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From Australia to Europe and Thailand: How my family moved five times during the pandemic

Travel News from Stuff - 20-06-2022 stuff.co.nz

My young family and I have moved countries five times during the pandemic, a risky approach that’s seen us quarantine in four different nations and repeatedly skirt calamity.

Since February 2020, we’ve shifted our home base from Australia to Ireland, to Perth, to Ireland, to Thailand, and now back to Australia, and in that time I’ve visited 30 cities in 12 countries for my job as a travel journalist.

Remarkably, it was 26 months into this daring passage of our lives before any of us caught Covid-19, the virus that had caused most people to avoid air travel. That was in April this year, when my wife, two-year-old son and I had to quarantine in our Bangkok home for 10 days while suffering mild infections.

Notably, our long pandemic sojourn began with a self-imposed quarantine in Malaysia in early February 2020. At that time, most of the world knew little about this new virus. So when I told friends in Perth I’d cancelled a trip to Bangkok to see my wife’s family due to the threat of Covid-19, they treated me like a fool who’d been sucked in by a flat-earth-level conspiracy.

I became very wary of the coronavirus on January 25, 2020, when I wrote a newspaper story on the chaos it was causing to travel during Chinese New Year. The next day, I had great difficulty convincing my wife that a largely-unknown virus meant we now couldn’t visit her Bangkok relatives en route to Ireland.

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Instead, a few weeks later, we stopped in Kuala Lumpur, where we did a two-day voluntary hotel quarantine before heading on to Ireland, where my mother lives. Until mid-March 2020, we had a great time in Ireland. Then began the most unnerving three months of our lives.

Covid-19 erupted across Europe, and our television and phone screens told us of little else. While my family and friends back in Perth were still living a carefree life, our existence brimmed with paranoia as we lived in voluntary quarantine. My mother, wife and boy barely left the house during those months, and I only did so rarely to shop for groceries, which we then obsessively disinfected back in our home.

The moment flights resumed from Ireland to Perth, in mid-June 2020, we decided to flee Europe. I questioned this plan over and over and over. Boarding any plane at that time seemed terribly dangerous, let alone catching a 20-hour flight.

In Dublin Airport, patent fear and paranoia coursed through the air, and this intensified when we boarded our flight to Perth to encounter airline staff in head-to-toe protective suits.

As it turned out, luck favoured the bold. This decision saved us about NZ$4000 in mandatory hotel quarantine fees upon arrival in Perth in June 2020. For free, the Australian Government gave us two enormous, connecting rooms in a plush, five-star hotel, whereas my mother just two months later had to pay $2000 for one quarantine room, after a change in Government policy.

Once we finished our 14-day quarantine, life in Perth was jarringly normal for the following 11 months. No masks, no social distancing, few restrictions of any sort. In July 2021, as global travel was ramping back up, I needed to hit the road to gather fresh stories. While the vast majority of Australians were banned from leaving the country, I secured us a travel exemption thanks to my profession and my dual Irish-Australian citizenship.

Again, fortune was on our side. First, this exemption gave us priority vaccination status, so we got two jabs before departing for Europe. Then, just days after landing in Ireland, in late July 2021, our travel exemption was revoked due to new rules. We had snuck out of Australia just in time.

Over the following four months, as my wife and son enjoyed life in Ireland, I traversed Europe, which was almost fully open to EU passport holders like myself. As Aussies were still locked in the country, I self-drove through the Swiss Alps, inspected Scottish castles, perused Italian museums, wandered Parisian galleries, went café-hopping in Amsterdam, and explored London, Brussels, Venice, Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool and Manchester.

Our December 2021 relocation from Ireland to Bangkok proved the most difficult of all. Endless paperwork was required to secure my Thai visa, and then my Thailand Pass entry permit wasn’t approved until a few days before we flew. My stress levels had barely dropped before I was in tears, sprinting through Dubai Airport as my son screamed in the pram I was pushing, and my wife begged me to slow down.

At the last minute, we’d realised there were two Emirates flights to Bangkok departing at near-identical times. We were at the wrong gate. Staff told us we couldn’t possibly make our flight, as the gate was more than 1km away. I knew my Thailand Pass would become invalid if we missed this flight and we’d have to return to Ireland and, at enormous cost, start this Thailand entry process all over again.

So we ran and ran, through crowds of startled travellers, and got to the gate just as our plane was scheduled to take off. Once more, we were blessed by fortune. The flight had been delayed due to a ruckus. A family was heatedly arguing with Emirates staff, who wouldn’t let them board because they’d done the wrong type of Covid-19 test.

As our plane lifted off from Dubai, my wife and I were emotional wrecks. Sprinting through the terminal, we thought that, after all our risk-taking, we’d finally hit disaster. Instead, our boldness earned us nearly six months of bliss in Thailand, where we lazed on beaches, explored mountain ranges, and spent quality time with my wife’s family.

Now, finally, we’ve got off the pandemic merry-go-round. In June this year, we travelled from Thailand to Bali and, after a two-week holiday on that stunning island, we’ve moved back to Perth. Permanently this time.

It doesn’t quite make sense, but once the pandemic settled down, so did we.

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