Australia Idol, winner of multiple ARIA award, television host and finalist on Dancing With The Stars Damien Leith travels nearly every other week interstate in Australia (he lives in Sydney) or overseas to the US. He has been almost everywhere in Europe, lived in Africa and boasts a huge list of countries visited including Hong Kong, Kenya, Spain, Nepal, Namibia, Singapore…the list goes on. Still, the travel bug hasn’t been satiated and he makes it a point to make sure Jarvis (8), Jagger (6) and Kikki (3) – his kids – will love travel too. Damien tells suitcases&strollers his travel tips for successful family holiday and how to survive long haul flights with kids.
Before you had kids, how frequently were you travelling?
I travelled as kid with my parents. My dad a contractor so we travelled all across the world and were always on the road; for example we lived in Africa for nearly 13 years. As adult with my wife we used to try to do a trip every couple of months. It didn’t need to be anything fancy; we just like to move.
Before you had kids, where was your favourite destination to travel to?
I loved India and Nepal. We did them in one trip and it was fantastic. It was our honeymoon and I loved the adventure of it. We had just got married, we were backpacking through countries we’d never been to seeing places we didn’t know much about at all. India is such a vibrant and diverse country. Everything is going on all at once and I love that. It really was a huge eye opener and a serious adventure.
How has travel changed for you since having kids?
Travelling now centres around our kids. We still try to travel as much as possible but we have to be an awful lot more mindful of the needs of the kids to make sure wherever we travel to is kid-friendly. We always try to make sure there is enough there for kids and adults. If the kids are having no fun it can turn around your whole trip; then it’s a disaster!
How frequently do you travel on family holidays?
Twice a year we do a big trip. The last trip we did was in Ireland for 7 weeks over Christmas. We are going to the Philippines at the end of this year.
But it’s not always a big trip. We love heading out to the country, bringing a tent and setting up somewhere. We like visiting friends and putting up a tent in their garden. I’m a country kid originally so I love the outdoors and I want my kids to enjoy the outdoors as well.
We try to see lots of Australia. We just get into the car, load it up and off you go.
Is it important for kids to travel?
Yes. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If it can be overseas, that’s great if you can [afford it. But e]ven just getting to know your own backyard, hopping around different towns and seeing more of your own country is great for kids. It gives them stories to tell. In every little town you come across you will find something new or different and that gets you out of daily routine as well.
What do kids get out of travelling that they don't get staying at home?
There’s diversity in travel. When you’re at home you get into soccer practice or whatever and suddenly each week has its routine and you just follow it. But when you travel with kids it takes everyone out of those routines. It shows them something different and they have to adapt. It’s good for kids to sometimes be out of their comfort zone.
Why don’t you bring your kids on tour?
It’s too difficult. They’re just too young. Especially with singing, it’s all about watching your voice. You perform and the next day you're voice needs to bounce back. My kids like to get up 5.30 in the morning so that not great for the voice at all! There’s also a lot of long drives and the novelty wears off for them after very short space of time. When we arrive I’ve got to do sound checks but they want to go to the playground. It’s not very fair for them.
Where is your favourite destination to travel to now?
Ireland. That’s more about sentimentality because I’ve been away for 11 years now so I really look forward to going there. We normally go to my hometown County Kildare about half an hour from Dublin. I grew up in a little tiny village outside of Newbridge. I love it there. I love the air and there’s a lot of memories there from growing up.
I know my kids love it too as they have all their cousins over there that they never get to see. When they all meet up it’s like they only just saw them yesterday – they just settle into having a good time.
Where has been your kids’ favourite family holiday destination?
If you ask them they’d probably say “the farm”. Friends of our have farm in New South Wales [Australia] up near Mittagong. They love to feed the animals.
I know that they also love Fiji. It really caters for parents and kids. Parents can have their time together to unwind while the kids are at kids’ club. It’s reasonably priced as well. Trips like that are great way to unwind without costing an arm and a leg.
Where has been the most surprising destination you’ve been to?
I went to Thredbo [ski village in New South Wales, Australia] not during ski season. It was still chilly and cold but there was no snow. I loved it. We had one of our nicest mini weekends away. It is such a beautiful little town and I didn’t expect that at all.
Do you have a regular family holiday destination?
We’ve been to Qatar in the Middle East a few times because my parents live.
But I reckon the most regular place for us is Fiji. It’s not far and from the moment you get off the plane, you relax. Everything is looked after and it is very easy going.
Where is the one place in the world that you want to travel with kids that they haven’t been?
South America. That’s top of our list. We’ve always said we want to go there, even before we had kids. We’d love to bring them to Africa as well. In both cases I just think they need to be tiny bit older to appreciate it, enjoy it and for ease of travel.
Years ago we used to plan trips with just my wife and I but now I don’t like doing trips when it’s not the whole family. That’s the whole adventure – seeing how the kids respond and what they really like versus what you like. That what it’s all about.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would not recommend for kids?
No. I’ve never had any bad experiences anywhere. I would hate to pick a place and say it wasn’t kid-friendly.
For instance, I love Thailand. But I didn’t think the kids enjoyed it as much. I don’t know why. We didn’t go to the islands, so maybe it was too hectic for the kids with all the driving around. That’s why I mean about planning family holidays and really being mindful of what kids and cannot endure. The adults really enjoyed the adventure aspect but after a few days I think the kids just wanted to go to the beach and swim.
What are your top 3 tips for planning a successful and memorable family holiday?
1. Planning. It’s really important that you get all the information. Find as many different options, opportunities and things you can do while you are there so you are fully prepared when you get off plane. Know straight away how to keep the kids occupied when things get a bit quiet.
2. Make sure there is some parents-only time. If you can, plan a holiday where there is somewhere along way for parents to just hang out as well. It’s supposed to be a holiday for everyone and everyone needs to unwind.
3. Just relax. I see a lot of people, including myself, get a little bit stressed around the kids and that takes the fun out of it. You are so concerned about the kids not misbehaving on the flight, for example, that you are actually making stressed. For us, we just try to chill a little bit. Yes you’ve still got to make sure you child doesn’t misbehave, but the more relaxed and at ease the parents are, the more the kids are. Get involved in whatever they are doing. Sit down and watch the movie with them, help them with the food and have a definite sleep time.
Sleep is really important. We show our kids sleep time on our watches so they know right from the start that this is what is going to happen.
If you are travelling as couple, it’s great if you can tag team a bit. One sleeps, then the other sleeps. The more refreshed you are, the better you will work with the kids as they start to get tired.
[For more tips on flying with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Which are your top 3 don't miss family-friendly vacation destinations?
1. Fiji. It’s very family-friendly.
2. The coastal towns in Queensland. We’ve been to Caloundra a lot and we love it. It’s absolutely beautiful and easy to get around. It’s not too busy and doesn’t get too hectic. Lots of the Australian coastal towns ad like this. Just go to somewhere like Jervis Bay and bring a tent. [For more travel tips on things to do in the Sunshine Coast with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
3. It’s not an ultimate must-do destination, but Hong Kong Disneyland was very nice and the kids really enjoyed it. It’s likely a place you’d stop for three days on a short visit as you are travelling through enroute to somewhere else. For us, it’s part of the route back from Australia to Ireland. It’s a lot of fun.
For more travel tips on camping with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
To read the suitcases&strollers interview with Stars In Their Eyes winner and singer Mandy Pickering, see the suitcases&strollers story Christchurch Insider.
Image: Andrew McCudden