Fortress Australia, it’s time.
It’s time to reunite with the world. To let our borders down to some countries (not all yet!).
It’s time to create COVID-safe travel bubbles.
Australia, the Pacific, and parts of Asia have been blessed. Lives have unfortunately been lost, but for the most part, we have avoided the tragedies that have befallen on our European, South American, and American friends. Our region has had strong leaders who have put their countries into lockdown, developed efficient contact tracing (…well, except for Victoria…) and while it’s been a tough year – we’ve almost made it out. It’s time to reunite with the world.
In a promising speech on October 23, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised our hopes and said that quarantine-free travel with “low-risk” nations might be possible by the end of the year.
In government speak, I heard “It’s probably going to happen in 2021.”
And you know what? I’m starting to be okay with that.
I am a staunch supporter of the International borders being opened. Safely. And with internal borders still dividing our country (Come on QLD and WA, stop trying to woo voters with your “tough stance”), I understand we are still a little way off of letting international travellers in.
But with Australian regions still desperately needing some cash-flow following years of drought, the 2019-20 bushfires and the floods in Queensland and Gippsland, Victoria – I’m okay with spending some time in Australia to #TravelHereThisYear.
But let’s assume for one moment that Fortress Australia does let down the borders, where would you like to travel? I’ve put my investigator’s hat on and put together a list of some of the countries I’d like to see Australia create quarantine-free travel between in 2021.
Snow and sun; food and adventure – New Zealand really does have it all! Tour the world of Hobbiton or go skiing in the South Island. Eat your way around Auckland and Waiheke Island, or dress up and head out for a night out in Napier, the countries Art Deco city.
With New Zealand’s coronavirus rates being some of the lowest in the world, and our closest neighbour, it simply makes sense to cross the ditch and say G’day.
Given that Kiwis are already allowed to travel to Australia (a one-way arrangement at the present time) it’s only a matter of time before we will see Aussies will be allowed into the land of Hobbits and L&P.
With Bali and most of Indonesia likely to be off the cards for some time now, it would be fantastic for Aussie’s to be able to travel to another old favourite: Thailand.
From the spicy dishes and superb nature of the North to the soaring limestone cliffs and stunning beaches of the south, and the bustling cities scattered across the country; Thailand has a destination suitable for every type of traveller!
Thailand has officially reopened its borders for travellers, though at the time of writing does still require a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a government-approved quarantine facility. For those seeking a leisure getaway, this is one travel bubble you’ll need to eagerly watch for in hope they reduce quarantine periods for COVID-safe or -free countries.
2020 was set to be a big year for Vietnamese airlines flying to Australia with the launch of VietJet and Bamboo Airways offering direct flights to Melbourne and Brisbane, and established low-cost carriers like Jetstar and Air Asia X offering return flights for as low as AU$350, with one-stop via. KL or Singapore.
Vietnam continues to rise in popularity among Aussie travellers seeking something a little different than the usual Bali or Phuket getaways. It’s got the same ingredients as other South-East Asian getaways – well-priced hotels and hostels, a glowing food culture (Aussies know their way around a bowl of pho!), and a good beer costing less than $3. But it’s the energy that gives Vietnam a feel like no other South-East Asian country.
Whether you choose to stop in bustling Ho Chi Minh, explore the rich culture of Hanoi, or any of the other incredible cities of Vietnam; you’ll be sure to have an incredible trip with memories to last a lifetime!
You probably haven’t heard of New Caledonia or its capital, Noumea. Located less than 2-hours from Brisbane (3hrs direct from Sydney and 3.5hrs direct from Melbourne) in the Pacific, this archipelago of islands is a remnant of the French colonial history.
Blending a unique mix of French and Islander culture, the best way to see the island is to head out on the water. Whether you choose a day trip out to Amedee – complete with traditional dancing and big buffet lunch, glass-bottom boat tour, or perhaps a scuba diving trip where you’ll probably end up swimming with turtles; an amazing adventure awaits in this Pacific island gem!
New Caledonia has said their borders will remain closed to all international travellers until 31st July 2021  but they are one of several Pacific Islands interested in being part of the AU/NZ travel bubble. 
Hot springs, towering skyscrapers, home of bubble tea, great eats and outdoor adventures – there is so much to see and do in Taiwan!
Taiwan mixes natural beauty with its its deeply ingrained culture. One day you could be visiting temples from the Qing Dynasty or old Dutch forts, then next wandering lush mountain forests in Hualien or eating your way through Linjiang Street Night Market under the shadow of Taipei 101, formally the world’s tallest building.
Taiwan is such an underrated destination but has an excellent track record with dealing with COVID-19, and so is a country we really should be considering a two-way travel bubble between. The Australian government has already increased trade with the independent country in-light of the China boycott. Of course, if this does go ahead, the Chinese government will hate it.
Small in size, big in personality. This gem in the Indian Ocean is rich in history, culture, food, and adventure.
From exploring the relaxed beaches of southern Sri Lanka around Galle to spotting leopards and lemurs in Yala; climbing the countries highest peaks in the north or experiencing Hill Country and riding what is, in my opinion, the most scenic train journey between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya – it’s a country where you can see and do so much within its borders.
Sri Lanka’s COVID numbers aren’t perfect yet so it will be a few months at least before they can begin considering allowing outsiders in, but they are down to low single-digit numbers each day so their response is working.
Update: As of December 28, 2020 Sri Lanka has began to allow tourists to enter the country!
It’s time that more Aussie’s discover the beauty of South Korea.
Often overlooked by travellers favouring its neighbours – Japan and China, Korea has a lot to offer travellers. Whether you seek ancient temples, delicious food, quirky K-Pop, zany festivals, breathtaking landscapes, and so much more.
Beach-lovers, you will not miss out. The number one place to visit in Korea is, without a doubt, Jeju Island. This volcanic island is Korea’s answer to Hawaii – nature, food, crazy hikes, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, craters, caves, and mountains. There’s also Loveland, a sex-themed park (Google at your own discretion!)
Fun fact: the 450km flight from Seoul-Gimpo International to Jeju International is the world’s busiest air route!
A travel bubble with South Korea may be a little way off as the country has recently experienced a surge of cases of coronavirus since November.
It was announced in the past month that all Australians are now allowed to visit Singapore…. once the borders open. The Lion City is the perfect spot for a getaway and entry is simply subject to a negative COVID-19 test.
Most people think that they know Singapore. It is, after all, a small island nation. It has lots of rules, plates of chili crab, and the glitzy Marina Bay Sand. But there is more to the city.
Michelin-starred food that costs less than AU$10 for a plate. Petite islands, such as Pulau Ubin, perfect for day trips filled with hiking, cycling, or big plates of freshly caught seafood are just a short bumboat ride away. There’s garden oasises in the center of the city, and then there’s the rich Peranakan culture.
Most of the COVID-19 cases currently being reported in Singapore have been from returning travellers, though there have been a couple of community cases within the country.
The South Pacific
I’ve previously mentioned New Caledonia, but all-in-all the South Pacific nations have done a superb job curbing an outbreak of Coronavirus and were among the first countries to put together a plan for COVID-safe travel.
It was reported in June that New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Tahiti requested access to the Australia/New Zealand travel bubble.
Each country offers truly unique experiences, unlike any other place you’ve been. Whether you choose to discover New Caledonia’s French-feel, Papua New Guinea’s cultural diversity, the Solomon Islands’ deep WWII history, and natural beauty, or the luxury of Tahiti, the largest of the Polynesian islands.
Australia and New Zealand deliver the highest numbers of visitor arrivals to these four South Pacific nationals, and it makes sense to allow them into any travel bubble. However, the continued threat of Australian outbreaks of COVID has seen this be tabled for the time being, but I am holding out in hope that we will see flights resume soon. There is also some risk with Tahiti as they continue to allow US citizens to arrive in the island nation, though passengers do require mandatory testing prior to travel and during their stay.