Digital Nomad: Who’s afraid of pandemic travel?

To board a plane or not to board a plane, that is the question, now that Covid-19-fighting governments are unfurling their tight grip on restrictive curfews, quarantine requirements and social distancing protocols from here to Timbuktu – which itself saw a spike of cases in July, as reported by AP. No two countries have the same approach, thereby continuing the imperfect collaboration between global entities since the first case of a novel coronavirus was reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019.

[2020 Earworm from Willie]

Even the small island nations of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States [OECS] – or our regional entity CARICOM – haven’t managed to pull off a cohesive set of fundamentals, despite the early emergence of the Caribbean a travel bubble from Jamaica south to Trinidad. In some ways, this localised approach is the right one, but one feels that low hanging fruit were missed by chasing after risky American tourist markets first, rather than focusing on our backyard business.

The past few months have felt very special in Saint Lucia, despite the obvious limitations. Since the week-long 24 hour curfew that rendered the island apocalyptically silent and deserted, lockdown phases have come and gone, masks became de rigeur around banks and malls, hand-sanitising machines are now a top seller at S&S, and going out to dinner is almost a thing again. Traffic snakes up the highway as if it was a normal rush hour, and now the kids have started to go back to school, laden down with masks, sanitiser and whatever else our littlest troupers need to stay safe.

But there were a few weeks when Saint Lucia felt like a private island club, back in May and June, when the curfew was relaxed to 9pm and rum shops were tentatively opening for business in the late afternoons for sunset and beyond. The joy of bumping into old friends in familiar corners was singular, and we agreed over and over that this was a time we’d probably never see again, when our island home was all ours, a little less hectic, a bit wiser, and certainly enjoying the beautiful surroundings that perhaps we’d ignored for a few years.

For me, working from home was not a pandemic-induced necessity. I’ve been doing it for a long time as a freelance writer who is just as productive on my sofa as at a desk, or a coffee shop, or a friend’s home office. But in the past three years, becoming a “digital nomad” became a passionate goal and strategy, despite my financial outlook being less than stoic at the beginning.

In the beginning, maybe…

It was my airplane-mad son who said, let’s just go for it, and had already developed the travel planning skills of an ABTA professional around the time of my dad’s 80th birthday. We worked hard, stayed out of trouble for weeks, scraped together every cent and in July 2017, travelled by ferry to Martinique, flew to Paris and onward to Belfast – all for around half the cheapest ticket price from Saint Lucia to Gatwick that summer.

“Time rich and cash poor,” was how my Brighton-based bestie put it the following year as he booked me on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry with an e-bus-ticket the CDG on my phone, after a blissful three weeks with family and friends on both sides of the Irish Sea. I curled up on a leather sofa in the empty atrium of the stylish passenger deck and for several hours wrote the September newsletter for my favourite remote client. I think it was that moment that made me officially a digital nomad, and I remember feeling excited at the possibilities.

That August of 2018 – alone and a bit nervous because my French sucks – I had retraced the journey from Rodney Bay to Le Marin [by pink ferry]; FdF Airport to Charles De Gaulle [XL Airways]; Paris to Belfast International [Easyjet], where I was scooped up by my brother-in-law and taken straight to a Friday night family barbecue. My surprise entrance shocked my unsuspecting kidults into swearing like the Irish, before crushing me in pre-Covid hugs for “getting them good”.

Reliving my student life on ferries, and they weren’t as glam as this one!

The nomadic itinerary for 2019 included another trip to Belfast, this time for almost two months of the summer, with a well-planned week in Donegal with the family and a new Pinterest folder called “Auntie Dee’s Summer Camp” as back-up. By now, the main attraction of this nomad life was being an empty-nester who could pack up and bail to Belfast at will, as long as professional ducks were in a row and a nice lady needed a summer sublet of my apartment close to the beach. My parents, my daughter, two sisters, one brother-in-law, a niece and a nephew were all there, missing me, so why was I home alone in Saint Lucia during the wettest months of the year?

The work could continue without my physical presence in Saint Lucia, that had been proven. My real estate client would send great photos and video of a new property on the market – I would add great words to the package for their excellent website. Another special client whose executive specialist training is dominating the sector, would request a press release for an upcoming event in Antigua or Turks and Caicos. I’d have it back to them quickly with few revisions needed, because I had already sat in on many sessions in Saint Lucia, interviewed the principals, made my notes and understood the product.

Perhaps more important than any assignment or contract was the mental shift needed to embrace the possibilities that excited my traveller’s instinct, balancing the work hours with real time client schedules, being truly available while five hours ahead and on semi-vacation. That’s a battle, no mistake, but my experience of having worked in paradise for 25 years also helped. If you can knuckle down to business at a sunny beach restaurant full of excited visitors, you can work anywhere. Sometimes I love that vibe, especially when there’s time for people-watching.

But mostly – like when I’m blogging about being a digital nomad – I need quiet, alone time to get my thoughts on digital paper.

Then, just as my 2020 was all mapped out, came Coronavirus.