The jealousy is real. It's hard to look at photos of your Europe-based friends right now, to see them getting out there and holidaying in the same places they usually would – in Spain, in France, in Greece, in Germany – and not feel a sense of envy. In fact if you're in Melbourne it's absolutely impossible.
In those photos the world looks the same as it ever was. The sun, the sand, the buildings, the tavernas, the piazzas, the cottages. It's as if life has returned to normal in these parts of the planet, as if everyone is just getting on with their lives and enjoying their summer and pretending COVID-19 doesn't even exist.
So yeah – I'm jealous. You can recognise the need for the harsh restrictions in Australia while still feeling envious of your European brethren.
But here's the thing to remember: looks can be deceiving. Yes, the sights are the same in popular holiday destinations, the people are the same and the places are roughly the same. But look a little closer and the COVID-19 restrictions are also still there, still altering life as we know it, particularly when it comes to enjoying yourself, and even more particularly when it comes to eating and drinking.
Barcelona, for example, might be famous for its party scene, but right now all nightclubs are closed, and people caught drinking in groups in parks and on streets are being hit with huge fines. In party-friendly Mallorca, a notorious bar and nightclub street has been closed entirely. As for the rest of Spain, which is well known for its tapas and pintxos culture, which still exists, in most regions right now patrons have to sit down to consume food and drink, which completely changes the highly social dynamic of this style of eating.
Meanwhile in Italy, police have been sealing off popular "nightlife piazze", open areas such as Piazza Trilussa and Piazza Bologna in Rome, to stop crowds of drinkers gathering there as they normally would on long summer evenings. In Germany, bars and pubs are open again, but patrons have to sit down to be served, and social distancing rules must be adhered to; nightclubs, including the infamous Berghain in Berlin, remain closed.
Elsewhere around the world, even heavier restrictions remain in place. In Hong Kong, all bars and nightclubs are now shut as the state braces for a second wave. In Vietnam, authorities have been quick to shut down entire cities to stamp out any COVID-19 outbreaks. In South Africa, the sale of alcohol has been completely banned.
So you have to ask yourself as a traveller: are you really jealous of people holidaying in these spots right now? Is it even worth visiting if you can't have fun in the way you normally would?
Don't scoff at this idea. You might place no value on drinking culture, and think that these are First-World problems we're talking about. But hey, we live in the First World. These are our problems. And drinking culture is just that: culture. As important to some people as art or architecture.
Such a huge part of the travel experience in places like Spain and Italy is formed by eating and drinking. It's all about hanging out in bars, elbowing your way through a noisy crowd to order a few plates of food in Pamplona, standing at the counter to drink espresso in Naples, finding your place on a packed street in San Sebastian while drinking cider and eating pintxos.
People travel to Berlin just to go to Berghain, or other legendary nightclubs like SO36 or Watergate. They go to Hong Kong for the cocktail bars. The visit the likes of Cape Town and Johannesburg for the local party scene.
So this is a genuine – if, for Australian travellers at least, moot – question. Are these places still worth visiting right now, and into the future if restrictions remain in place?
It depends how much you love to party. For me, there's definitely still value in travelling to all of these destinations. I can't imagine Spain with a tapas and pintxos scene that's so forcibly reserved, that has had to temporarily do away with the hustle and the energy that I love about it so much – but I would definitely still go there. I would soak up whatever is left, support struggling businesses while still having a good time.
I would go to Italy, too, and just adjust to the new normal, in the same why everyone who lives there has had to. Berlin without the clubs is still fun; hey, I could never get into Berghain anyway. Now is probably not a good time to be in either Hong Kong or South Africa but if everyone was healthy I could deal with going free of booze.
Travel in a COVID-19 world is all about adaptability, it's all about accepting restrictions and making the best of the place you find yourself in. In fact, scratch that – the world in its entirety right now is all about adaptability. You have to roll with the punches and take joy where you find it.
A European beach or island in summer is still a very fine place to be. A German park is lovely; a sit-down beer garden is a thing of absolute beauty. Wilderness experiences in Africa require no booming soundtrack. In Hong Kong if you can eat and you can shop then you really have everything you need.
Our lives have changed now. Travel has changed. The world has changed. But I'm still very jealous of the people who are out there right now, able to see it.
Would you still want to travel around Europe right now? Will COVID-related restrictions change your travel plans in the future? Where do you plan to go as soon as you're able?