Is a volunteer vacation for you?
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
Concerned about sending your child to a booze-fueled spring break destination? Want to avoid crowded beaches and enjoy a more meaningful experience? Then now is the time to say, "Yes, I can," and take a chance on a volunteer vacation. It may not be a relaxing vacation, but chances are it will be a life-changer. has rounded up four worthwhile experiences this spring and beyond.
Blaze a Trail
The American Hiking Society offers multiple volunteer opportunities to help clean up our nation's trail systems. Each trip is made up of a crew of between six and 15 volunteers and a leader. The Hiking Society has trips organized by level of ruggedness—whether you're sleeping in tents or a cabin—and level of difficulty. The average vacation length is a week, but each volunteer can choose to participate for as long or as short a time period she wishes.

Participants can spend time in Buffalo, Arkansas, helping to build trails along America's first National River, to create walking treads along hillsides. If you're into something more rugged, participate in the Tonto National Forest project, which focuses on only rough trail maintenance, including brushing, cribbing, tread improvement and cutting of approximately 5 miles of trail.

Learn more about America's hiking trails at

But don't confuse a volunteer vacation with a traditional vacation: The work day starts early at 8 a.m., and volunteers work for about seven hours, followed by an afternoon of camp chores and exploring the local area. The really good news is that these experiences are affordable: The first trip costs $245 for American Hiking Society Members and $275 for nonmembers. Every trip after that costs only $175 per person.
Scientific Method
Concerned for Mother Earth's future? Then Earthwatch Institute may be for you. The organization pairs real scientists with volunteers to work on finding solutions to the world's environmental problems. A rendezvous in Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile, on the Easter (Rapa Nui) Culture Expedition starts at $3,750. This expedition allows you to work in beautiful landscapes surrounded by the Easter Island's western and northern coasts to search for prehistoric dwellings, gardens, livestock enclosures and agricultural fields.

In a different Earthwatch Institute trip, you can help scientists combat the main threats to the bottlenose dolphins of Greece on boat for about $2,350.

Earthwatch also offers several teen-specific programs for students, including a nine-day summer experience tracking wildlife in and around New York City, starting from $2,150. Or, track hyenas, cheetahs and more starting from about $3,000. Family-oriented programs are also available in the summer, including a Canadian adventure spent tracking Pacific Grey Whales.

Unite Nations
People to People focuses on engaging its volunteers in discussions to enhance cultural understanding through the exchange of ideas and experiences. The organization was founded in 1956 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Delegates of People to People have worked more 100,000 combined hours of community service all around the world and continue to help today.

Through informational meetings you will find out about volunteering abroad as a United States "ambassador." Upcoming summer programs are open to students in grades 5 to 12, including a 14-day tour of Japan and 20-day tour of Europe. Professionals are also invited to participate in trips, including a program for school administrators in South Africa this April and a tour of China and Tibet this May for nurse anesthetists.

Hard Work in the Big Easy
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and the area still greatly needs our help. New Orleans, which is still hurting from the storm, is very much in need of volunteers. With their focus on construction, legal issues, advocacy through media, technology, police corruption, hunger and homelessness, the organization Common Ground Relief accepts volunteers of all skill types and levels.

Volunteer housing is dorm-style, and most meals are provided in residential areas directly in the Lower Ninth Ward. Volunteers can work for any amount of time they wish and will receive room and board for a minimal sum.

Read a firsthand account of volunteering in New Orleans on

Back to Nature

The Student Conservation Association offers summer programs through National Conservation Crews for high school students ages 15 to 19. Crews range from six to eight students and at least one leader who work on trails and in national parks. Participants gain valuable outdoor leadership knowledge, such as how to filter water and even dig a backcountry latrine.

Programs take place in different locations in all 50 states, running anywhere from 15 to 35 days. For those 18 and older, the SCA also offers internships that can last anywhere from three to 12 months and has opportunities in various service fields.

Are you interested in giving up your vacation to serve others? Have you ever taken a volunteer vacation? Share your story below.


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