Australia summer holidays 2020/21: What to expect in the wake of COVID-19

Looking forward to a summer break? Sand and sea, or maybe camping in a national park – whatever the backdrop, it's going to be different this year.

Take it as 99 per cent certain you'll be holidaying within our own shores, with face masks and sanitiser on the packing list and social distancing a priority. Here are some considerations that will shape your summer holiday this year.

Book now, or wait and see?

Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, there seems little reason to commit to holiday plans far in advance, particularly if it involves crossing state borders. Whole areas of major cities have been locked down at short notice and if that happens just as you're packing to go you might get slugged with cancellation fees.

As far as possible, you want to make sure that your destination is not going to become a quarantine zone. Booking late means you might face a more restricted choice of accommodation but the payoff is flexibility, and that's key in these uncertain times.

Self-contained or hotel accommodation?

Hotels and resorts are going all out to get bodies back in their beds with keen-as-mustard deals. They're also enforcing social distancing and they've ramped-up cleansing and sterilising protocols to minimise the threat of infection from coronavirus.

That bodes well for holiday accommodation, especially if it comes with a pool, gym, choice of dining and plenty more trimmings. But you might also eat from a breakfast buffet, use a lift to access your room and mingle with other guests who could have come from afar. You'll be relying on housekeeping staff to make sure your room and all the public areas are thoroughly disinfected, and those are all risk factors.

Self-contained accommodation gives you more control. You manage your social interactions, you can do your own cooking, sterilise all touch surfaces and BYO sheets, towels and pillows if that makes you feel more secure.

Drive or fly?

Flying to your summer holiday has made a lot of sense in the past, but there are aspects to commercial flights that you can't control, especially social distancing. A recent survey by Flinders University found that under the scourge of the pandemic, Australian travellers showed a marked preference for private car and campervan use for leisure journeys, but a sharp decline in appetite for aircraft travel, coach travel and other forms of public transport.

On board an aircraft HEPA filtration systems supply sanitised air to the cabin, but proximity to other passengers both in the aircraft and in the terminal is a concern. Driving to your destination, you're in an environment that you control, with oversight of your own social distancing at food and fuel stops.

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Do I need domestic travel insurance?

You might consider it if you're travelling by aircraft or another form of public transport. If it's a road trip in your own vehicle rather than a hired car, the benefits are questionable.

If your travel plans were affected by the pandemic, for example if you were to find yourself locked out of your home state or forced into quarantine, travel insurance would be unlikely to cover any expenses you might incur.

What about the beaches?

Social distancing becomes problematic on popular beaches. What's happened in Europe over the summer offers useful clues that we'd do well to consider. Italy was one of the first countries to be hit hard with COVID-19. The central and regional governments responded with stringent lockdowns. That included measures to control summer tourism on the country's beaches, and they've been effective. In the two weeks before August 7, Italy recorded 6.2 cases per 100,000 of its population. Over the same period Spain, where it's been business as usual, recorded 81.4 cases for the same population number.

Italy's suite of containment measures has been made easier since many beaches are run as concessions, with beach managers supervising paying customers. Australia's free-for-all beaches are a different proposition, but rather than clearing and closing popular beaches when crowds flood in and social distancing takes a holiday, such as happened early in 2020 at Sydney's Bondi and Coogee beaches, an effective social distancing and contact tracing system seem like the way to go.

Self-sufficiency is key

Anything that allows you to create your own good times and avoid crowds is going to help you stay safe from coronavirus. That might include bikes, walking shoes for national park trails, fishing rods, roller blades, paddle boards, tennis racquets – anything that allows you to have fun while maintaining social distancing. That's particularly relevant for families, since children might not be so careful.

A different kind of welcome

To many of the locals in popular holiday destinations, city blow-ins are an affliction that goes with summer, like blowflies. We take up their favourite parking spots, make long queues at the fish and chip shop and irritate them in a hundred small ways, and so the word "tourists" morphs into "terrorists".

Summer 2020-21 is going to feel different, but possibly not in a good way. The city is where infections spawn and spread, and the news on the TV every night has been frightening.

If you're coming from a major city, and it doesn't matter whether or not you live in a designated viral hotspot, or whether your holiday destination is a town along the Great Ocean Road, the south coast of NSW or Byron Bay, no surprise if the welcome is tepid. Expect to have your contact details noted when you eat out, have a drink in a local bar or wander into shops in some cases.

Some upper end regional restaurants are denying bookings from anyone from cities that have been affected by the pandemic, including those who live nowhere near an urban coronavirus hotspot. In North America, "plate shaming", telling those with out-of-state car number plates to go home – has become a thing. Pray it doesn't happen here.

See also: The 10 terms travellers need to know in the COVID-19 era

See also: Five things you need to know before booking a holiday

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