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Alternative Spring Break Options (That Don't Involve the Beach)

Alyssa Abel

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Winter break is over and college students are back on campus, tackling their second semester classes. As studying kicks into high gear and they juggle other activities and responsibilities, all while slogging through snow and cold in some parts of the country, it's no wonder they're already looking forward to spring break.

Typical spring break vacations take students to sunny locales like Florida or Las Vegas. While party trips might be fun, they don’t fit everyone’s budget — or personality. Your college student doesn't need to follow the crowd to enjoy their time off.  In fact, they can spend their break in several more productive and memorable ways.

Here are some exciting alternative spring break options that don't involve the beach!

1. Consider Spring Break Study and Service Options

Many colleges offer faculty-led or college-sponsored international trips for students over spring break. These could be service-based (what many people think of first when they hear “alternative spring break”), accompany a class your student is taking, offer an extra credit or provide an on-site study opportunity. In addition to making memories that will last a lifetime, students will save money compared to traditional semester-long study abroad programs.

Encourage your student to start looking into their school’s spring break study abroad options immediately. The college may also organize service projects and trips closer to home — maybe right in the college town. Volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity and United Way coordinate alternative spring break programs as do websites like and International Volunteer HQ. (Google “alternative spring break” and you’ll find many more possibilities!)

2. Schedule a Job Shadow

It's awesome to get a breather from their demanding academic routine, but encourage your student to think about spending at least part of their break exploring what they might want to do for a career. They can use some of their time off to shadow someone who works in a profession that intrigues them.

It’s key is to get started as early as possible, since they'll need to research opportunities and interview at different businesses. A job shadow experience can sometimes be arranged less formally if you have a personal acquaintance who might be available to host your student at their office or firm for a few days.

3. Join an Adventure Club

Your kids can look up clubs, groups or activities to join at home or on/near their campus. They might find something like a kayaking group that's taking members on an adventure trip for spring break. Most groups split the total cost between members, so they'll get a discounted price for an adventure. It's an easy way for students to get away for spring break and try something new.

4. Volunteer for a Good Cause

Alternative spring break volunteering in a gardenAnother great way to spend time is to help others who are less fortunate. Your student might be ready to move beyond the food pantries and pet shelters where they’ve volunteered in the past and try something new and more challenging. They could volunteer to help refugees by donating time as a translator or hosting a fundraiser. Help your student figure out which causes they feel strongly about and encourage them to volunteer during spring break. If they connect with a cause on or near campus, they can continue to volunteer throughout the school year, building a deeper relationships with the organization. This is a great idea for a student who’s considering non-profit work after graduation.

5. Visit Historic and Culturally Significant Locations

Does your college student love to step back through time and see artifacts from another era? They could visit historical locations this spring. Many offer inexpensive tours, and destinations like Washington, D.C., let people into museums for free because they receive public funding. While your student’s friends snap pictures on the sand, yours will learn something new about the world.

Your student could pick a theme for this kind of activity, based on a time period (the Civil War, the Jazz Age), or a theme or topic (immigration, modern architecture, food!). Plan day trips or a budget road trip with you or some of their college buddies.

6. Kick Back on a Staycation

Finances are tight for many families during the college years. A spring break vacation isn't always feasible.

Encourage your student to enjoy a staycation instead of taking money from their savings account to go to the beach. Throw a movie night once everyone's back at your house or host a themed dinner party with friends. There are plenty of ways to have fun at home, as long as you get creative and enjoy each other’s company. How about archery dodgeball, or an escape room?

7. Camp Out With Friends

Checking into a hotel isn't the only option for getting out of town. Your student can plan a group trip with their friends and bring everything they'll need to ensure a good time. (The outdoors club or recreation center at their college may have gear they can check out for the week.) Reserved campsites are much cheaper than any hotel, and you can book a spot that features fun activities to fill their week. Your kids and their friends can learn how to fish, go hiking or cook every meal over the campfire. Make sure they take pictures to capture the memories.

If they’re thinking RV, remind them that in many states you need to be 21 to rent one. They should be clear on the rules. Car camping or backpacking may be their best option.

8. Spend Time With Relatives

You don't need to wait until the holidays to visit family members who live out of town. Swing by and pick up your kid from college to visit grandparents, or aunts, uncles and cousins you haven't seen in a while. Make it a road trip and stop in different states along the way. Catching up with loved ones can be the best vacation of all.

Encourage your student to spend their spring break differently.

There’s nothing wrong with sun and sand, but maybe another opportunity is calling to your student this year. Whether they’re making the most of time at home, pursuing an international experience or volunteering time and energy to those in need, a meaningful spring break experience will make much better memories.

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Alyssa Abel is an education writer and blogger with a focus on higher education. Read more of her work for students, educators and parents on her website,
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