Alright, so I’m one of those totally infuriating people sending Insta snaps from tropical corners of the Mediterranean right now while you’re all back home freezing your toes off. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty great. Although, after not seeing my parents, family and friends in Europe for nearly four years, I think it’s pretty fair I get some downtime. I hope you all can get the same soon.
The thing is, international travel is actually incredibly stressful. There’s a lot of stuff I forgot about going abroad on a long-haul flight that, while not insurmountable, does make you question why you’re spending thousands of dollars to endure it.
For one thing, the airlines are in absolute chaos right now. If you’re lucky enough to make it onto a flight, you may end up getting stranded, as I did, in another country on an unplanned extended layover. Granted, everything was handled really well, but sitting on the tarmac for five hours uncertain if you’re going to take off isn’t fun.
Also, the world is still here. It’s changed a bit since we last saw it, but fundamentally everything is still going on. People are living their lives just like we are back home and although the wait has been long, it’s always going to be here. Just because you can’t make that trip right now doesn’t mean you won’t one day. In fact, it might even be better to hold off, since everywhere is absolutely rammed right now and that’s making it all very expensive and very busy.
There are a million things I could say about being abroad for the first time in years but I’ve distilled whatever wisdom I can muster into three little tips here for you that, if you’re planning a European jaunt, may just help. If you’re not, read them as a reminder that the grass is not always greener and my ability to put a pessimistic slant on even the most joyous of occasions is infinite.
Triple Check What You’re Allowed to Bring Into Transit Countries
I stopped in Singapore on the way to the UK. It’s not a country, I’ll admit, that I’d really given much thought to. That was until, at 5am Sydney time having not slept, I was facing the prospect of having to navigate to a hotel since our plane refused to take off.
What I definitely hadn’t planned for is that local laws and customs are very different in Singapore. It’s one of the major transport routes from Australia to Europe and one you’ll likely spend some time in on your way over, even if just for an hour or so.
Because we’d left the airport to go to a hotel, we had now legally entered Singapore and, the following day, had to check into our flight through airport security. The list of what you might think of as everyday items that Singapore takes a dim view of is long and the chances of you carrying them are high.
Vapes, for example, have been illegal in Singapore since 2017. Anyone caught with one faces an on-the-spot fine of $1000, up to a $10,000 fine and jail time. Similarly, prescription medications, like sleeping tablets, are not automatically fine in the country simply because they have your name on them. Things like benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders in Australia, are treated the same as drugs like cocaine and heroin. The punishment for having these drugs can include jail time, canings, and execution.
While you may be fine just passing through, you may also not be. Do not chance it with local authorities and make sure you don’t have anything on you that could end your holiday early and possibly get you a guest feature on Banged Up Abroad.
This applies to other countries too. Popular Middle Eastern layovers like Dubai and Doha also have stringent rules over things you’re allowed to bring in. Falling afoul of these can land you in serious hot water.
Sex toys are a big one. If you’re travelling through any highly religious country, check local laws for their legality. Your favourite personal comforter, if found in your luggage, will be confiscated in Saudi Arabia, India, and Vietnam, probably along with a lengthy, awkward conversation. If you’re found to be carrying a sex toy through Malaysia, or the United Arab Emirates, you can also be prosecuted.
Europe Is Also Going Through Hell
Emerging out of our little COVID isolation island into the big bright world comes with its own shocks. Australia has, all things considered, handled the pandemic very well when compared to other countries.
Arriving in your favourite holiday spot in Europe, you might be surprised to find a lot of bordered-up shops, increased poverty, and street crime. It’s a bit grim but many places, particularly in Europe have suffered enormously and their economies have yet to recover. Taking extra precautions, especially at night in unfamiliar territory, is a must.
It’s not just the economic factors that are tricky. There is a land war in Europe right now and, although we’re far away from it in Australia, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes front-page news on the daily here. Looming threats of nuclear attack don’t seem so far-fetched when bombs are falling on the other side of the continent. Many people across Europe are doing what they can to support refugees and the war effort and there’s definitely something off about tourists rolling up in party mode when everyone is being constantly updated about death tolls.
That being said, Europeans more than appreciate your visit and your custom. We’ve had several encounters where people, realising we’re Australian, excitedly welcome us back to the world and tell us it’s been such a long time since they’ve heard our, apparently, hilarious accents.
Money Is Important and Limited
There’s been a bit of a theme in certain social media circles lately questioning just how the hell everyone suddenly has the cash to go on lavish European holidays — weren’t we all supposed to be dead broke in this together after two years of pandemic destruction?
On the one hand, true. On the other hand, credit cards.
That’s (a bit of) a joke but in all honesty, I’m pretty resolute about putting away a decent chunk of my pay each month into a savings account and have been relying on that to fund my current adventures. That’s been absolutely crucial since, as you might have guessed from the last point, overseas travel hasn’t got cheaper.
While the cost of living crisis is smashing Australia, we’re relatively well covered compared to other countries. Many countries in the EU have seen GDP shrinkages of between 4% and 6.4% when compared to pre-pandemic levels. The UK is currently at -8.7%. Australia is sitting pretty on 0.8% growth in GDP.
Inflation rates too are much higher here than they are at home. Our inflation rate is 5.1% year-on-year while the UK sits at 9.1%, Italy at 6.8%, Spain at 10% and Greece is at 11.3%.
All of this is to say that if you thought flights were taxing on your wallet, don’t expect the pain to let up once you’ve landed. Prices for everyday goods are much might than you’ll remember, with food, in particular, being a major cost.
Fuel, if you’re driving, is also far more expensive here than in Aus, with petrol prices in the UK sitting at around $3.34 a litre currently. Yeah, and you thought we had it bad.
Accommodation is also being hit by similar pressures to airlines. Closures of holiday rentals during the pandemic are crashing up against surging demand meaning you’ll end up paying far more than you might expect for a place to rest your head.
A European jaunt is definitely a lot of fun and, after the two plus years we’ve had, absolutely deserved, just be prepared to never financially recover from it.