From monasteries to cat sanctuaries: a high school senior’s unforgettable gap year


Photo contributed by Dani Garcia '23.

Dani Garcia ’23 plans to travel the world on her upcoming gap year. She will stay in seven countries across Europe and Asia, working in a variety of eclectic jobs in exchange for free food and housing.

When people think of travel, they typically think of visiting famous landmarks, snapping some pictures, eating some yummy food, relaxing and making their insta that much more international. 

Meet Dani Garcia ’23, whose idea of travel is far from typical.

 Garcia plans to travel the world by herself on a gap year, from France to Taiwan, exploring cultures unlike her own and discovering futures she may want to pursue. Garcia will travel and explore these countries nearly for free through the Workaway program, staying in eclectic locations and working for locals. This international online platform allows travelers to get free housing and food by working for their hosts and spending free time exploring the area and culture around them. 

Garcia’s interest in taking a year to travel was initially sparked in her sophomore year when she wrote her research paper on gap years. Furthering this interest was her self-described international family. Garcia’s immediate family is Mexican and her stepsisters, who are from Belgium, both took gap years. 

“In my family, it’s almost like it was encouraged,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t even questioned for doing it [..] they were like, ‘that’s a really good idea.’” 

Garcia, already fluent in Spanish, plans to reach conversational French during her visit to France. In Germany, Garcia plans to work at the Oktoberfest festival in Munich, continuing her study of German from her freshman year at Staples. 

“I get free food and accommodation and I think free beer,” Garcia said.

After her months in France and Germany, Garcia plans to spend a month between the Netherlands and Scotland. There, Garcia plans to stay with family and spend her time touring colleges in these areas. She plans to attend college in Europe and start her career there, ultimately hoping to obtain citizenship. 

“The reason I didn’t go to college was because I’m like, okay, I know what I want to study, but do I really know what I want to do after that?” Garcia  said. “So I want to see the ways that other people live and see if one of them really appeals to me so I can start working towards it.”

After that, Garcia is off to Thailand, where she is weighing her options between working as a translator for Spanish speakers in hotels or working at a hostel famous for its full moon parties. These all-night beach parties take place on the full moon each month and have become a destination for many travelers in Southeast Asia. Next, In Taiwan, Garcia plans to split her time between a workaway at a Buddhist monastery and a mountain farm.

I don’t really wanna live in the US. I don’t really wanna have a family. I wanna live somewhere remote, in nature. So I’m trying to find people who do that and I wanna get to know their stories.

— Dani Garcia ’23

“What really got me excited for this one is that [they say] bean sprouts, tea leaves, and peaches are the best souvenirs,” Garcia  said.

She plans to spend two to three months in both Thailand and Taiwan and then return to Europe for her final destination. In Croatia, Garcia will live on a remote island taking care of several dozen cats in a cat sanctuary. She will live in near-total isolation on her stay there, permitted only weekly trips to the owner’s house to bathe and do laundry. 

“I didn’t really feel that it was too crazy,” Garcia said, “until I started talking to other people and I was like, oh yeah, it is, I guess.” 

While her family was happy with the idea of her going on a gap year, Garcia describes that she didn’t feel this was as accepted in school.

“It’s almost shunned,” Garcia said. “I remember when I told my counselor, he was like, are you sure you wanna do this?”

Garcia is looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. She hopes to find a path to her future through the unconventional cultures of the eclectic places she plans to visit.

“I don’t really wanna live in the US. I don’t really wanna have a family. […] I wanna live somewhere remote, in nature […]” Garcia said. “So I’m trying to find people who do that and I wanna get to know their stories.”