Booking a holiday during a pandemic is a series of dilemmas. But for many of us, with families anxious to break out and take a trip, here’s now to navigate the new landscape.

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Where’s a good source of information: https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-10/travel-smart.pdf

Where should I book that is safe and secure for my health and money?

The safest travel destination at present is Australia. In fact, it’s the only option. On March 25, 2020 the Australia Government banned overseas travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are exemptions, for example if you need to go overseas for compassionate reasons or on a work trip. Check smarttraveller.gov.au for the latest information on international destinations.

For more information on applying for an exemption visit: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/leaving-australia

Where’s safest?

If you want to a plan a trip without the worry of whether you’ll be able to get home, consider being a tourist in your own state. Australia’s state governments have closed borders with very short notice in response to community transmission of Covid, resulting in tourists racing to get back across the border, and in some cases, getting stuck temporarily. The vaccine roll-out is underway, so travellers will hopefully be able to book more trips with confidence as the year goes on. 

Will I need to quarantine?

It depends on where you go. If travelling overseas, some countries require new arrivals to quarantine and others don’t.  Check the website of the foreign affairs department of your destination country for up-to-date information.

All travellers coming into Australia are required to quarantine for 14 days, at a facility managed by the Federal Government. A negative Covid test must also be provided to the airline. For more information visit: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/coming-australia

However, travellers from New Zealand can enter Australian directly, without a stay in quarantine. There are exceptions to this, depending on current Covid levels in New Zealand. For more information visit: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/new-zealand-safe-travel-zone

Closer to home, some Australian states have mandated quarantine for interstate arrivals during previous lockdowns, so check the website of the local health department of that state for the most up-to-date requirements.

Who pays for quarantine? 

The Smart Traveller website states “you may have to contribute to the cost of quarantine” when entering Australia.  

For more information visit: https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/covid-19/covid-19/covid-19-returning-australia

Can I go to New Zealand, given there’s a travel bubble?

Sadly, no. The travel bubble is one way – our Kiwi neighbours can currently travel to Australia but we are not yet able to cross the Tasman to visit New Zealand. 

Should I use a travel agent?

This really is a matter of personal preference. Booking with a travel agent can save time and hassle. They can also help if something goes awry with a booking while you’re away. But for other people, planning and booking the trip is part of the fun of holidays! Choice did a comparison of the two approaches in 2020 and found the do-it-yourself approach can save a traveller money. But there are pros and cons to both.

Read its verdict here: https://www.choice.com.au/travel/on-holidays/advice/articles/travel-agent-vs-do-it-yourself

Where can I find good information and alerts about health

Smart Traveller is a good first stop for information about overseas destinations. Visit its website at smarttraveller.gov.au, follow it on Facebook or Twitter or subscribe to receive its alerts. For information about Covid in Australia, check out the news alerts on the Federal health department website.   Also check the websites of the health department in the state you are visiting for the most up-to-date information on Covid restrictions, as many of these are set at the local level.

What happens if borders shut?

Every state handles this differently, but previous border closures have included a short window for residents to get back from other parts of Australia. Once shut, there will often be a permit system for residents to go across the border for work or on compassionate grounds. 

What are my rights about refunds?

If you have travel insurance, you may be able to claim a refund for a cancelled trip. For Covid related cancellations, Choice says the ability to claim depends on when the virus outbreak was declared a “known event”, as well as whether your insurance excludes cover for pandemics and epidemics.  

But the first step is to check your ticket for the terms and conditions guiding refunds.

Choice has a great rundown on consumer rights and travel insurance during Covid here: https://www.choice.com.au/travel/money/travel-insurance/articles/travel-insurance-pandemic

Or learn more about consumer rights and travel bookings during Covid at the ACCC:
https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/covid-19-coronavirus-information-for-consumers

Are air flights safe?

The Australian airline industry has developed protocols to minimise the risk of transferring Covid on a flight. For example, masks are now mandatory inflight as well as within the airport.  Cleaning has been increased, and social distancing measures are in place in the terminal including at check-in. Visit the website of the airline you are considering booking with for details on their Covid Safe plan. 

For more about the protocol: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/domestic-passenger-journey-protocol.aspx

Should I book a cruise – and when?

Two Australian cruise lines are sailing right now – Coral Expeditions has five ships and is expanding itineraries from its base in Cairns to South Australia, Tasmania and the Kimberley. True North is a one-ship line in the Kimberley. Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises are both successfully sailing out of Singapore on “cruises to nowhere” – but until we can fly out of Australia, it’s not for us.  Hopes are high that more lines – French luxury cruise company Ponant and APT – will be able to sail the Kimberley in the coming months, and that some larger vessels may be allowed to sail after September. But the government has to lift its ban on foreign-flagged vessels over 100 passengers. 

If you want to cruise overseas, the best expert advice is to cruise in 2022, and pick one of the excellent upgrades that are being offered by lines.

What are other Australians doing?

Tourism and hospitality operators in many Australian regions are reporting big increases in bookings as a result of the pandemic. Australians are getting out and exploring their own backyards in great numbers. International travel might be off the agenda for the time being, but that’s not stopping some people from planning ahead. Some cruise operators have opened up popular routes for longer term bookings.   

Should I take out travel insurance?

Travel insurance is especially important when planning an international trip. Do your research and check it covers not only your destination but also the activities you have planned. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, check the insurer will cover that too. The Choice website is a great resource for researching both domestic and international travel insurance.  Find its guide here: https://www.choice.com.au/travel/money/travel-insurance

There are lots of deals on next year, should I take one?

The vaccine roll-out kicked off in February 2021 in Australia, with an ambitious timetable. But there is still no certainty about when Australians will be able to travel overseas again.  If you book a trip for the future, check the terms and conditions, and know what you will be covered for if plans go awry. 

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