Catherine is an avid traveler and applies her experience in the environmental sciences to give a global view of travel domestic and abroad.
There’s a vacation coming up for college students all over the country during the spring semester, better known as Spring Break. While some may be deciding where to party hard, there are others that want to avoid the beer can polluted beaches and seek alternative spring break options. There are quite a few different options – from volunteering abroad to build homes to aiding in the effort to conserve the environment or even teaching abroad. I give tips for affording this kind of opportunity but if you ultimately think doing something abroad is not within your budget, there are plenty of similar opportunities right here in the states.
Traditional Spring Breaks
Finding the perfect Spring Break vacation starts with a serious consideration of what kind of vacation you want. For the typical “big party” Spring Break there are some top destinations to choose from that consist of beautiful beaches and hopping nightlife. There are many spots that you know by name while others you may not have heard of as being a top choice. Domestic destinations include South Beach, FL, Daytona Beach, FL, Panama City Beach, FL, and Padre Island, the world’s longest barrier island that is part of the U.S. state of Texas. Destinations where you’ll need to use your passport include Nassau and Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Cancun and Acapulco, Mexico, and Montego Bay and Negril, Jamaica. Visit the Spring Break section of STAtravel.com for information on spring break vacation options and some great vacation packages specifically for students during their time off. Please be aware, though, these destinations are very popular and these hot spots get extremely crowded during spring break time. Not to mention that many hotels, if not all, outrageously increase their prices in these areas during this time because they know students are off and heading to these popular areas.
For those that want to steer clear of the mayhem and want a different spring break should do a search for those organizations or websites that offer alternative spring break vacations. A comprehensive directory that lists the different companies that focus on alternative spring break vacations is GoAbroad.com. Volunteer vacations can include preserving the rainforest in Costa Rica, building a school in Honduras, teaching arts and crafts to abandoned children in Bolivia, or conserving wildlife in South Africa. Many of these opportunities offer plenty of free time to see the destination of your volunteering home base. You can comfortably split your week with volunteering and still being able to see the sites.
Be ready for some modest living arrangements for the more affordable organization package, which may include shared quarters and/or living in a host family home. You may also need to share chores and in affect ‘pay-your-way’ as part of the privilege of living with this host family. A great plus of this experience is getting an authentic, local food experience since most meals will be home cooked. You'll be given the opportunity to really delving into the day-to-day lives of your host country residents. The host families are almost always very inviting and interested to learn just as much about you as you may want to learn about them.
For those that need a more private stay, the more pricey volunteer abroad packages hold you up in a hostel type living quarter which can sometimes allow for a private room or bathroom. You may not get as culturally up close and personal with the people of that country but you can at least have your own toilet.
Another great plus, is that many of the organizations let you choose exactly what you want to volunteer for. These aren’t in anyway placing agencies. You will get to review detailed information on your task while abroad down to the hours for lunch and dinner. The detailed itinerary always has a section for free time to do what you want but this can vary from project to project.
Funding Volunteering Abroad
There are not always endless trust funds that can be quenched to pay for that dream spring break vacation. For the rest of us, there are many ways to fund your volunteer abroad experience. Many students can actually fund opportunities through their schools financial aid. If this experience can count as a study-abroad then you may be able to receive a student loan to pay for the trip. Not all schools will have this option available but reach your study-abroad office at your college to inquire. They will be happy to assist.
You can also ask your parents and even friends to assist in anyway that they can. Now, like I said, you aren’t the trust-fund baby in this scenario. However, you can set up a Go Fund Me site where you can spread the word about your volunteer work and ask for donations to help fund the work that will benefit people and environments abroad.
Many of the volunteer organization websites will have a section on their site where you can print materials that can be given to friends and family while asking for funds so they know the trip is legitimate - and it ensures they aren’t funding your booze binge in Cancun. They also have sheets you can print to use at events at your school where you can ask for donations such as at a booth set-up. Make sure your loved ones know that any donation is tax-deductible and ensure you provide a valid receipt. Many times these websites will have places your family members can donate online and the site will automatically create a receipt they can use at tax time.
Volunteer & Adventure Combination
Some organizations will have the option of tacking on an adventure travel option with your volunteer abroad choice. ISV Volunteers is a perfect example of making this work for both the organization you're volunteering for and the student volunteering. The organization receives the help of a volunteer while you can still fit in sightseeing. For example, ISV offers a program where you can volunteer half the time taking part in wildlife conservation, community development or assisting in various children’s program while the other half is spent in a Thailand adventure tour run by the same people that host the volunteer program. You’re able to stay with your group throughout the entire process. It’s probably pertinent to mention here that you can book volunteer opportunities with friends or significant others easily through most programs. There are even discount group packages that are offered for larger groups of friends.
Local Alternative Options
You can also volunteer a little closer to home with Habit for Humanity through building opportunities across the country. There are also numerous volunteer opportunities you can sign up for on volunteermatch.org that provide local listings, allowing you to even search by zip code. After hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA, there were many students that took their free week off from school to volunteer their time with food banks, the Red Cross, and with Habitat for Humanity to assist in anyway they could through volunteer work.
To search at-home and abroad volunteer opportunities you can go to charityguide.org, a site organized by cause where you can search volunteer vacations and links to different organizations. Another great search tool is VolunteerAbroad.com, a broadly organized directory to volunteer opportunities around the world. You can search by region, country and type of volunteer work and they even provide an advanced search where you can input your spring break dates. Idealist and Volunteer Match are both sites that list short-term volunteer opportunities from one or two days to just a few hours.
Experience as a Resume Builder
Volunteering of any kind looks great on your resume, especially as a student. In this competitive market, any job experience can be beneficial to students without a lot of work experience. Even though it’s essentially an opportunity you paid to take part in, it doesn’t make it any less valid to add to your job applications. And most employers would respect the fact that you took time off from partying to do something more substantial with your time.
Going on a vacation that is tax deductible and having a new resume section are only a few of the advantages to alternative spring break vacations. Whatever you may choose, be it the packed dance clubs in any of the most popular spring break party destinations or a more rewarding volunteer vacation with close friends, keep in mind this is your one big opportunity to either let loose or relax before finals, so choose wisely.
© 2013 Catherine Stolfi
Natasha from Hawaii on April 19, 2013:
I took an Alternative Spring Break to build homes my freshman year of college! I had a great time and felt like it was a break well spent.