Article by Natasha King
To say that Yvonne Campbell loves to travel and explore the world would be an understatement. She picked up her affinity for wanderlust during her university years and in her early 20’s Yvonne decided that long term travelling would be a part of her life going forward. At that point she had never travelled on her own but that all changed one day when she looked for the cheapest flight she could find and made her way to Montego Bay, Jamaica for three weeks. “It was a defining moment for me because it kind of gave me the attitude that if I could get through that I could get through anything, and not because it was a bad experience but it was certainly challenging travelling on my own as a woman and there were many cultural differences and even though I had lived in London which is very multicultural…..a culture within a context is very different to what you experience in people’s own homeland. So that was quite a challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and came away from it thinking yes I’m ready for anything.”
Yvonne has since mastered the art of solo travel and has traveled to 59 countries, 80 percent of which she did by herself. So, it should come as no surprise that when she got the opportunity to have what she calls a “grownup gap year” living in Barbados, she did what she what she always does, seized the moment and made it happen. That opportunity was made possible because of the Barbados Welcome Stamp Visa programme, which allows individuals to live and work remotely on the island, and the position Yvonne found herself in because of COVID-19.
Just two months before the global pandemic, the Irish lass had made a major career change. After years of building a reputation and establishing herself with a career in philanthropy, she decided to follow her passion and bought into a franchise of the travel agency Travel Counselors. Buying into this franchise which curates bespoke travel experiences for its clients was just the right fit for Yvonne. “I had managed to get a job with more work life balance and had started doing more for charity and I thought maybe I could start making travel a job. So, when I turned 40, I decided to make it happen, I started to do the research about how to get involved in the travel industry and realized I could start my own travel franchise. I was going to give it a year but decided two months later to go ahead and buy it and then I was going to stay in my job and build out the business but within two months gave that up to focus on the new venture but unfortunately this was at the end of January 2020, just before the pandemic hit!”
But this is Yvonne, the definition of “if undaunted, fearless and find a solution” was a person. She looked passed the challenges and went straight to the opportunities. When April rolled around and she had no job and the travel industry shut down, Yvonne started to do consulting in her old field and began to navigate the unknown waters she was in. With no real sense of when the travel industry would be back up and running, Yvonne also started a podcast centered around travel called “The Bucket List”. The podcast showcased travels she had been on that she never documented before, and she used it as a way to build a bank of information for her clients who might be interested in going to new places and as a marketing tool to attract new clients to her business when the world opened up again.
It would be on the second “Bucket List” podcast, that Yvonne would find out about an opportunity to finally take that “gap year” she dreamed of when she was in university. On this episode Yvonne had then BTMI (Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.) U.K Director, now Head of Global Markets, Cheryl Carter on to discuss the newly introduced Barbados Welcome Stamp Visa. For Yvonne, who always wanted to be location independent (live and work in a different country) but for whom language barriers and visa requirements were always an issue, this was an exciting prospect. Despite her enthusiasm about the Welcome Stamp, Yvonne ruled it out at the time because she didn’t meet the requirements, but she decided she would definitely add it to her own “bucket list.” Within a few months her consultancy began to thrive, and a great deal of interest was building in her travel business as confidence in the world bouncing back started to grow and Yvonne found herself in a much better position financially.
These factors coupled with all of Yvonne’s work being done online got her thinking about where else she could live in the world, and last November she started doing some research. She looked at the U. K’s list of places that she could travel to and compared it to the list of countries that would actually let her in. “At 8 o’clock one Saturday night, after doing some research I saw Barbados on the list remembered the Welcome Stamp and thought yes now I can do this,” and in typical Yvonne style booked her flight and applied for the Welcome Stamp the next morning. With the help of colleagues who are part of the Travel Counselors franchise network she was able to get all the information she needed to, that would make relocating to Barbados for the year as easy as possible.
When she stepped off the plane on December 22nd, 2020, Yvonne immediately knew she had made the right decision. “I get a vibe about places, I’ll be getting off of a plane and I will already have a sense of whether I am going to enjoy it or not. I 100 percent felt that getting off the plane here which was great especially with all the restrictions and where things were in December, it was really easy, really organized, it didn’t feel like herding cattle. People were really friendly and welcoming…just something in the air, I can’t explain it.”
Yvonne was able to quarantine and get her results back in time to experience Christmas morning in Queen’s Park something she really wanted to do but wasn’t sure she would be able to. Despite getting here just around the time that a new curfew and restrictions had to be implemented to stem the spread of Covid, Yvonne was unbothered. “Restrictions from New Year’s Eve didn’t make much of a difference really. I’m generally ready for bed early and wake up early to be on my calls to the UK anyway. I really feel privileged to be here restrictions or not. Lockdown here has been so much easier than it was back home. The weather here is amazing. I wanted the full experience and for me that meant living somewhere that was on the beach, so even if I couldn’t go anywhere, I wouldn’t mind. I have a place with a massive balcony where I get my work done during the day and watch the sunset in the evenings. And of course, I make sure I have enough rum for my rum and cokes.”
Apart from the struggle of dealing with the volcanic ash fall that covered Barbados for three weeks, when the La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent erupted, Yvonne has been enjoying her time in Barbados despite the lockdown. She’s learned to swim, to make rum punches and even started a podcast called “Life In Barbados- A year on a paradise island,” where she showcases Barbados locally and internationally. Yvonne had never blogged or journaled about any of her travels before and always regretted it, and she wasn’t going to make that mistake again. The podcast has received a lot of great response from people who want to visit or take up the welcome stamp option.
“For me it gave me time and space to think, plan, reflect and meet people virtually. I have been absolutely loving it, from a few days in I knew a year was not going to be long enough. I was initially worried about the heat but so far so good. There is a certain lifestyle here… a laidback kind of vibe has helped me get that balance I have always kind of strived for. Being here and having to cutoff around midday, which is the end of the workday in the UK I now have more time and I can do my podcast the experience has been transformative.”
As restrictions have gradually started to lift Yvonne has been able to get out more and go to restaurants and places that had been closed during lockdown.
Becoming a Barbados Specialist is on the agenda while she’s here, and she plans to do so by immersing herself in Bajan culture and doing and discovering all the things that you can’t do on a quick trip. “The expat community is great, but I am excited to meet Bajans from all walks of life, do lots of tours and really get into the belly of Barbados. There are a lot of people to visit and connect with that I met virtually and lots of rum punches to be had.”
As a proponent of responsible tourism and sustainability, Yvonne is extremely interested in using her background in volunteer work and philanthropy to give back to the island and has already begun to connect with local businesses and individuals who are committed to this type of work.
Yvonne is literally what it means to be a globe trotter, she has trekked the Himalayas in Everest Base Camp, learned to dive in the Galapagos Islands, tangoed in Buenos Aires and been on the Serengeti hunting the big 5 and while it’s difficult to compare, she’s fallen in love with everything about Barbados, despite being here in the time of Covid which says a whole lot. For Yvonne Barbados is right up there in the top 5 places she’s visited in the world.
“Island life gives you a different perspective on things it’s been quite significant for me in terms of prioritizing what’s important. What has stood out for me the most is the people. People say the Irish are friendly and welcoming, but I would definitely say this is one of the friendliest places I have ever come to.”