This is a blog about my return to the United States. On my Instagram I posted a vote as to whether or not you guys wanted to hear about my 42-hour journey back to the States from Australia. If you don’t follow me on IG, you may miss the next vote. This is my journey, but I’m open to taking direction 😉.
Far From Home
For the last two years, I’ve been living in the South Pacific. I started off in New Zealand what was supposed to be a one year Working Holiday. That became the second year in Australia because YOLO. That year became 16 months because of the Corona Virus. I had made plans to continue my travels, but you know what they say about making plans…
I tried to wait out COVID, but the longer I stayed in Australia, the less likely it looked like this would be quickly resolved. I had to return home. As I have said before, I try to be optimistic and accept the things I cannot change, and all that jazz. I chose to see this is as a new adventure for me, one that I did not see coming. I am trying to navigate, as best as I can.
My return to America. My birthday was at the end of August. Despite the craziness that was being locked down to Melbourne, I had probably one of the best birthdays on record. We didn’t even have to leave the house! My flatmates and friends were so considerate and so amazing. They took me on a little ‘journey to Spain’. I brought in 30, not in Barcelona as I’d hoped but I still partook in Sangria. I dined on tapas. I danced to the songs of the Spanish Guitar playlist on Spotify. I had a photoshoot. We did my birthday tradition of Karaoke. They made my favorite cake and it looked MasterChef quality. It was great. I was also the last hurrah as my time in Melbourne was winding down.
The COVID-19 Impact
Because Victoria (especially Melbourne) had a spike in cases, travel restrictions were pretty stringent. The last 4 weeks that I was there were Level 4 lockdown restrictions.
Key points of the Melbourne Lockdown:
Stay inside, only leave when necessary (essential workers/shopping)
No visiting other residences except to administer care
No socializing with anyone outside of your household
One hour of exercise allowed each day
Do not travel outside a 5Km radius of your home
Masks must be worn whenever in public
Only one person can go to the stores from your household each day.
was that you can’t leave more than five kilometers from your house.
In order for me to leave, Victoria, I had to fill out for a permit to enter New South Wales which is a layover for my flight. Everything was touch and go for a while there as Australia would implement new restrictions/procedures with little notice.
Lucky for me, the process didn’t change before my flight, but just to be sure I contacted several agencies and documented the instructions and advisement from each. The permit for entry into New South Wales could only be applied for three days before departure. My flatmates were driving me to the airport so I sent them a copy of my permit so if they were stopped on their return home, they wouldn’t be fined $1,500 for breaking quarantine restrictions.
We still went to the airport the recommended two hours before because though, I knew the airport was less busy, I wasn’t sure if the staffing levels were decreased. With the situation as it were, I didn’t have enough chips to gamble so I erred on the side of caution.
We had to say goodbye in the car because they weren’t allowed to get out of the care at the airport. It was like a ghost town. There were empty airline queues. Lights were off in much of the airport. As a non-Australian traveling international, I had to check-in with an attendant. I ended up needing the two hour cushion time as the attendants were busy and I had to finagle all of my stuff because I had a 23 kg(50 pounds) weight limit for two checked bags in addition to the personal item and the carry on item. My checked bags 17 kg and 30kg, respectively. For 30 minutes, no matter how I rearranged the two, I couldn’t get them to be 23 each. I reluctantly got them as close as possible threw some stuff away and stuffed some stuff in my carryon.
I had a feeling I would be over so I had already made my piece with disregarding the stuff. I can live without it. I’ve been trying to ‘Marie Kondo’ my life, asking myself does this spark joy? I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it. I had already donated a lot of my belongings prior to packing.
Itinerary Melbourne to Sydney (overnight Layover) to Sydney to Los Angeles (three-hour layover) to Los Angeles to Orlando.
After checking in, an attendant checked my temperature and asked me if I had any flu-like symptoms. Then another attendant asked to see my permit. They checked it against my ID and I dropped my face mask for them to verify. Then I went through security.
In boarding, the airline asked passengers in the back of the plane to board first. They even opened up the tarmac so that people could enter from the back of the plane rather than having to walk from the front to the back. The airline gave out packets that had masks as well as Purell wipes. The plane was moderately full even with the empty middle seats, but I still felt distanced all things considered. The flight to Sydney was a short hour and a half flight.
Deplaning in Sydney, we were asked to do so from front to back. Those in the back should remain seated until those in the front had deboarded. I do hope this is something that stays after this whole COVID-19 thing is under control.
Once off the plane, they tested my temperature again. The attendant asked if I was arriving in Sydney or just connecting, I said connecting. I was shown to a section of seats near the baggage claim. There were two sections for passengers to be processed. 1) for connecting flights 2) Those arriving in New South Wales (NSW) who would have to do a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
If I were in Sydney to stay, I would have been put in a hotel to mandatory quarantine for 14 days. That would have been at my own cost. At the beginning of quarantine, the Australian government was footing the bill for their citizens as they returned home from abroad. After the first three/four months anyone returning to Australia would have to pay at their own cost. Because I was just transiting through, NSW put me up in a hotel for the night.
Police officers were walking around this area as NSW Police were in charge of this operation. They checked my permit to enter and they gave me a lot of paperwork to fill out. This process of documenting and sorting everyone took about two hours. I had wifi and didn’t have anywhere else to be so it wasn’t the worst situation and the process was relatively smooth. Once I finally got my bags and permits, the other passengers and I were put on a shuttle to a hotel. The shuttle was actually a rather plush charter bus. The Australian military were the ones helping us with our bags.
With everything that I’d seen on the news during the weeks/months prior it was jarring to see the juxtaposition of how Australia uses their military during the pandemic versus how America deployed military during the pandemic. Moment of honesty… I was not excited to come back to America.
Once at the hotel, it was near the heart of the city and very nice. I was expecting a budget hotel, but I was glad it wasn’t. We left the bus in groups of 6 in order to keep a social distance while checking in. Once inside we first had to hand our paperwork from the airport to the NSW police who were set up in the lobby. They processed my passport, flight, and permit information. They informed me of the process to get back to the airport in the morning then they allowed me to check-in. Once I was checked in, I pointed my luggage out to the military man who was helping with the bags and he escorted me to my room. He had a master key that he used to open the door as I wasn’t given a key at check-in.
Once I was in the room, I set to wiping down most surfaces with the antibacterial wipes I was traveling with. You can’t be too safe out there. My mother is compulsive about germs, so I did my best to immolate her (no flu-like symptoms 14 days later so I guess I did alright). I took a shower and waited for my dinner to be delivered.
The next morning, I received a wake-up call and went to the lobby where a shuttle was waiting to take me and others to the airport. There were 4 other people on my shuttle, and they’d all been on my flight from Melbourne the day before. We stopped at another hotel to pick up another passenger. Weird, but true travel story, two of the people on this shuttle ended up being from Florida. Relatively close to Orlando (my destination) and my hometown in South Florida. I found it interesting that had it not been for COVID procedures, we probably wouldn’t have ever known that our journeys had so much overlap.
Getting on the plane in Sydney was a lot smoother than the day before. There weren’t as many international travelers and my suitcases were already at their desired weights. The night before I had to renew my permit just as an extra precaution as it expired on the 4th, and I didn’t want any stumbles at the finish line.
Going through security they checked my passport. I was pulled aside as they took a deeper look at my passport. Turns out they were just double-checking the legitimacy of my stay in Australia as my original e-visa had expired 5 months prior. Subsequently, they found my second visa and I was able to continue on. After realizing it was my visa they were checking, I second-guessed if I could have been deported for free instead of paying for the plane ticket…I joke, I joke, the ticket price was a really good deal.
Going through the international terminal all the shops and duty-free stores were closed. There were only one or two little places to get something to eat. There were a lot of hand sanitizer stations and the masks were mandatory for us to wear.
Before boarding the plane, they again have people board from back to front (I love this process). They check my temperature again, give out masks and wipes. The flight was so empty. Saying it was 15% full is a generous estimate. Middle seats were reserved but everyone ended up having an entire row to themselves.
Nothing too crazy happened during the 13-and-a-half-hour flight from Sydney to LA. LAX international terminal felt like a private airport there were so few people there. I blew through customs and baggage claim. It was a three-hour layover but it took me about an hour and a half to get to my next terminal between customs, baggage claim, (getting a little lost), checking my bags for the next domestic flight, and going through TSA.
I’m not going to lie. In this entire trip across the world, the 5 and a half hour LAX to MCO flight scared me the most. I had left a country where the majority was doing the socially responsible thing and following clear direction from government to …?
The flight was full with exception of the empty middle rows.
(L-R Syd- LAX seat options; LAX-MCO options; dinner on long haul Flight)
When I arrived in Orlando, I was able to go through security, collect my bags, and catch an Uber all very quickly. Already I could see the difference in the American approach. Nobody checked my temperature, nobody asked if I had any flu-like symptoms, I didn’t register with anyone to say that I would quarantine for any period.
They just let me into the country. No worries, I am self-quarantining for 14 days just in case. I will also continue to practice social distancing when and where I can.
So, that was my journey back to America. A 42 hour journey door to door.
Until Next Time,