Stuck in Costa Rica: Working ‘From Home’ Overseas During A Global Pandemic

01 Oct 2020
By Tom Sanchez

There are hundreds of stories out there showing how terrifying getting stranded abroad can be. And rightly so. You’re away from home, far from your family and loved ones, on a budget, and in many cases not even being able to speak the local language.

I recently experienced most of these things myself, but I’m lucky to say my story is one that shows how a crisis like this can also bring the best out of people and, paired with a bit of good luck, turn out to be a life experience to cherish forever.

But, if anything, this was only possible thanks to the people around me – both my Atom42 family in the UK as well as my hosts in Costa Rica, where I got stranded for the first four months of the Coronavirus pandemic.

How It All Happened: The Odds Between A Holiday Of A Lifetime And World In Chaos

Back in March, as the Coronavirus crisis started to unfold across Europe, I had a rather odd decision to make. With no clear prospects of how things would develop (it was all very new), I had to decide whether to go on a holiday I’d been eagerly waiting for, or stay put and play safe. As you’d probably guessed, I opted for the adventure.

No one really knew what was going to happen next, so I packed both my holiday kit and my work laptop (thank God for this!), and flew to Costa Rica to claim my long awaited time off trusting that everything was going to be ok. And, in the end, it was.

I arrived in Costa Rica and headed straight to my destination, a small coastal town in the South Pacific rainforest called Uvita, which is home to Bodhi Surf+Yoga, the amazing surf and yoga eco-lodge I had booked for my holiday.

I was meant to participate in a special-edition two-weeks long retreat where I was going to learn how to bodysurf, improve my long-board surfing, and dust off my yoga practice. But the holiday only lasted a few days.

Shortly after the retreat started the Costa Rican government announced the closure of the country’s borders. Some guests managed to reschedule their return flights and got home safe, but myself and one other guest were unable to get help from our airlines.

The moment lockdown was announced

We were stranded in Costa Rica for the foreseeable future and under strict lockdown, no beach, no surf, or even sight-seeing as we were being asked not to go out at all. It was all very unreal, and at times stressful. But thanks to the amazing group of people I was surrounded with, I made the most out of it.

As the national lockdown was made effective, the lodge’s owners offered me to stay with them, which I happily accepted knowing there would be no better place to ride this out.

I got in touch with my Atom42 crew back in London, decided to cut my holiday short and started working remotely overseas – pretty much as everyone was doing but instead of working from my tiny studio flat in London I was working from the rainforest (not too bad of a trade-off!).

Life During Lockdown With ‘The Commune’

Daily walks to the beach were a personal highlight!

In total there were eleven of us living in and sharing the property, including the owners, staff members, a fellow stranded guest and myself. For practical reasons and to minimise exposure to the outside world, we decided to organise ourselves in a ‘communal’ lifestyle.

We decided to share groceries shopping and the main meals. It made it easier to just send two of us to do the weekly shopping, and then cook one meal for all instead of everyone using the kitchen individually at the same time. And it worked like a charm. Of course, we all kept our private rooms and were still able to shop for personal treats (we’re not animals!).

Soon enough, food wasn’t just the only thing we were sharing. We had plenty of movie nights, sing-offs, dance-offs, workouts, painting sessions, yoga sessions, wine sessions, political debates, planting trees in the backyard sessions, pool sessions, and so much more. We called this ‘The Commune’, and as cheesy as it sounds it’s something that will bind us forever.

Working ‘From Home’ Abroad: The Rainforest Edition

I have to say though, this experience would have been a lot different if it hadn’t been for my team and Atom42’s leadership.

From day one I had the full support of the company, which meant reassurance not only from a financial stability point of view, but also as moral support. Being stranded abroad can be very stressful, but the Atom42 crew made sure to check in regularly, and that made a huge difference to my mental wellbeing.

Work wise, I was actually very busy throughout the four months I worked from Costa Rica. At the time I was leading a website migration for one of my accounts whilst helping Atom42 and our other accounts keep afloat in this big COVID-19 storm.

I had my laptop, internet, a desk overlooking the property and the surrounding nature, and plenty of delicious Costa Rican coffee – didn’t need much more to be honest.

Not a bad place to work, all in all…

Wifi was not the most reliable though. It was good for holiday use, but not so much to support the multi-tasking of a digital marketer in full work mode. Instead, I used the free data roaming I get from my network topped up with a small daily add-on for ‘hotspot’, which worked perfectly. In fact, now that I’m back in London, the running joke is that I had better internet connection whilst working from the jungle than I do from my flat!

The main challenge whilst working abroad was that I was seven hours behind the UK. However, the perks of living in the rainforest include having nature wake you up super early (even if you don’t want to!). The chirping of the birds at sunrise is so loud that nine out of ten times I’d be awake by 5AM. The remaining time I’d probably also wake up early thanks to a visiting troop of howler monkeys or the local cat.

So, I’d normally start my working day at 6AM (or 1PM UK time), share half of the day in sync with my team in London, and finish the rest of the hours on my own.

It all worked out well, and actually the time difference played in our favour whenever the team needed to complete something rather urgently but was too late in the UK – I could pick this up and get it done without them needing to stay longer.

Once I was done with work, I still had most of the afternoon to enjoy the hot weather, take a walk to the beach (if only to see the ocean from afar), cook and spend quality time with my new family.

The Best And The Worst Of Working Abroad During The Pandemic

The kind of waves all pandemics should be about (Ph: Hannah Walsh)

The ugliest bit of getting stranded in the middle of a global pandemic was definitely the sense of uncertainty. Not knowing when you’ll be able to get home, or for how long you’ll be safe from the pandemic was a bit wearing. I did have the greatest company one could ask for, which made it a lot easier, and luckily the virus wasn’t spreading too badly where I was; but I think those two things were always in the back of my mind.

The best was undoubtedly the people. I mean, yeah, living in the rainforest, seeing different wildlife crawling our garden every day, and paddling out to the ocean to surf when the beaches reopened was absolutely fantastic. But the thing I’ll remember the most is the people who rode this unreal storm out with me – both The Commune at Bodhi’s lodge and my Atom42 family.

PS: If you ever fancy a trip to Costa Rica, a different kind of holiday, or just want to escape the next pandemic, definitely go visit my friends at Bodhi Surf+Yoga! They are an inspiring bunch of individuals who use their business as a vehicle to facilitate positive social and environmental change. They’ve become carbon neutral and B-corp certified and are super involved in leading their local community and guests to a more sustainable way of living – a true example of how business can really be a force for good.

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