Whether at home or overseas, Aussies seem to have an instinct for exploration that's hard to quell. Though travel bans were, of course, the least of our concerns as COVID-19 spread throughout the world, the restriction of freedom hit hard for many people.
Now, with every border that reopens and travel opportunity that arises, a little more hope is added to the sense that we may finally have gotten through the worst of it. Though their rollout hasn't been perfect, the arrival of vaccines is bolstering that hope, and for Australians, domestic travel is once again possible.
This will, however, be travel as you've never experienced it before. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic remain, meaning you need to put extra care into ensuring your trip is low-risk and compliant with the government's rules, restrictions, and safety measures. To help you manage the new complexities of domestic travel, here are six questions you should ask yourself before booking a trip:
What are the rules for domestic travel in Australia?
Generally speaking, each Australian state and territory has its own rules regarding travel.
If you're travelling within your home state, there usually won't be any restrictions, so long as there are no local COVID-19 outbreaks. This means you need to keep an eye on the news to ensure there are no new cases in your region and any areas you plan to visit throughout your journey.
Lockdown measures may be brought in with barely any notice if new COVID-19 cases arise, so it's a good idea to bookmark the official government pages so you have the most up-to-date information:
If you're travelling by air, you will most likely be required to do some form of quarantine or self-isolation for up to 14 days after each flight. If you're in a COVID-19 hotspot, you may not be allowed to travel at all. Since the situation is constantly changing, the restrictions are too. For this reason, it's essential that you check the government sites listed above before booking in your travel plans.
Once again, the rules here aren't static as they are being adjusted to meet the ever-changing parameters of the pandemic. Check the relevant government websites (as listed above) to confirm whether you need a COVID-19 test to travel to your chosen destination.
If you do need a test, you should be able to arrange one through your GP. Alternatively, three are COVID-19 testing facilities set-up for precisely this purpose. Your nearest clinics will be listed on the government website for your state or territory. Make your appointment ahead of time, and be sure to ask what they need you to do in preparation and if there are any specific actions you must take on the day of your test.
As this program gains traction, it appears likely that vaccinations will become mandatory for those wishing to book air travel. Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, has already announced that the airline will likely require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from international passengers in the future. Whether this extends to domestic travel is yet to be seen.
How do I know if I can get home again if I travel interstate?
One of the biggest considerations with interstate travel is the fact that you may be permitted to enter another state or territory, but if an outbreak kicks off, you may then be prohibited from returning home.
Unfortunately, there's no way to predict future events with any level of accuracy, so this is a risk all interstate travellers take. To mitigate the risk, it may be worth going against the traditional money-saving advice of booking travel well in advance. Alternatively, it's advisable to book flexible tickets and accommodation options that give you room to change the dates if need be.
In addition to the booking tips provided in the previous question, it's important that you check the COVID-19 provisions for any transit company, airline, tour operator, or accommodation provider you're considering. What measures do they have in place to keep you safe? If you don't find satisfactory answers on their website or social media channels, then take the time to call them and question them on their COVID-Safe practices.
In terms of general safety and your personal responsibilities, there are some helpful websites that are worth bookmarking and apps that are worth downloading. These will give you peace of mind that you're up-to-date on all the official COVID-19 advice:
• Smartraveller.gov.au – always an essential resource for Aussie travellers (now more than ever).
• Health.gov.au – The Australian Department of Health's official website.
• The Coronavirus Australia app – tells you everything you need to know about COVID-19 symptoms, details of the virus, and what to do if you suspect you may have contracted it.
Is it likely that I'll need to pay for hotel quarantine (and can I afford it)?
Once again, each Australian state and territory has its own quarantine and self-isolation policies. As mentioned above, the rules and restrictions can change rapidly, so it's important to have an idea of what you might be looking at should you be required to enter into the government's quarantine program.
At this stage, 14 days in a quarantine facility for a single person ranges in cost from AUD$2,500 to AUD$3,000. For couples and families, another AUD$1,000 or so is added per person quarantined in the same suite. This is generally reserved for travellers returning from overseas, but it's important to ensure you know the rules for your home region and the area you wish to travel to before you depart.
Do I understand the cancellation policies for everything I'm booking?
As mentioned above, it's helpful to opt for refundable or flexible booking options if they are affordable for you. This will give you space to change your plans if anything pandemic-related pops up last-minute.
Though travel insurance is still a must, even for domestic travel, most policies don't cover travel disruptions related to the pandemic, so be sure to check your policy and understand what you're agreeing to before you pay.
Likewise, it's important to check the fine print before you make any bookings. What is the company's cancellation policy and does it apply to pandemic-related situations? If you confirm any information over the phone, be sure to get their statement in writing as a verbal confirmation is unlikely to constitute a binding agreement.
Bonus Tip: Clear your cache before you book!
Considering how much extra research you need to do to book a trip in the post-pandemic world, it's important to note that you will be leaving a trail of cookies wherever you go. Every move you make is tracked, and travel sites have been known to increase prices slightly or insist that something you're looking at is nearly sold out if you click away but then return later.
To circumvent this and be sure you're getting accurate information and a fair price, it's worth clearing your cache before you make each booking.
The trick to enjoying domestic travel during a pandemic
The biggest takeaways here are to keep an eye on the official websites listed above and ensure you give yourself as much flexibility as possible with your bookings. The COVID-19 situation can change drastically day-to-day, so being up-to-date is essential, and refundable or changeable bookings can give you peace of mind that you won't be left out-of-pocket.
If you take these important steps and ensure you have good quality face masks and hand sanitiser, then you'll be well-placed to enjoy a smooth and stress-free domestic trip.