Why Volunteer?

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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.

Why Volunteer?

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.

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  • 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.”

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Alternative Spring Break Trips

The length of your break, the location of your trip, your budget, and work preferences are a handful of considerations you need to make during the planning phase of your vacation. The sites below provide a voluntourism introduction, with tips on how to make your trip a reality.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • First-hand accounts of volunteer experiences offer unexpected ideas for incorporating volunteering into your vacation.
  • Most newspaper and magazine articles on the topic of volunteer travel focus on international efforts, but there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer domestically.
  • Your trip planning will revolve around which type of organization you volunteer with. Some companies offer all-inclusive packages with transportation and accommodation. Others allow for more free time, or may require additional planning on your part.

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Volunteer Tourism Organizations

Before your alternative spring break dreams can come to fruition, you might want some help from a knowledgeable, experienced volunteer tourism provider. You’ll find them using the sites below.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • There are countless volunteer vacation organizations touting themselves online, but before you shell out cash, take caution. Look for organizations with clearly outlined standards and thorough explanation of how fees are used.
  • Volunteer vacations often have high price tags. When they are all-inclusive, and cover food, accommodation, and costs associated with running the organization, it makes sense. Always be sure to learn what expenses you’ll need to cover out of pocket, in addition to the standard program fee.
  • If you’ve always ruled out spring break for financial reasons, take heed: there are volunteer organizations offering short-term projects at little to no cost. All you’ll need is transportation to the project site.

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Flights

Volunteer vacations aren’t always cheap, so you’ll want to save money however possible; start with a good deal on airline tickets with help from the sites below.

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  • If you’re volunteering in the United States, don’t forget about Southwest Airlines. The company often has very low prices, but is the only major airline that doesn’t offer tickets on other travel search sites. Visit the Southwest site to find and book flights.

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Spring Break Safety

There are special considerations to make regarding your health and safety when volunteering abroad. The sites below should quell any pre-trip worries.

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  • If you plan on volunteering in a country you’ve never been to before, look for an organization with in-country staff; they’ll be better aware of cultural and safety issues.
  • If you’re still determined to spend spring break amid scantily clad coeds on the beach, at least go prepared. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a “Spring Break Guide to Staying Safe and Healthy” for women, with advice that is largely applicable to men as well. Read statistics on binge drinking, advice for staying healthy and active during your break, and how to protect yourself from disease. 

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