For millions of college-age kids, spring break is a time to take out the swimwear and head to the beach. Destinations along the Gulf Coast, Florida and Mexico are overrun with young travelers during March and April, and most of these young visitors spend their days sunbathing and their nights partying.

But more and more young people are passing up the revelry and choosing a different type of spring break experience. A style of travel known as voluntourism has become an exciting alternative for more young travelers — and for more travelers in general.

In fact, it’s hard to define voluntourism as a single type of travel experience. Some volunteer vacations bring travelers to national parks or protected areas to engage in conservation and clean-up efforts. Others feature work on not-for-profit farms or low-income housing projects. Some vacations take travelers further afield. They go overseas to rural communities to teach English or spend time with disabled orphans.

a student volunteer teaches a little girl in Kenya to play guitar

A volunteer teaches a child in Kenya to play the guitar. (Photo: United Planet)

The costs and benefits
Volunteer vacation price tags vary. Many international volunteer trips include room and board, so they could be classified as all-inclusive. The overall cost is often similar to a standard spring break vacation.

So why is volunteer travel becoming more popular? Because the companies offering them realize that people who participate want to give, but they also want to gain.

For example, i to i Travel, a company that specializes in voluntourism and English teaching experiences, offers a number of destination choices. Students can spend their time working with orphans in Vietnam, saving sea turtles in Costa Rica or helping rural communities improve in Kenya.

The main attractions include working alongside the locals and the adventure of seeing a place far outside the usual tourist realm. And most volunteer vacations are not all work. The students who embark on these trips have a chance to take some time off to enjoy the famous cuisine of Vietnam, the wildlife in rural Kenya, or the perfect surfing conditions along the coast of Costa Rica.

Like standard travel, international voluntourism trips are more expensive than domestic options. There are plenty of U.S.-based charity trips available for lower prices, and many of these still offer room and board. If you can avoid air travel or find low-cost tickets, domestic voluntourism options can be cheaper than spring break in Jamaica or Mexico.

voluntourism students in costa rica working with nature

Student volunteers do nature conservation work in Costa Rica. (Photo: Frontierofficial)

Do what you love

Some U.S. volunteer vacation options fit in a specific niche. For example, the American Hiking Association leads volunteer treks that focus on upgrading or repairing sections of trail around the country. The Student United Way, meanwhile, offers “alternative spring break” experiences. Though these options are limited to students, they are cheaper, and, in some cases, room and board is free. These spring break trips include cleaning up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, building low-income housing in El Paso, or helping locals create food security in rural Tennessee.

To get the most out of a voluntourism spring break, find an experience that matches your interests. VolunteerGude.com offers a list of different causes that need volunteers. You can find an area that you are passionate about and research from there.

Though there's something attractive about the voluntourism movement as an alternative spring break, but it isn’t necessary to forego the beach every spring. Volunteer opportunities are available year round. If you're in search of a different experience, voluntourism could be the perfect option — an experience that will give you the opportunity to do charity work while also immersing yourself in a new culture and enjoying adventures that are out of reach for mainstream tourists.

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