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Friends, I’m in Barbados! In normal circumstances, this would be a pretty standard statement for a travel blogger, but these aren’t normal circumstances. It’s 2020. And international travel has almost completely stopped. I’m sure you have a lot of questions about how and why I ended up on a tiny island in the Caribbean, so let’s dive in!
The Back Story
For the last few years, I’ve been traveling with my partner, Alex. He’s the half of the team that finds epic off-the-beaten-path beach spots, instantly makes a thousand friends everywhere we go, and chauffeurs me around on the back of a scooter so I can take pictures.
At the beginning of the year, he and I did a big trip to Panama and Mexico. For weeks, he surfed and looked cool while I cheered him on and stuffed my face with tacos.
We had a wild bus trip through Costa Rica, found the greatest churros of all time from a stand that was dangerously close to our apartment, and lived in a tent on the beach in Panama for a month.
We Got Separated By Border Closures
When we heard about the possibility of travel bans back in March, we went back to our home countries because there was so much uncertainty.
He’s from Norway and I’m from the US, and we ended up unable to travel to each other’s countries and separated for almost six months.
We both felt extremely fortunate that we were safe and able to stay with family while things were so up in the air, but not being able to see each other indefinitely was tough.
But we made the best of it. From opposite sides of the world, we socially distanced and watched the world shift and turn in unprecedented ways.
The Norwegian Sweetheart Exemption
But in July, we got some great news!
Even though Norway was closed to tourism, they released a new rule that allowed foreign family members and partners to visit their loved ones. News articles called it “the sweetheart rule.”
The requirements to visit Norway under this special rule were pretty simple. We needed to provide:
- Proof that we had been together for at least 9 months
- Proof that we had met in person at least once before
- Self Declaration of Relationship form from the Norwegian government website
- A picture of the Norwegian partner’s passport
I would also need to quarantine for 10 days on arrival.
As soon as this as announced, we leaped into action to get the documents together.
I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of documentation I would need to prove our relationship, so I loaded up a ridiculous-looking overflowing manila folder of pictures, old Christmas cards, and any documents that had both of our names on them.
(Note: Things are changing all the time. This was just my experience, please check the official guidelines for the most up-to-date information.)
Finding a Flight to Norway
Finding a flight was another issue. At this time, so many countries weren’t allowing Americans to transit through the airports, even for connecting flights.
After about 8 hours on the phone with different embassies, airports, and airlines, I was able to find a SAS flight with a layover in Denmark. Denmark would allow me to transit as long as I had all my paperwork for visiting Norway and wasn’t leaving the airport.
In a total frenzy, I packed my suitcase. As I tossed my outlet adaptor and a pile of shirts into my bag, I felt like I had no idea how to travel anymore. It was like trying to speak a language you haven’t used in years.
For months, my idea of a big travel day had been walking around the woods in my neighborhood. It just didn’t feel real that I would soon be on a plane and in another country. I was so excited to get there, but I was anxious about all the moving parts that could go wrong.
Getting a COVID Test
There was one more piece to the puzzle: getting a COVID test before flying.
At this point, many of the COVID testing centers were extreemly backed up. Some rapid testing centers said it was taking 9-12 days to get results.
I found one testing center that did truly instant tests, but the catch was that you could only book an appointment 24 hours in advance.
Two days before my flight, I frantically refreshed my computer screen, hoping an appointment would pop up and that I could type fast enough to snag it.
But writing blog posts for a living paid off and my fast-typing fingers got an appointment just in time! I jumped up and down and cheered as if I’d just won the Bachelor – startling my cat that was trying to come to Norway with me by sleeping in my suitcase.
The instant test was at a drive-through testing center. On the morning of my test, I followed the elaborate cone maze through a parking lot to the COVID testing tent.
I stayed in my car the whole time and the nurse came to my car window. She did my test (it’s not that bad!) and then directed me to a parking lot where I would wait for my results. 45-minutes later, the nurse came to my car and handed me negative results. It was time to go to Norway.
Flying Internationally in 2020
On the day of my flight, the international terminal was absolutely deserted. It was eerie to see row after row of empty chairs, spanning dozens of gates. The only person I saw while waiting to board was another woman going to visit her boyfriend in Denmark – they have the same family reunification rules as Norway.
We recognized each other because we both had identical overflowing manila folders. We sat at our gate a few chairs apart and talked, thankful to see that we hadn’t taken a wrong turn and accidentally entered a closed, likely haunted, wing of the airport.
When it was time for our flight, about 20 people boarded the jumbo jet. The plane was so empty that I had several rows to myself and was able to lie down across the entire middle section.
When I landed in Denmark, they recognized the document I had from Norway straight away. I was able to pass through to my connection without any issues.
And just a few hours later, after months of uncertainty, Alex and I were reunited!
Life In Norway
Being in Norway was like being on another planet. At that time, the COVID rates were so low there so life looked somewhat normal.
We rented an apartment outside of Oslo where we quarantined for 10 days. Once my quarantine ended, we spend our days running and picnicking in the park near our house and spending time with family.
But my Norway visit had a time limit. As the weeks went by, we knew we didn’t want to go back to indefinite long distance.
We started looking for places that would accept both Americans and Europeans for a longer period of time.
Enter Barbados: a beautiful, safe country with low COVID rates that would welcome us both.
Why we chose Barbados
On July 1, 2020, Barbados opened its doors to tourists from all countries.
Both Americans and Europeans can visit Barbados as long as they follow the COVID travel protocols. Barbados has also gotten a lot of attention lately because they introduced a year-long Welcome Stamp program for remote workers who want to stay long-term.
Barbados has extremely low rates of COVID and clear, well organized COVID prevention measures. At the time I origionally published this post, the island had only had 233 total cases since the pandemic started.
Even with low numbers, preventative measures are in place and masks are worn in public places on the island. Restaurants and shops take your temperature when you enter and record your information for contact tracing.
It’s also a beautiful, tropical country filled with beaches and outdoor places to explore.
Traveling To Barbados In 2020
When Barbados began to allow tourism again, they released a set of travel protocols to help control the spread of the virus. Countries are designated either high, medium, or low risk based on the number of cases relative to the population.
There are different rules depending on if you’re arriving from a high, medium, or low-risk country. The rules are updated frequently and Barbados has a super detailed website that clearly lays out the requirements for arrivals from each country.
When we went, we traveled from Norway (at that time, a low-risk country) with a layover in the UK (at that time, a medium-risk country). Since we passed through the UK, our designation was medium-risk.
This meant we needed to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel. We would be monitored by the health department for 14 days.
After another round of COVID tests, phone calls with the Bajan Embassy, and 12 masked hours in the air, and we arrived.
Because we had our test on arrival, we didn’t need to quarantine. However, people traveling without negative tests and people coming from high-risk countries needed to quarantine at specific hotels or at a government facility. For our monitoring, we were required to take our temperature every morning and evening for 14 days.
As expected, we were contacted by the Health Ministry shortly after arrival and we reported our temperature to them periodically via WhatsApp. For us, the whole process felt very safe, straightforward, and well organized.
This post covers what it’s like to travel to Barbados during COVID in more detail!
(Note: Things are changing all the time. This was just my experience, please check the official guidelines for the most up-to-date information. You can see the Barbados Travel Protocols and safety guidelines here.)
Now, we’re safe in Barbados and beyond thankful to call this stunning island home for a while. I’m so excited to write about this island now that we’re settled in.
I know there are a lot of other couples and families out there who aren’t able to see each other due to COVID. I’m thinking of you and I hope you’re able to reunite with your loved ones soon.
Barbados Blog Posts
Heading to Barbados? These posts cover what to expect!
- How much does it cost to visit Barbados? Cost of living in a tropical paradise, broken down!
- What is it like to travel to Barbados during COVID? Travel restrictions, quarantines, and what it’s like on the island these days
- Why I love visiting Barbados! Some of my favorite experiences around the island