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What Travelers Need to Know about the Australia Fires (and How to Help)

You’ve likely already heard about the bush fires in Australia that are currently devastating the country. All six Australian states have seen damage from fires, but New South Wales (which includes Sydney) has been hit hardest, where 136 separate fires (including 69 that are not contained) continued to burn this week, according to a CNN breakdown. At least 24 people are dead. And in New South Wales alone, estimates a University of Sydney professor, nearly half a billion animals are dead, too.

First, if you want to help fight the fires in Australia and help the people affected, you have options. The Australian Red Cross is one place to donate. Nicole Kidman (who is Australian) posted her own list of places to donate here, but the direct donation page for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service can be found here. You can also send money to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service via this donation page set up by Australian comedian Celeste Barber.

If You’re Traveling to Australia

Evacuation orders are in effect, and air in Sydney was reported at “11 times the ‘hazardous’ level” in December. So it might not seem like a good time to travel to Australia. But what if you already have plans to go? Lonely Planet wrote up some things to think about, including where exactly there are fires in Australia, in this post.

Among the insights offered:

  • “Consider bringing a filtering mask with you. The ones to look for are called N95 or P2, experts the Aussie ABC talked to confirmed, and are relatively inexpensive. Be aware that these need to fit tightly, so anyone sporting a beard, take note and take a razor.”
  • “This is definitely a trip where you want to make sure that you’ll have full mobile phone data and call connectivity, so pick up a SIM card at the airport or get an eSIM if your phone supports them.”
  • “Check with your travel insurance: it might not cover bushfires: The basic rule[s] when it comes to natural disasters and travel insurance are that you should read your policy very carefully to ensure it covers them, and that you’ll need to have taken out the policy in advance of the disaster starting.” (For travel insurance, I have an annual plan with Allianz, for which I am a brand ambassador.)

[st_related]SmarterTravel’s Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance[/st_related]

A post from Our Seven Worlds looks at the question in even more detail. It breaks down the status of the fires state by state and offers advice for travelers to consider. In short, its position is this: “Yes–absolutely, you should still travel to Australia. No, you should not cancel your trip. There are many beautiful parts of Australia that are unaffected by the bushfires … Australia is a large country.”

The decision of whether to travel to Australia now, however, is yours. For now, we’re thinking of everyone affected. Below is an official statement from Tourism Australia:

“Like all Australians our sympathies go out to the families and communities who are impacted by the fires, and our gratitude grows stronger by the day for the front line services facing the fires head on. Whilst bushfires continue to impact parts of Australia, many areas are unaffected and most tourism businesses are still open. It is more important than ever that we rally around our communities and the tourism sector who may have been impacted.

“We would encourage all travelers coming to Australia to seek the most up to date information prior to departure, and remain informed about changing conditions whilst on the ground. The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology provides overall weather updates for all parts of Australia, including the latest fire warnings: For specific advice, updates are available from the Rural Fire Service, National Parks and relevant State or Territory emergency services. Travelers are also encouraged to speak with local tourism operators and staff at local Visitor Information Centers for advice about local conditions and how best to enjoy their time in Australia.”

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By Shannon McMahon

Editor Shannon McMahon is always planning her next trip and often writing in her travel journal. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Shannon joined SmarterTravel in 2015. A former news reporter, she's lived in the south of Spain, spotted elephants in Sri Lanka, gone spelunking in the Caribbean, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, interviewed Sao Paulo's Michelin-Star chefs, and explored China via bullet train. Travel trends, news oddities, and her visits to up-and-coming destinations are some of her favorite things to write about.

Her stories have also appeared online on USA Today, The Sun, Huffington Post, Business Insider,,, and more. Her educational background is in journalism, art history, gender studies, Spanish, and film. She's been quoted as an expert travel source by CNBC,, MarketWatch, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Plenty of extra thick hair elastics. They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone."

Travel Motto: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window, of course."

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