travel

6 things I wish I knew before my first post-COVID overseas holiday.

The nerves before my six-night getaway in Fiji - my first international holiday since COVID - were annoyingly loud. 

Here's a little window into my brain in the week before I left:

What if I get COVID over there?

What if they won't let me on the plane because I've forgotten to do something? 

What if the Australian government changes their rules while I am over there and I am stuck in Fiji?

It'll definitely be cancelled.. everything get's cancelled.

Ok, you can't relax until you're literally in your room on the other side. 

Are you going too soon?? Maybe you should wait until it's easier to travel. What were you thinking!!!!

I'm a worry wort at the best of times, but not normally when I travel. I spent much of my twenties travelling - saving up every spare dollar I had to go towards my next adventure. 

But COVID changed me, as it has everyone. And the whole idea of airports and declaration forms and entry-RAT tests felt... overwhelming.

But alas, the turquoise waters of Fiji and the pull of mimosas beside the infinity pool won, and I found myself en route to the airport in mid-March with my best friend. 

I'm back on Aussie soil after a brilliant week relaxing, snorkelling and eating hash browns for breakfast every morning, and I wanted to share what I've learnt. 

1. RAT tests at the airport are brilliant. 

I flew via Sydney International Airport, and the COVID testing clinic set up for travellers (literally opposite the departures area), was a well-oiled machine.

To fly to Fiji, you had to provide a negative-RAT test taken within 24 hours of your flight - which means it has to be witnessed by a professional, you can't just rock up with one you DIY'd at home. You can get travel tests in the community, but honestly, if you are flying via an airport that has the option - do that. 

I registered and paid for my test online ($59) before arriving at the airport. Even still, I rocked up three hours before my flight (the Histopath clinic I attended recommends 3-4 hours). The makeshift tented room had about 15 chairs and about six medical professionals in full PPE. They scan your passport in the swobbing chair, tickle both your nostrils and send you out the other side. It took about two minutes.

WATCH: Here's exactly what I had to do to get to Fiji. Post continues after video. 


Video via Gemma Bath
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I was told to expect an email and/or text message within 30 minutes (it's a 90 minute wait for a PCR). After mingling around for about 20 minutes there it was - negative. I returned to the tent, and was given a printed and signed copy of my result. 

Given the last two years, it's easy to worry that things just won't go to plan. We're so used to not being able to get a test/vaccine/toilet paper. We're used to COVID related systems running slow or having issues. But I had none of those issues here, and I personally found it to be a really smooth process.

Histopath is providing either PCR or RAT tests at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane international airports.

2. Travelling is not nearly as stressful as I feared.

Yes, there's a lot more admin involved with travel at the moment. And when you're hoping for a holiday, it feels kinda like... homework. 

But honestly, it didn't take as long as I thought it might. And most of it was stuff you either already had or definitely wanted.

For Fiji I needed:

- At least three nights' accommodation at a CFC certified accommodation (the time requirement ends on April 7).

- Travel insurance that covered COVID-19.

- A negative RAT test within 24 hours of my flight.

- Double vaccination. 

- A transfer booked from the airport. 

At check-in, they asked to see my RAT test results, and just verbally checked with me that I had everything else. Once I was boarding the plane, I just needed the normal ticket and passport - and apart from masks being on for the entirety of the flight, everything else was as I remember.

In Fiji, I had to produce my vaccination certificate at check-in and off I toddled to my room. The next 'COVID' related thing I did was 48 hours in, when the resort facilitated another RAT test for me, as per regulations. I did another the day before I flew home.

My holiday felt like a holiday should...with a teensy bit more admin. Image: Gemma Bath.

Everything ran like clockwork. I didn't feel worried or overwhelmed and on my holiday I actually felt safer than I have in two years. Albeit, I was mainly in the ocean or in the pool - so I was very COVID safe. 

READ: 'I just went to Thailand. Here's everything you need to know about travelling there right now.'

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3. Download an international vaccine certificate. 

I was planning to rock up with my Australian vaccine pass in my smartphone's digital wallet and honestly, for Fiji, that probably would have been fine.

But I do recommend downloading the international version, as it was designed for this very reason.

I simply logged into the Medicare app on my phone and followed the prompts. Instead of the green certificate were all used to, it's blue. And it includes my two most recent vaccinations (for me that's my booster and my second shot.)

It also produced a document that I emailed to myself that includes all three vaccinations, their dates, and an individualised QR code. 

It looked like this...and I just kept a digital version handy for my travels. Image: Australian government.

4. Keeping an eye on Smart Traveller is imperative, and triple check your insurance.

Being aware of what's going on in the country you're travelling to has always been important. However, in the current COVID-era, it's even more so.

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Smart Traveller - which is an Australian government-run service - has four levels: 

  • Level 1: Exercise normal safety precautions
  • Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution
  • Level 3: Reconsider your need to travel
  • Level 4: Do not travel

When I travelled to Fiji, the country was listed as a Level 2 due to the impacts of COVID-19. When I filtered to find countries exercising a 'Level 1' there currently weren't any, at the time of writing. That's not overly surprising given the COVID reality we're currently in.

The reason I advise you keep a close eye on these alerts before travelling, is because as soon as you sway into Level 3 territory, your insurance is in jeopardy. And right now, insurance is so so so important if you find yourself with COVID-19 in a foreign country.

Destinations with advice levels 1 and 2 are usually covered by travel insurance. But it varies with Level 3. At this level, insurance companies may not provide full coverage depending on why the destination has been assessed as ‘reconsider your need to travel’.

While we're on the topic - shop around with your insurance. Not all COVID packages offer the same, and some are damn sneaky in the fine print. I advise always reading the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) in full. One trick I found insurers using, is if you bought your insurance within 21 days of your intended travel some wouldn't cover you for COVID-related claims. Others would cover your medical bills, but not your isolation accommodation. 

There are some great deals around, but you have to hunt for them. This is the task that took the most 'homework' for me pre-travel.

5. Your favourite places are even better than you remember.

Melbournians and Sydneysiders - I'm talking to you. Remember those few weeks post massive lockdown, where everyone was just super pumped to be... alive? Everyone was happy and out there in the world soaking up the deliciousness of socialisation and being allowed to do all the things.

Travelling right now is like that - but better. Everyone is just so happy to see you, and look after you, and have you visit their hotel/activity/bar. 

It's been a long, hard two years, particularly so for tourist destinations that saw their incomes plummet to zero overnight. They were the first to be shutdown, and have been the last to gear back up.

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And it's not just the hotel/activity/hospitality staff - it's the tourists, too. I had more chats with strangers on this trip than I have probably ever done. There's a newfound comaraderie in travel, because everyone is just so bloody happy to be doing it. 

But I think it's more than that. For two years we've been told 'do this, do that' and we've followed strict rules designed to keep us safe. I think I was apprehensive that other countries wouldn't want us there possibly riddled with COVID. But oh, how they do. They've got everything set up in a way that will (comfortably) catch anyone who does test positive, and the travel organisations I dealt with went above and beyond in making sure even the COVID related stuff was done so with kindness and ease. 

6. When re-entering Australia you have to fill out the world's longest form.

Do. It. The. Night. Before. 

It's called the Australia Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) and you have to fill it in prior to checking in for your flight home. It was only released in mid-February, and is a requirement of every passenger arriving on Australian soil.

I stupidly thought I could do it in the line at Fiji Airways check-in at 5am the morning of my flight. Please learn from me, it took me a good half an hour to complete bleary-eyed on a plastic chair inside the departures terminal.

It required multiple uploads of my documentation, every single date of my COVID vaccinations - including what brand - and a detailed travel history. 

You can find the link here.

Again, surprisingly, once in Australia the process was super easy. I had to show my vaccination status at immigration but that was it... everything else was normal.

Happy travelling!

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @gembath.

Feature image: Gemma Bath.

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