Our Chronicles articles have been focused on domestic travel lately but in October we traveled internationally for the first time since February, spending a few months living and working in Barbados. We waited until we felt it was safe enough to travel during Covid, and knowing the risks associated, planned out our first work & travel experience since the onset of the pandemic. Here’s a first hand account of digital nomad life during Covid.
Planning Our Travel During Covid
A medium to long term trip seemed like the only realistic option for two reasons. First; most countries have strict entry requirements that require some level of mandatory quarantine ranging from a few days to 14 days. Staying long term meant the mandatory quarantine periods wouldn't eat up a large portion of our time compared to a shorter duration trip. Second; staying long term in one place also means we’ll be moving around less - less time in airports and less opportunities to spread the virus and put others at risk.
Choosing Where to Travel During Covid
Once we felt comfortable enough flying there were 3 major considerations that went into selecting our destination.
- Time zone: We had to be able to work Eastern Time as easily as possible so that limited our options to North or South America.
- Entry restrictions: Americans are currently barred from entering many countries across the world due to Covid concerns so we had to look at destinations that allowed American visitors.
- Covid cases: Finally, we wanted a safe place to travel during Covid. That meant finding a country that was taking Covid seriously, was stringent with their safety protocols, and had a relatively low number of cases overall.
These 3 factors were top priority and having not traveled in over half a year, we had little preference on the actual country, community, or things to do that would normally be considered when choosing a great digital nomad destination.
We ultimately selected Barbados from our list of The Best Digital Nomad Destinations in 2020 as our top choice for a few reasons.
- Barbados is Atlantic Time so we were only one hour off Eastern making it very easy to work regular hours.
- Barbados was one of the first Caribbean countries to reopen for tourism and set the standard that other island nations followed with. This included mandatory pre-departure and post-arrival testing and quarantine restrictions upon arrival with varying lengths based on which country a traveler is arriving from.
- Thanks to our access to Covid testing and our ability and willingness to comply with all restrictions we would be able to gain entry to the country.
With clear and stringent safety protocols for travelers to follow, Barbados has done an incredible job of limiting the spread of Covid with fewer than 300 total cases countrywide as of December 2020 since the onset of the pandemic. The majority of the cases were also not from community transmission which has been largely contained.
Barbados, like many other countries that has reopened to tourists, requires a negative Covid test from within 72 hours before arrival to get into the country (Our airline required it to check in as well). We didn't pack until we received our negative pre-departure test knowing the results can often get delayed. This tight timing meant we received our test results less than 24 hours before our departure time. In anticipation of a successful test we had reached out to multiple accomodations telling them we won't commit until we receive our test result. There were plenty of accommodations available and we had no problem arranging a couple top choices so they were ready for us once we confirmed, with backups just in case our first one fell through.
We stayed flexible while planning, knowing everything would be very last minute, while remaining realistic that things could easily fall through. We relied on our Ultimate Travel Checklist to make sure that we were fully prepared to leave for several months, especially since we were a bit travel rusty.
Fortunately, had things not worked out because of a delayed test we wouldn't have been out any money because flights are currently changeable up to 2 hours before departure with all major carriers and nothing else was booked or paid in advance.
We hastily packed the night before, caught a couple hours sleep, and headed out early in the morning.
Flying During Covid
We took every possible precaution while flying and moving through airports. We wore N95 masks at all times, not even removing them to drink on the plane. The airport we departed from and transited through had very few people in them and did a great job ensuring travelers were able to keep their distance. Our airline provided a safety package on each flight that includes paper masks, alcohol swabs, and hand sanitizer.
The travel day was exhausting and certainly not as comfortable as flying used to be, but that was to be expected. The tight mask gave us headaches and we were very dehydrated from not drinking on the plane and not eating much all day. But we arrived safely (& sleep deprived) and we really appreciated how everyone on the plane (flight attendants included) wore masks and were respectful of the situation the entire time. It's not an easy time to be an airline or work for one but everyone was doing the best they could under the circumstances.
Working & Traveling During Covid
Living and working in a country with Covid under control was liberating. It felt incredible to go to restaurants, take public transit, and meet other digital nomads (always while wearing a mask when in public).
It’s been surreal living in a country that is known for tourism when so few tourists are around. Mile long white sand beaches are completely empty and it's common to be the only occupied table at a restaurant on weeknights. With an economy that’s so reliant on tourism we’ve been happy to spend our tourist money and do what we can for the locals, particularly those in the service industries that have been hit hard.
We have met numerous others also living and working in Barbados as digital nomads and it quickly became apparent why the country is one of the best destinations for digital nomads in 2020. Because we didn't plan to stay longer than 6 months a tourist visa was sufficient, but every other digital nomad we met had the 12 month welcome stamp that allows them to live and work remotely in Barbados for a year. We enjoyed having a small community of expats that we regularly saw and met at our local dive shop. Many of them said meeting other digital nomads at a bar or expat Facebook groups was common as well.
Being a Digital Nomad During Covid
For many, in the coming months and into 2021 this could be a unique opportunity to jump into the digital nomad lifestyle. Millions are now working from home and have become location independent for the first time. If you’re considering taking the leap or returning to life on the road as a digital nomad and traveling during Covid, keep a few things in mind:
- Do your research on destinations that are safe to travel to, follow your own country’s travel guidelines, and follow the safety guidelines when in transit.
- Remember that the longer you stay in one place and the fewer times you move through airports or on planes the fewer chances there are of catching or spreading Covid.
- Always be respectful of the rules in your destination (they might differ from home) and do your part to follow the guidelines to keep yourself, other travelers, and locals safe.
If you want to take the opportunity in the coming months to test out the digital nomad lifestyle for yourself, make sure to read the full list of digital nomad resources on our working and traveling blog.