Australia travel restrictions: Expats enjoy overseas summer holidays in 'quiet' Europe

Australia's borders are sealed shut and most residents are stuck in their state, if not their suburb. But some expat Australians in Europe are making the most of their freedom to travel while the summer sun shines.

Mark and Mikaela Elbourne moved to London on youth mobility visas in January with the dream of exploring Europe. In recent weeks the couple has travelled to Italy and Greece to chase the sun before the English winter sets in.

Mr Elbourne said the majority of his Australian friends back home seem pleased – if a little jealous – that he can travel even though they can't.

"And then there's a handful that you know definitely don't approve of you travelling the globe during a pandemic, with smart little remarks about our decision to travel."

After strict lockdowns in March and April, Europe has again embraced open borders. It's a stark contrast to Australia where the tourism industry fights for survival as cautious premiers hesitate to lift restrictions on visitors from other states.

"I was in Rome in 2013 during summer and the contrast from then and now is immense," Mr Elbourne said. "It almost felt like Mikaela and I were in the Vatican alone compared to a normal peak holiday season rubbing shoulders with someone the whole way through Vatican City.

"It is bizarre but at the same time really nice and peaceful."

The Elbournes are taking precautions but are not too worried about contracting COVID-19 abroad because they feel the risks are greater living in London.

"We were sensible with what we were doing, following the relevant guidelines, practising social distancing as much as possible and wearing a mask inside shops and transport or when instructed to," he said.

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Their holiday comes ahead of the looming possibility of a COVID-19 resurgence once the weather cools down and people head back indoors.

"With my limited knowledge on pandemics, I am almost certain that there will be a second wave and another lockdown, so for us we really wanted to make the most of the summer before we are cooped back into our one-bedroom apartment with no backyard and a cold winter ahead of us," Mr Elbourne said.

Jessica Fairclough has been working as a nanny in London for the past four years. After the UK's first lockdown she took the opportunity in August to visit Malta and Turkey, which she said were "very quiet".

"I've been to a few places like the Blue Lagoon in Malta and the Blue Mosque and spice markets in Istanbul, which I've heard are usually so busy you can barely move. However, when I was there they were very quiet," Ms Fairclough said.

She's noticed the demographic of travellers skews mostly younger and there are plenty of cheap deals around, especially for accommodation.

"However when I went hot air ballooning in Turkey we got charged extra because they couldn't fly basically the whole summer and they needed to make up for that loss of money," she said.

Her friends back in Australia "either think I'm crazy and reckless, or they are jealous and wish they could be travelling as well".

Robert Wainwright and his wife Paola Totaro are holidaying near the coast in southern Italy after driving from London through France and Switzerland.

Ms Totaro said the mood in Europe has shifted "from terror to resigned acceptance".

"The general feeling is no longer one of fear, it's of living with the virus," she said.

Mr Wainwright said he respects the virus and is careful to mitigate the risk, but he isn't going to hide inside.

"If we feared an accident or an illness you'd never go anywhere," he said. "The fact is we'll be living with COVID for years."

Anger runs hot in much of the expat community that Australia has made it difficult for its own citizens to return home by capping incoming arrivals and causing airfares to skyrocket.

Mr Wainwright said it was "hard to judge Australia from afar".

"On the surface it seems strange a country shuts itself down so much," he said. "I hope Australia opens up in a sensible way. It went for 100 years with different gauge rail lines – I thought we were over that."

See also: The ban on international travel seems to have no end game

See also: Aussie expats hit with reverse culture shock after returning home

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