Sometimes Instagram can get you down—especially the week of spring break, when your feed is filled with exotic photos from your friends’ vacations. For many college students, extravagant vacations just don’t fit in the budget. But there’s a new trend that may just put your travel envy to rest: alternative spring breaks.
Alternative spring breaks are more than just vacations. They’re service trips, either local or abroad, that are affordable and often hosted by humanitarian agencies like Habitat for Humanity, United Way Worldwide, and Volunteer HQ. One week packed full of immersive volunteer experience can cost you nothing, and you can make a big impact on your hometown and other countries.
Here’s a breakdown of a few alternative spring breaks to help you find your perfect fit.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat’s mission is to build homes for those in need, but ultimately they’re working toward providing comfortable living circumstances for everyone in the human family.
This is a top pick for an alternative spring break because it’s completely free for volunteers, requires no prior construction experience, and has current build sites all over the country. This means that no matter where you live or what your skills are—and no matter if your spring break is one day or one week—Habitat for Humanity has a role for you. Finding current build sites is easy: just visit habitat.org, enter your ZIP code, and register to help with a project nearby.
If you love the idea of helping build homes but you still want a spring break outside your hometown, look into Habitat’s RV Care-A-Vanners program. Care-A-Vanners can get involved with build sites across the country by doing what they do best: trekking across highways in their recreational vehicles. Everyone who travels by RV—including the college stowaway in grandma and grandpa’s camper—is welcome to participate with the Care-A-Vanners.
United Way Worldwide
United Way Worldwide’s mission is to create solutions for global communities that “go beyond short-term charity for a few.” This means that instead of doing one-and-done service projects, UWW builds long-term relationships with community members.
Specifically, UWW aims to increase high school graduation rates to build the confidence of youth and to prepare them for the workforce. “It’s not just the students, or even just the families of those students who benefit,” UWW says. “Those proud graduates now have a much better chance of landing a job that pays a livable wage, of staying out of trouble with the law, and of living longer, healthier lives—and that translates into a safer, healthier, and more prosperous community for everyone.”
If you’re interested in helping United Way Worldwide with its mission during your spring break, you can search for local volunteer opportunities that match your skill set. Do you have experience working in call centers, substance abuse, or therapy? Have you been trained in education? Or are you interested in occasionally volunteering for events? Whatever your background and interests, UWW offers local volunteer opportunities that fit your unique situation. The best part? Like Habitat for Humanity, volunteering for UWW is completely free.
Since 2007, Volunteer HQ has sent over 100,000 volunteers to service projects around the world. They offer over 50 destinations for potential volunteers, including China, Australia, Bali, Zambia, Jamaica, and Belize. Though volunteers have to pay to register for VHQ’s service trips, a weeklong trip can cost as little as $180. Let’s take a closer look at the service projects in Buenos Aires to get a feel for Volunteer HQ’s mission.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Volunteers for the VHQ Buenos Aires program can choose to assist in childcare, teaching and education, construction and renovation, healthcare, or sports education.
Childcare volunteers work at local soup kitchens and interact with underprivileged children. In addition to providing meals, volunteers participate in games and activities like songs and crafts. If you’re energetic and love working with children, this may be the program for you.
Teaching and education volunteers also work with children, but a big component of their experience is interacting with teachers and parents. These volunteers work with teachers and parents to provide one-on-one attention to students who can’t keep up with coursework or who are marginalized by their peers. They especially help students learn to speak English.
If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty, check out the construction and renovation program. Construction and renovation volunteers help with painting, furniture repair, gardening, tiling, or constructing building interiors. Communities in Buenos Aires often don’t have the external support they need to sustain safe and comfortable homes for their residents.
In Buenos Aires there are also volunteer opportunities for healthcare professionals. Medical students and nursing students can come to Argentina to explore a foreign healthcare system. Healthcare volunteers will aid local medical staff in clinics and assist with general health screenings. Volunteers for this program need to speak Spanish at a B2 level and provide evidence of their medical training.
Sports education volunteers help physical education teachers with drills and coaching. They advocate health through games and activities. Though local children love soccer and hockey, sports education volunteers encourage the children to try new sports like swimming!
VHQ programs in other parts of the world also include elderly care, special needs care, community aid, food outreach, kindergarten, and marine conservation. The Bali program even has a turtle conservation option! Whatever your interests or budget, Volunteer HQ has an option for you.
Spring into Service
Instead of scrolling through social media this spring break, you can spread the joy of service in your hometown or around the world. You could help build a home in your neighborhood, encourage a struggling teen to graduate from high school, or play soccer with elementary schoolers in Argentina. Most importantly, no matter which service trip you choose, you’ll be choosing to make a difference.