Moving the Workweek onto the Beach – The Time Has Come

Since the 1970s, Richard Branson has been an icon of business success. Starting with a music magazine, he parlayed his charisma, creativity, and drive into many enormously successful ventures, including air travel, music retail, mobile communications and much more. His writings and lessons are staples of business lectures and classes around the world, and he has made great use of his rock-star looks and megawatt smile to distinguish himself from his competitors. He also has a hammock.

Sir Richard is famous for showing off his favorite office: a hammock slung between two palm trees.

Richard Branson’s hammock. Photo credit: simplyhammocks.co.uk

Flying in the face of conventional belief that corporate decisions must be made in the boardroom, Sir Richard has stated many times, his best work comes from being surrounded by the breezes and beauty of natural environments, much of these being in the Caribbean.

Most people, however, have been conditioned to believe in a separation of ideas: work happens at work – in glass towers, offices and cubicles, and that time away from these colorless spaces happens just once per year on an annual vacation. Many don’t even allow themselves that luxury and never take their time off. Time off, after all, connotes being removed from one’s job temporarily, and statistics show that’s too much of a disruption.

But a significant world event – one that is still happening – is teaching us something very different. Work can happen anywhere there is an internet connection, and that includes in traditional “vacation spaces.” The coronavirus continues to spread around the world, and employers, including many very large companies like Ford, are telling their workers to stay home if possible. The specter of contagion has forced companies to re-examine the validity of remote work, after two decades of dismissing it as secondary to being in the office.

For anyone whose job involves working on a computer and having meetings, the technology exists to make the commute to the office less necessary to productivity and in fact, remote work is already proving itself as superior from every perspective: use of time, work-life balance, employee retention, collaboration and overall productivity. Technologies like Cisco Webex, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack are empowering individuals with the capacity to meet, work and communicate with far greater clarity and convenience than ever before. Now that the coronavirus is making the prospect of in-person meetings less appealing the notion of remote work as a “thing” is poised to take hold.

Even after this coronavirus outbreak peaks and wanes, it is likely that the executives at many companies will sit up and take notice of the fact that remote work actually does work, and its savings in travel, office space, and time usage are tangible and significant.

Now, let’s bring these two concepts together. A vacation destination need not be thought of solely as that place to go to for a vacation. It can – and should be – thought of as part of life. Richard Branson has shown it can be done. A beachside hammock with a WiFi connection allows him as a CEO of Virgin to run his businesses from wherever he wants to be. So why not you?

Alongside my role as owner and manager of Coastal Breezes here on Ambergris Caye, I also own and manage executive suites in the Toronto area, and I am able to look after these, and my other businesses, from my very own hammock, on the beach.

…and this is my office.

This is how work is done now. Technology is slowly removing the need and obligation for people to always be in a specific place to get their work done. This allows many types of professionals to choose to work from home at least some of the time, and as an extension of that, could easily allow them to spend one or more work-weeks per year returning their emails from their own beach hammock.

Some may argue that the last thing they would want to do is to take their work and their email along with them on vacation. But I would argue back two things:

  1. Most people already do. The idea of shutting off for two weeks – as healthy as that appears – is not something most people are willing to do. If they are in a job that is based on communication and collaboration, they want to stay in the loop even when they’re away.
  2. More to the point, it helps to not call this a vacation. It can be a workweek, just done in a different location. A nicer, warmer, more vibrant location. It’s a change of scenery that does not force you to disconnect from the work at hand.

The health benefits of this beachfront workweek will seep into your soul regardless of how busy you wish to be. Seeing a sunrise or sunset over the water, watching pelicans, and smelling warm sand are powerful substitutes for traffic gridlock and crowded subways. Exercise doesn’t even feel like exercise when it comes disguised as a walk along the beach.

Our message here is not to diminish or exploit the tragedy of the coronavirus outbreak in any way, but to discover a silver lining: remote work is now coming into its own as a matter of necessity. With this comes the opportunity for the long sought-after quality of life that many people unwittingly forfeited to locate and hold onto a desk job. Now, quality of work and quality of life are poised to conjoin in a way that couldn’t even have existed a few years ago: the technology exists to make it happen and now the mindset is developing to make it legitimate.

So, locations like Debbie’s will always welcome vacation travelers, but as she says, “why wait that long?” Your emails and meetings can be done just as easily from the beach as from an office, and the view is so much better.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Forget “Someday!” Not Taking a Vacation Costs More

I know how the thought pattern goes: you look at the ads for a Caribbean paradise and you think, “Maybe someday. I just don’t have the time or the cash right now.” Well, I would like to suggest that not only is it less expensive than you might think to take a Caribbean vacation, neither is it a sunk cost. It is not money out the window. A vacation makes its money back in hidden, but very real ways.

The Money You Have to Spend

The immediate concern is the cost of the travel. And yes, if you’re coming here from Canada, the U.S., or Europe you will need to book a return flight. But the great thing about Belize in terms of travel is it is not really that far away. From Toronto, for example, it’s a three-and-a-half-hour flight. I know lots of people who spend that much time in their cars or on a train, commuting every single day.

Air travel costs money, but airlines routinely have sales. Advance bookings and travel apps can help lock in really good pricing opportunities, even for two people return. And so many of these flights are direct to Belize City, so it’s convenient and comfortable to even fly economy.

Our beach house rates, too, are very competitive, and if you follow this blog or our Instagram, you can see what you’re getting: clean, safe, private and comfortable, with a friendly staff who are more like family. We even pick you up from the San Pedro airport and drive you back there. Even as we’re talking money here, you can be assured you’re getting value for every dollar you spend.

The Time it Takes to “Take a Vacation”

Lots of folks shy away from vacations for reasons other than money. Many feel they can’t take the time off from work. They are too overloaded with deadlines. Or worse, they fear they will miss out on something, or even worse, they feel they may lose their value as an employee by disappearing for a week. Not to mention the stress of trying to get everything done before you leave, and then facing a pile of tasks when you return.

Well, firstly, we do have internet down here, so if relaxation for you means staying connected to the office by email – if you really can’t leave your work behind, there’s lots to be said for returning those emails from a hammock on the beach, like I do. Oh, and Richard Branson does too. (Just saying.)

But a week away from the office can be easily project managed to ensure there is no rush period before departure and no stress inducing backlog when you come back. Time management and productivity expert Steve Prentice has a collection of tips and tricks to make this work. They are available on his blog here or on his podcast here. As he says, “it all comes down to two words: planning and communication.” If you think of your vacation as having three parts: the lead-up, the vacation itself, and the follow-up, you will have something that starts reducing stress from the very moment you decide to book it – long before you even set foot on our beautiful beach.

After a short commute to the deck, I log back on to the rat race. Somehow, it’s not so bad…

The Lifetime Benefit of the Three-Part Vacation

This brings is to the most important word of all: stress. Stress kills. In the short-term it leads to digestive and sleep disorders, headaches and all types of physical, mental and emotional pain. It also takes a great toll on your immune system, which leads to additional short- and long-term problems in terms of fending off sickness and disease. 

One of Steve’s key points regarding the three-part vacation is the significant reduction in stress that essentially lasts a lifetime. Here’s how it works:

1. Choosing to go, and then booking the vacation. There is a thrill of anticipation and adventure that comes from choosing to take a vacation, and this quickly transforms into anticipation. These positive emotions release endorphins and other health-boosting hormones through nothing more than the anticipation of the vacation to come. Even if you are facing a really busy time at work right now, this becomes the light at the end of the tunnel. The best way to get through a stressful situation is to keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on that break or reward that will come after it. So, this means, the health-boosting effects of your vacation start right away. Even if the vacation is six months away, that’s six months of looking forward to a well-deserved break. This is Aspirin for the soul.

2. Taking the vacation itself. This is the next and most obvious part. Enjoying the vacation without problems or disappointments. This is your time to relax, recharge, and be taken care of. That’s why we feel it is so important that you know about the place you’re going even if you have never gone there before. And that’s why we take such care to show off our beach houses along with the sights of Ambergris Caye on this blog, our website and on Instagram. That’s why we also work really hard to take care of you. We know how valuable this time is for you.

3. The memory. Once a vacation is done and you’re back at work, the benefits are not over. In fact. they have only just begun. The memories of your vacation will last a lifetime. They will always be with you and you will also re-live them when you share stories and photos with your friends and family. A carefully project planned return to the workplace can successfully offset the shock of hitting the rat race at full speed. For example, Steve Prentice suggests you never book meetings for your first day back. That’s the day for easing back into the momentum.

Increasingly, companies are becoming more proactive in ensuring employees actually take their vacation days. As opposed to seeing vacations as “non-productive” time, many managers are recognizing that healthy, engaged employees do actually contribute more to a company’s success than tired, stressed-out people do. It’s part of the philosophy of work-life balance, or work-life integration, that is taking greater precedence in corporate management strategy. The long and the short of it is that a vacation is truly an investment, for you as well as your company (even if you’re self-employed). Your energy level, your capacity to focus, your ability to fight off illness like colds and flu, your sense of balance – all of these things contribute to your excellence as a professional. And that’s the hidden dividend: you will be more valuable and more successful by actually investing some of your time in rest and recreation. So, I ask you to seriously commit to taking a vacation at least once a year. By doing so, you will immediately start to dissolve that mountain of stress that you carry around with you and replace it with a vitality and energy that has its own tangible payback.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Top 10 Reasons to Plan Your Snowbird Vacation with Us

There comes a time in late summer in North America where dusk starts noticeably sooner, the breeze seems a little cooler, and the sun no longer commands the highest part of the sky even at noon. How does it happen so soon? It’s like summer is stored in some sort of strong elastic pouch. It takes months to pry it open to let the warmth out, yet it snaps closed in a heartbeat.

Thankfully there are options. The entire Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are available to sun-starved Canadians and Americans, and the short direct flights are quite affordable. Of course, you don’t need to wait until the darkest days of winter to get your fill of the blue oceans and bright sand. It’s available year ‘round and it’s beautiful year ‘round. That’s why Bret and I came to Belize in the first place. It’s why we set up a beach house business here, and it’s why we think you should come down and spend some time with us.

Welcome to Coastal Breezes!

If case you need more convincing, here’s our top-ten list: Top ten reasons to plan your snowbird vacation at Coastal Breezes in Belize:

1. The weather. Guaranteed to be hot and sunny.

Even though it does rain here, the rainy season is basically June to October, and even then, the rain showers are sporadic and short. You just don’t get those gloomy grey, rainy days. You will always experience beautiful warmth and brilliant sunlight whenever you come by.

Sunrise over our pier.

2. Non commercialized. No McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s or Walmart!

Belize has worked hard to keep itself pristine. Ambergris Caye, where we are located, is a perfect example of that. The buildings are solid and safe, but the businesses retain that great beach feel – lots of wood and bamboo, nothing garish, and certainly no fast food/fast coffee franchises. Great food, great drinks and great people.

Wayos one of the many wonderful places to grab a meal and a drink.

3. You get to drive around in a golf cart.

The pace of island life is matched by our mode of transport – golf carts. No big highways and high speeds. What’s the rush?

This is how we get around. Walking is great too!

4. Super friendly Belizean people.

The people of Belize are friendly, relaxed and interesting to talk to. It’s part of the culture and part of the environment. It’s truly an eye-opening moment to discover how nice we can be to each other when we strip away the stresses of North American life. Belizeans and are happy to talk to you and help you enjoy yourself.

Everybody’s welcome.

5. Charlie the super friendly Belizean dog.

Charlie is our canine property manager. He’s a rescue who has found his forever home with us. He’s very friendly, he knows everything there is to know about Coastal Breezes and is an expert on the topic of napping in the sun. He should teach classes on it!

6. Your own personal onsite caretaker to assist with questions about the local area.

We have a small number of beach houses which means you are always looked after with extra close attention. You’re not just one of hundreds or thousands like a big hotel or cruise ship. Francisco, our personal onsite caretaker takes care of more than just the facilities. He’s there to take care of our guest, providing helpful and interesting information about the area, and things to do.

Francisco makes sure everything is shipshape.

7. Secret Beach – have an adult beverage while sitting in the sea.

Secret beach is a secluded and beautiful beach located on the leeward side of the island which means calm shallow waters and beautiful sunsets. It has grown over the years but has still managed to maintain its rustic island charm. It’s a must see – a perfect destination for enjoying a tropical drink at picnic tables that are actually in the water. I have written about Secret Beach in a previous post here: https://blog.coastalbreezes.bz/2019/07/14/the-not-so-secret-beach/

Table service at Secret Beach. Photo courtesy of SanPedroScoop.

8. Fry Jacks – traditional Belizean cuisine.

Oh! Fry Jacks! OK, so they might not be as healthy as mangoes or “apple bananas,” but think of the endorphins! A signature dish of Belize life, Fry jacks are pieces of fried dough, made puffy by using plenty of baking powder. But they are so good as partners in both savory and sweet dishes. Check out my earlier blog on some of the great food you can enjoy here: https://blog.coastalbreezes.bz/2019/07/11/breakfast-in-belize-what-would-you-like/

Fry Jacks. Image courtesy of ImmaculateBites.com

9. Barrier reef and the Blue Hole.

Once you get out on the water, you have the largest coral reef in the world, right beneath you. A marvelous place to snorkel or dive, it’s an underwater marvel with fish and marine life all around, made even more beautiful by the bright blue waters.

A little further along is a wondrous site, the Great Blue Hole, basically a sinkhole in the ocean floor whose depth makes the water appear a darker shade of blue. It’s a must see for any diver and has attracted some of the world’s best known divers and marine scientists, like Jacques Cousteau. You can read more about the barrier reef and the Great Blue Hole here: https://blog.coastalbreezes.bz/2019/07/20/into-the-water/

The Great Blue Hole – one of the best photos, courtesy the US Geological Survey (USGS) that includes pleasure craft for scale.

10. Mayan Ruins archeological sites.

Once you have dried off and got back on land, there’s much more to see inland, including magnificent Mayan ruins. Belize is full of ancient history. People have been living here and traveling here for thousands of years, and the ruins bring it back with excitement and clarity.

Mayan ruins in Belize. Image courtesy Wikipedia..

So come on by!

Belize, and especially Ambergris Caye, where our Coastal Breezes beach houses are, are marvelously unspoiled, friendly and relaxing places, That’s why so many Snowbirds come back again and again. But if it’s your first time, and you’re wondering about the risk of visiting a place you know nothing about, just drop us a line! We’ll chat. We’ll get to know each other. So that when you come down you will feel like you are being greeted and hosted by friends. And that’s a great way to start a love affair with our beautiful island.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The Not-So-Secret Beach

One of the most well-known attractions on Ambergris Caye is Secret Beach. And it’s far and away the island’s worst-kept secret. When Bret and I first arrived here in 2015 there was nothing at Secret Beach except for a single pier and a house. Located on the leeward side of the island this beach has pristine, clear blue waters, and in the last three years it has become a fast paced, and very popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

This is the bumpy road across the island to Secret Beach

It’s a bit of a hike from our main town of San Pedro – eight miles by golf cart over rough road – but it’s only three and a half miles from our beach house compound. Every day now, there’s a constant stream of golf carts heading to and from Secret Beach.  There’s lots of people and lots of alcohol!  Frankly, that’s what a lot of holidaymakers from North America and definitely Canada, want while they’re on vacation: no rules and a big party atmosphere. A great place to blow off all the tensions built up over a year.

Here’s the secret sign pointing the way to Secret Beach. Yes, it’s at an angle. It’s not the condition of the photographer.

Secret Beach basically closes down as soon as it gets dark, because there’s no electricity, only generators. But the tables are out in the water! It’s very shallow and calm, so you walk out quite far, or you can sit in the gentle lapping waves at your table and the wait staff will wade out to you with trays of drinks and food. You can also drink on the beach if you prefer to stay dry. It’s always busy so you’ll need to go early in order to get a table. In addition to the calm waters, its Western exposure means you’re almost guaranteed a spectacular sunset.

Table service at Secret Beach. Photo credit: SanPedroScoop.

The Secret Beach has all the touristy trappings: you can rent lounge chairs, jet skis, and motorized surf boards. You can get your hair braided, buy snow cones, and coconut water, you name it. It’s a big party, and yes, Bret and I have had fun just sitting back and watching people enjoy themselves.

Our location is definitely favorable to the Secret Beach because we are so much closer than a lot of other resorts. Many of our guests of all ages have asked for directions to the Secret Beach as soon as they arrive.   

You can read more about its history and present (and maybe future) over at SanPedroScoop. For the moment, I can’t say that it has built up to extraordinarily tacky proportions. The bars and restaurants still have the island feel – lots of wood and sand, not concrete or glass.

So it’s definitely worth checking out as an island hotspot. But my slant on it is that when you live here you just don’t go to the Secret Beach. There are many more secret and not-so-secret places to fall in love with.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

How We Built Your/Our Private Paradise

There are few things more pleasurable in life than a private paradise. Especially given the cold spring that we Canadians suffered through this year (2019) and the never-ending troubles that seem to be the norm, both locally and internationally. It’s something that we all hope to find. In the back of our minds, we picture that place – somewhere we can retreat to in order to regroup, refresh, and confirm that there is still beauty in life and it is indeed attainable.

That’s what Bret and I set out to establish when we created Coastal Breezes on Ambergris Caye, an island just off the coast of Belize – the one Madonna sang about in “La Isla Bonita.”

For years now, we have been the owners and proprietors of a small collection of executive rental suites just outside of Toronto. These are fully furnished homes for business travelers or others who seek a tidy and convenient place to stay for periods usually longer than a month without the over-the top cost of hotels. We recognized early on that a large negative part of travel is the unknown. After spending hours in an airport and a car, the first thing you need is a place to rest, and the last thing you want is disappointment.

So over the years, we accumulated a few properties and made sure they were the type of place that we ourselves would feel happy staying in, from the very first moment of arrival all the way through a multi-week residence.

Approaching the island – photo taken by one of our guests

But we are also snowbirds. We craved the blue skies, the swaying palms and impossibly blue oceans of the Caribbean, and we started venturing south. We wanted to go a little further south than most of our compatriots, for whom the coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, or the easily accessible islands of the Bahamas were convenient destinations.

We decided to visit Belize, a country that we had known growing up as British Honduras. Once we got there, we knew we had to come back, and so we did. And after a few return visits, we realized we had to do more than just stay on the beach as tourists. This was a place, we realized, that could become an extension of our executive homes business – a place where people could come fully confident of a pleasant stay with well-kept amenities and a personal, Canadian touch.

It’s a beautiful and historic place. Not just the island, but the whole country. The waters are a haven for snorkeling and diving, with the world-famous Barrier Reef just minutes away, and the intriguing Great Blue Hole – a marine sinkhole located inside an atoll. On land, there are Mayan ruins and enormous biodiversity, making everyday an adventure no matter which direction you head off in.

Being a small island, only accessible by plane, the pace of life is a little more relaxed as well. In fact the preferred method of transport is by golf cart which suits us fine.

Rush hour on Ambergris Caye

This blog series will seek to show off some of the most intriguing and compelling reasons why a vacation in Belize makes so much sense for Canadians, not least of which is just how easy it is to get here. From late October through to April, WestJet and Air Canada both fly direct to Belize City, and from there, it’s just a quick hop across to the island.

So I hope you will keep in touch. Follow us on social media (Twitter and Instagram), and join our quarterly mailing list here. Maybe it’s time for your great adventure to a personal paradise. Let us help you find your place in the warm tropical sun, welcomed by our friendly and attentive staff. We really are much closer than you might think.

For more information about our beach house properties, please visit us at coastalbreezes.bz, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.