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Green break

An environmentally-friendly spring break may be easier—and more fun—than you think

By Shanna Mooney

Imagine a spring break where your ecological footprint is nonexistent. Last year, Gavin Huang, now a freshman
at Dartmouth University lived it. He was a Key Club member at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, New York, when he took an environmentally-friendly trip as part of his college’s orientation program.

The five-day canoeing trip took him downriver from Maine to New Hampshire. During the day, the group paddled along the Androscoggin River and at night, they set up camp. “We were encouraged to use non-paper bowls, plates and utensils and washed them by rinsing them with lake and river water,” Huang says. “We didn’t have a campfire, so we used a portable camp stove. All of our meals were vegetarian; there was no meat and we used vegetables that were grown by farmers in the area. Often, the sites we went to didn’t have outhouses, so we used trowels to dig holes for ourselves. We slept under a tarp each night, and every morning, we picked up our trash and carried the bags with us in our canoes until we reached a site that had garbage disposal.

“I would say we were spectators of nature. It was just comforting to relax and paddle our way through trees, between mountains and past different wildlife. At one point, we spotted a bald eagle. After five days, our ecological
footprint was nil.” If you or your club can swing it, consider an alternative spring break like the one Huang experienced. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Take a service trip
Past Wisconsin-Upper Michigan District Governor, Emily Mulloy, now attends Boston University, but her Key Club-bred service mentality traveled with her. In fact, she now serves as an alternative spring break trip coordinator. Check out what she has to say about alternative spring break trips.

“An alternative spring break is exactly what it sounds like: a different way to experience your week away from school,” she says. “I’m coordinating a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where my group will build wheelchair ramps throughout the middle part of the state.”

Emily understands the allure of the beach, but she really thinks everyone should try an “alternative.”

“Often, kids are brought up in such a way that there’s only one option for spring break—to go to Florida, relax and go completely outside the norm of their typical behavior. However, here at BU, we’re trying to take the fun and relaxation of spring break and combine it with the idea of making a difference. With more than 30 different trips to locations around the United States and Puerto Rico, college students can see the new places, while also making it a better place,” Mulloy says.

Most trips last five to seven days, with at least five days spent at their service location. The days are spent working with a specific group, such as United Cerebral Palsy, Habitat for Humanity or the Target House, to name just a few. At night, groups can explore the city, meet new people and eat delicious food, specific
to their location. “I feel that participating in an alternative spring break is something that every student should at least try,” she says.

Launch a project at home
The Key Club of Livonia High School in New York got involved with Pack, Paddle, Ski—and turned the connection into a great club project.

“My family has been involved with Pack, Paddle, Ski for years,” club president Maggie Hanafin told Pack, Paddle, Ski. Most recently, her parents went on a Kilimanjaro climb. When she read in the PPS newsletter that someone was seeking clothing and other donations, she knew just what to do. After getting enthusiastic approval
from her club, the group helped put up posters and made announcements throughout the school district.

“Then we decorated big boxes and left them in the schools,” she says. “We had to check them about every other day to empty them because we go so many donations.”

Try a staycation
Another “green break” option: The staycation. Follow the model of the Kiwanis club travelogue, where someone gives a presentation and members watch a video about a particular destination. Then add a related service project to the mix. Why stop there? Serve snacks from the region and, dress the way the natives do. Walk or bike to the event. Think of all the gas you’ll save!

Green travel programs

Work with your Key Club advisor, your parents and your friends to pick a project or organization and get involved. Check out these tour operators:
Country Walkers
Earthwatch Institute
Elevate Destination
Intrepid Travel
Kumuka Worldwide
Pack, Paddle, Ski
REI Adventure
Sierra Club Outings
Travel Green Wisconsin
Undiscovered Country Tours
Virginia Green
World Wildlife Fund

Travel tweaks

Simple tips for traveling green

No matter your travel style, making tweaks here and there can make your trip more ecofriendly. Pick and choose from the tips below for your chosen journey:

Start at home.
Before you take off, turn off (or at least down) heat and air conditioners, unplug computers,
televisions and gaming consoles (they’ll continue to use energy as long as they’re plugged in) and stop newspaper delivery (some papers also allow you to “donate” yours to schools, where they can be delivered there while you’re away).

Use an e-tinerary along with your eticket.
Why print directions, travel plans, etc. if you don’t have to? Simply
access those items through your smart phone.

Reuse your hotel towels.
If you don’t see one of those little cards in the bathroom informing you of that option, put your “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so the housekeeper doesn’t come in to change towels every day.

Walk, bike or take mass transportation.
Many cities also offer walking tours, which is a fun, informative and green way to sightsee.

Research green lodging.
The Green Hotel Association brings together people interested in environmental issues and provides members with guidelines and ideas for reducing bills. It also gives you access to the info online at

Stay at a bed and breakfast.
Mom-and-pop-type places have to keep their eye on the bottom line, so they aren’t going to waste much. Many B&Bs support local farmers by offering fresh, local options rather than food shipped in from around the world. No matter where you stay, ask management if they recycle, check to see if they use CFL bulbs in lamps and offer guests the option to reuse their towels, etc.

Camp responsibly.
What better way to get closer to the Earth than to camp? Don’t forget to use only local wood purchased at
your campground or, if allowed, wood that’s fallen nearby. Don’t burn your trash; take it with you and recycle.

Don’t stash trash.
When eating out, take only the amount of condiment packets, napkins, etc. that you’re going to use. And avoid stuffing your bag with freebies from the brochure rack. Just look for a Web address on the brochure, look up the destination on your smart phone and return the brochure to the stand.

Ditch disposables.
Break your hoarding habit and donate all those tiny bottles of lotion and shampoo you’ve been collecting to a homeless shelter. Just save one of each and reuse them again and again. Stop using new ones in hotels.