While discussing my work with some friends over dinner last night, one of them asked the first question that often comes to mind when we talk about alternative breaks: “How do students pay for these trips? They must be expensive, right?”

When students participate in Branch Out alternative breaks, they partner with community members (who are right down the road and all around the world) to work toward the goals of that community. They may build houses, teach children, develop curriculum, spruce up a room for returned citizens’ GED classes, remove invasive species, or educate people about HIV prevention. All of it, good work – but of course, it comes along with costs for van rentals, food, plane tickets, housing, community support, and project supplies. So while our alternative break trips do good, they are not free.

Thanks to the generosity of alumni and other donors, we are able to offset the costs of many of our trips. All Branch Out Regional weekend breaks are totally free to participants. And while we keep our costs for National and International trips as low as possible (thanks to our relentless practice of the Universal Principle of Thrift and simple living), domestic trips are $250 each, and international, anywhere from $1,100 to more than $2,000. Through need-based financial aid, we distribute more than $15,000 each year to participants who otherwise could not go on a break trip. And, we offer fundraising training and resources for those who are looking for ways to lower their trip cost.

My friend’s question reminded me of a core commitment that Branch Out has been living into more and more in recent years: inclusion and access for all interested participants. Our need-based financial aid program makes that more possible. We have an audacious goal of building up our funds over the next three years, so that we can provide more financial aid, and – we hope – reduce the cost of trips across the board.

So, if you’re thinking about joining an alternative break team, my message for you is this: yes, these trips can be expensive. But our teams’ learning, discussions, and contributions to communities would be less meaningful without you. Don’t let financial concerns stop you. Talk to us about our financial aid program for international and national trips, because we need you on these trips.