For me, 2020 had one huge positive: it afforded me a newfound freedom. Following redundancy in early April, I left 20 years of PAYE behind to start my own PR consultancy, joining the 3.5% year-on-year increase in registrations at Companies House.
I soon realised that wherever the internet worked, so could I. Unfortunately, my beloved Battersea failed in this regard and when Barbados’s so-called Welcome Stamp visa started coming up in conversation with fellow entrepreneurial types, I noted that the island’s key selling point wasn’t its turquoise seas or expertly cheffed cuisines, but that its internet connection ranked above that of the UK.
The first of six Caribbean islands to create a new tax-free annual working visa, Barbados’s Welcome Stamp launched in June 2020 to incentivise a newly housebound working population typically accustomed to frequent travel, to relocate. It offers the chance to explore a new area of the world while working, and Brits relished the opportunity, with application numbers double that of the rest of Europe.
Being an entrepreneurial nation (the UK’s total SME turnover was estimated at £2.2 trillion in 2019), I hoped that the move could provide a new client base, given that my business focuses on supporting start-up founders.
To qualify for the visa, candidates must earn a base salary of £39,760 per annum, pay a fee of £1,590 per person or £2,385 per family, and follow the strict guidelines regarding Covid testing and quarantining on arrival. Following the government’s step by step guidance of when to test, where to quarantine and what to expect, from food deliveries to test results, I was in safe and organised hands.
I did a private PCR test three days before arrival, uploaded the negative result to the Visit Barbados portal and had it screened again on touchdown. I was fortunate enough to arrive in December, when the quarantine timelines were shorter, so after three days of strict isolation at a hotel, my fellow escapees and I received a joyous call from reception with an email confirming that we were allowed to remove our wristbands, dunk ourselves in the warmest of waters and celebrate with a rum punch.
As of February 3rd, arrivals are required to confirm their first negative test with a rapid Covid-19 antigen test at the airport. They’ll be given a monitoring bracelet and a second PCR test is taken five days after arrival, both free of charge.
My initial few days of in-room quarantine were ideal to get ahead with work, as well as working on my balcony base tan. Having not packed a case for nearly a year, I was grateful I’d included a skipping rope for in-room workouts (mind the ceiling fan).
Booking with a reputable tour operator and ABTA member such as Abercrombie & Kent means you can change or postpone your holiday up to 15 days before your travel date if impacted by Covid. As the company represents five-star Sandy Lane, there is the opportunity to quarantine in luxury, with access to a private pool, while awaiting your second test result in either The Sandy Lane Suite or The Villa.
The list of government-approved private villas offers guests an alternative to hotels for their quaran-time. Oliver’s Travels has seen a 45% lift in Barbados spend via its concierge team Vill’Otel, which offers a range of luxury villas, including government-approved Maxwell Beach and Westmoreland properties for longer-term guests.
With luxury hotels offering discounted rates for longer stays, from the west coast’s salubrious yet more traditional Cobblers Cove (47% off for stays of three weeks or more) to the chic The Sandpiper (60% off) or the boutique Eco Lodge (40% off, plus full Covid refund options) on the stunningly rugged east coast, it is a logical decision to put office rent towards these beautiful surroundings.
Bathsheba’s Eco Lifestyle and Lodge is the latest to join Outsite, the global co-living and co-working community for entrepreneurs, offering all the amenities of a digital office, combined with a luxurious location. With produce sourced from its own organic farm, including sustainable pure drinking water, even finishing a day with a rum punch while you take your final call on a rope swing overlooking the famous Soup Bowl surf spot will do you good.
Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley is well regarded among the group of female world leaders who have managed Covid well. Until only recently, the country has been operating almost business as usual. With a national ‘pause’ currently in place, we can only exercise, access the beach, and leave our accommodation between 6-9am daily but for me, this has been a game changer in finding a balance to my new working day.
Taking the advice of a recent interviewee on my podcast (another Covid venture) to spend at least an hour in nature before opening any screen, my mornings now consist of a 20-minute meditation sitting by a palm tree listening to the waves break, followed by a couple of hours of surfing on Freights Bay, providing me with safe access to a sociable new hobby. It’s easy to make new friends when you’re all lined up waiting for the next wave. I am certainly still more seal than surfer, however being out there at dawn, with turtles as talismans, I have a head start on my day, no matter how many waves I’m more under than on.
There are numerous other outdoor activities available to early risers, too. The stunning self-guided two-hour hike north from Bath Beach to Bathsheba is a favourite. Inner-island mountain biking trails are open, as are the options to kite or windsurf. Another highlight is a simple snorkel around the wrecks at Carlisle Bay, followed by paddling with the island's race horses as they enjoy their dawn salt baths at Pebbles Beach.
In the two months I’ve lived here, I’ve met more people out in the water than on dry land, making up for a less-than-sociable 2020. The majority are talented creatives and entrepreneurs. From my expert surf instructor Wayne at Freights Bay Surf School, to fashion designer Julien Macdonald, and founders of everything from a science-based sexual wellness app to a resortwear fashion retailer, I’m yet to meet two people with the same job.
What they all share is an appreciation of slow travel: they’ll move here for a few months, set up a base and explore the island with ease at the weekends. Then they’ll move on to the next destination, depending on Covid restrictions.
Having joined various entrepreneurial island WhatsApp groups, it’s easy to learn where to avoid the odd jellyfish, and which spots offer convenient co-working options; although they can also fan the island myth flame. My favourite was the one about the famed internet connection going down temporarily, due to a boat’s anchor dredging up the cable.
We’re all aware of how lucky we are, but that doesn’t stop us from sharing our hit-lists of where we’ll venture first when the island’s restaurants reopen. La Cabene’s farm-to-(beach)table ribeye or roast dinner is high on many lists, as is Oistins Fish Market, which comes alive on a Friday night.
To belatedly celebrate birthdays, we’ll order fish ‘cutters’ for delivery to Crane Beach from nearby Cutter’s Deli, accompanied by its famed rum punch and a game of beach cricket. Lone Star in the exclusive St James area will be an excuse to wear heels, followed by a recovery brunch and pool day at The Colony Club. Biodynamic PEG Farm’s Bajan eggs benedict followed by an afternoon snooze in the tropically fresh gully of Hunte’s Gardens is another favourite.
Newly opened Cala Roca’s international menu brings a piece of the Mediterranean to the island thanks to Vito Oliva Font’s tapas. And Sunday brunch at Sea Shed followed by Jae Johansen’s stunning live acoustic session on the deck of Surfer’s Bar at Sunset is a great way to finish off any weekend.
Until then, supermarkets remain open between 8am-4pm and with the island's best restaurants sharing their recipes via social media, the Waitrose-stocked aisles cater for anything you could want to cook at home. One treat that hasn’t escaped me is that bakeries are also deemed essential, so remain open. At the Cliff Bakery, you can pre-order every artisan bread you can dream of. Its almond croissants are worth their Mayfair prices.
Between planning our post-pause itineraries, we are all learning to adopt the island’s natural posture. Instead of the head-down, shoulders up, battle to the tube during rush hour, we are looking up to the sky at sunrise, opening our shoulders and embracing the steady pace of island life.
As the sun set over a (pre-national pause) long lobster lunch at the delicious Fish Pot on my 40th birthday last month, I was acutely aware that taking a leap of faith to get here has paid very real dividends: not only to my business, but to my sense of self. I’m grateful for having met a myriad of talented people from all walks of life, who have fuelled my enthusiasm for work and life beyond the nine to five.
I’m debating where to go next, if I don’t return home. The Bahamas, Grenada, Dominica and Costa Rica have all been mooted among my crowd of digital nomads but given the ever-changing Covid goal posts, we’ll probably just decide a few days before it’s time to move on. And that choice is the biggest luxury of all.
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