The tanned, barfing masses at spring break and the weird stomach aliments that plague cruise ships don’t say “Vacation” to me. I’d rather bring a good story back from my vacation, not a legacy of liver damage and a misspelled tattoo (Who is Brad? Is “4eVR” grammatically correct? Is that the Chinese character for “Awesome?”)
So how does one break free from the mindless merry-go-round of binge-drinking, hotel buffets and tanning that characterize the modern vacation?
Take time off work or school, and go work your tail off for free. Volunteer. Work without pay. For serious.
There are advantages to volunteering your vacation for the variety of awesome conservation-related organizations that offer what are typically called “alternative spring breaks” or “volunteer vacations.”
Here are a few:
It doesn’t matter if you’re painting blazes on trees, doing a bird count, or building a rock staircase. Actually, building rock staircases is very difficult, but even bird-counting burns more calories than consuming margaritas from tureen.
I’ve ended up on the summit of a mountain in Alaska, and seen the sun set into the pacific ocean from a cliff-side cabin – an area off-limits to most visitors. Conservation volunteers get access to beautiful, unique places. Volunteers get the hook-up when land managers waive the fees that other visitors have to pay, and provide access to special, little known corners of National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
Potential tax advantages
Consult your tax professional, religious leader and plumber on this one, but according to the Internal Revenue Service, and all-around outdoor geniuses at Section Hiker, some of the money you spend as a volunteer is deductible. That flight from Boston to Cali to work on the Pacific Crest Trail? Potentially deductible! The burgers you chomped after cutting brush all day? Potentially deductible! The king-size bottle of Cuervo you purchased duty free? Probably not deductible.
Although photobombing your friends in a Tiki bar is fun (Full disclosure – I have never done this), your dirt-streaked, smiling face on the top of some scenic summit is a great conversation starter, won’t get you banned on Facebook, and you’ll be able to share it with family, friends and colleagues.
Volunteering for a conservation organization is a great way to meet outdoorsy friends.
A Sense of Purpose.
The average American life expectancy is 78 years. Doing something to help the planet gives you a warm, wonderful feeling that lasts a lot longer than (most) hangovers or a sunburns.
Where can you get involved with an Alternative Spring Break or a Volunteer Vacation?
Here are just a few of the wonderful organizations that offer volunteer vacations and alternative spring breaks. There are hundreds out there, and these are just a few I’ve had direct experience with:
1. Pacific Crest Trail Association
The Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Volunteer Program provides a packed schedule of volunteer opportunities on the beautiful 2,650 mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. PCTA provides special volunteer opportunities for youth and even runs the “Trail Skills College” – a series of advanced training camps for volunteers
2. Sierra Club
The Sierra Club’s Volunteer Vacation experiences are a little more luxe and spendy then others, but don’t require as much planning as trips with smaller organizations. They have a slammin’ schedule of service trips to iconic destinations this year.
3. American Hiking Society
American Hiking Volunteer Vacations focus on locations that offer great hiking. They’re affordable, and offer a lot of time for exploration! (Full disclosure – I worked at AHS for a long time, volunteered often, and had a blast!)