Our retirement was planned for a later date than it came upon us. The whole world turned upside down in a matter of weeks with a cancer diagnosis for my spouse, a small business disrupted and dealing with the death of a parent. After a year of trauma and reduced working hours due to medical appointments, it became clear it was easy to call time on our working life.
The first year plan was travel so we took a few short trips and tested the waters. We hadn’t had a passport for decades and never did the backpacker thing opting for a mortgage and kids instead.
Thus 2020 was to be the big retiree adventure, Europe and Canada — a childhood dream having only seen snow twice in my life. A year ago I was looking forward to seeing the Colosseum in Rome then coronavirus broke in China and spread to Italy, the place with the most cases and fatalities outside China.
Anxious phone calls to the travel agent from late-January 2020 right through to the day of departure, assured us it was just a media beat up. There would be no refund if we cancelled and we were informed “you will be the first to be advised of any changes to Smart Traveller proceed to the tour and check your emails”. Relying on that information we went to the airport.
There was no further communication from the travel agent on the day of departure. Smart Traveller changed to ‘Unsafe for Tourism’ just hours before take-off and we were not informed. There was silence from the travel agent.
We were allowed to fly out because it was not Do Not Travel and technically we were flying to Budapest, Hungary then planning to arrive in Italy by bus. It was impossible for our itinerary to be completed before we left the tarmac. We arrived to a State of Emergency in Budapest, Hungary. A third of our itinerary in Italy was cancelled by email on arrival. We spent four nights in Budapest being informed of constant itinerary changes that never eventuated. Once, we checked out of the hotel only to march back in and check in again without ever leaving the driveway.
It culminated in an email received at 4am on a national public holiday advising us to get home independently with a helpful list of 17 airlines’ phone numbers and no other instructions.
Returning to self-isolation for 14 days, an email came from the Canada travel agent advising us that the next trip was unable to proceed.
As a result of the fall in world markets, our superannuation took a serious dive and devalued our nest egg. We lost $25,000 paid to travel agents and endured a traumatic experience. It has taken almost a year to proceed through the Civil Claims Tribunal on misleading and deceptive conduct. Despite 150 pages of evidence the travel agent was allowed to provide unsworn false testimony, tampered documents and our claim was dismissed. The travel agent was allowed to keep our money for 2.5 years with no time limit on when the unusable credit would be available if ever. We have legitimate medical and hardship reasons to seek a refund and that was ignored.
So in 2021 I will be continuing my volunteer work for my local community, lobbying with other consumers for reform to the travel industry and restricting travel to my own state. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home”.