Travel and COVID-19: Despite expense, this is why travel will be better post-pandemic

Nostalgia is a funny thing. You tend to look back in time through rose-tinted glasses, to shed all of the bad stuff in your memory and make your life a highlights reel of the fun and the joyous. Even the most challenging events take on a sheen of job-well-done after a few years.

(True story: I once climbed a volcano in Chile and I have a vague but nagging memory that the whole thing really sucked. It was cold, it was dark, and I was unfit. But my dominant recollection, the thing that springs to mind every time I think about Villarrica, is the incredible view of the rising sun and the emerald-green fields as we perched on the side of that snow-covered mountain.)

And so most of us probably look back at travel, at the old style of travel from 20 or 30 years ago, as being a good thing. Life with no budget airlines. Life with no-go zones and barriers. Life with fewer flights. Life with less money.

Travel used to be harder. It used to be more prohibitive to take part.

By comparison, think about last year: you could have gone anywhere, you could have done anything. You could have flown to Asia for less than a week's rent. You could have taken a couple of weeks in Europe without having to scrimp and save, without having to dedicate yourself to this one holiday, this one adventure.

Twenty years ago, you couldn't have done that. Thirty years ago, definitely not. Forty years ago, not a chance. To travel used to require dedication to the cause, a true passion for getting out there and exploring, because you couldn't just jump on the next flight and go on a whim. You had to save. You had to take your time.

And now look where we find ourselves. Travel has changed immeasurably in the last six months, and it's about to change even more. We're about to see whether the rose tint to our nostalgia has any ring of truth to it.

By the time we can see the world again, it's going to look a whole lot different for travellers. It's going to be more expensive. After an initial bump, after airlines and other providers dangle a few affordable carrots to get travellers back on board, we're going to settle into a new normal, and that new normal is going to be pricier.

Until a vaccine has been introduced and distributed worldwide, and proven to be effective, fewer people will be travelling. They'll be sticking closer to home. Fewer flights will be available. There will be fewer airlines as a whole – not all of them are going to make it out of this pandemic. Australia has already lost one


It's going to be a bigger deal to leave the country. The bubble has been burst now, we've seen what can happen. For the short-term future at least, there's going to be a worry that it could all go wrong again, that borders could close and availability could drop and we'll find ourselves stuck somewhere, unable to get home.

As I've written previously, in the short-term at least, travel is likely to favour the rich, those who can afford the luxury of space.

So does this mean travel is over? Maybe not for older travellers, those with plenty of money and time, but what about the young people, the budget travellers, the backpackers, the adventurers? Is travel for them dead?

No. But it's definitely different. And it's definitely going back to the future. Anyone who's been harping on about a return to the good old days, I have exciting news: the good old days are back.

To travel in the modern world is going to require commitment. Airfares will be expensive, accommodation will be expensive, the Australian dollar will be weak. So you're going to have to save up plenty of cash.

You're going to have to travel for several months in somewhere like Europe to make it all worthwhile. You're going to have to stay in hostels or pitch a tent in campsites. You're going to have to slum it in dorms and ratty bungalows on the banana pancake trail. You're going to have to find work or do odd jobs for board. You're going to have to buy an old bomb of a vehicle that has no #vanlife Insta-cred at all, and call that your house.

In other words, you're going to have to do what so many of us had to do back in the day. And the good news – as far as I can remember, anyway – is that it's awesome.

Travel, after all, should be a treated as a novelty, as a gift, as a privilege, rather than a right. It should be hard to achieve. It should require dedication and appreciation.

This style of travel once had so much going for it, and it will again. The fellow travellers you meet in the new world will be just as passionate and dedicated as you. There will be fewer tourists with which to share your experiences, to crowd the sights, to queue at the attractions. You will be more of a novelty for locals, locals who will no doubt welcome the return of the tourist trade, who will view you as a sign the world is returning to normal.

Travel for young people, for adventurous people, for the budget conscious, will be as it once was. And that – as far as I can remember – is very good.

Do you think travel will have changed by the time we're able to go overseas again? Are you happy it might go back to the way it once was? Did you enjoy scrimping and saving for travel 20, 30 or 40 years ago?

See also: Backpackers love Australia, why don't young Aussies?

See also: Think Australia's travel ban is fair? This will change your mind