Alternative Spring Break: Volunteer Travel
The American ritual known as spring break has evolved from a sprawling beach party into a chance for students to do some good. The opportunities to contribute are numerous and wide-ranging. You can volunteer in a low-income school, help out on an archaeological dig, or work for a crucial environmental cause. This guide to alternative spring break presents organizations focused on volunteer travel, along with recently published articles on the topic, so you’ll be equipped to find a cause and project that suit your own unique interests and talents.
If you remember your last spring break as a blur of crowded beaches, overpriced meals, and bad hangovers, consider traveling with a purpose this semester. A practice called volunteer tourism (or “voluntourism”), where tourists incorporate time working on volunteer projects into their vacations, is rising in popularity. Use the resources in this section to learn more about this emerging form of travel, including how it can benefit you.
- When planned well, volunteer tourism can benefit everyone involved. The University of Minnesota outlines reasons for lending a hand, and skills you may develop by volunteering.
- Volunteer tourism doesn’t require nonstop hard labor, and it’s still possible to return from your vacation feeling fresh and rejuvenated. On some Habitat for Humanity projects, workers retire to comfortable hotels (partnered with Habitat) after a hard day of building.
- Volunteer travel can have a huge impact on human rights issues. Take the efforts of the organization Ethical Traveler, for example. Its boycott of travel to Nepal resulted in the Nepalese government reversing its policy regarding Tibetan refugees in India.
- Volunteer travel is not without its critics. Some see the trend as a form of colonialism that benefits tourism providers, rather than people in communities where volunteers are sent. Critics also cite instances of volunteers unnecessarily redoing projects performed by earlier groups, or doing work that is against the wishes of local people, as evidence of voluntourism’s flaws. These issues are discussed in greater length in the Picks. The Ethical Travel Guide: Your Passport to Exciting Alternative Holidays is a guidebook with alternative travel ideas for those who wish to avoid what it describes as “guilt trips.”
For perspectives on volunteer travel …
has an article called “Voluntourism trips for do-gooders,” published in June, 2007. Learn reasons for taking a volunteer vacation, which the author dubs “something of a bandwagon.”
The New York Times
also offers insight into volunteer travel opportunities. Read accounts of a mother and son who lent a hand in Brazil, and a woman who painted houses in Peru as a way to cope with losing her fiancée on 9/11.
featured an article analyzing volunteer tourism, questioning whether the concept is merely an “overpriced guilt trip” for participants. The article likens voluntourism to an imitation of celebrity exploits abroad and points out flaws in the industry, but also shows how volunteer vacations can have a positive impact.
For personal travel accounts …
is a massive source of information and advice provided by actual travelers in blog-type format. Explore reasons for doing volunteer travel, and find links to RealTravel blogs written by volunteer travelers around the world.
is a travel guide with a casual tone and a pop culture slant. Look for a collection of entries about volunteer tourism offering insight into several different options that could inspire your volunteer vacation.
The Orange County Register
has a timeline that offers an interesting perspective on the history of spring break. It’s a good resource on the subject, amid a sea of vague and unreliable sources. This article from TripSmarter.com
, which attempts to establish a historical precedent for the carnival of indulgence that is the modern spring break, is one such example.
The New York Times
credits the Colgate University Swim Team with starting the spring break tradition in the mid 1930s, using the trip as a motivational tactic. The team traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to train in a warm place.
The length of your break, the location of your trip, your budget, and work preferences are a ... read more »
Before your alternative spring break dreams can come to fruition, you might want some help from a ... read more »
Volunteer vacations aren’t always cheap, so you’ll want to save money however possible; ... read more »
There are special considerations to make regarding your health and safety when volunteering abroad. ... read more »
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