Life

Nightmare Stories of People Who Moved Abroad to Work Remotely During the Pandemic

“The first lockdown was announced with two hours' notice. I was stuck in an Airbnb with cockroaches for the next three months.”
December 1, 2020, 9:00am
Nightmare Stories of People Who Became Digital Nomads During the Pandemic
Rosie (left to right), Laura and Lauren. Photos courtesy the subjects. 

The pandemic has forced us to spend more time than we ever imagined between our own four walls. If you’re lucky enough to work from home, your weekdays have probably fallen into a Groundhog Day-style routine. Wake up, walk from your bed to your desk (or, back to your bed), open your laptop and stay put for much of the next eight hours. 

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It’s hardly surprising then, that many of us have dreams of leaving the UK to “work from home” from a Florentine villa or cosy hygge cabin with perfect Wi-Fi signal. Travel companies and even Caribbean islands have capitalised on this desire, offering “workation” holiday packages and special visas for work-from-home applicants.  

But the fantasy of digital nomadism doesn’t always go to plan – especially during a pandemic. We spoke to some people whose working vacation dreams quickly turned into a nightmare.

“I was rushing to hospital in a foreign country for rabies jabs”

I work freelance in marketing for a national charity and I escaped the UK at the start of October. As I'm part-time, I've been traveling and working in Greece and Bulgaria since then. 

The worst thing that’s happened to me – and which I did not expect – was that I was attacked by a stray, untagged dog. I later found out that this meant that it hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies. It had playfully rolled at my feet only seconds before it had its whole mouth gripped into my thigh. So, there I was, rushing to hospital in a foreign country for rabies jabs. Queuing and waiting patiently for someone in the emergency room isn’t the right thing to do (I’m so English), so I had to go and hunt a doctor down. 

When I finally found one, using English was difficult. I had to try and explain what had happened and that I needed vaccines. The only thing I recognised in English in the hospital was “COVID-19”, written on a ward entrance I had to walk past to get to where I needed to be. Turns out, you need four rabies injections over the course of two weeks, which wasn’t great for someone super anxious about needles. 

Other than that, I’ve loved it. Laura.

“There were about 3,000 stray cats and dogs on the streets”

For two weeks, I worked as a celebrity liaison manager from an Airbnb overlooking the Bosphorus, in Turkey. It sounds idyllic but it was a nightmare. There were about 3,000 stray cats and dogs on the streets that would have noisy fights in the middle of important meetings that I’d then have to explain. I was also working across three different time zones, and the UK clocks went back in the middle of my time there, meaning I kept cocking up my diary meeting times. The licensing laws also meant that I couldn’t buy alcohol – I had to get my Airbnb host to get it for me. Then the apartment didn’t have a corkscrew and I ended up having to bash corks in using my shoe and a heavy book. Not ideal. Rosie

“I needed to be evacuated” 

I decided to drive to Europe over the summer in my campervan but along the way, I encountered two heatwaves, one large forest fire that I needed to be evacuated from and a very dodgy guy who started following me. (The police later told me that he’d been in court for a home jacking five years earlier.) It's a wonder I'm alive. It turns out that driving in heatwaves in a campervan, plus working – I’m a marketing consultant and photographer – and doing all the things that are involved in vanlife is actually quite hard work. Samantha.

“It started as a dream”

This year started as a dream. I was working in Mumbai on an exciting project that included speaking with Bollywood producers and Netflix but then, from working on beaches, hotel lobbies, and upscale offices, COVID-19 grabbed India by the throat and I found myself stuck in an apartment with torrid Wi-Fi connections and no rescue flights to the UK in sight. The internet access was sporadic at best. Eateries were shut and food of any real sustenance was difficult to come by, as were face masks and PPE materials. I eventually got a rescue flight back to the UK to see my family, but not until June.  

My cautionary advice to anyone attempting the work-from-home dream abroad is that you run the risk of being rootless and completely upended if things don't go according to plan. You need to go into it with both eyes open and contingency plans to hand. Saurav.

“There were cockroaches everywhere”

I had flights to Istanbul booked for a friend’s wedding but when it was cancelled because of COVID I thought, “I’ve bought the tickets now and Istanbul is cheaper than London anyway.” When I got there though, the first complete lockdown was announced with two hours’ notice, and I was stuck in an Airbnb where there were cockroaches everywhere for the next three months. It’s been a year! Lauren.


UPDATE 11/12/2020: An earlier version of this article referred to Istanbul’s lockdown being announced within two hours of Lauren’s arrival. This has now been corrected.