Australians in Europe during COVID-19: Vaccinated Aussies enjoy freedom to travel in summer

Champagne in Paris, Sangria in Seville and lounging around the lake in Lucerne; Australians living in Europe are now travelling freely all around the continent, and can't believe the standstill back at home.

Many are fully vaccinated and heading off for their summer holidays as most of Europe opens up post-pandemic, to France, Switzerland, Spain and Germany.

"I even got a bit teary going through security at the airport, and queuing, as life suddenly felt so normal again," says Geneva-based Tasmanian Liz Kennedy, who's just been on holiday in Mallorca, Spain.

"It was so wonderful to be travelling again. It was 'Wow!' I'd missed it so much. We have a great life in Switzerland but it was so exciting to be visiting another country."

And on arrival, recounts investment executive Kennedy, 48, it was even more thrilling. "When we got there, people were so happy to see us. Everyone was saying, 'Welcome!' 'Welcome!' The atmosphere was amazing, just like the Sydney Olympics!"

Mitchell Dwyer from Brisbane, now studying international relations in Germany and also fully vaccinated, is thrilled to to be back crossing international borders, starting his holidays this weekend in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

"It feels like a return back to reality," said Dwyer, 28, who left Australia last year to be with his German partner, thinking – wrongly – it would be for just six months. "It's as though we've all moved on from the pandemic here.

"Everyone is out strolling everywhere, there's lots of traffic, and it feels almost like COVID never happened. We don't need any forms to cross borders and I'm now so looking forward to making trips to countries I've never been to before again."

Even a snap French train strike that has left him stranded en route to a break in Spain hasn't been able to dampen the enthusiasm of Grant Belchamber, 60, originally from Adelaide, but now residing in France.

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Starting out near the Swiss border, the first leg of his journey had to be reorganised because of the strike, and he now has two more trains to catch – and a seven-hour journey – ahead of him. "But it still feels good to be on the move again," said Belchamber, who's semi-retired but works part-time for the International Labour Organisation, speaking in the break between trains.

"I've never been to Spain before, and it's great now to be able to see the rest of the world. My twin 10-year-old boys left for Spain last week, so we're looking forward to being together again."

No one quite knows how many Australians reside in Europe today. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it doesn't hold any figures on nationals there, but a 2013 United Nations migration study put it at as many as 140,000 living in Europe and the UK at any one time.

But while so many are now loving the freedom of moving unrestricted around Europe, they all harbour the same fond travel dream: to visit home to see their family and friends.

"I can't believe how the Australian Government has buggered up – to use a technical term – the vaccination roll-out there," said Belchamber, who dearly wants to return to visit his two other children, in Melbourne and Canberra. "You had it pretty good in COVID but now you've got outbreaks and lockdowns because you're not vaccinated. It's crazy."

Dwyer feels the same, especially with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing on Friday that international arrivals will be halved, probably lasting till 2022. "I'd like to come back, but it's obviously going to be longer because you're not making a better job of vaccinating people."

And Kennedy, even though she's enjoying the travels with her fellow Australian boyfriend Matt Dawson, 42, with France on the schedule for this weekend and their vaccination certificates in hand, is exasperated that there's still one place completely out of reach.

"A lot of Australians living overseas are a bit cross," she said. "We're all waiting for you guys to vaccinate so we can come home and not have to spend two weeks in quarantine if we're allowed.

"You've had a year to do it. We all know it's a virus and it travels. But still not much seems to be happening."

See also: Even after borders open, international travel will be a nightmare

See also: What other countries are saying about our closed borders

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