How to prepare and what to expect travelling during COVID
Our top Australian destination specialist, Caroline Densley, just returned from a trip between South Australia and Queensland. We asked her what it was like, travelling in a time of COVID?
Q. How did you decide where to go?
There is a lot of confusing advice out there about when or how we can travel. It really comes down to a personal assessment of risk. Being on the front line of travel planning, I am more aware than most, about the constantly changing conditions. But South Australia, where I live, had been clear of community transmission for over a month and two-way travel between Queensland seemed the most logical option as this was least-likely to result in cancellation due to a change in border restrictions.
Q. How daunting was it to travel at this time?
Not at all for me. But then it’s been my job for over 20 years to pre-plan complex itineraries down to the smallest detail. I’ve also lost count of how many workshops and webinars I’ve recently attended, to understand what needs to be done to travel safely during COVID.
Q. How do you manage the threat of border restrictions and changes?
It’s first about doing the prep-work. That way you don’t have to feel daunted. The information you read online can be confusing and it is important you go to the right websites, especially when seeking border restriction information. There is always a degree of uncertainty about any travel, whether or not it’s during COVID, so you monitor conditions regularly. We are always in communication with travellers and we do our level best to help ease their minds. This means directing them to the right places to find out what they need to do and by when.
Q. What forms do you have to fill in?
It varies. Every state has a different set of requirements. The validity duration differs, as does the way you need to complete the forms. Some states need them printed and carried with you at the border, some are online and you need to quote your reference number on arrival. There are stories of people crossing the Queensland from Three Ways border who were sent back twice, because they didn’t have the right paperwork. There’s no phone signal at the border, so to complete the forms correctly, they had to keep driving back to where there was connectivity. It’s not a nice way to start a holiday but could have been avoided with some preparation.
Q. What was it like preparing to fly?
Prior to booking, I got quite a few text messages from Jetstar. All the airlines run “fly well” programs and there is no shortage of information. You certainly shouldn’t feel nervous, as it’s not much different to how it was before COVID. There are all the same check-in processes. I did self check-in and because I am a Qantas lounge member, I could wait in the Lounge. The only difference being that all the food was served and the chairs and table well spread out. There was no helping yourself.
Q. What was it like flying?
There were no temperature checks on Jetstar. I pre-packed my own face mask, sanitiser and wipes in a small bag, though they were also available at the boarding gates. Masks are not mandatory on flights outside Victoria (only mandatory from/within Victoria) and there are no inflight travel magazines, so it’s worth taking your own reading material. I pre-bought a snack and that was delivered pre-packaged as normal.
During the flight, for contact tracing purposes, you are not allowed to shift seats. Standing is discouraged and no more than two people are allowed to wait outside bathrooms at any time. You’re also not allowed to leave any personal rubbish on the plane.
Q. What can you expect from border control on arrival?
Be prepared to be very patient for disembarkation. The Australian Federal Police individually check everyone. When we landed in Cairns, there were AFP officers lined up inside arrivals and one person directing us to an officer for checking permits, photo identification and boarding passes. You weren’t allowed to get out of your seats on the plane until after the AFP had boarded the plane and delivered instructions over the PA. The process was very organised but more time-consuming than I was used to.
Q. What was it like on tour?
The requirements vary between individual operators based on their particular assessment of risk. Some did temperature checks, some didn’t. Everyone had to collect contact-tracking information. This usually includes name, contact phone and home address. It’s important to note, that this information has to be destroyed after a certain numbers of days, so it can’t be added to a business database, and can only be used for COVID tracing.
One of the problems travellers might face is form-fatigue. We completed a COVID declaration that was used to cover us for entry into all different places on a particular day tour, but that depends on an organised tour facilitator. In some cases, you might end up having to complete multiple forms during one trip. All Queensland restaurants and cafes have QR Codes that you scan with your mobile phone and put in your details on entry. Manual options are available if you do not have a smart phone.
Q. What was it like returning home
It would have been easy to forget that I couldn’t just assume I could come home. I still had to fill in a South Australian police form online prior to returning, and on arrival we had the same one-on-one checks with authorities on disembarkation.
Throughout the process I felt the authorities were running things very smoothly and it was a privilege to be able to enjoy a break in the knowledge that our safety was being looked after.
For more information on organising and preparing travel, you can contact our team on firstname.lastname@example.org. Caroline and the team are constantly updating information about where you can go and what you need to do, to have the best stress-free holiday possible.