What happened when I put down my cell phone during my Rustic trip

One students’ experience traveling with Rustic and the lessons it taught her.

In 2016, I traveled to Thailand and Myanmar with Rustic Pathways. While I left with a duffel bag filled with the usual travel gear, I soon discovered I that was also wearing an invisible backpack. We all either knowingly or unconsciously carry this invisible backpack, and it holds all of the experiences, attitudes, and personal identities that shape our worldview. During my time abroad, I was determined to challenge these attitudes and expand my global perspective, and my first step in doing so meant disconnecting from social media.

At first, I didn’t know what would happen when I set down my phone. It had always been a crutch for me: an instantaneous source of entertainment or preoccupation I could turn to in times of awkward silences or uncomfortable situations. I soon found, however, that in setting down my phone, a whole new world opened up.

Disconnecting from social media allowed me to connect with those around me. I spent my mornings in meditation sessions overlooking picturesque mountains from the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home. I listened to the stories of group leaders and local staff during bumpy Songthaew rides up winding roads. I played late-night card games and laughed uncontrollably in hotel lobbies with my new friends.
Before I knew it, my program had come to an end. My phone once again found service, and as I scrolled through Instagram and Facebook, the world within my screen seemed so much more static this time.

In setting down my phone for the duration of my program, I realized that I had gained everything and lost nothing. The connections and memories I made transcend the limitations of a 24-hour Snapchat story. Having forever changed me, my experiences now follow me wherever I go, part of my invisible backpack.

While it may seem unsettling at first to disconnect for the duration of your Rustic Pathways program, I can assure you that it will only enhance your experience. Your phone will be there when you need it, whether this is to snap the occasional photograph or share social media handles with your new friends. But in the end, the Instagram posts and Facebook albums you create serve only as reminders of your real-life experiences.

The connections you make during your Rustic Pathways trip will outlast everything, and in order for them to be the strongest possible, you need to devote your full attention to creating and nurturing them. Doing so begins with setting down your phone.

– Kayla Brown, Age 18