• Liz Lopez - Mother, wife, daughter, writer, traveler

Planning our Trip

The Journey to Departure

My husband first mentioned Barbados in July. We were in the middle of a beautiful Wisconsin summer and he wanted to up and leave, for a year.

Beginning the research was daunting at best. It seemed every task on the checklist depended on other ones, making it difficult to prioritize and cross things off. We were apprehensive for many of them, due to high cost and non-refundable price tags. We didn’t want to get the Welcome Stamp ($3k) until we had a place. We couldn’t get a place until both our employers signed off. Many places wouldn’t sign a lease with us until we had our passports, which we wouldn't receive 8 weeks past applying. There were too many moving parts simply out of our control.

Before we could do anything, we needed to confirm we could actually afford this cockamamie idea. The entire premise was based on $2K a month in rent in Barbados, approximately what we paid each month in daycare. We would have, essentially, the same living costs down there as we have here, except we would be putting NOTHING into our house. Our life is one project after another, and we spend thousands each year on home improvements. There would be none of that and we could cancel, or at least reduce, many of our monthly bills. We would suspend our phone bills, at least for three months at a time. We would cancel our car insurance; we weren’t interested in leasing a car down there. We could unplug our appliances and turn our house temp to a consistent 50 degrees. We needed internet for our home security and sensors, (like detecting water in the basement), but no cable, and the internet could be reduced to bare bones, instead of a plan accommodating 4 remote employees/students each day. We considered renting our house to compensate but it seemed like additional work that we frankly didn’t have the time to put in. We spent hours upon hours doing this research; it was endless, and we were exhausted. We barely had time to maintain our full-time jobs, let alone relax. My relax time consisted of folding laundry while catching my few TV shows, followed by catching up on work in bed and then checking more houses for rent in Barbados.

We had to verify healthcare as well. The outcome of our research was “We better stay healthy.” Emergency care would need to be covered up front, with UHC to reimburse us up to half afterwards. Our prescriptions could be ordered up front, 9 months’ worth. That was great except for the Adderall, which is required for both my husband and son to function at proper levels. (ADD is a real thing people!) We got 90 days for both and would deal with 2021 in 2021.

Passport Delays

As of September 28th, we still had no passports. The man who handled our passports at the post office in early August assured us we would have them in ‘no more than 8 weeks’, which was standard operating procedure in passport land. When Lopez and Faith ordered theirs before their service trip to Guatemala in January 2020, they received them much quicker than 8 weeks. The Passport section of the Post Office had just re-opened post COVID when we ordered them, and we figured most people weren't racing for passports given the pandemic. We were wrong, but by the time the end of September rolled around, I think they’d realized how many people were about to be SOL and added expedited services. I paid for 5 expedited passports on Monday, and by Wednesday, Callen and Mama’s passport had arrived, followed by Lopez’s the next day. Penny and Aiden’s weren’t in yet, but the lady I spoke with assured me that expedited passports were based on date of travel, so we would be fine.

The Dog

Getting our passports expedited lifted a thousand pounds off our shoulders. The only thing left was the dog. Getting your dog into another country is a giant pain in the ass, much more so than either of us had anticipated. All COVID-related travel info was changing weekly, and it was hard to keep up with. The airlines had stopped taking dogs in cargo because of COVID. There was no affordable way to get the damn dog down to Barbados. Leaving her wasn’t an option; she sleeps with Penny and Cal every night and she’s our family dog. You don’t get a dog only to abandon her for more than a vacation. We’d originally wanted to live in Barbados for four, maybe six months. Get out before flu season hit and stay the winter, come back for spring when things were opening back up and we could see our family and friends outside. Side note, spring in Wisconsin is beautiful.

But we could not find a place that would accept Bow for less than a year. In Barbados, they have short term rentals (anything at or under 6 months) and long-term rentals (a year or more). I wasn’t doing a year. I love summer in Wisconsin; I spend my weekends on the pontoon boat, playing in the water and sipping brandy slush with my favorite people. So we managed to get many realtors on board with 9 months. It was longer than I wanted; longer than Faith wanted – I mean she agreed, happily, to take this adventure which meant leaving her long-term boyfriend – but 9 months was pushing it. But we had no choice because leaving the dog wasn’t in the cards. We had to comply with Barbados laws on importing animals and because we couldn’t fly her cargo, we were left with one choice, which was to make her an emotional support animal.

Initially, I was of course against the idea, as lying is unethical. Then I started my research, and it sounded like a win-win for Aiden. Emotional support animals’ comfort those with mental disabilities, who have a more difficult time completing daily tasks. The first night Aiden came home, after months in a residential treatment facility in Salt Lake City, Bow abandoned the babies and slept curled up in Aiden’s bed with the only family member she hadn’t yet met. ESA’s provide comfort to those individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, ADD, chronic stress and PTSD. Aiden checks every single box. So, Aiden set off to bond with Bow and lean on her for support. It created the daily habit of walking her and training her and provided stability and a strong bond between the two. One box checked in the Bow category.

Housing / About Barbados

In the end, there were a few housing options that we had to pick between. After weighing our options, we decided on Dover Mews, a 4-bedroom townhome in Dover, Christ Church. Barbados is made up of eleven parishes, (akin to our states) and each offers different attractions. The East Coast offers stunning beaches, but aren’t great for swimming because the Atlantic waves carry undercurrents and aren’t safe to swim in. The South Coast offers a nice mix of tranquil beaches and surfing beaches and most places are within walking distance of restaurants, shops, and nightlife. It’s also a close bus commute to the capital city, Bridgetown, where there’s much to do and see including museums, cricket matches, horse racing, duty free shopping, beaches, and the rum distillery. Mmm. The West Coast is known as the Platinum Coast, where the beaches are beautiful and the accommodations glamorous. It also houses the second largest city, a port town, Speightstown. The center of the island is countryside, with two parishes largely involving sugar farms and other non-beach attractions like underground caves (Harrison’s Cave).

I’d seen Dover Mews right away when we started looking at housing, still in the pondering stage of ‘would this even be feasible’ and ‘do they have housing we could actually afford on top of our mortgage?’ It was one of the few places listed as dog friendly, so that was a big plus, but I swear in one of the communications I’d thought it was booked. I spoke to at least 10 different realtors, I emailed or called on at least 25 different places and when I was feeling overwhelmed, Lopez stepped in to help. Of course, right away, Dover Mews said they were available and would do us + dog + nine months. It’s three blocks from the beach, near a fishing village called Oistins. Oistins has a famous Friday Fish Fry, where the beach is filled with vendors and their fish, frying it up and serving it to patrons while bands play live music and kids dance on the beach. It’s home to Dover Beach, the Number 3 Bajan beach on Trip Advisor (again in case you were wondering) and just down the path is Maxwell Beach, supposedly great for surfing, which has Lopez just gleeful at the proximity to surfing. (He’s convinced he’ll become buff like Shia LaBeouf in Peanut Butter Falcon from running on the beach and surfing every day). (PS - when he edited this post, he changed that sentence to "He will." Hahahaha.

We’re also within walking distance to St. Lawrence Gap, where we’ll be able to dine outside and listen to bands play and dance with my husband! Oh, to go dancing with him again. We love dancing! They might not play awesome 90’s music as much as we’d prefer, but I’m sure we’ll manage. We’re a twenty-five-minute walk to Bridgetown where we’ll catch cricket matches, and learn what cricket is. We’ll visit the George Washington museum and the Barbados museum and visit the shops, all different colored buildings along the bay and learn what we can about the culture. We’ll walk to get our groceries every few days and visit the local fish markets often. Barbados was recently ranked number twelve on Australia’s GQ list of most expensive countries to live in. We’d read it was expensive up front and considered that in our budget discussions. We learned right away we could make it work by visiting the markets often for our food where we could get fresh fish and vegetables at much cheaper prices than even the largest supermarkets there. So, we plan to eat lots of fish, and lots of healthy, cheap food, and eat out sometimes but focus on swimming and surfing and submerging ourselves in a new culture the most. There is a hiking group that takes hikes three times a day, and I plan to do a lot of that. We will walk where we can and will take the ZR bus to get to places like Bathsheba Bay for picnics and watching the competitive surfers catching the huge Atlantic waves. We’re packing Callen’s baseball bat and ball, his gloves, and his and Penny’s soccer balls and goals and plan to spend a lot of time at the park playing sports with them. We want to sign Penny up for gymnastics down there and Callen for sports, too, and hope they meet friends they can play with, instead of friends they will miss if things shut down here this winter. Faith will look for community theater to join and Aiden will take surfing lessons with Lopez. Our realtor Danny will be treated to a night on us when we get there, because he was amazing and so helpful to us as Lopez messaged him daily, many, many days, asking a dozen questions about this or that and how can we do this and please find us a quarantine hotel that doesn’t cost us four thousand dollars. We hope to make friends down there and make it feel like a real home, not just a place we’re staying for a long trip.