I Traveled to Barbados at the Height of the COVID Pandemic: Best Decision I Ever Made
By Travis Taverek
I’m in a rum shop in Barbados. On my left, I see towering green hills covered with palm trees and a bright, open blue sky. In front of me, boulders the size of houses are planted along a rugged shoreline continuously bombarded by the oncoming waves.
To my right, a stranger named Andy offers to keep me company while I wait for the bus back to Bridgetown, and we spend the afternoon swapping stories while looking at the view.
As I eat my plate of salty, fried marlin and sip on my pint-sized bottle of Old Brigand rum, it dawns on me: this is real. I’m living my dream. I’m finally a digital nomad.
My transition to the digital nomad lifestyle was something I’ve wanted, craved, for a very long time. My decision to move to Barbados on their new visa for remote workers was the culmination of life goals I had been working towards for years.
When I first heard the term “digital nomad” in 2016, I knew that’s what I wanted. None of the alternatives appealed to me. I’m not the settle down and marry type. Climbing up a corporate ladder seems like a waste of a life. I was determined to reject the same traps other people fell into and choose a different path in life.
Then in July of last year, the Barbados Welcome Stamp Program was introduced. I saw a golden opportunity to escape the pandemic and live out my dream, and I took it without a second look back. Since then, I’ve been living my best life and have had one incredible experience after another.
On Thanksgiving I was sitting on the deck of a catamaran ship as blaring, adrenaline-fueled soca music roared from the DJ’s speakers and people were dancing and laughing. The week after that, I snorkeled with sea turtles, fed them bread, and watched them glide through the water like slow-moving birds.
Later that day, I had a big plate of fried snapper and macaroni pie for lunch and washed it all down with rum punch number 50. A couple of months ago I discovered a family of nimble, doll-sized, green velvet monkeys crawling over the fence into my backyard and I got so excited I felt like a little kid in a zoo.
My dinners end with vigorous discussions with my Rastafarian housemate. I recently learned how to scuba dive. I end a typical workday by splashing around in the waves while contemplating the life of a flounder, then having a rum punch during happy hour on the way back home.
The COVID pandemic almost killed my dream. Then, the Barbados Welcome Stamp program made it possible again.
Brakes and Accelerator
The Welcome Stamp Program was introduced in July of 2020 to revitalize Barbados’ tourist industry, which contributes to about 37.6% of the nation’s GDP, in a safe and controlled manner by letting in remote workers and digital nomads.
Visa holders can work remotely on the island for a period of up to one year after they pass two COVID tests and quarantine for a minimum of 5 days in an approved hotel. The application is short and requires a passport photo and a $2000 processing fee. To qualify you need to make over $50,000 a year and have valid medical insurance.
I’m one of 1,000 Welcome Stampers living in Barbados on the same program.
The government of Barbados has to strike a tricky balance between controlling the spread of the pandemic to protect its own citizens and letting enough people in to make sure Barbadians can feed their families.
It’s a process Prime Minister Mia Motley referred to in a recent press conference as “Brakes and Accelerator”. When COVID cases rise, the movement restrictions become stricter, and vice versa.
A combination of COVID procedures backed by science, clear communication at every level of government, Mia Motley’s leadership, the forward-thinking Welcome Stamp program and a culture conducive to coming together in times of need has positioned Barbados as a safe haven during the pandemic.
Masks are mandatory in public spaces, places of business, and while riding public transport, but in most respects, life resembles a pre-COVID world.
Recently I spoke with Danita Becker, a fellow Welcome Stamper, about why Barbados is such a great destination for digital nomads:
“Barbados is great for digital nomads because of its solid internet infrastructure and beautiful scenery. The sunshine and slower pace of life is a healing balm for the typical overworked and over-anxious existence. The smallness of the island is an asset for newcomers, it’s easy to make friends and connect with like-minded individuals.”
What is it Like?
Every day I’m in Barbados I’m filled with a mixture of relief, peace, and joy, content with the knowledge that the troubles of my old life are far behind me. In Silicon Valley where I’m from, I felt trapped both by the pandemic and by my situation.
Here in Barbados, I feel truly free. Being in Barbados feels like I’m in a wonderful dream—like I’ll wake up any moment and return to dull, mundane reality.
Life in Barbados is just as much about the simple joys. When I wait for the bus, I’ll chew on a sugary and chewy tamarind ball and watch the hustle and bustle of Bridgetown happen around me. When I walk down the boardwalk, I’ll look at the ocean and see more shades of blue than there are names for. I see people jogging, families having picnics, and friends partying on the side of the street.
In the evening I’ll swirl a glass of sweet sorrel in my mouth and watch the glorious Caribbean sunset pass over the horizon, painting the sky in a blanket of orange and red that you could paint and hang on a wall. I sit back and feel the warm island breeze pass over my body, and I think to myself:
“What a wonderful thing it is to be alive.”
Travis Taborek is a freelance content writer and SEO Specialist, formerly from California and currently based in Barbados. He also has a side-business doing freelance digital marketing for game developers and blogs about indie games in his spare time. His biggest lockdown accomplishments include scoring his dream job, escaping the Bay Area, and finally finishing Homestuck.