Christmas travel in Australia during COVID-19: The one positive from the pandemic

There is only one word you need this Christmas, one term to bear in mind, one concept to centre your thoughts around when it comes to travel over what can be an occasionally fraught time of year: love.

That's all that matters. Love of family you were either born with or acquired. Those who have always been there and those you were drawn to. The people who make your life special. The people you've been missing.

Travel over Christmas is always about re-establishing connection, but this year it has never been so important or so heartfelt. For weeks now, planes and cars in Australia have been filled with those going to see family and loved ones for Christmas.

I flew from Sydney to Adelaide just this week and shared the aircraft cabin with so many people going to meet their grandkids for the first time, going to see parents they hadn't met face-to-face in what must have seemed like forever, travelling to hug their grandparents and shower them with love.

You couldn't help but be swept up in the atmosphere, in the joy. There's only so much Zoom can do, even when everyone is trying so hard. Grandparents trying to read books to grandkids on a screen. Families attempting to stay bonded, to stay connected.

No doubt the atmosphere on that Adelaide flight is being reproduced across the nation right now, in a nation that has been divided for so long. Queensland has finally opened its borders – residents can go home, visitors can see loved ones. Tasmania has done the same. The Northern Territory, too.

My parents, who live on the Gold Coast, so close to me and yet so far in the current climate, separated from us by an imaginary line that suddenly became not so imaginary after all, are travelling down to Sydney this Christmas. They don't know, for sure, what will happen when they eventually attempt to return to Queensland across that line: what the rules will be by then, what processes they will have to go through to get home. If we have learnt anything, it's that things move quickly right now.

But it's been almost a year since they saw their grandkids. And children change a lot in a year. The difference between a two-year-old and a three-year-old is phenomenal. The difference between a newborn and a one-year-old – you can't compare them.

So much time has been lost that needs to be made up.

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Some people have never met their grandkids. Some have never met the new partners of their siblings or children. Then there are the nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, cousins. Friends. So many people we've been missing. And now is the time.

It's been a rough few years for the whole world and everyone has had their individual struggles, but the pain that binds us, oddly, has been that of separation. The pandemic of COVID-19 has been a cruel one that has torn at our social fabric, that has taken our expressions of joy and love – hugging, kissing, spending time together, laughing together, eating together, celebrating together – and rendered them suddenly dangerous, forbidden.

On a macro level, Australia has shattered, turning from a whole country into a series of locked-off states with their own rules and attitudes, borders closed, neighbours suddenly wary of one another. That has been hard to watch, and to experience. But on a micro level it has been even more difficult, with so many families and friends divided by state lines, not to mention by politics and perspective.

COVID-19 has tested us. We in Australia may not have borne the full brunt of the pandemic's devastating consequences, as other countries have, but we have still had to deal with the separation and the division.

And so now we have Christmas. Christmas with (we hope) open borders – aside, sadly, from our friends in Western Australia.

I can't wait to see my family, to hug them and kiss them and eat and laugh and celebrate with them. I'm conscious that I'm one of the lucky ones, that there are still, after all this time, people who won't have the opportunity to reunite this Christmas, for whom the pain of pandemic-induced separation stretches on. That's awful.

For many, however, this holiday season represents the chance to travel, but more than anything it represents the long-awaited chance to reunite. Not just with family and loved ones in Australia but across the world, in India, in the UK, in the US, in Italy, in Thailand.

If there's one positive that has come from this pandemic it's the perspective it has given us all on life, and even on travel. What's most important to us? People. Relationships. Family. Love. Holidays are fun – but love is vital.

And this Christmas, it's the only thing that matters.

b.groundwater@traveller.com.au 

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