Last month I traveled to Barbados from London to report on the country's pioneering remote work visa, just a couple of weeks after the UK had been added to the high-risk list, alongside the US, Canada, France, Russia, South Africa, and more.
The Caribbean island has had remarkably low coronavirus rates, with 7 deaths and 238 cases since the pandemic began. But with an estimated 60-80% of nationwide revenue coming from tourism, Barbados has been worse hit economically than most countries due to lockdown.
It's now trying to strike the right balance of enticing back visitors while still managing the coronavirus and minimizing the spread.
Quarantining in paradise sounded excellent in theory, but logistically, planning the trip was stressful. If you don't take your pre-travel coronavirus test until nearer your flight, you'd then have to wait longer to do your second test after arrival and thus be in quarantine for longer. I took a coronavirus test 72 hours before arriving and ended up quarantining for two days in a hotel room with a balcony and kitchenette, with the ability to wander and swim in a designated pool.
I traveled to Barbados to report on the country's new remote work visa, the Welcome Stamp, designed to bring people back to the island safely.
The Welcome Stamp is a year-long visa for remote workers. The online application process asks people to fill out a form providing some basic data, upload their birth certificate, confirm their salary is over $50,000, and pay the $2,000 fee.
As of the end of October, Barbados had received 1,693 applications for the Welcome Stamp (some for groups, some for individuals), accounting for 2,796 people in total, the Barbados Tourism and Marketing team told Insider.
Although it's not the only country to have launched a remote work visa, it was one of the quickest.
With an economy estimated to be 60-80% dependent on tourism (depending on the source), Barbados' economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. Barbados is trying to balance bringing visitors back to the country while minimizing the spread of the coronavirus. The country has had 7 deaths and 238 cases since the pandemic began.
I had originally been planning to go straight to an Airbnb in Barbados, but when the UK was added to the high-risk list, it meant I would have to quarantine upon arrival.
I could choose to stay either at a designated hotel or approved villa, or for free at a government holding facility.
When I was choosing where to stay, there weren't many options on the approved hotel list, but there are now dozens, ranging from luxury to budget. I chose a hotel called the Crane.
It's worth doing your research though, because some have far more favorable quarantine conditions than others, and a lot of the hotels are currently offering deals on pricing.
If you don't want to pay, you can stay for free at government accommodation — someone who did this told me it was OK, but there seemed to be little privacy, with people sleeping in large rooms of beds, sharing with strangers.
The challenge was knowing how many nights to book in the hotel because I didn't know exactly when I'd be free from my quarantine.
It would all hinge on the timing of my two COVID-19 PCR tests, one before and one after arrival, but ultimately I decided to err on the side of caution and book four nights in the hotel.
Travelers to Barbados from high- and medium-risk countries have to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival in the country.
I went to a private clinic in London for my test, which was entirely painless if expensive at £165 ($214).
I timed it right at the start of my 72-hour window, conscious of the fact that I needed the result not only before flying, but in time for me to upload it alongside the online immigration form I had to fill out.
Fortunately, my result was negative, and I got it in time.
I had to show my negative coronavirus test results and my immigration form at check-in, which is likely why I ended up waiting there for 50 minutes.
I popped into the No. 1 Traveler Lounge at Gatwick Airport before taking off, and the new normal was in full swing both there and on the plane, with masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing.
I was flying British Airways economy and the experience was much the same as normal.
The first meal was a turkey and cheese bread roll with a chicken and rice salad and a chocolate salted caramel ganache, and towards the end of the flight, I was served a hot chicken pesto cheese sandwich and a KitKat.
Pretzels and shortbread were also available as snacks.
When we landed in Barbados, we were told to disembark row by row. As I was seated toward the back of the plane, this meant I was waiting on the tarmac for over half an hour.
Little did I know, however, that there were only going to be even longer lines inside the airport.
It felt like there were endless checks in the airport. I was given two wristbands: One stating where I was staying, and another saying I'm from a high-risk country.
I had to show my COVID test result again and fill out a form detailing where I was staying and how long I'd be in the country.
There were the usual passport and immigration checks, but I also had to fill out a health form stating that I would quarantine and follow the testing and monitoring protocols (more on those later).
After signing various documents and showing them multiple times to different authorities, I was finally out of the airport.
It had felt a bit like a whirlwind and quite flustering.
I'd booked a package at the Crane which included my airport transfer, so I jumped in the car and relaxed for the 15-minute journey to the resort.
There was no screen in the taxi, but my driver, David from Nakendra's Chauffeur Services informed me that he cleaned and sanitized the whole car daily and between passengers, and we both wore masks (as is the law in Barbados).
At hotel check-in, I was given a blue wristband which signified I was a quarantining guest — all guests at the Crane are required to wear a wristband so it's clear what their health status is.
Red wristbands are for people awaiting their COVID-19 PCR test result (although I'm not sure who that could be due to the strict rules for entering Barbados), and they are restricted to their guest room.
Blue wristbands are for people in my position, travelers from high-risk countries waiting to take and receive the results of their second test.
Green wristbands are for people who've successfully tested negative for the coronavirus twice.
I also had to buy a thermometer (which cost around $30) because I was required to take and record my temperature twice daily for 14 days after arrival. No one asked to see my results, but if mine was ever high it would be up to me to act.
I was shown to my hotel suite (all the rooms at the Crane are suites) and noticed the door had a seal that said the room had been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Housekeeping didn't come into my room while I was quarantining, but they did afterward.
I had booked a one-bedroom suite as part of the Fall Getaway Package at the Crane.
Including breakfast, airport transfer, and my second coronavirus test, the room was $283 a night, reduced from $559.
The Crane is at the upper end of the price scale when it comes to quarantine hotels, with rooms starting from $188 per night, but what it offers makes it worth it if you can afford the cost.
A lot of my fellow quarantining guests agreed with me, and the currently reduced prices make the Crane a lot more accessible.
Other approved hotels approved for quarantine range from the luxurious Cobblers Cove, where rates start from $535 a night including airport transfers and the second coronavirus test which you can do in your room, to the more basic Meridian Inn guest house, where rates start from $92 a night but you'd need to organize getting food delivered to your room somehow.
Each suite has a kitchen, so you can prepare your own food if you want a break from room service.
The kitchen was well-equipped, and you can get deliveries from the on-site grocery store.
The shop stocks essentials like loaves of bread ($3), milk ($4.25/liter), sodas ($1.50), and apples ($0.32 each), and you could even order a bottle of wine for $17.
The suite had a separate bedroom with a four-poster bed in the hotel's colonial style.
Air-con throughout the suite kept me cool too, which was definitely a plus in 86ºF heat.
There was a balcony that I could access from both the bedroom and the living room.
It was nice to have my own outdoor space while quarantining at the hotel.
The balcony had ocean views and both a dining table and two sun loungers.
The dining table became my office, and there was even an outside electric socket which meant I could plug my laptop and phone in to charge.
Quarantine was a perfect opportunity to knuckle down and get some work done, and the covered balcony meant I could always see my laptop screen and not get too hot.
If you really want to annoy your colleagues, I recommend sitting with your back to the sea for your video calls.
You don't need a fake Zoom background when you're in Barbados.
The balcony also provided an idyllic breakfast spot.
An omelette with potatoes, avocado toast, fresh fruit, mango juice, and coffee is, I can confirm, an excellent way to start the day.
I had actually been upgraded, which meant that just off the balcony I had my own private plunge pool.
It was a decent size and great for cooling off.
You couldn't exactly swim, but at four feet deep I could submerge my whole body. I didn't actually use the plunge pool as much as I'd expected though because ...
Quarantining guests at the Crane have a designated pool, the Historic Pool.
The pool is only for guests with blue bands. It's an ideal space to quarantine where guests can order food and drinks delivered to the sun loungers.
Many of us got chatting to each other in and around the pool, and the spacing of the loungers ensured we kept our distance without having to think about it too much.
There wasn't anyone policing social distancing, but in my opinion, people appeared to be using their common sense.
The CDC stresses the importance of keeping a six-foot distance from other people because droplets from the mouth and nose of an infected person are carried in the air.
Despite the Crane being a popular quarantine hotel, the pool was never so busy I couldn't get a lounger.
As I was working, I would pop down early in the morning or at lunchtime, but otherwise, I'd have gladly spent my quarantine days lying by the pool and swimming — as the other blue band guests seemed to be doing.
Going to the pool first thing in the morning was even better from a safety point of view, as I generally had it all to myself.
As an ocean lover, it was ever so slightly torturous to be right by the beach but unable to go there, but I certainly wasn't complaining.
Some other approved hotels on Barbados' list also have pools for quarantining guests, but not all do, so it's worth looking at options before booking.
It was wonderful to be able to look at the waves and the sea, and I knew it wouldn't be too much longer until I could be in the water myself.
Before I could get to the beach though, I had to take a second COVID-19 test, which I'd booked in for the day after I arrived.
When I had the negative result from that, I would be free to swim in the sea.
When quarantining at the Crane, you are free to walk the grounds.
I was worried I'd be cooped up in my hotel room, unable to stretch my legs, but this wasn't the case.
I couldn't go into these pools until I had a green wristband, but I could admire them from afar.
The whole resort was pretty quiet, seemingly with most of the guests at the Historic Pool.
There were hand sanitizer stations all around the resort.
Masks had to be worn in all inside spaces (except your own room) too.
As the resort is so big, there were lots of staff working on the grounds outside, most of whom were wearing masks too, which was impressive in the heat.
Later on in my trip, I would realize that Barbados has a high uptake of mask-wearing.
According to the World Health Organization, "masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives," and it was good to see.
There were also signs to encourage social distancing, but as the resort was pretty quiet it wasn't hard to do so.
While I didn't interview any of the Crane's staff members, I noticed all guests and hotel employees appeared to be adhering to mask and social-distancing rules. The atmosphere seemed friendly to me, with guests and staff chatting to each other around the grounds.
The Crane has a whole village area with shops, cafes, and restaurants.
There's also a gym that was running at limited capacity.
As a blue wristband wearer, I couldn't go into any stores or restaurants, but I could stroll through.
When you get your green wristband, that means you're officially COVID-free and thus able to go to the beach, all the restaurants, shops, pools, gym, and spa. But I wasn't allowed yet.
Fortunately, I could still enjoy sunsets from my balcony.
The sun sets early in Barbados, at around 5.30 p.m., so there was no time to work on my tan after work in the evening.
My evenings were spent exploring the room service menu, which was delivered in takeaway packaging.
My kitchen was also stocked with crockery and cutlery so I could transfer my room service food for eating.
Room service was the same prices as eating in the restaurants and — as I would learn later in my stay — Barbados isn't cheap. What was helpful, however, was that the Crane waived the $7.50 delivery fee for quarantining guests who had no other option.
Eating out in Barbados is expensive, and as such, ordering room service can get pricey too, but there are also cheaper options. At the Crane, you can get a burger and fries for $16.50, BBQ chicken with a side for $18.50, and a Caesar salad for $15.
Not all the restaurants in the resort were available for room service, but there was something for everyone, whether you wanted to keep things light with chicken and veggies ...
This was exactly what I wanted after a snack-heavy travel day.
... or enjoy a burger with sweet potato fries.
The cuisine on offer is pretty international — I also had a very tasty Greek salad and a pad thai during my stay.
Jet-lagged as I was, I enjoyed watching some TV before falling asleep.
Pro tip: If you have an Amazon Firestick, take it with you when you travel so you can turn a regular TV into a smart one.
The Crane has an onsite doctor's office where quarantining guests can take their second coronavirus test.
This has to be done 4-5 days after your pre-travel test, then it's usually 24-48 hours until you get the result, so if you time things right, you're not quarantining for long.
When I stayed, the second test was part of the package I'd booked. Now, however, the rules have changed, and you have to pay an extra $150 for the test.
I arrived at the Crane on Saturday afternoon, took my second test on Sunday (four days after my test in London), and had a green wristband by Monday afternoon.
I had to fill out a form saying where I would be staying after leaving the hotel, and was called by the health authorities to confirm when I was taking my test.
I was thrilled to test negative again for COVID and get my green wristband.
The freedom! The possibility! The relief!
My first port of call was, of course, the beach.
It was everything I'd hoped for, and felt extra amazing having been denied access for a few days.
I was also able to eat in the hotel's restaurants now. This is the breakfast restaurant, L'Azure, which overlooks the sea.
I'd enjoyed my room service breakfasts, but eating out to start the day certainly felt like a treat.
Breakfast in the restaurant is a buffet, of sorts.
The Crane's buffet is not self-serve, but you can request what you want and staff behind a screen will plate it for you.
Ultimately, quarantining in Barbados was pretty seamless once I had arrived.
My quarantine couldn't have been further from what I'd initially imagined. It was two days long, plus I could walk outside, swim in a pool, and have all my meals delivered to my door.
I was then free to enjoy Barbados, though I had to continue taking my temperature twice a day for two weeks, and tell the health authorities when they called (first on the Sunday, then on the following Thursday) that I'd tested negative again — no one asked me to show proof, but presumably, it was recorded.
The most stressful part of the experience had been organizing everything before I arrived, but once I was there, it felt very safe and was largely smooth sailing. You have to trust that everyone around you is following the rules, but Barbados makes it impossible to get in without doing so.
It may not be a practical option if you're only planning on visiting Barbados for a week or have a strict budget in mind, but if you're staying for longer and can get your timing right, to me it's a no-brainer.
Provided official rules don't prevent international travel, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.