Feb. 12, 2024

Travelling With Team TyKat

Amazing Race Canada winner and UCalgary graduate Katrina (Kat) Kastner BA’20 talks about life since the race, her new fiancee Ty Smith and shares some of Team TyKat’s travel tips for couples.
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In a world brimming with challenges, triumphs and unexpected twists, Katrina (Kat) Kastner, BA’20, and her fiancé, Tyler (Ty) Smith, are more than ready to take the road less travelled. 

These two remarkable individuals not only strengthened their relationship, but also bravely faced adversity, clinching victory as the winners of Season 9 of The Amazing Race Canada in 2023. Even for the most seasoned relationships, travel can be a literal and figurative wild ride. So, as they bask in the glow of their recent engagement, "Team TyKat" is not just telling us about their own story; they are our go-to gurus for travel tips, perfect for couples gearing up for their own adventure.

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Kastner is a Communications graduate of the University of Calgary who is passionate about mental health advocacy and opening the conversation on anxiety, empowerment and resilience. Smith, a survivor of the heartbreaking 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash, is also a public speaker and podcast host who specializes in mental health and dealing with trauma. 

They captured the hearts of Canadians when they embarked on the adventure of a lifetime on the popular competition-travel series. Dubbed “Team TyKat,” the couple’s chemistry, determination and infectious energy quickly made them fan favourites as they raced across the country, overcoming challenges and forging an unbreakable bond. The win also served as a culmination of their five-year journey as a couple. 

"When we first started dating, we spontaneously booked a trip to Europe, despite neither of us having travelled outside North America before,” says Kastner. “It was a test: three months into our relationship, and it turned out to be one of the best trips ever since we learned we can travel well together, and our relationship took off from there. 

“When the [Amazing Race] opportunity came, we saw it as another chance to test our relationship."

TyKat Engagement

Last month, the couple delighted their followers with the heartwarming announcement that they were engaged. Appropriately, the proposal took place during yet another trip, this time on a beach in Mexico.

Team TyKat have not let their impending nuptials slow them down either, making the most of their celebrity to help the causes that mean the most to them. Together they have founded a social enterprise, Not Alone, which is both a mental health community and a clothing line that focuses on breaking the stigma around mental health. 

"It's about proudly embracing your vulnerability and understanding that you're not alone in your feelings; we always say that your story might be the light at the end of someone else's tunnel,” says Kastner. “Our focus is on fostering a community that encourages owning your story, embracing vulnerability and acknowledging that it's okay not to be okay, because everyone faces their own struggles."

Travel Tips from Team TyKat

Embrace the unexpected:
Just like on The Amazing Race, always be open to unexpected twists and turns during your travels. It is the unpredictability that often leads to the most memorable moments, and you need to be able to roll with the punches.

Says Kastner: “We always had a saying to keep us going during each leg of the trip, and early on we would say, ‘That's just showbiz, baby.’. It’s about setting the right intention for the day and having something to fall back on when times get tough. So, if you are late for a flight, that's just showbiz. You have got to learn to take it lightly [and] move on; those things will happen when you are travelling.”

Communication is key:
Like anything is a relationship, clear communication is essential, whether you are navigating a bustling city or hiking a scenic trail. Discuss preferences, expectations and plans with your travel partner beforehand to ensure a smooth journey.

Says Kastner: “Whether you prefer sticking to an itinerary or going with the flow, finding someone whose travel style aligns with yours is key when planning a vacation. I'm an itinerary person, while Tyler is not. On vacation, he follows my lead. But, during the race, every day was spontaneous; waking up, reading the clue and off we went! It took some adjustment for me as a Type A person who likes to plan, but it was a valuable experience to let go, be present and loosen the reins on control.”

Create shared memories:
Take the time to capture moments together through photos and videos, but do not forget to savour the shared moments. These memories will become treasures that you can revisit and reminisce about in the years to come.

Says Kastner: “I genuinely enjoy capturing special moments through photography, but participating in the race taught me the importance of being fully present. Throughout the competition, we didn't have access to our phones, and it was surprising how much it positively impacted my sleep patterns and overall clarity of memories. This experience prompted me to commit to having at least two days without my phone during every vacation. It's refreshing to disconnect and fully immerse myself in the present moment, something we often neglect in our daily lives. I believe it's essential to cherish these moments, but I also recommend taking a day or two to intentionally leave your phone behind and savour the unfiltered experiences.”

TyKat Dance

Try something new:
Being open to exploring local recommendations and changing plans if you come across something interesting is always a wonderful way to make a memory. Whether it's a new food, activity or cultural experience, embrace the culture and be open to trying new things together.

Says Kastner: “I think it's always important to try new things when you are visiting somewhere. We always try to find out if there is a signature food, activity or traditions where we travel. Immersing yourself in local culture or traditions has resulted in some of our favourite moments and, regardless, you never regret trying something new. We loved the schnitzel we had in Austria and the Pasteis de nata in Portugal!”

Take some “me” time:
Though Team TyKat couldn’t enjoy any real solo time on The Amazing Race (not with a video crew following them around), taking the time to allocate personal downtime for each other during your travels is crucial for maintaining a healthy and enjoyable journey together.

Says Kastner: “I find it super-important. We didn't have much time for that during the race where you are locked in together. But, when we travel, I always make a point to get up early and go take pictures of the sunrise. Those little solo morning walks, whether it is grabbing a coffee or just strolling alone, are crucial for me. I like to take that solo time and I recommend that for other people, too. Even though you are travelling with someone, it is nice to be able to also take in the landscape on your own and do some self-reflection of where you are.”

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The journey is often as important as the destination

When it comes to travel experiences, the journey becomes not only a physical exploration of new landscapes, but also an intimate exploration of oneself and one's relationship dynamics. 

From navigating the unexpected twists with a resilient spirit to choosing the right travel companion, the lessons learned from the adventures of Team TyKat offer inspiration for couples embarking on their own journeys. Whether it is embracing the unpredictability, finding a balance between spontaneity and planning, or cherishing solo moments for self-reflection, the key lies in crafting a travel experience that resonates with both individuals. 

As the couple reflects on their race around Canada and the lessons gleaned, it becomes evident that, in the end, travel is not just about the places visited, but the transformative journey it sparks within. So, as you plan your next escapade with a partner, remember to savour the moments, embrace the unexpected and, most importantly, ensure that the adventure aligns not just with your destination playlist, but with the mixtape of your shared journey.

What’s next for Team #TyKat?

“I love the social impact sphere,” says Kastner. “That's really where I see myself working for the rest of my career, but in the immediate future, we are just taking some time to travel and take some time to reflect and enjoy the blessings we have had the past year. But, as I look forward, I think we will both kind of stay in that social impact sphere and see how we can make a difference.”