Want to travel more while also making a difference? Wishing you could explore somewhere new while also finding a way to make a lasting impact on the community you visit? Want to travel while also learning more about the people and culture you’re visiting? Service trips, like the ones Rustic Pathways offers, give you the opportunity to travel while also making a meaningful contribution to the communities and people you’re visiting. It’s also a great way to dive into the local culture and expand your horizons. So what are you waiting for? Check out these 7 service trips you can take to make a difference while traveling. 

1. Wander through Morocco 

Eager for a chance to immerse yourself in a completely different culture? The Moroccan Wanderer program gives you the chance to work on community center projects, help with construction for local villages and learn more about Moroccan culture. You’ll also be able to see some of the major sights of Morocco, ride camels in the Sahara Desert, visit ksars, go zip-lining and more. 

2. Enjoy paradise in Costa Rica 

Costa Rica has handled the pandemic well, which means it’s been able to stay open for visitors longer (and re-open sooner) to visitors. One of the most popular trips to visit Costa Rica is the Pura Vida Service trip. This is an especially great trip for newer travelers who haven’t traveled internationally as much! You’ll make your home base in the town of La Fortuna. This small town is nearby the mountainous terrain surrounding the Arenal volcano. From white-water rafting to zip-lining, practicing your Spanish to hopping in to help with community-led service initiatives, you’ll have plenty to do to keep you busy and exploring on this trip.

“What I love about Fortuna is it is very safe and well-managed.” Rustic Country Manager Wainer Ocampo says. “The town is clean and the people are welcoming and friendly. There also are many adventure activities nearby.” It’s a great place for student travel! 

Costa Rican programs on the coastline give students a chance to surf, including Surf and Service and the Turtle Conservation Project.

3. Make a difference in the Dominican Republic 

The Dominican Republic also certainly offers its share of breathtaking scenery, including beautiful mountains and picture-perfect beaches, along with a tropical rainforest climate. Traveling to the DR with a trip like the Mountain Air and Island Living program gives you a chance to experience it all! 

You’ll make your home base in the valley of Jarabacoa, meaning Land of Waters. The area is located amid the Cordillera Central Mountains. For many years, Rustic Pathways has worked in partnership with local residents to provide clean water to villagers in the region. Students regularly provide a helping hand to water pipe installation projects.

Country Director Manuel Del Villar says the volunteer work has a strong impact on the students. It is one of the key activities during the program that he says changes them and opens their mind to new ideas. One of his favorite projects was a challenging one that involved running pipes up a mountainside. Del Villar said the students got discouraged, but when they finished on the third day, everything changed.

“Everyone was having fun, and there was a big celebration with sancocho to eat, which is a type of Dominican stew,” Del Villar said. “The event wasn’t planned and the whole community came out and gave speeches.”

4. Dive into coastal ecology and restoration programs 

Studying marine biology, ecology, environmental sciences or just want to do something concrete to help (literally) save the sea turtles? When you travel to Costa Rica, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic or other destinations on a service trip, you can dive into coastal ecology and restoration projects while also exploring a new country. Learn about coral reefs and work with local ecologists to rebuild them. Visit caverns, see (and study) sea turtles, sea stars, dolphins, manatees and more marine life and explore some of the world’s most biodiverse regions. 

Michaela Cooney attested to the impact of her trip after traveling to the Dominican Republic a few years ago.

“I feel that going on these kinds of trips as well as the adventure trips are an important way of building character, confidence and just bonding and socializing with the people around you. They are a priceless tool to becoming a global citizen,” Cooney said. 

5. Get off the grid in Southeast Asia

Want to challenge yourself with a mentally and physically challenging trip? Get off the grid in Southeast Asia and let your experienced guides take you to learn from and live among locals in remote villages in Thailand and Laos. This trip will take you high in the mountains outside of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage town to visit three small villages. You’ll spend time with local villagers, working on farms and construction projects, leading English language activities, visit waterfalls, boat down rivers and more! Think you’re ready to bring just a carry-on and spend a few weeks in these remote villages? You can register for the 2022 Mekong Expedition now!

What better way to challenge yourself, boost your confidence and have an epic adventure all at once? 

6. Explore and contribute to local culture in Hawaii 

Hawaii is more than just resorts and stunning beaches in paradise! Their native, local culture and rich biodiversity provides lots of opportunities for learning and growth. Working alongside locals to preserve and honor the land, history, and culture of Hawaii will definitely make for a meaningful travel experience you won’t forget! (Not to mention one you won’t find anywhere else!)

In Hawaii, you’ll have the chance to do everything from working alongside local organizations to protect Hawaii’s biodiversity, hike through changing climate zones, relax on black sand beaches, learn to surf, learn about the rich history of Kanaka Maoli, Hawaii’s native people, support projects to preserve and honor Hawaii’s history and native culture, and more! 

7. Spring break in South America

Spring break is also an incredible time to spend making a difference. Give back to your local community or in countless places around the globe. One of our favorite spring break service trips gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture of the Sacred Valley in Peru. During this trip, you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to water projects in rural communities. Plus, explore Machu Picchu, camp in local communities and learn from the locals. Of course, you’ll also enjoy spending your spring break in the scenic region of Peru’s Andes mountains. 

Rustic alumni Anna Bragalone, who traveled with Rustic on four trips, says she learned so much from her service projects. 

“Before Rustic, I was already pretty involved in community service. However, these trips made me realize I have this incredible passion for not just helping others but having fun with them and seeing a smile on their face,” Bragalone said. 

That human connection is immeasurable and the fact it takes place in such beautiful settings is certainly a plus. Where else can you travel with new friends, take in scenery hand-selected by local residents, contribute to the local communities and more all in one trip?

Why Service Trips? 

Having the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to local communities while you travel is an incredible experience. It’s definitely one every college student should consider! From building your confidence, stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone, finding ways to make a difference, contribute to causes you believe in, or even building your resume, the number of reasons to consider a service trip are endless.

StudentUniverse and Rustic Pathways are working together to help send students to even more destinations next year. Of course, you can head to Alaska, Hawaii, Costa Rica or Peru. Feeling adventurous? Try even more unique trips like the Floating Village Service Expedition or even a Mystery Trip option! There’s an opportunity for every kind of traveler and budget.

“Rustic Pathways helped me fall in love with helping others and building relationships with my neighbors no matter if we spoke the same language or if we looked alike,” Mary Horton, a Rustic Pathways traveler, said. “Rustic Pathways helped me become the person I always wanted to be. It was by far the best experience I’ve ever had.”

If you’re ready to make a difference, check out Rustic’s upcoming service trips and start dreaming about where you could go next!