A Non-Immigrant Visa Holder’s Guide to Barbados 

August 26, 2023
Bridgetown, Barbados
Carpark at Pebble Peach

Below is a guide to Barbados if you happen to find yourself stuck there in limbo as you wait for your passport to be returned to you so you can resume working and living in the United States.  

1.  Rent a car. The island can be driven across in 40 minutes, and if you can drive, it’s worth renting your own car to explore all that Barbados has to offer. If you don’t, you’ll either be stuck in your hotel, be subject to $40 taxis, or be left to navigate the white private buses that hurtle down the badly maintained roads that stop at a whim, with only loosely defined routes that tend to change while you’re on them. They usually do not have AC, blast ear-splittingly loud Bajan local radio stations, and they may or may not take you to where you need to go.

Marvel at the fact that you’ve never rented a car by yourself in Barbados before, despite having gone fourt imes. Think of how much you’ve grown, and inhale sharply every time you hit a pothole. Every time you successfully reverse or parallel park, think about how you used to question how every idiot in the world seemed to be able to drive a car with ease while you had recurring nightmares of being behind the wheel of a vehicle you didn’t know how to drive, zooming down a highway way too fast. Once you learned how to drive, those nightmares continued, but the vehicle featured would be replaced with a motorcycle (which you don’t know how to drive).

Driving is a form of freedom, the promise of being able to take yourself anywhere you’d like, and renting a car lets you take yourself to any of the many beautiful beaches that dot the coastline to increase your chances of skin cancer dramatically. I’d recommend Go-RentACar, which can be picked up from the airport and offers full collision coverage for $30 a day. They told me I could bring the car back completely destroyed if I wanted to, as long as my gas tank was replenished. Remember that they drive on the left here.

2. When you get to the embassy, which is not where Google Maps says it is, make sure to bring at least two books and your Nintendo Switch and a laptop, and maybe even lunch. You will be waiting for at least four hours, half of that in a parking lot under the hot Barbadian sun. You should wear clothes suitable for an interview because you need to convince some person that you’re an upstanding member of society not trying to illegally immigrate in their great country, so prepare to sweat through your long sleeved button up shirt.

Rehearse the line, “I can’t possibly stay in the States, my mom would be so upset!” if they were to ask your long-term plans of living in the U.S.. You cannot bring a phone or any electronic device, so if you forget your books and laptop and Switch, bring a single New Yorker, which you will read front to back, and then go back to the beginning to read the cartoons. Once you’re done with that, you can re-read the Crossword already filled in by you and your boyfriend at the back, going down each clue and matching it with its answer. You might learn something new.

3. Make friends with any other Western-looking person at the embassy. They are most likely also Australian, and potentially alone and desperate for company throughout the week like you will be. Staying in touch will be handy to exchange updates on when you or they get their passports back from DHL. Make friends with a sister and brother duo who seem friendly, who text you to make plans to “link up for dinner”. Text them about dinner plans to go to the Oistin’s Fish Fry, which is basically where everyone goes on Friday night, and watch as they completely ghost you, only to awkwardly make eye contact when you see them at the Fish Fry in question later that evening. Other people may be more normal, so it’s best to hedge your bets and speak to at least three other embassy-goers so that you have someone to have dinner with during the week.

4. Do not trust the embassy, or DHL. The embassy website will change your visa status to ‘Issued’ a day or two after you leave the embassy. Do not wait to receive a tracking number, as it may come two weeks after you’ve returned home. Book your flight home nail-bitingly close to receiving your passport. You will have to go to DHL multiple days in a row (which is also not where it is according to Google Maps), and wait 2-3 hours each time. Do not give up if they said no, they might have it ten minutes later just as you’re about to hit ‘Rebook my flight’. Bring your pasta leftovers, because they have a microwave in the waiting area. They also have a weight machine in case you need to work out while waiting.

5. If you are a woman traveling alone, practice your best stony-faced polite non-response as you will need to wield it regularly. Men, both Barbadian and tourists, will attempt to speak to you, at an unprecedented rate. Stop reading and get up from your beach chair to swim in the ocean even if you’re in the middle of a really good part any time you see a man approach you to speak to you, so that you can avoid him. Pretend like you don’t use Instagram so that you don’t need to give it out. Do not work in your hotel lobby and believe the man who tells you the WiFi is better in the bar. It’s not. He just wants to buy you a drink, and being focused on your laptop is not a strong enough protection against unwanted conversations with strange middle aged men. Tell yourself that at least it’s clear that you’re somewhat attractive here, and can always return if you’re feeling ugly back in New York, the land of unnecessarily hot people.

6. Go on a turtle snorkeling tour that you find on TripAdvisor. I went to one run by someone called Hayden Payne. The boat will offer free watered down rum punch, and be filled with older white sunburnt British tourists and a family of Barbadians who take turns being incredibly sea sick. Don’t worry when one of them throws up at the site you’re supposed to jump and swim in, the vomit will dissipate almost immediately even though the water is crystal clear.

Do not put your snorkel mask over your sunglasses because it’ll make a bunch of water seep into your mask and cause you to panic, forcing you to adjust it in the water, which will then make you realize you feel like you’re drowning if you only use your legs to tread water. Remain calm as the instructor holds you hostage and forces you to pose for photos in a school of fish while water keeps getting into your snorkel spout. He’ll tell you to put your big girl pants on, and you should, because the photos he takes on his GoPro are going to be straight fire and amazing for your vacation photo dump. Everyone on social media will love them.

7. Go to Cuz’s fish shack when you start your trip, and order a double fish cutter with cheese. Smother that thing with the giant bottle of “Onion Vidalia” sauce and eat it by Pebble Beach. Get another one when you leave. Feel good about yourself when the guy who runs the parking lot tells you he’s done his calculations and can tell that you’ve been to Barbados before, because you’re driving normally and know what you’re doing.

   8. Be prepared for flight delays. As soon as you realize your flight is delayed by over eight hours, immediately find a wall outlet that hasn’t been colonized and set up camp. Alternate between Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty, playing Overcooked 2 on Nintendo Switch, struggling to write the second chapter of your book, and learning that you cannot download Kindle books on your phone because Amazon refuses to pay Apple for the commission of using their payment system. You will want to move away from the main gate where everyone else is, because a man will start playing “Jammin’” on his guitar really loud, competing against multiple families freaking the fuck out on the phone with JetBlue. Don’t worry about trying to find out about delayed flight compensation—that’s a European thing. They might offer you $12 meal vouchers, which you can redeem at the only open restaurant in the whole terminal, which is Subway. Try to remain calm when the desk people give you a  middle seat after you’ve asked three times for a window.

9. Don’t forget that it’s humid AF. Remember that the water is velvet with humidity, and you need at least 10-15 minutes after leaving your air-conditioned hotel room before your sunglasses or your film camera will be usable, as the lenses will fog up immediately. Do not leave your swimsuits out to dry outside, as they never will, they will just get wetter somehow.

10. Go to Payne’s Bay Beach and see a guy called Skinny on the north end of the beach. Park across from One Sandy Lane, where Rihanna’s villa is located, and walk through a random alley way just south of it filled with debris and mirrors. You can rent a beach chair or an umbrella from Skinny for $10 Barbadian dollars for the entire day, and he will fetch you a beer or food from the bar 100feet away whenever you want. The water here is calm and clear, and at low tides (early in the morning), you can walk north across the ocean wall outside One Sandy Lane to get to Sandy Lane beach, which is usually accessible only through the resort or by boat.
11. Prepare to be bored. Being bored is a gift in today’s world, so relish the opportunity to be completely alone and to have so much time at your disposal that you run out of episodes of The Summer I Turned Pretty. Bask in the lack of responsibility and the access to salt water and fresh Caribbean air.  

If you cannot stand the boredom, drive to Animal Flower Cave, or the nature resort in the middle of the island. Miami Beach has great local food trucks only open on Friday morning. Do not take furtive photos of local women as they will march up to you and demand to see the photos, which you’ll tell them regrettably are on film.

12. Be nostalgic about every version of yourself that has come to Barbados before—the one with a long-term boyfriend at a fancy five star resort, the one alone in a hostel taking chaotic white vans because you couldn’t drive for $2, the one that was also alone at a resort popular only with the 60+ British couple set that your company booked you. Barbados is an incredibly specific place for an Australian to be so familiar with, and there’s not much to do, so it’s the perfect backdrop to cry to your therapist about how far you’ve come, and how much you’ve changed. There’s something about the wet air, the hot sunshine and the laborious visa process that puts you in a liminal space of reflection. You can drive now, after all, and only needed to take advantage of the full collision coverage because you overestimated the curb and scratched the front of the car.