Alternative Spring Break Ideas for Students

Happy volunteers lifting wooden frame together at park
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The phrase "alternative spring break" (ASB) usually means volunteering for spring break, a very rewarding way to spend your time off from college instead of hitting up popular tourist destinations like Cancun or the Florida Keys.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that college students can enjoy the sun and sand while giving back to communities at home and abroad. For those who still want to get out of the country, i-to-i connects students with volunteer opportunities in Central America geared toward home building and conservation; Projects Abroad also offers short-term volunteering abroad opportunities specifically designed for one-week spring break trips. Meanwhile, closer to home, United Way sponsors an alternative spring break for American volunteers, and non-profit Habitat for Humanity consistently sees a swell of students turning up to pound nails year after year.

You can also customize your own alternative spring break by taking a volunteer opportunity near you—from rebuilding national park trails to helping organize local food drives. Instead of just taking a vacation this year during your college spring break, check out some of these great ABS ideas and plan your perfect volunteer trip today.

Give Back Across the U.S. With United Way

After MTV's inaugural collaboration with United Way's "Storm Corps" in 2006, which sent students to the Gulf Coast to help clean up and rebuild from hurricane damage to the region, the program successfully rolled south each year since to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike—among others.

United Way also offers an alternative spring break week elsewhere in the United States. ASB volunteers will work in conjunction with local partners to address issues in urban America, like helping to build affordable housing and improving the quality of child care centers.

You can generally sign up with your local chapter of United Way to help with community service projects in major cities near you, but there are also a variety of special spring break opportunities that only last one week. For more details on how to volunteer with United Way for an alternative spring break, you can visit the official United Way website.

Coordinate Your Volunteering With Break Away

Break Away is a nonprofit organization that partners with colleges in the United States to create service-oriented programs in local communities. It is a good resource for finding an alternative spring break that fits your schedule and budget—if your college has a chapter.

Students at participating universities are granted access to Break Away's database of more than 400 non-profit organizations, which each lists volunteer opportunities with details like sample work projects and housing options. Although Break Away doesn't create its own ABS trips, it does provide training and resources for students and staff members including the annual Alternative Break Citizenship schools (ABCs) experiential training seminar.

You can check to see if your school has partnered with Break Away on the official website or by visiting your college's student activities organization.

Swing a Hammer With Habitat for Humanity

Non-profit housebuilder Habitat For Humanity reports that more than 250,000 high school and college students have lined up to swing hammers over spring break through Habitat's Collegiate Challenge alternative spring break program since it first launched in the 1980s. Today, students can still sign up for an alternative spring break adventure with this non-profit organization.

The Collegiate Challenge is offered year-round, which makes it a great option for any college student looking to donate of week of their time to a good cause. ABS trips are offered across the United States and typically help rebuild homes that were destroyed because of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey in south Texas and the wildfires in Oregon, California, and Washington.

Study and Give Back Abroad With i-to-i

With i-to-i volunteer vacations, you can tailor your alternative spring break—whether that's conserving a lake in Guatemala, building homes for Honduran families, or working with sea turtles in Costa Rica. Through volunteering with a good student travel outfit like i-to-i, where volunteering goes hand-in-hand with travel, you'll explore and help a piece of the planet without having to do much of the planning on your own.

i-to-i also offers Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification programs and TEFL internships abroad, which provide a great opportunity to further your education while traveling.

Take an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation

The American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacations offers trips where you can rake, shovel, trim, lop, and chop hundreds of trail miles. During these unique travel vacations, groups of six to 16 volunteers accompanied by a crew leader backpack or day-hike while cleaning and bettering nature trails across the country.

Although there are fewer Volunteer Vacations available during the spring than in summer, you can always use the American Hiking Society website as a resource for making your own spring break plans to beautify your favorite local trail. Additionally, you should be sure to check for this year's Volunteer Vacations early as spots are likely to fill up quickly on these special trips.

Get Out of the Country by Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering abroad is a fantastic, life-altering experience. The travel, the opportunity to help someone else, and the new knowledge about you and your place in the world are invaluable results of taking a trip abroad to volunteer.

Volunteering abroad for a longer period is a big commitment, though, and the planning and research can seem daunting. However, you can also sign up through a variety of non-profit organizations to volunteer abroad for your spring break. Whether you're looking to working with UNICEF in Africa or you want to help rebuild homes in Indonesia after the most recent hurricane, there are plenty of options for working abroad—even with a few of the organizations mentioned above.

Prepare With These ASB Volunteer Resources

There are hundreds of volunteering opportunities that can easily work for students over spring break. It's important to note, however, that you should do your own research before you send anyone money as a down payment.

While these organizations are a good start, there are many smaller groups around the country and world dedicated to matching students with the perfect volunteer opportunities. If you're still looking for a good way to give back this spring break, try Volunteer Match, a service which allows you to enter your zip and see what kind of volunteer opportunities exist near you. You might also want to check out some "voluntourism" resources.