“Travel shows our family we can try anything and proves to others that disability is not something to pity but something to be celebrated.” Bronwyn Leeks
I recently met Bronwyn Leeks through Instagram and was immediately taken by her zeal for family travel. Based in Melbourne, Bronwyn along with her husband Andrew and children Cooper (10), Pepper (7), and Elwood (4), regularly head overseas and have so far explored plenty of South East Asia and Western Europe. Cooper’s wheelchair also comes along for the ride. They chronicle their adventures at Smiths Holiday Road blog and I was really keen to find out more about it and their travels abroad.
What is Smiths Holiday Road blog about and why did you decide to initiate it?
I had been blogging for over five years but it was always more personal with a focus other than travel. Last year just before we travelled to Europe I decided to start fresh with a new blog just about our adventures. It’s called Smiths Holiday Road because we love and are often like the Griswalds from National Lampoons.
When did your own interest in travel begin?
My parents met while working for the airline TAA in 1974. I was born in 1976 and at 8 weeks old jumped on a plane to meet my grandmother in Brisbane. We did lots of trips to QLD and my first international flight was to Bali when I was 4. We did lots of domestic trips and I went to Sri Lanka when I was 14 then a few months later headed to Germany on student exchange for 4 months. After I finished high school and study I backpacked around Thailand for a month then a year later spent 3 months teaching kids to ski in Lake Tahoe, California. I came home and then a few months later met Andrew. That was 12 years ago.
Did you find it hard transitioning from travelling as a couple to travelling with kids?
Andrew and I had lots of travel planned together. We discovered Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation in QLD and planned to go to Vietnam. We also thought it would take a long while to conceive our first child! So Vietnam as a couple never happened and we welcomed Cooper our first born in 2005. Pepper was born in 2008 and Elwood in 2011.
We had our first child free holiday to Japan in 2013. It was a great way to do it as we really appreciated everything! Sleep ins, conversation, uninterrupted mealtimes and just time to be together. My parents had the three kids and funnily enough are not offering that service again!
Where have you travelled with your children so far?
So far we have been to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, England, Germany, Italy, Dubai, Amsterdam, Paris and Wales.
Do you aim to return to some of the same places or is your aim to see somewhere different every time?
We have been to Cambodia twice and plan to go back again. Some places we will return to and others were great as a once off. We have a special relationship with Siem Reap and an organisation called New Hope as Cooper raised $15,000 by walking a kilometre in his walker and they built a kindergarten.
Do you have a favourite place you have been with the kids so far and if so why?
It would have to be Cambodia for the perfect mix of temples, history, city and beach. It’s easily accessible from Australia, affordable and challenges us.
You wrote recently about keeping it real when you travel with kids. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced when you travelled overseas with children?
Our biggest challenge is the fact that our eldest son uses a wheelchair. He’s an amazing little adventurer it just means things have to be done a little differently and with a bit more planning in advance. It’s just part of him and something that’s just part of our travels now.
The biggest challenge hands down was when Cooper got pneumonia in Cambodia and was hospitalised. We missed our flights and our travel insurance didn’t cover pre-existing conditions. We had to drive over the border to Thailand to book a flight with an oxygen tank available for him. Needless to say I researched very hard when we got home for a company that will cover Cooper’s disability!
Your three young children are obviously keen travellers, how do you manage to cater for each of their needs/wants as you travel?
The kids all love travelling. Often Andrew will take Coop and I’ll take the younger two for a morning outing then we meet back up for lunch, swim and a rest. We will all then head out together in the evening. Sometimes the age gap between Coop and Woody which is 6.5 years makes it tricky but we find a balance and enjoy time apart and together!
Do you include your children in the planning process?
We always include the kids. After I have booked our flights we love researching our destination. The kids watch YouTube clips on things like Bangkok street food or temples to visit in Laos and it builds the excitement. They also borrow books from the library and go through old photo albums from their grandparents adventures.
Why do you think it’s important to travel with your children and what do you think your they gain from the experience?
It’s very important to me for my kids to experience other cultures and to meet other people. Travel for them teaches them to step outside their usual routine and to challenge themselves. It teaches them how different people live and how happiness isn’t about things but more about being with family and friends. Travel shows our family we can try anything and proves to others that disability is not something to pity but something to be celebrated.
Do you have any advice for families wanting to travel overseas? Are there any companies/websites that you would recommend when planning your trip?
When booking flights I am signed up to lots of airlines! I get their notifications of sales coming up and plan accordingly.
I watch Skyscanner for good deals too. I explore sights like TripAdvisor and Expedia. Social media like Instagram, travel blogs and Facebook are also a really good way of seeing destinations and reading articles on first hand experiences about a huge variety of places.
With the three kids we usually book accommodation ahead for at least two nights so we can get a feel for the place.
We stay at a variety of places but usually small guest houses then maybe a big hotel in the city for a treat! I use Travelfish to research guest houses in South East Asia and I like Booking.com for booking hotels.
Because of Cooper’s wheelchair I always email property directly to ask about access just so we can prepare.
We love using airbnb and vrbo for apartments. We did that all over Europe and have done that for our upcoming trip to Penang so we have more space and a laundry! Booking apartments let’s you live locally and is more affordable than a hotel.
I always book our own flights and accommodation as I feel confident enough not to need the support of a travel agent.
Our next adventure is in 7 weeks to Penang in Malaysia. We have been before but 5 years ago so we are looking forward to exploring as a family of 5.
Words and Images: Bronwyn Leeks
You can follow Smiths Holiday Road on Facebook and Instagram or at smithsholidayroad.wordpress.com to keep up to date with their travelling adventures!
Thankyou so much Bronwyn, Andrew, Cooper, Pepper and Elwood for sharing your story with us!