one of the best ones.

    It is one of the most diverse places in the world, with a mix of ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions all united under one common language and culture in Kiswahili. If I had to sum up Tanzania in one word it would be karibu, which means “welcome”, you will hear it all the time.

    What is the first thing program participants do when they arrive in Tanzania?

    They sleep! Students arrive on an evening flight so the first thing they do is go to sleep. In the morning, the first thing we do is orient them to the country, we want them to learn a little about Tanzania, a little Swahili, and how to be culturally polite and appropriate before they even leave the hotel to embark on their adventure.

    What are the most important things participants bring home with them from Tanzania, in your opinion?

    Participants usually bring home two things: new best friends and hopefully a changed perspective on their own life and on Tanzania. We have students who will actually plan a trip together the following year who had never met before they arrived, which is always a great thing to hear! And on the personal impact side, we are constantly getting emails from former students, who are now adults, telling us how their careers and life choices have been changed by Rustic Pathways’ experiences they took ten years ago.

    What is the one thing participants interested in joining Rustic Pathways in Tanzania should know before applying?

    Do your research! Even within the same country, not every trip is right for each student. Think about what you want out of your experience, how you want to challenge yourself. Do you want adventure or service? What type of service do you most connect with? How comfortable are you being in a more remote location versus one that is closer to a major hospital? These are important questions and we have Global Program Advisors whose job it is to listen to your questions, concerns, and preferences, and help you come to the best decision on which country and which program is best for you!


Rustic Pathways staff in Tanzania

    Staff wearing new gifts from our community partners

    Photo Credit: Peter Genda

    What is the most unique aspect of Rustic Pathways’ programs in Tanzania?

    To save the best for last, I think our Tanzanian staff are what make these programs work. On the one hand, they ensure that our community partnerships are deep and meaningful and that we are not simply bringing our own assumptions to the table but really taking a community-centered, human-centered approach. On the other hand, they serve a double-role as program leaders for our students and as cultural ambassadors for their country.

    When we say that we want our students to immerse culturally, we don’t mean we want them to take photos that mirror the images they’ve already seen on TV. Culture is more than that. It is current and dynamic as well as historic, and it is changing as quickly as Tanzania is changing (and the U.S. and all the other countries we visit). Our staff, simply by being friends and mentors to our students, provide a window into their cultures as lived experiences.

    This makes me think of one of our project managers, Jackson, who loves teaching students about the practices of his own Iraqw tribe and how they adapted over time to better defend their cattle from other tribes. He’s very proud of his history, but he also has a poster of Jay Z in his apartment and he can hold court on the differences between the Tanzanian hip hop scene and its Nigerian and Kenyan counterparts. That’s only one narrow piece of Jackson’s life, and so an even smaller piece of Tanzania, but to me that’s real. That’s something students grab onto, because it makes them want to learn more.