Celeb Travels

Sipping cocktails in Manhattan, exploring Rome's moonlit streets ...

A lifelong globetrotter, Lamta co-director Anton Luitingh shares a wealth of quirky travel anecdotes and observations

16 April 2024 - 12:42
By Elizabeth Sleith
Lamta director Anton Luitingh is a diehard travel enthusiast.
Image: Supplied Lamta director Anton Luitingh is a diehard travel enthusiast.

Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

As co-director of the Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy (Lamta), I have the pleasure of guiding the bright future stars of musical theatre and the performing arts. Our latest adventure? Diving into our first book musical, the critically celebrated Spring Awakening, with the fantastic Sylvaine Strike at the helm and the creative genius of Niall Griffin bringing our vision to life. This production isn’t just a display of our students’ remarkable talents — it’s also a testament to the vibrant, collaborative spirit that thrives at Lamta. It’s where the magic happens and dreams take the spotlight!

I’m a 100% travel enthusiast. It all kicked off with a post-uni camper van escapade across the US with my sister. We spent a night at the base of the Grand Canyon, set up camp in Yosemite, and soaked up the bright lights and the buzz of cities such as Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York. That epic adventure flipped a switch in me. For the next 15 years, I globe-trotted with musicals like a true nomad, practically living out of a suitcase.

I grew up in Johannesburg, and the build-up to our coastal getaways was always an event in itself. We’d either head to Cape Town, where my mom grew up, or to the sunny shores of Ballito. Each trip felt like an epic adventure, South African-style. The thing I remember most about those holidays is the sheer joy of freedom — the kind that comes from having new adventures, dining outdoors, careering around on bikes, and staying up far later than you ought to..

A view over Vail village in Colorado, a US winter wonderland on steroids.
Image: fashionstock / 123rf.com A view over Vail village in Colorado, a US winter wonderland on steroids.

My first trip abroad was to Vail, Colorado, which is essentially a US winter wonderland on steroids. It’s a top-tier mountain resort famed for offering some of the best skiing and snowboarding adventures available. After carving up the slopes, we would turn into green-fingered gardening gurus for cash, doing what the locals called “spring cleaning”. All this was part of my grand plan to fund a camper-van purchase and tour the US. The work was tough, but we were powered by a diet consisting exclusively of McDonald’s cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes, which then fuelled our epic road trip.

My wildest adventure? Bunking down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was a marathon trek down there, the stunning views distracting me from the rigorous workout my legs were getting. I loved every minute of it, though I got a bit too much sun exposure, earning myself a bout of heat stroke and a rather unpleasant night of throwing up under the stars. The hike back up was death on two legs, but it is etched in my memory as a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

My holidays come with a special feature: I seem to have an uncanny ability to summon rain, no matter the destination. For instance, I had a memorably soggy holiday in Santorini. As the clouds gatecrashed our sunny getaway, my dreams of sunbathing were washed away in a torrential downpour that went on for 10 days.

A sunny day on the Greek island of Santorini.
Image: davidriusserra / 123rf.com A sunny day on the Greek island of Santorini.

Some travel advice: When in Singapore and in the mood for a massage, it pays to choose your parlour wisely. Stick to the legit spots for a traditional rubdown, as they tend to keep things strictly above board, and there are no surprise “extras” on the menu!

Cape Town is my beloved hometown, and if you’re a tourist tagging along with me, there are three must-dos on our list. We’ll start by checking out the Mother City’s jaw-dropping beauty by climbing Lion’s Head (no, you’re not allowed to skip the hike); then we’ll tour the seemingly endless vineyards, where we will taste all the varietals; and, finally, we’ll pay a visit to the beaches with their beautiful powdery white sand. Then we’ll dive fork-first into Cape Town’s culinary scene — but not before we’ve had a lekker traditional braai. And then I’ll find a way to introduce you to that South African gees — not what goes down on the rugby field, but that unbeatable, electric vibe that pulses through the city. It’s what makes Cape Town not just a place on the map, but a feeling you carry with you long after you leave the city behind.

My worst travel experience? There we were, buzzing with excitement, leaving Johannesburg for an eagerly anticipated 10-day holiday in Mauritius — until I had that sinking “oh no” moment when I realised my passport was enjoying its own holiday back in Cape Town!

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.
Image: samot / 123rf.com Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.

My favourite international city is London. It’s like stepping right into a history book. And then there’s the spellbinding West End, which juggles both old-school and modern vibes. With bustling shopping lanes and a veritable smorgasbord of sights and sounds, London is the epitome of a city that has truly mastered the art of being timeless.

For a great night out, nothing beats sipping a cocktail atop a Midtown Manhattan rooftop in New York City. That said, 1-Altitude in Singapore gives the Big Apple a run for its money with its stunning 360° views and sunset spectacles, all accompanied by top-notch bevvies.

For me, exploring locals’ favourite spots, far away from the typical tourist traps, is the key to an authentic travel experience. While visiting the local Apple Store might be a near-overpowering urge for many tourists, ditching the well-trodden paths for local gems is what I’m after. Whether it’s soaking in a Japanese onsen, cosying up for a fika in Sweden, or singing your heart out in a Korean karaoke bar, nothing beats moments filled with local flavour.

When travelling, I am a sucker for a deep-tissue massage. The toll of flying economy — cramped seats and limited legroom — leaves me desperate to have those tension knots seen to, so I try to book a good rubdown as soon as I land in a new city.

Friendliest locals? Despite the regular face-offs between South Africans and New Zealanders, especially on the sports battlefield, I must praise the Kiwi hospitality. Both our nations have a knack for making folks feel right at home. New Zealand’s reputation for openness, friendliness and being genuinely willing to assist visitors is indeed a victory for them.

My most relaxing destination? Nothing tops the bliss of lounging for 10 days on a gulet off the shores of Istanbul — sleeping shirtless under a starlit sky, taking spontaneous dips in the Mediterranean, feasting around the clock, partying the night away, and hopping from one charming coastal village to another. Pure magic!

When it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, it’s important to note that attitudes can vary significantly across cultures and countries, and these are often influenced by legal, religious and societal norms. As an LGBTQ+ traveller engaging with diverse cultures, you can encounter varying degrees of acceptance. This can be challenging, so I try to stay away from cities that are not inclusive.

Luitingh with his partner, Duane Alexander, in Rome.
Image: Supplied Luitingh with his partner, Duane Alexander, in Rome.

My best holiday ever was my recent Italian escapade, where we traced my mom’s roots. It was nothing short of heavenly. Her excitement at discovering her heritage in Italy was akin to the way I felt every time I walked into a gelato store. Zipping through Rome’s streets on an electric bike by moonlight wasn’t just a holiday — it felt more such as a pilgrimage to the heart of our family’s story.

When it comes to souvenirs, I skip the usual knick-knacks and go straight for stuff I’ll use — trendy clothes, nifty pens or memorable books. That way, I ensure my mementos don’t just end up gathering dust.

I find solo travel to be incredibly liberating, but also sometimes daunting, especially if you’re following signs that are not in English. Among my solo adventures, a standout trip is one I made to Hong Kong — a city that buzzes with an energy similar to that of New York. Its vibrant nightlife and ceaseless activity made it an unforgettable experience. It’s tough to fall asleep with all that adrenaline pumping through your veins.

My travel aspirations include experiencing the vibrancy of South America, as well as the mesmerising Northern Lights and ice hotels closer to the Arctic. 

When I spot my fellow South Africans abroad, I can’t help but switch to Afrikaans, just to see their startled looks turn into smiles. It’s such as an instant icebreaker, and in seconds we’re swapping stories about the locals in one of our home languages. There’s nothing quite like experiencing that kind of camaraderie in foreign lands.

Catch Lamta’s production of Spring Awakening, now on at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre at Montecasino until May 5. Tickets are available here. No under 13s.