As I left home this morning, I peered through the fog at the pond in our backyard. Our friend, the Great Blue Heron, was looking for breakfast. My wife and I have been awed by his patient gracefulness coupled with unexpected speed and agility as he pursues his next meal. But this won’t last. The leaves are turning vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and crimson and will soon turn brown and descend. Sometime during this transition our friend will be gone. He is, after all, a snowbird. He, along with other feathered species, will fly south to spend the winter months to avoid the cold and snow of the Northeast. At the same time, and for the same reasons, a certain segment of the human species will accompany our feathered friend. They are, after all, snowbirds. But while my feathered friend’s needs are providentially provided for, snowbirds of the human variety have much to consider to make their yearly migration a successful experience.
At the end of the 19th century, Henry Plant (on the west coast) and Henry Flagler (on the east coast) opened Florida by building railroads and hotels. Now chilly northerners could easily escape the cold and spend the winter months in sunny warmth. The 20th century additions of the Interstate Highway System and convenient air travel have made it even easier to migrate. While Florida continues to be a snowbird destination, there are other options. The other Gulf Coast States (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama), the Carolinas, Georgia, and Arizona have all become havens for snowbirds.
So the first decision is to pick a location. You can go to the same place every winter or change it up and sample many destinations. There are hundreds of towns that would love to have you (and the dollars you will spend).
A second question is what kind of nest you will stay in. Are you an RVer who will take their camper on the road, stopping at several landing sites? Will you buy a true second home and outfit it like your northern home? Or will you look for a condo or apartment to rent for a few months every winter. Often, people spend a winter or two sampling destinations as renters before eventually buying a home when they have found the right location.
You will also need to make decisions on what to do with your time. If you are still working, you may be able to take your job with you and work remotely for several months. If this is not an option, perhaps you can take your accumulated vacation time in January and February. Retired folks are not tied to a schedule and have more flexibility but still have to do something with their daily allotment of 24 hours. What kind of amenities do you want close at hand; restaurants, shopping, golf, pickleball, the beach? Places that cater to snowbirds usually have multiple recreation options. How you spend your days is as important as where you spend them.
While thinking about places don’t forget people. Human beings are social creatures. We live best when we have meaningful interactions with others. Snowbirders have an opportunity to add to their social circle by reaching out to new neighbors. Your place down south may be just the excuse family and friends need to take a mid-winter vacation. Your oasis in the sun could be the tool that fosters closer connections.
All of the previous considerations are based on one overarching question. What can I afford? Your cash flow and accumulated resources will influence your snowbird experience. Where to go and how to get there, and where to stay are financial questions. You may dream of a house on the beach but your budget may dictate a place five miles inland. If you are expecting company you will need to plan on where to put them. Renting can be expensive but may have less hassles than buying your own place. It is wise to carefully protect what you own.
So if purchasing a second home is part of the plan, you will need to have detailed conversations with your insurance agent to make sure you are properly covered. Most of the destinations listed above are possible landing zones for hurricanes. Do you have the resources to rebuild if the storm comes through your adopted town? Because finances are so closely related to snowbirding, there needs to be careful deliberation before the yearly migration. JGUA advisors have walked many clients through these considerations. If being a snowbird appeals to you, we would love to help you think through the process.