Some of my friends and family have decided to head off overseas (Covid be damned), and I’m just a tad jealous. Despite making plans to visit family in New Zealand in February next year, our last international adventures are now more than a decade ago. Anecdotes and photos have faded, alas.
It’s probably ‘normal’ for avid travellers to do less of it as they age, for financial and health reasons. In addition, as illustrated in this graph from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website, the advent of Covid-19 and its aftermath certainly put paid to our collective travel ambitions.
A late 2021 study found that Australians were ‘lukewarm’ about travelling, ahead of international borders opening in February 2022.
The University of Queensland study found that only 51% of those surveyed were planning international travel, with New Zealand and Europe as key destinations. The research showed that 33% of respondents preferred to holiday in Australia, and 16% were going to stay home. Nevertheless, it has been five years since our last trip to New Zealand to visit whanua. There are new grandchildren – great-grandchildren, even. And my siblings are ageing, as am I.
As you will note from today’s chart, there has been a surge in overseas traveller numbers (inbound and outbound), but it’s a long way off the 2019 highs.
One outcome of the Covid pandemic and the lifting of travel bans is a dramatic shift in the way people plan overseas travel. A recent ABC segment found that hesitancy has changed the way Australians travel, with shorter lead times between bookings and departures. Pre-Covid, a large proportion of travellers made their own travel and accommodation bookings. But COVID-19 restrictions have led to a renewed interest in travel agencies.
Many people are nervous about what could happen should they catch Covid while travelling abroad. There are a couple of key flaws in Covid-tracking, and one is that sometimes people have Covid but don’t know it (asymptomatic). Then there are people (there would have to be some), that suspect they have Covid but keep on travelling regardless.
They might give it to a thousand other people, but as they might say in their own defence, our own chief health officer has said, it is “inevitable” most of us will catch Covid.
A friend who once swore she’d never visit Europe for all those reasons and more has just left for a six-week tour of the UK. In part, it is an organised tour and the rest independent travel. Our local friend, who we shall refer to as Zee, related a typical 2022 travel anecdote from the transit lounge in Vancouver.
“I never saw the person involved, but I gather he was a young man who had travelled via Alaska Airlines to Portland and then Air Canada to Vancouver. He had checked two bags with all his worldly possessions through to Korea. However, apparently, they never made it on to the Air Canada flight and nobody has any idea where they are. I know all this because he explained it in exhaustive detail several times to different people on a very long phone call. He was obviously distressed, and I felt very sorry for him. And I will never know if he ever got them back.”
Zee has since landed at Heathrow and boarded a tour bus bound for Oxford (Ed: The Perfect Comma Tour?). After seeing stories in the media about airline passengers losing luggage, Zee opted for carry-on only. I suspect UK charity shops will be the beneficiaries of that decision.
We have all heard about or seen media coverage of people trying in vain to find lost luggage, waiting for hours in queues or being repeatedly bumped off flights. During its 18-month hiatus, the airline industry, despite attempts to revisit glory days running decades-old commercials, appears to have serious organisational issues. It comes down to a shortage of staff and trying to make old bookings systems work in a post-Covid world. Not that we are anywhere near a post-Covid world.
It may surprise you to know there are 28 countries which are not open to international visitors. They include a few countries most of us would never have on our destination bucket list. A few have onerous travel restrictions which would probably deter most visitors. Hong Kong, for example, requires you to return a negative Covid test and then go into quarantine.
A useful website (Kayak) tells us there are 163 countries that are open to visitors, and which do not require Covid-testing or quarantining. Another 33 countries require Covid testing before they will let you in and three that also require you to go into quarantine. The 28 countries that are open only to returning citizens or those under ‘special circumstances’ include China, Taiwan and Russia.
Kayak, an on-line travel agency, maintains a web page which keeps track of where you can go and what restrictions there are (if any). Despite Australia requiring all people travelling to and from the country to be double vaccinated, some countries (like Ireland) have an open-door policy. I would caution anyone with travel plans to check and double-check the entry (and exit) requirements as they change all the time.
The Kayak web page is also a one-stop place to check out how other countries are going with their vaccination rates. They range from Samoa (100%), Singapore (92%) and Germany (75%) to scarily low numbers in countries like Somalia (16%) and PNG (3.4%).
Our research into travel to New Zealand in six months’ time has thus far revealed it will be costly for comprehensive insurance. This is more to do with being 70+ than any other factor. Even though it is six months’ away, hire car companies seem to be short of vehicles. Of more pressing concern is planning ahead to avoid catching Covid and giving it to other people, namely elderly family members. We are fortunate to have an extended family in NZ who would find ways of accommodating us should we need to go into isolation (a bach at the beach, Cuz?). But it is best to make sure you factor another $1000 or so into your travel budget to cover contingencies.
As readers may have gathered over the eight years we have been communing on Fridays, I’ve done a fair bit of travelling in my youth. We also had some adventures later in life – in 2004 exchanging houses for six months with an English couple who lived in Godalming (Surrey). That was a great way to see Greece, France, Belgium, Italy, Scotland, Wales and other places, three weeks at a time then back to base to live the suburban life for a while. We visited relatives in Canada on the way over and re-visited Canada in 2010 for a family reunion. This seems to be the year for the Canadians to visit us. Brother Jon was here in May, making the most of the wet winter. Cousin Glen and his wife will be here in our Spring. They intended to travel in 2020 but we all know how that went down. There’s talk of a cousins’ reunion (probably in Seattle) in 2023. .
As readers may recall from recent essays about our trip to Tasmania, we found there’s a fair difference between taking on a 10km bush walk at 64 and 10 years on. .
Let’s see how we pull up after a month in New Zealand.