Seven years ago, an unsuspecting teenager named Dorian was hanging out in his local kebab shop with two mates discussing a trip away. The trio – Kev, Teng and himself – had bonded while working at the local shopping centre and were thinking a holiday in Bali or Thailand could be fun. Then Kev dropped a bombshell none of them knew was about to change their lives.
“Kev mentioned he’d seen an online ad offering free travel for participants in a new TV show called Travel Guides,” Dorian, now 27, tells TV WEEK. “We sent in an audition video for a laugh, expecting to never hear back. Lo and behold, we did!”
Before they knew it, the trio were on their way to New Zealand for rock-climbing, snowboarding and a U-Fly plane experience, where the pilot let the lads take the joystick and fly across the mountain.
“And this was just trip one out of 10 for that series – things only got crazier from there on!”
It’s a similar story for the Fren family, who were running a restaurant in Newcastle in NSW when a TV producer approached them, looking for chefs to appear in an upcoming cooking series.
“We were working together in a German family restaurant in 2011,” Mark, 62, tells TV WEEK. “A talent scout approached Cathy to apply for a cooking show, as so many people loved the family dynamics. That show was cancelled, but then Nine contacted about this new series coming to Australia, and the rest is history!”
The first trip for the family was to Queensland’s Gold Coast, a destination they’d visited before, but never in Travel Guides style.
“Staying at Palazzo Versace [the luxury hotel] was a dream come true,” Mark says. “We visited so many holiday hotspots. It turned out to be a great first episode for the Fren family.”
However, not so much for Sydneysiders Kevin and Janetta, who had worked in the travel industry for years before they applied for Travel Guides and were accepted.
“We were pumped and looking forward to some exotic destination – then, on the morning of the trip, the destination was revealed: the Gold Coast, ho hum,” he says with a laugh. “However, we then went on to Tokyo and Oman, so not all our dreams and expectations were dashed.”
That dream has well and truly come true for the accidental stars of Travel Guides ever since as they visited Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia in what has been, Dorian admits, “an incredibly wild ride”.
“We still pinch ourselves at how lucky we are to be given the opportunity to travel to so many places and see and do so many amazing things,” he says.
“We’ve been lucky enough to travel to more than 50 locations worldwide and, without sounding too preachy, I’d say this has really opened our eyes to so many different cultures and aspects of life.
“Hopefully, we’d like to think it’s made us a lot more open-minded overall. It’s just been amazing.”
And not just for the travellers. The wide-eyed, honest and often hilarious adventures of these TV tourists have turned Travel Guides into one of the most popular programs on television, regularly topping the ratings and winning TV WEEK Logie Awards for Most Popular Lifestyle Program in 2022 and 2023.
It’s turned the participants into stars, with Cathy Fren admitting she and her family are often recognised as they travel.
“Mark usually gets the comment that he goes a little hard with the hair dye!” she says with a laugh.
Two participants who won’t be returning in 2024 are Stack and Mel, cowgirl twins from country NSW, who had been on the show since season one. This year, their younger brother Josh filled in for Mel while she focused on her family. Now, Stack has followed suit.
Filling their seats on the plane will be friends Karly and Bri, who are no strangers to TV, having met while filming last year’s season of Beauty And The Geek. Couple Matt and Brett, who joined the show in 2021, will be back in 2024.
And it’s sparked a career change for Dorian, who fell in love with television production and has now worked as a producer on Nine’s The Block, Emergency and the ABC’s Magda’s Big National Health Check. However, none of that is going to stop his first love: heading overseas with his mates.
“We’ve experienced so many unique things together in so many different and exotic places that are just unfathomable,” Dorian says. “We’ve definitely surpassed any form of a normal friendship.
“Maybe the day will come where we do grow sick of one another and want more of a normal, calm, settled-in-one-place kind of life, but for all three of us, that day is very far away. Right now, we never want to stop travelling the world together.”
Kevin is like-minded.
“Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want this gig?” he says. “You travel around the world with an adopted family and see things you’d never otherwise see. When travel stops being fun, we’ll stop travelling. Until then, it’s anchors aweigh!”