By Kyle Stepp, Do Good Ambassador and Team USA Paratriathlete
Have you ever booked a plane ticket to a place you’ve never been with a group of strangers you’ve never met?
No? Me neither.
Whether I’m traveling with familiar companions or solo, I have always found visiting a new place rejuvenating, with endless opportunities for discovery, growth, and connection. But there’s an often-overlooked travel option that holds the promise of unparalleled adventure and personal growth: traveling to a new place with a group of strangers.
Growing up, I never really had the resources or access to travel, so after graduating college, I made a commitment to myself to travel as much as possible. In 2023, I set a goal to travel to South America. I didn't know when, where, or who I would travel with, but I knew this was a bucket list trip. Coincidentally, earlier this year, I was invited to go on a week-long trip to Chile.
With its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Chile stretches across a vast array of geographical terrain between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, from the Atacama Desert to the glaciers of Patagonia. I had to take a second look at a map to understand it all.
On my trip, I experienced a lot of firsts on how to travel while living with a disability that you often don't get taught. Traveling as an amputee comes with all sorts of hurdles, from navigating airport security to ensuring that I had a place to charge my prosthetic knee.
As an above-knee amputee, I use a microprocessor knee (a fancy way of saying my knee is computerized). For the knee to function correctly, I have to charge it every 24-36 hours. Luckily, I could charge my knee on the plane, but I knew our first stop would put that to the test after we landed in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth.
Over the course of two days in the Atacama, we went from hiking at 14,000ft in the Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces, to camping at the Refugio Maricunga by Laguna Santa Rosa, to sleeping under the stars in the sand dunes. Visiting the desert definitely put my prosthetic to the test.
"I would be lying to you if I said having a prosthetic wasn't a challenge, but I found joy in every step."
Let's just say, hiking in sand dunes + having a prosthetic = tough to navigate (but well worth it!). Remember that part about having to charge my knee? Well, the battery eventually died–but luckily, we had a generator.
"The funny part about our desert adventures? I’m still finding sand in my prosthetic foot!"
After spending days in the raw wilderness, stopping in the colorful and vibrant city of Valparaíso for an urban adventure was a sensory explosion. This trip was a perfect break from my triathlon training, but when we got to Valparaíso, I got to squeeze in a couple early morning runs.
"There is something magical about the tranquility of dawn that provides a unique perspective on a city's character."
Getting up early to go for a run is arguably the best way to explore a new city. Running through the cobbled stones, past all the street art and local hidden gems allows you to connect with the city's heartbeat. With fewer people around, every sound and sight became more vivid, and even though I was running, everything slowed down.
The best part of the trip was the unique adventure of building lifelong friendships with strangers. While the idea of traveling with strangers may seem intimidating at first, it holds the promise of unexpected experiences and personal growth. From fostering genuine connections to pushing each other outside your comfort zone, it’s worth the risk. Next time you plan a trip, consider joining a group of strangers—it may be the most rewarding adventure of your life.