‘Coronavirus closed our borders. Now even a trip to Canberra has me excited’ | Josephine Tovey

It’s about the time of year in Australia where my Instagram feed is usually dotted with holiday snaps of warmer climates. People straddling scooters in Bali – that they will almost certainly fall off once their phone is put away – or sipping an obligatory Aperol spritz against an obnoxious Mediterranean backdrop.

I had been planning a winter getaway soon: a trip to the US see my sister and cuddle a new niece or nephew while soaking up as much free-poured bourbon, late-night pizza and New York atmosphere as my annual leave and savings would allow. 

But because of the pandemic, this winter almost no one is getting off the island. Gyms, bars and workplaces may be slowly reopening but international borders, for the most part, are not. Even within Australia, which has largely suppressed Covid-19, our movement remains restricted by closed state lines and a collective caution about returning to crammed economy class seats.

Living in a world with closed borders is a nightmare for so many, especially those cut off from loved ones. No planes in the sky means hardship and heartache – people deprived of necessary income and family reunions, having to wrangle Australia’s nightmarish immigration bureaucracy for compassionate visas.

So many are deprived of the joy of holding new babies or the solace of being near a parent battling the final days of an illness. In a vast, immigrant nation, these stories are everywhere. For these and so many other reasons, the safe reopening of borders cannot come soon enough.

On a smaller, more superficial level, closed borders and a still-raging pandemic mean the era of ubiquitous long-distance travel for pleasure and adventure is also on indefinite pause.

Giving up our plans to roam brings a little ache for the before times. Australia feels further away from the rest of the world than ever. Our wings have been clipped. 

But given the state of the world and the economy, even if you could figure out how, international travel would feel like a bizarre extravagance now. Instagram no longer beckons us overseas; instead it’s an important space for sharing ideas about how to defund the police.

As with many other adjustments we’ve had to make lately, I’ve been surprised by how the feelings of loss and frustration around being confined to my state and country are also accompanied by little moments of acceptance and discovery. 

After three months of lockdown, the idea of even the smallest getaway, the shortest drive, feels truly exciting.

Just as I have discovered that I am someone who likes staying in on a Friday to trounce my boyfriend at Trivial Pursuit, so too have I realised I am someone who can get very jazzed about the idea of a weekend in Canberra.

Yes, Canberra! Maybe it’s a whole season in isolation, but going to stare at Blue Poles, taking a brisk walk past a problematic fountain and seeing friends I’ve been separated from since the summer sounds quite thrilling. 

In so many ways the pandemic has forced us into simpler, more sustainable habits, ways of living that were standard for previous generations: cooking more, staying in, cutting our own hair, and playing all those damn board games. Some of it has been tedious as hell. But a lot of it has been surprisingly, well, nice? Comforting even.

My parents and grandparents never flew when they were young or took trips very far afield. A holiday meant a sweaty drive or long train trip to visit a relative on a farm or, if you were really lucky, a cabin at Brunswick Heads. Flying was a rarity in my childhood too. 

But entering adulthood in the era of budget airlines and discount travel meant it was often cheaper to head overseas than to parts of Australia, and many of us have seen more of some foreign countries than we’ve seen of our own. 

Local travel may not pack the excitement of venturing further afield but it spares you some of the stresses too: no visas or jet lag, a much smaller carbon footprint, and in most cases, a smaller hit to your bank balance in what are already precarious times.

If you have the money to spend on a holiday, there is barely a part of this country that hasn’t been touched by drought, bushfires or other hardships this past year, so there are plenty of places where your dollars can be spent meaningfully.

And, as with the puzzles and baking, I’m hoping to discover there’s something restorative and reassuring about re-engaging with things we might have done as children, when the world is so turbulent. 

My US trip is on indefinite hold. Thankfully my sister and her wife were able to exit the mounting health crisis engulfing their city and are expecting their baby here at home very soon.

I’m very lucky all my family is locked down within the same borders. Now I’m thinking about that Canberra weekend, and a week sometime in the winter on the south coast, a road trip I know well from childhood. A change of scenery, a few games of Trivial Pursuit and bourbon poured just how I like it – hard to feel anything but extremely grateful for all that right now.