The pandemic might have torpedoed any plans you had for foreign travel this year but it's not all bad. From the every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining school of life, here's a few things you don't have to worry about when you can't travel overseas.
Plugs for weird electrical sockets
It's a never-ending source of amazement that the world cannot agree on a common electrical plug. India, Europe, the UK, the USA, Australia – each has its own idea of what that plug that goes into an electrical socket should look like. There are currently 15 different electrical plugs used around the world. Switzerland and Lichtenstein use a three-pin plug known as a Type J. Denmark and Greenland, Type K. South Africa goes its own way with a Type M and when you want to recharge your batteries in Israel and the West Bank, you'll need a Type H. Holiday at home, and you'll avoid the distress when you discover your WorldWizard adapter doesn't fit into the Type O socket, found exclusively in Thailand.
SIM card with roaming
You can find data cards that will keep you plugged into the internet just about anywhere in the world but my, with time on your hands and so many TikTok videos to enjoy you can sail through a gigabyte of data on no time. And then there's the worry of logging in via unfamiliar Wi-Fi hotspots, leaving you exposed to hackers. Airports and cafes popular with travellers are top choices for cybercriminals looking to create false internet pathways. At home, you've got your tried and trusted network, and there's not too much that can go wrong.
Foreign faux pas
Ever got the eye roll from an Italian barista when you've committed the unpardonable sin of asking for a post-lunch cappuccino? Worn socks with sandals or – gasp – socks with boat shoes in Rome? Extended a handshake to a traditional-minded Thai woman, piled caviar onto your blinis at a breakfast buffet in Russia or worn shoes into a Japanese home? Foreign travel is ripe with pitfalls and you're going to innocently transgress from time to time. It's usually not too serious, but don't even think of bringing chewing gum into Singapore, the fine is $S100,000 and up to two years in the slammer.
A friend once lost her sunglasses on a beach holiday in Italy so she went to an optometrist's shop and asked if she might try on some bicchiere del sol. Why not she thought? Bicchiere is Italian for glass, sol is sun, so what could possibly go wrong? The guffaws told her. Molto imbarazzante (very embarrassing). But not too far off since what she really wanted was occhiali da sole. Despite the ethnic paella that is modern Australian society, we are not good with languages. Stay home and spare yourself the pain. If you want to display your felicity with French or Indonesian, go to a restaurant (when they're open).
We don't have malaria in mainland Australia but you don't want to travel in many warm and desirable parts of Asia without taking malaria meds. There are plenty to choose from - Malarone, Chloroquine, Mefloquine, aka Larium, and Doxycycline, but they come with side effects and none are 100 per cent effective. If you're travelling to Africa or South America you probably want to add hepatitis A, yellow fever and typhoid to the list of nasties for which you need vaccinations. 'Straya? Okay, we've got box jellies and those whales can give you a nasty experience if you happen to be in the middle when they bump, and our sharks are arcing up but you're probably not going to need anything stronger in your medical kit than sunblock and hangover remedies.
International Driving Permit
Sure thing, you can hop straight into a hire car in Vienna and head straight off to Rottenegg in Upper Austria and you won't be asked to produce anything more than your state government driver's licence. Most Aussies hire and drive overseas without bothering to get an International Drivers Permit, and nothing ever goes wrong, but in most countries it's a legal requirement. Should you fall foul of the law in some way en route to Rottenegg, say after a boozy lunch on the riverside promenade in Mauthausen, or worse still, prang your hire, you might discover that your lack of an IDP is going to cause you some delay, and considerable expense.
An Aussie passport valid for 10 years will set you back $298. It's a source of continual angst when you travel. Should you carry it with you at all times or leave it locked up in your hotel room? Lose it and your travel plans will descend into chaos. Also, it isn't really yours. It's the property of the Australian government, you're just the caretaker. If you spill coffee on it, take it swimming in your shorts, if pages are torn or defaced in some way you can expect at the very least a rap over the knuckles.
You might also need visas for your travels, and that's another source of disquiet. What's your father's name and place of birth? And same for your mother. Religion? Because these are just a few of the questions you'll be asked when you apply for a tourist visa for India. Then there are the online scam visa websites, the ones that look every bit like the real thing but are actually third-party websites which will add another layer of fees to the process of getting a visa without actually contributing anything positive. Stay home and save yourself a heap of bother, and expense.
Banks and other financial institutions love those who travel overseas. Because you need foreign cash, and that allows them to bilk you via the currency conversion rate. While the official exchange rate might dictate that an Aussie dollar is currently worth 72 US cents, 61 euro cents or 10,695 Indonesian rupiah, that's not the rate you'll get when you buy your stroopwafel from a bakery in Amsterdam or withdraw cash from an ATM at Legian. Or, heaven forbid, buy those US dollars or rupiah at a currency exchange booth at the airport as you're departing Australia.
Every cent you spend overseas gets a tiny shaving that goes straight into the pocket of some financial institution somewhere. If you're sharp and use the right cards you might limit the damage to about two per cent, but if you holiday at home, that dollar in your pocket still buys you a dollar's worth of whatever.