Words and photography by Glendyn Ivin
With many state borders currently closed, the simple act of travelling from, say, Victoria to NSW is now a bureaucratic and time-consuming process.
Especially the ‘time’ part, because if you are lucky enough to get a permit, you’ll be required to undertake a 14-day hotel quarantine. When the quarantine system first kicked in for returning travellers, the government picked up the tab, but now the traveller is required to pay around $3000. With this in mind, you don’t have any control over which hotel you will be quarantined in.
I recently had to travel from Melbourne to Sydney. In the week leading up to my trip, I imaged the worst hotels I had stayed in and tried to imagine being there for 14 days. I think this helped me get my head around the fact that I had no control over where I’d be. I didn’t know until the bus pulled up outside the Radisson Blu Plaza in Sydney that I was staying there. Luckily all the hotels that are currently quarantine hotels in Sydney are of a pretty good standard. Rooms that under normal circumstances you would be more than happy to stay in.
Quarantine is a bit of an endurance test but doesn’t have to be a painful one. I actually, strangely enjoyed it. At times it felt like a much needed ‘forced holiday’. For creative people who are often scattered and easily distracted, 14 days of focused alone time can be beneficial. In some ways, being in a room, knowing that I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere, presented me with an overwhelming and strange sense of freedom. I did a lot of research before going in, and I learned a lot while there. If you have to travel in the current COVID world where quarantine is a requirement, I’ve made a list of things that might help your time go by a little easier.
Firstly, think about creature comforts. Smalls things can go a long way. Pack a set of regular, metal cutlery. You are only supplied with plastic knives and forks. Also, bring a plate and a bowl. I’m sure it feels a little less like a prison when your food isn’t in segmented compartments of a cardboard tray. With this in mind, bring in a small amount of dishwashing liquid and a tea towel to wash and wipe up. It’s all very domestic but super practical.
Food is delivered three times a day, and it’s ‘ok’, and some days are better than others. They cater for dietary requirements. You can order in groceries and Uber Eats etc. I had more than enough food. I’ve heard of some rooms having kitchenettes, which would be great. But my room had a kettle, and that was about it. I also brought in my own supplies and was never desperate enough to use the iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
Your room isn’t ‘serviced’ so if you make a mess, you’ll be cleaning it yourself. I read an account of a woman in quarantine who dropped a glass in her bathroom, and she spent a long time picking up every piece of broken glass by hand. Just take care. You can request clean sheets and towels but they, along with everything else, will be left at your door.
As there is no chance of going outside and exercising, you will have to find a way of getting some physical activity in your room. I did a basic daily body strength routine, and I also bought in a skipping rope, which I liked a lot. Not sure if my neighbour below did. Think about what you like to do and how best to recreate that in your hotel room. I like to listen to music and I bought in a fairly decent pair of monitors to set up on my desk. It made everything so much better.
Everyone gets a COVID test on Day 2 and Day 10. And every day I had a call from a health worker asking if I was showing any symptoms. They also asked how I was ‘feeling’ in general and if I needed to speak to anybody about anything. If so, there were nurses available 24/7. I got the sense that along with COVID, they were taking mental health seriously. I could imagine some people could find being in a room for 14 days by themselves pretty challenging and it was reassuring to know that there was help available if and whenever anyone needed. With this in mind, it’s essential to speak to friends and family daily. Perhaps make a list of people you haven’t had a chance to catch up with and take this time to make contact and catch up.
Order some things online in the first few days. A book or that cutlery you forgot to pack. That way, over the next week or so, you will receive some presents on your doorstep. It’s always exciting to receive mail, and quarantine mail is the best mail. Or ask friends to send a care package. A friend of mine delivered some home-baked goods and a pair of binoculars which helped pass some time. Hotel internet is notoriously bad. Consider getting a 4G dongle or have enough data on your phone to tether. The internet will be your lifeline.
One piece of advice I read before going in that stayed with me was to take in a list of things that you ‘have always wanted to do but have never had the time…’ Everyone has a list like this. It could be anything from current projects you want to start, continue or finish. Books you have always wanted to read. Or that book, script you have always wanted to write. A language you have wanted to learn. Now is the time to tick some of these things off your list. However, if you get to the end of the quarantine and you haven’t done these things, let them go. You will probably never do them. And that’s ok. Allow yourself to acknowledge that and remove those expectations from your life.
Perhaps the most crucial tip: when you check-in, ask very politely for a ‘room upgrade.’ Most hotels have standard and deluxe rooms, and some even have suites etc. They are all being used for quarantine, so there is no harm in trying. When I arrived, I asked if they had any suites available and they did! So for my 14 days, I had quite a large room, which made a massive difference to my stay. There is a big chance you won’t have a balcony, and you won’t be able to open a window. So space becomes essential.
I watched no films and barely turned on the TV. I was never bored. By the end of it, I could have happily stayed longer. About 30 mins after leaving my room, I was standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The air was sweet and warm, and it felt unusual on my skin, but I missed my room, and I still do.
Glendyn made a photo zine during his time in Room 712, and you can score a copy HERE.