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So here we are spending our time at home social distancing. Who would have thought our lives would change so drastically in such a short period of time. In fact, for us as travel writers and bloggers the last month has seen us frantically cancelling, altering and rearranging our world travel plans. It’s been a time of highs and lows and the story goes something like this…
Visiting Catania Italy
We were excited about our upcoming trip to Catania on the east coast of Sicily in southern Italy. We were attending a conference and the thought of catching up with old friends filled us with anticipation.
We imagined ourselves walking through the Piazza del Duomo, admiring the ancient basalt elephant of the Elephant Fountain and the gleaming baroque marble statues that decorate the Catania Cathedral.
We were looking forward to seeing Mt Etna, an active volcano that looms large above the city and the deep blue waters of the Ionian Sea.
Relaxing with an authentic Italian espresso and chocolate cannoli at the Caffe del Duomo and sampling the delicious Sicilian food and wine was on the top of our list of things to do in Catania.
A change is in the wind
As people continued to get sick in northern Italy, we began to reconsider our trip. Although our conference was in the south of Italy, we were concerned that the borders would close, and we would be trapped there.
After much deliberation we decided to cancel our trip and, in the end, it became the right decision as the conference was cancelled and the borders did indeed close.
Cancelling world travel plans
Now it was time to get onto our world travel insurance, flight and hotel providers to cancel our bookings and recoup our expenses.
Unfortunately, the whole world was trying to do the same thing and as our Italy travel date quickly approached, we were worried that we would not only miss out on cancelling our flight but be hit with a no show fee.
After days of listening to dial tones and a pre-recorded voice telling us that “Your call is important to us” we finally got to speak to a human being. Thankfully we were told that most of our trip would be refunded which was a huge relief.
Vietnam here we come
We were in Thailand with our visa quickly running out. We considered going home to Queensland Australia but found that our apartment was booked until late-April. Instead we decided to head to nearby Vietnam.
We were excited to return to Vietnam as we had previously spent three months travelling down the coast from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. We decided to get a three month visa, and return to the Hoi An, An Bang Beach and Da Nang area to do more research for our travel blog and new Hoi An Travel Planning Facebook group.
Driving through Da Nang by night was magical, the Dragon Bridge shone a rainbow of light in the distance. A myriad of motorbikes crisscrossed in front of us their horns blasting in the chaos. This made me smile as it felt familiar, like coming home to an old friend.
Soon we were at An Bang Beach. Wearing our face masks and washing our hands with sanitiser we greeted our hosts who welcomed us back as friends. It felt so strange to be returning like this and although we had been wearing masks since January, I thought back to our time there in December and remembered how much safer the world felt then.
We quickly settled in, spending our days doing research and writing for our website. Heading out in the evening we made sure to wear our mask and sanitise our hands before going to our favourite village restaurant for a little down time.
We have just set up the Hoi An Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you to ask questions about planning a trip to Hoi An Vietnam. Please join us to help you prepare for your future trip.
An Bang Beach Vietnam
We began our days with familiar routines, going for an early morning walk along the beach, visiting the local market to buy fresh produce and buying our Banh Mi bread rolls from our favourite stallholder.
Strolling along the roads and alleyways we were greeted by locals who remembered us from past trips to the area. Above the face masks their smiling eyes held a genuine friendliness and warmth which only reinforced our love for this traditional Vietnamese village.
It was March, peak season for An Bang Beach and Hoi An, a time when the region is usually packed with tourists. Though there were a good number of tourists visiting An Bang Beach many of the surrounding shops and restaurants were closed.
Both locals and tourists wore masks and a rule of social distancing was keenly observed. As we walked around the village it was heartbreaking to see the impact the threat of illness was having on the livelihoods of the local people.
A change of plan
We had been in Vietnam three days when our Prime Minister recommended that Australians return home from their world travel. Again, we scrambled to change our plans, our home base of Queensland was out of the question, so we decided to go and visit our daughter in Perth.
Trying to get a flight out of Da Nang was the next hurdle as they were few and far between. Many of the flights flew via Hong Kong which felt unsafe, so in the end we decided to take the next available flight (four day later) with AirAsia via Kuala Lumpur.
Waiting for that time to pass was filled with anxiety as we watched more and more countries closing their borders. We worried that Vietnam would also close its borders and we would be trapped or that our flight would be cancelled, and we wouldn’t be able to leave.
Two days before we were due to leave the Australian Government passed a law saying that everyone returning to Australia would have to go into two weeks self-isolation.
After reading the Government guidelines on self-isolation we found that we would be able to stay with our daughter if we practiced social distancing within the house. This was a relief as it was prior to the Government paying for hotel stays for self-isolation.
The Flight Home
It was with mixed feelings that we left Vietnam. We felt sad that our plans were ruined but we were also relieved to be finally catching the plane home.
While checking in we were told that this would be the last AirAsia flight out of Kuala Lumpur. To know that we had come so close to not getting home was sobering, I couldn’t help but think of all the other Australians trying to get home and hoped that they would make it back safely.
Perth Western Australia
We were excited, we had always wanted to visit Western Australia and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see more of the country as we made our way back to Queensland.
I had dreams of watching the sun set over Cottesloe Beach and visiting the artsy world of Fremantle. I wanted to taste the wines of Margaret River and discover the beauty and wide open spaces of Western Australia. All we had to do was two weeks of self-isolation and the adventure could begin.
Welcome to Perth
We arrived into Perth international Airport in the wee hours of the morning. Our daughter was waiting for us and we awkwardly greeted each other making sure to keep our distance. We were careful not to overstep our boundaries; a vastly different reunion compared to our usual bear hugs and kisses.
I had big plans for our two weeks in self-isolation, we had a huge backlog of work and I was feeling motivated and keen.
Fairly soon we began to realise that we wouldn’t be exploring Perth and Western Australia as travel restrictions came into play. More worrying was the closure of the South Australian and Northern Territory borders which effectively blocked our path to our home state of Queensland.
With each day the travel restrictions became tighter and tighter and we were powerless to do anything about it, all we could do was listen and wait. It was beginning to feel like we were in a game of chess and we were being checkmated at every turn.
Suddenly all thoughts of working on the website flew out the window as I found it harder and harder to focus.
As our release date drew closer, we decided that we should try to get home to Queensland as soon as possible. We booked our flights for the 2nd of April and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t be cancelled. A few days before we were due to leave Perth, Queensland announced that it was going to close the borders on the 3rd of April.
Going home to Queensland
Driving to the airport I looked back to the bright lights of Perth in the distance. I was sad that it was all I was going to see of Perth but all I could think about was catching the flight home to Queensland. I held my breath as we waited at the check in counter praying that the flight hadn’t been cancelled.
It was such a relief to be sitting on the plane looking down over Western Australia. Below us the countryside looked vast and beautiful. I thought of what might have been and hope to return to visit Perth and discover Western Australia after this madness is over.
Touch down Bundaberg
So here we are in our hometown of Bundaberg. There were times when we didn’t think we were ever going to make it, but I am so glad we did. It took exactly one month from the cancellation of our trip to Italy to our arrival in Bundaberg. Four of the most tumultuous weeks of our life in world travel.
As we drove through the sugarcane fields towards Bundaberg’s beautiful beaches, we looked back over our recent world travel and were grateful that we managed to stay safe and well. Many have not been as lucky, and our prayers go out to them.
We applaud the work of our healthcare workers, truckdrivers and all essential service workers who are keeping our country running, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
So now we sit and wait, so stay safe, sane, healthy and happy.
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