Stopovers and multiple-country holidays are nearly impossible thanks to COVID-19 restrictions

I used to love a stopover. The idea that you could add an entirely different country to your holiday – an entirely different continent, often times – for very little extra cost was always appealing to me.

Get out of the plane for a while, stretch your legs, try some interesting food, spend a few nights in a nice hotel, and then continue on your merry way.

There are some amazing stopover destinations available to Australians, too: the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok and more. I’ve spent a few hours, a few days, even a week in all of these places. I’ve visited art galleries, shopping malls, street-food markets and F1 race tracks. I’ve stayed in hotels and resorts and even desert camps.

And now I have to sadly accept that those days are probably over. At least for now.

The idea of a stopover right now – or in fact any sort of holiday that involves multiple destinations or any country-hopping – seems wildly optimistic in mid-pandemic times. Not to mention expensive.

It’s hard enough right now planning to visit one other country, with all of the organisational hassle, paperwork, testing requirements and expenses that it involves. And you’re going through all of that just for a couple of days in one country, let alone multiple.

Each of those destinations I’ve mentioned above has its own entry requirements, some more rigorous that others, but all are fairly problematic for those travellers looking for a short stay. If you’re planning a stopover in Singapore, for example, there are not only reams of paperwork to take care of to get in, but you’ll have to do a PCR test in Australia before you go, take another test on arrival (and quarantine until you get the results), and then, depending on your final destination, take another test before you depart.

So that’s about $500 per passenger in tests alone, for a quick stop. Abu Dhabi is the same. Dubai requires one fewer test, but still a considerable amount of organisation. Bangkok is currently very difficult to enter.

This is not to complain. I’m super-excited by the possibility of simply leaving Australia and visiting another country right now. I don’t need a stopover. That place can be my destination.

It’s more to point out that travel has changed, as we all understand, but in more ways than is immediately obvious.

You just wouldn’t plan a stopover right now, in the current climate. Not only do you have additional organisation, additional research, additional requirements to abide by, additional paperwork, and additional expense, but you also have additional risk that a country could change its rules and your travel plans could be thrown into disarray.

It only takes one flick of a governmental switch to find yourself stuck and seriously out of pocket.

And it’s not just stopovers that will have to be put on hold for now. The very idea of a multi-country trip, the sort we used to do, where you would plan to visit several countries in the space of a few weeks or even a month, just doesn’t seem feasible right now.

Even within the EU, probably the ultimate destination for a multi-country journey, there are issues. Most countries in Western Europe have their own passes – certifications necessary to confirm vaccination status and access certain venues, the likes of the Green Pass in Italy and the Pass Sanitaire in France – that are a process for Australians to apply for and secure. Each country has rapidly changing restrictions and varying COVID-19 case numbers. Each country can adjust its border settings with little notice.

Those old overland trips through south-east Asia, from Thailand to Cambodia to Laos, will also be far more difficult to navigate. Some countries require a PCR test from your country of residence for entry, which means you’re not skipping between foreign states. Others won’t allow land border crossings.

Every country in the world right now has its own set of complicated rules to research and adhere to. You wouldn’t plan to visit three or four countries in South America right now, stopping for a few days in Santiago before making your way up to Lima. You wouldn’t go from the US to Mexico and then back to the US again. You wouldn’t attempt to take the Trans-Mongolian train from Russia to China.

I mean, maybe you would. But it’s going to be hard. Travel, for most of us for at least the next year or so, will be a case of “baby steps”. Pick one destination, and stay there. Get to know it. Enjoy it. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Probably the only way around this for those desperate to tick multiple countries off their list is to travel with a reputable tour company, particularly in Europe – an organisation that will take care of all the little details for you, and keep an eye on any changing restrictions and react accordingly. Let someone else manage all that.

If you’re travelling independently though, now is not the time to be considering a multi-national extravaganza. If you want to see Singapore, then just go to Singapore. Stay there. Make it worthwhile. If you want to try for the UAE or Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur then take the same approach. Save money, save hassle, save stress.

The stopovers can wait.

Are you planning a stopover on your next overseas trip? Will you be moving from country to country, or just staying in the one destination? Do you think the difficulties involved will be ironed out soon?

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