What you need to know about chasing that OE with Corona (still) in the air
For many months now, it has been clear that we will be living with COVID-19 going forward. The events that have transpired over the past few years have changed all our life plans irrevocably. With all the conscious effort we’ve taken to reduce the spread of COVID and keep others safe, it is hard to picture going back to how we did things before COVID came on to the scene.
I want to take you back to 2020. A time when Australians turned our sky orange, and LeSnak and Mars Pods were still around. Ah, those were good times. Like many fellow students, travelling overseas was one of the top items on my bucket list, and I decided to pursue this through an overseas exchange in Singapore. I had all but left until COVID grinded everything to a halt.
In the two-and-a-half years since, the idea of being able to travel again seemed impossible, with COVID looming large and the border situation volatile. That’s why, as a PhD student now, when the opportunity for a conference in Bordeaux, France arose, I wasn’t very hopeful. And once the questions started to roll through—what happens if I get sick, does insurance cover COVID or any resultant complications, am I likely to catch it overseas?—that feeling sunk even deeper.
Ultimately, once all things are dutifully considered, many of us just want to be out there travelling the world. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, because the best time to travel is while you’re a student—your commitments are low and your itinerary is ambitious. That’s why I decided to jet out to my conference, and travel the UK, France, and Italy with my partner while I was at it. By a stroke of luck, we managed to remain healthy and have a fantastic time.
Perhaps you, as a reader, may feel the same desire to travel as I did. Relaxing border restrictions have made it the easiest it has been to head overseas since the start of the pandemic. Many students are thereby finding now to be their opportunity to visit the world. But if you haven’t taken that leap yet, you are probably wondering—is now the time to travel again? While ultimately, you need to weigh up for yourself if the risks are worth it, I wanted to share with you some opinions regarding that question, including my own.
Caelan recently returned home to Hong Kong, transiting through Singapore. He speaks of his experience as being “mostly normal”. “Most countries are following a similar path to New Zealand,” he tells me, “with most even being more relaxed.” “Mask wearing is still a must in Asian countries, but if you can put up with it, life is fairly normal.”
Features Editor Grace’s trip was closer to home, heading to Canberra, Australia for a conference. She comments on the attitude towards COVID being “extremely lax.” “Masks were optional except on public transport and at the conference I attended in July. However, this was hardly enforced.”
For me, COVID didn’t really affect any part of the trip. In fact, the attitude towards COVID was markedly more relaxed in Europe also. I observed no mask policing while we were there, except on public transport in Italy, which served a reminder of our attitudes towards COVID at home. The maskless crowds, particularly in the Underground and museums, are certainly a complete 180 from that.
So, is it safe to travel? This is probably your personal choice, and there is no right answer. Sensible planning for the worst case would lead you to asking some difficult questions. Do I know where to access help while I’m away, particularly if my health takes a turn for the worse? Do I have a support network in place?
As much as we would want to ride luck, there is no guarantee you won’t be at risk of catching COVID while travelling. At my conference, people in our research group did catch COVID. One tested positive upon returning, while another devastatingly tested positive upon arrival, which meant their entire experience was being confined to a hotel room. This is the situation we all dread, but unfortunately nothing can be done, and I know this person took the utmost care possible.
With everyone heading outbound, you should also be aware there is a surge in demand for travel, amid ongoing staff shortages. This means one of the common headaches presently seems to be flights, with cancellations rampant. Grace unfortunately did experience this, when “what was supposed to be a six-hour trip took 15 hours” due to multiple delays and cancellations across connections. Her takeaway lesson was “if you are travelling at the moment, expect delays and maybe look at other ways to travel domestically in places like Australia, such as by train.”
Of course, as bad as the situation is made out to be, not everyone will experience it. Caelan says, “through Singapore, there weren’t any problems caused by the surge in demand that is currently seen in Europe.” Personally, I did not witness this, but I did hear others in my group facing major airport delays.
If you are wanting to travel, then I encourage you to go for it. As I experienced, the world is open to visitors, and at no point did I feel that COVID dampened the tourist experience I received. You won’t be the only one with questions about how to navigate planning a trip during COVID. Trust me—when I started, I really thought it would be impossible!
Caelan’s advice is to “have a plan if there are disruptions like airport delays or testing positive for COVID.” He emphasises the necessity to “do your research about the country you’re travelling to,” and check documentation, vaccine, and testing requirements. Despite this, he feels “it is a good time to travel the world again.” Grace also suggests to “expect delays when travelling and look for alternative transport options other than flying to avoid all the airport queues or check-in online if you can.” Also, she reminds you not to leave that pesky traveller declaration form to the last minute.
Although COVID has made it difficult, it is not impossible to seek out your overseas experience if you feel it is safe to do so. Broadening your global perspective was afforded to our students in the past, so the opportunity is there for you too. Enjoy and safe travels!