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I moved to Barbados during the pandemic to work. Here’s how I did it

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I moved to Barbados during the pandemic to work. Here's how I did it
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(CNN) — Just over a month ago, I packed my life in Hong Kong into two suitcases and moved 16,000 kilometers to Barbados.

I’d never even been to the island before or traveled anywhere else in the Caribbean region for that matter.

Barbados is so far away from Hong Kong — the shortest travel time is 24 hours — that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance to visit.

But the popular destination, which resumed accepting international travel on July 12 last year, released a special visa called the Welcome Stamp in the same month. It offered the chance for people to work there remotely for a year. I thought, “Why not?”
As countries around the world continued to impose lockdowns and travel restrictions in a bid to contain Covid-19 in mid-2020, Barbados — and many other nations in the Caribbean — seemed to have the virus under control and was reopening to the world.

What Barbados requires to work there

Open to all remote workers who earn at least $50,000 annually, the visa scheme has a fee of $2,000 for individuals or $3,000 for families, which is payable after applications have been approved.

Applicants are required to fill out an online form, submit an income declaration and details of the work they’ll be conducting during their time on the island

Those who are accepted continue to pay tax in their home country and are not liable for income tax in Barbados.

“Covid-19 has changed the global business landscape as a larger number of people continue to work from home,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said when the scheme was launched.

“With this new visa, we can provide workers with an opportunity to spend the next 12 months working remotely from paradise, here in Barbados.”

Welcome Stamp was just the ticket

I moved from Hong Kong to Barbados during the pandemic - Image of Andrea Lo in Barbados

Andrea Lo relocated to Barbados after being accepted onto the island’s remote worker visa scheme.

Andrea Lo

The scheme would also help to drive Barbados’ economy, which relies heavily on tourism and has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic.

In Hong Kong, reality was looking grim for me when I first learned of the scheme. As a freelance journalist specializing in lifestyle topics, I’d lost most of my work in 2020.

The pandemic had compounded the city’s politically volatile situation. It felt like my hometown was becoming a shell of its former self.

Still, I wasn’t ready to cut ties with Hong Kong entirely. I just wanted to go somewhere else for a while. Barbados’ Welcome Stamp was just the ticket, and it also offered the opportunity to expand my scope of work.

After learning that my application had been approved within a few days and taking some time to think it through, I completed payment in October and prepared to move in November.

Relocating during Covid-19: First, pick a route

Barbados is one of a number of destinations that has launched a special visa program aimed at remote workers.

Barbados is one of a number of destinations that has launched a special visa program aimed at remote workers.

Shutterstock

Planning an itinerary that involves three days of voyage, at a time when international travel is highly disrupted, was a challenge.

There is no direct flight from Hong Kong to Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados.

Traveling, of course, isn’t the most responsible thing to be doing at this time. But as I’d be staying in Barbados for an extended period, I was willing to take the risk.

Because I am a dual British-Canadian citizen, I thought my safest bet was to do my layover in either of those countries.

That would eliminate any chance of being turned away in a layover country where I am not a citizen should border rules suddenly change.

A London layover was a no-brainer. At the time, Hong Kong was on the UK’s list of travel corridors, meaning I wouldn’t have to quarantine on arrival. Passenger arrival forms are required for both London and Bridgetown.

I booked to fly from Hong Kong to London, with a one-night layover, and then a morning flight the next day to Bridgetown.

Next, find a Covid-19 test site

Barbados requires passengers to present negative Covid-19 PCR test results taken three days before arrival, and only those taken by nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal samples, rather than nasal swabs or deep throat saliva samples.

Self-administered at-home tests are also not accepted. My family doctor also warned me about Covid-19 clinics that were not accredited.

It took me some time before I was able to find a clinic that satisfied all my requirements, which needed to present results with a pretty quick turnaround considering the time between testing and arriving in Barbados.

On November 28, I set off for the airport in Hong Kong for my big move.

Unfortunately, while checking in for my Virgin Atlantic flight, I was told the London to Bridgetown leg of the journey had been canceled weeks ago — I’d received no prior notification on this. There would be no flight for another two weeks.

So I ended up unexpectedly remaining in Hong Kong for a fortnight. Paranoid about the rising number of cases in Hong Kong and conscious of the fact that I had to take another Covid-19 test before my new travel date, I spent most of the two weeks — including my 30th birthday in early December — at home.

Finally, on December 12, I got on the plane to London for the first leg of my journey.

Arriving and quarantining

Image of Barbados from Andrea Lo

Lo arrived in Barbados in December 2020 and is enjoying the flexibility of working remotely from the island.

Andrea Lo

London was in lockdown at the time. I had over 24 hours there, and I spent all of it in my room at an airport hotel.

The next day, I was surprised by how busy Heathrow Airport’s departure area was — a stark contrast to the ghost town that Hong Kong International Airport had become.

I’d been traveling for so long by this point that the nine-hour journey to Barbados felt like an eternity. But I felt my fatigue instantly fade away when greeted with the sight of the deep blue Caribbean sea as we circled above Grantley Adams International Airport.

I soon found myself basking in the sun as we were asked to form lines to present our test results to staff.

Clearing immigration was much quicker than I thought — and people seemed genuinely excited to see another Welcome Stamper arrive.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lines for interviews with health officers took the longest. I was given paperwork that explained I was to take my temperature and submit them to the authorities via WhatsApp twice a day for seven days.

In addition, I would need to undergo a mandatory test four to five days after the date I’d taken a test in my home country. After that, I’d be free to roam around Barbados.

At my hotel in Holetown on the west coast — one of the government’s designated quarantine accommodations — I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was allowed to go out on the room’s patio area during quarantine.

The next day, the front desk helped me to arrange to take the test at a government clinic. Travelers also have the option to take it done in your room by a doctor or nurse, but at cost. Getting it done at a government clinic is free, though you’ll need to pay for a taxi to and back.

The taxi journey was an exciting chance to soak in the sights of Barbados before I could venture out.

Next to an array of colorful bungalow-style homes, I spotted a sign, issued by the local health authorities, in Bajan creole urging residents to stay home and “protect yuh family.”

At the time, visitors were told to expect their results within 24 to 48 hours. I’d taken my test at noon Tuesday and received my negative results in the early evening on Thursday.

Three or so days in quarantine seemed relatively minor when compared with the 14-day standard countries such as Canada adopted.

Working from paradise

With quarantine behind me, it was time to explore my new home. I moved out of my hotel and into an AirBnb in Hastings on the south coast while looking for a place to live.

Adjusting to my new working hours was not as challenging as I thought it would be. I had already anticipated that changes would be necessary after moving to the other side of the world. Barbados is exactly 12 hours behind Hong Kong.

Since most of my work is based in Asia, I work during the evenings — Asia’s morning. Working into the early hours is done when necessary.

That also means I typically take Fridays off — when I wake up, it’s already the beginning of the weekend in Hong Kong. But on the flip side, I also work Sunday late afternoons and evenings, which is Monday morning in Hong Kong.

The beauty in working remotely, and as a freelancer, is that I have tons of flexibility.

Curfew imposed

Image of Barbados from Andrea Lo

Barbados is currently in “a period of national pause” because of a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Andrea Lo

Around the time I arrived in Barbados, reports of misbehaving tourists who were breaking quarantine rules began to emerge. The country had had single-digit new numbers for months — but it had seemed like a series of quarantine breaches meant a community spread could be imminent.

On January 2, following the discovery of a cluster of new cases, the government imposed a curfew between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The following day, there were 161 new cases — a major increase from zero cases the day before.

The curfew continued through the month, while case numbers continued to fluctuate. Travel rules changed — now visitors can expect to remain longer in quarantine compared with what I experienced back in December.

I’ve still been able to visit the beautiful beaches for which Barbados is famous — many of them are pretty empty, providing ample space for social distancing — though I noticed that many businesses had chosen to limit their services or operating hours, even without official guidance to do so.

St. Lawrence Gap, an area on the south coast famous for its dining and nightlife, was empty.

On January 27, the government announced a shutdown period from February 3 to 17. Most businesses are set to be closed, with only supermarkets and gas stations operating in limited hours. The curfew is also being extended to 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Being in lockdown while in paradise is probably not anyone’s idea of fun, but I keep reminding myself that I’ll have the rest of the year to explore this beautiful island.

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Meet Afghanistan’s only female tour guide

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Meet Afghanistan's only female tour guide
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(CNN) — For many people who work as tour guides, showing people around a new city involves a little bit of getting off the beaten track. But when there is no track at all, you just have to blaze one yourself.

That has been the story of Fatima, the only woman working as a tour guide in Afghanistan. The 22-year-old (who asked that CNN not use her surname for safety reasons) grew up leading sheep through the countryside, and now she leads tourists through the streets of Herat, the third-largest city in Afghanistan.

The making of a trailblazer

The youngest of eight children, Fatima is the only one of her siblings to be unmarried and to have gotten an education.

She grew up in rural Gohr Province, where she says there was no schooling available to girls, but she convinced her family to let her take lessons if she brought in enough of an income from sheep herding.

When Fatima was nine, her family settled in Herat. Though she was able to get some informal education, she mostly stayed at home helping her mother. Getting an education wasn’t as simple as just enrolling in the local comprehensive.

When Fatima couldn’t afford notebooks, she says she wrote with a stick in the sand. She practiced her English by listening to BBC radio, which she could pick up when high enough in the hills.

Unlike some kids, Fatima didn’t grow up dreaming of working in tourism — not only was it not traditional for women to work, she says she didn’t even know that giving tours was a job.

“I thought a lot during these years, how sitting at home would not solve any problem,” she says. “My brothers and sisters were forced to get married. It was so sad for me. I decided that I would not continue in their tradition. That was how I decided to work.”

First step: work on her English. Fatima signed up for Facebook and began joining groups for people interested in history. Tired of people who only knew Afghanistan as a place of war and conflict, she says she started writing regular posts about places in her country that foreigners might not know about.

Herat is in northwestern Afghanistan, not far from the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan and has been inhabited since the fifth century BCE, making it an interesting place for a history buff to grow up.

After she began writing her posts, everything changed.

Fatima says started getting comments and responses from her new online friends. In 2020, one of them — a man known as “Big Tom” — reached out to her saying he was going to be traveling in Afghanistan and would she be interested in showing him around in Herat?

She said yes. They went to the Herat Citadel, to the National Museum and to a traditional tea house.

Tom recommended her to someone else, and Fatima continued to get work by word of mouth. Eventually she came to the attention of Untamed Borders, a boutique travel agency that specializes in trips to more inaccessible areas.

After meeting Fatima and traveling through the city with her, Tom recommended that the company hire her. And they did hire her in late 2020, which is how the young self-taught woman became her country’s first female professional tour guide.

“Having a female guide gives our guests a whole new perspective,” says James Willcox, Untamed Borders’ founder. “As well as being well informed as a guide, Fatima gives our guests a personal insight into her life as an Afghan woman. We try to give our guests a framework of information to give context to the experiences they have in Afghanistan, and Fatima adds to that in a big way.”

"In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters," says Fatima.

“In the future I want to write about girls like my sisters,” says Fatima.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

Fatima’s new career caused some friction in her traditional family at a time when her siblings were already challenging their father’s more conservative views.

She asserted her independence, telling her father: “Right now, my brothers and sisters [say] that if we are not satisfied in life it is because of you. If I have a bad life now, it’s because of me.”

Though he has come around to Fatima’s work, she says her mother has always given her blessing. “My mother is happy. She is supporting me. Right now, she is my everything.”

The rocky road smoothens out

Of course, being a pioneer is never easy.

Fatima says many people in her life, including some of her own family members, have told her that it’s too dangerous for a woman to work, especially if it means interacting with men one-on-one.

She says children have thrown stones at her while she’s guiding tourists through the local market. People have shouted profanities at her.

Sadly, these are not isolated experiences. According to data from the United Nations, only about 19% of women in Afghanistan are employed outside of the home.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Fatima has used money from her work to enroll in university.

Courtesy Untamed Borders

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more commonly known as UN Women, elucidates: “About 64%t of Afghans agree that women should be allowed to work outside the home, however, they still face a multitude of barriers, including restrictions, harassment, discrimination and violence, as well as practical hurdles such as a lack of job experience, employment skills and education.”

Fatima says that the support of her employers and the people she has met through giving tours are what keep her motivated. There’s also the implication of what could happen if she does quit: “Challenges are always a part of my life. If I give up, then other women will never start.”

To keep herself safe, she dresses modestly while on the job and never goes out with a group late at night.

Afghanistan’s tourism industry peaked in the relatively safe 1970s, with an average of 90,000 foreign tourists coming per year. Data is spotty and inconsistent, but in 2013 the country’s deputy minister of tourism told the New York Times that the number was closer to 15-20,000 per year.

Many countries, including the United States, have travel advisories in place and encourage their citizens not to visit Afghanistan.

However, choosing which countries to visit and how can make a significant difference on the ground. Tourism is an industry where not everyone is required to have a college degree, which can make the bar of entry lower and easier.

Fatima’s tour guide income helps to support her family, and it also means she can afford to go to college. After passing the entrance exams, Fatima says she’s been able to enroll at Herat University and is now studying journalism. On the side, she says she teaches English to 41 girls in a refugee school.

The education, she says, isn’t just for her. Fatima tutors her nieces and nephews in English and helps pay for some of their school fees and supplies. This is generational change in action — the sons and daughters of siblings who could not get an education are now going to government schools.

If travel, in its purest form, is about expanding our view of the world around us, this is certainly true for Fatima, even when she is the one showing people her homeland instead of visiting theirs.

She says she dreams of changing roles for a while and letting someone else guide her — her top choice for a travel destination, fitting for a lover of history and culture, is Tibet.

Most of Fatima’s dreams, though, are closer to home. She says she hopes to open a school to train tour guides. It would be open to both boys and girls, she says, but “ladies first,” as there are fewer job opportunities available to women.

“I am the first lady in Afghanistan to guide people,” she says, “but I do not want to be the last.”

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free

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Canada Post is sending every household a postcard to send to a loved one for free
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The government postal agency is planning to send about 13.5 million postcards across the county, according to a news release. They are part of the “Write Here Wrote Now” campaign established by the Canada Post in September to encourage letter writing as a means of connection.

“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and overall well-being,” Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, said in a statement.

“Canada Post wants everyone to stay safe, but also stay in touch with the people who matter to them.”

There will be six different versions of the postcard, which will be randomly sent to each household. The messages on the cards will be ones of appreciation, love and thanks, according to the release. The cards can be sent anywhere for free in the country.

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Premium economy: Why this will be the hottest airplane seat in 2021

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Premium economy: Why this will be the hottest airplane seat in 2021
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(CNN) — Premium economy. The two words might seem a weird combination in airline terms, since it’s a rare airline where economy seats feel premium these days. But these seats between coach and business class on international flights were heating up even before Covid-19, and as we all start to travel again in 2021, they’re set to be a must-fly for many passengers.

Why? It’s a combination of factors.

First, the economic crisis means that business class travelers will be “trading down” to premium economy — whether that’s people flying for work whose travel policies are being tightened or upmarket leisure travelers who are feeling the pinch on their wallets but don’t fancy feeling it at their knees or elbows.

Second, frequent fliers will have miles to burn after a year of reduced traveling, and with those straitened travel policies that land business travelers in economy, we’ll likely see some of them upgrading themselves to the slightly better seats with their points. That’s alongside pent-up leisure travelers looking for a bit of a splurge, even in hard times.

Third comes the fact that, after more than a year of Covid-19, we’re just not psychologically used to being cheek-by-jowl with other people anymore. It’s going to feel very strange to think about doing that on a plane, so the extra space in premium economy will be welcome.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Emirates recently debuted its latest A380 with luxurious premium economy seats.

Courtesy Emirates

What is it?

But what is premium economy? Fundamentally, it’s a bigger seat, says Ben Orson, a designer responsible for many of the most successful seats of the past decade, and now managing director of Orson Associates.

“The most important part of what a premium economy seat offers the passenger is a significant upgrade in terms of comfort when compared to economy. Premium economy seating typically provides around 5 to 10 inches of additional leg room, a more generous recline with a leg rest and an enhanced entertainment experience with a much larger screen.”

Seats are also around two to three inches wider, and there are usually one to two seats fewer in each row: eight in a Boeing 777 or Airbus A380, for example, compared with 10 seats in most economy classes.

“This approach has paid off for airlines,” Orson says, “with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic saying that, per square foot, premium economy is the most profitable part of the plane.”

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Premium economy often comes with upgraded meal service.

Courtesy British Airways

Premium economy is found, metaphorically and on the actual aircraft, between the increasingly spacious and luxurious business classes and the increasingly less spacious and less luxurious economy classes.

Airbus calls this widening gap the “comfort canyon.”

Matt Round, chief creative officer at design studio Tangerine, explains that for airlines, it helps to fill this gap and that along with that larger seat comes some additional perks.

“Airlines tend to offer premium economy passengers access to more priority services such as free seat reservations, priority boarding and increased luggage allowance. The services that are offered vary according to the airline.”

Who flies it?

Passengers usually first approach premium economy from one of two directions: either upgrading from economy or downgrading from business.

“Pre-Covid-19, premium economy performed well for leisure passengers who wanted a slight treat or for cost-conscious large and small businesses,” Round explains. “On some routes, there was a tendency for passengers traveling on business to fly premium economy during the day and return on a fully flat bed in business class on the night flights.”

EVA Air's premium economy cabins were among the world's first.

EVA Air’s premium economy cabins were among the world’s first.

EVA Air

But, where business class seats have become more spacious and economy class seats have shrunk both in legroom and elbow room, how have premium economy seats changed since their introduction nearly 30 years ago aboard Virgin Atlantic and EVA Air?

“They haven’t, not really,” says Peter Tennent, director of design house Factorydesign.

“When we designed the first British Airways’ World Traveller Plus seat in 2000, the basis for the seat customization was an aging business class platform. These conventional, yet larger recliner seats were beginning to be superseded by enhanced business class offers, so there was a fairly obvious option to downgrade them from business to a reduced offer to sit between business and economy.”

Despite many advances in inflight entertainment and connectivity features such as on-demand inflight touchscreen entertainment, power sockets, WiFi internet and more, the basic seat hasn’t changed much, Tennent says.

“There have been many new premium economy seats, some bespoke, others derivatives of existing platforms, but all still following the same principle.”

What about the future?

Premium economy, says Martin Darbyshire, chief executive officer of Tangerine, is “a life saver for me as a business traveler who runs a privately owned company, and therefore cannot justify flying business class whenever I want.

“For a day flight, especially, premium economy is a comfortable way of flying with a reasonable quality of service. The smaller cabin is also a benefit, as it creates a more private space.”

Premium economy is also very popular with senior citizens on vacation, particularly because they can usually book early for lower fares.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

More legroom is a key benefit of premium economy seats.

Chris Rank/Delta Air Lines

Business travelers, on the other hand, can find it expensive at the last minute, Darbyshire notes. That said, these passengers — especially if they’re also frequent fliers — are among the first to be upgraded into business class if the premium economy cabin is getting full.

Overall, says Orson, “premium economy will continue to be attractive to the very tall, the elderly, and anybody else for whom economy class presents too much of a physical challenge.”

But, looking forward, he muses, “could it be that the approach which launched premium economy in the first instance — a considered selection of those aspects of business class that really matter to passengers today, such as a more technologically informed approach to comfort, greater privacy, enhanced connectivity or a more distanced boarding experience — might be applied again to create a new way of traveling, perfectly tailored to the ever-evolving needs of our passengers of the future?”

Whatever the future looks like, Tennent from Factorydesign notes, “Aviation is a battleground for differentiation. If one airline can offer — or claim to — something better, different or novel compared to their competitors, it provides a commercial advantage.”

Top photo from Philippine Airlines. John Walton is an international transportation and aviation journalist based in France, specializing in airlines, commercial aircraft and the passenger experience.

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