How to Live the Snowbird Life

two aged adirondack chairs on a lone beach

Sometimes an inclement weather day is exactly what I need to get caught up on computer work and world happenings. Upon opening my computer, I was quickly drawn to the news articles on the weather happenings to the north. Ah, and to think I was a little grumpy about Phoenix, Arizona’s misting rain and 55 degrees Fahrenheit temp (12 celsius) while our neighbors to the north were experiencing temperatures in the minus reading and snow measured in feet. Oh, how I’m glad we snowbird.

The cool, damp, foggy weather felt more like I was camped along the Texas Gulf Coast instead of the desert southwest. It hadn’t rained in weeks and the moisture was very much needed. The desert always feels alive after a rainstorm, and the rain will hopefully aid in a good showing of spring wildflowers. Those blooms should actually start popping up in February, and I assure you, I have my hiking shoes and camera ready.

Spending winters in the southern region of the United States and summers in the north country is a fantastic way to live. I’m sure many can agree that taking a lesson from migrating birds is a great idea. Sure, winters in the north can be beautiful and fun especially when you’re sitting next to a warm fire, wrapped in your favorite blanket, sipping hot cocoa after an enjoyable day spent playing in the snow.

On the other hand, commuting to work in a snowstorm or digging your vehicle out of four feet of snow while wearing three layers of clothing isn’t much fun at all (IMHO). Al and I are enjoying our eighth snowbird season, and although, there are times I miss our winter excursions to the Colorado Rockies, I do not miss the cold and scary driving conditions … nor the shoveling and windshield scraping.

A lone dock at Sunrise across the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

So what is a snowbird?

Basically, a snowbird is a person who travels from the colder regions of North America to the warmer southern locales during the winter months. These southern locales usually include the Sun Belt region of the United States, along with Mexico and the Caribbean. It used to be, snowbirds were primarily older retired people with plenty of time on their hands. With location independent jobs and work camping opportunities, there has been an increase in all ages living the snowbird life, particularly in the RVing community.

How to start snowbird living – 5 Tips

1. How to pick the best destination. Picking the perfect snowbird destination depends on one’s interests. You’ll want to choose a place that reflects your lifestyle and your interests. You may not want to make a decision based on past vacations. Let’s say your yearly one-week vacation to the beach to chill and relax was something you always looked forward to. That vacation was a break from regular life and being lazy on the beach was exactly what you needed at that time, but the rest of the year your interests and passions are centered around a more physically active lifestyle. If that’s the case, spending 3 to 5 months on a beach in Florida may not fit your active lifestyle. Remember, this isn’t a vacation but a lifestyle. So, if mountain biking and hiking are more to your liking then perhaps Arizona might be a better fit than a coastal location.

Therefore, figure out what kind of activities most reflect the way YOU like to live. Is dining out something that’s important? Then picking a place with a variety of restaurants should be a consideration. Think about how you want to spend your time? What will a typical day look like? If you’re still working, what are the time demands? Choosing a time zone might be important to think about. Do you prefer a lush landscape or are you drawn to the arid desert southwest?

There are so many things to take into consideration. I actually recommend changing things up your first couple of winters and discover what fits best for you? Al and I spent our first several winters as full-time RVers splitting our snowbird winters between the Texas Gulf Coast and the Arizona desert.

A camera on a beach photography a dock at sunset
I enjoy spending my days behind a camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beach, the desert, a city, or wilderness, I embrace it all, but no snow, please!

2. Baby steps. Once you have a few destinations in mind, it’s time to test the snowbird lifestyle. I don’t recommend you go all-in on one location the first year. You really won’t know if you love it until you live it and won’t know if you’ve chosen the right spot until you’ve spent several weeks there. So whether you’re RVing, Airbnb-ing, or hoteling, don’t book the entire winter in one place for your first try at snowbirding.

You may find one or two months is plenty of time away from home during that first winter. We know a lot of people who spend the holidays in the north and then head south for only a month or two, usually January and February. They’ve learned what works for them.

Others, especially RVers, start their southerly trajectory at the beginning of November and don’t return north until sometime in April. For RVers with hitch-itch, you may choose to move every week or two trying out different places in the south. You’ll want a snowbird season or two under your belt to figure out what works best for you.

3. Paying bills. Long before you head off on that snowbird venture, you’ll want to go electronic with all your bills. Years ago, it was difficult to keep up with everyday life when you were away from home. Quite often we’d have to implore the help of a neighbor, family member, or friend. Times have changed and as long as you have internet service, there’s a way to keep up with bills.

IbisSince Al and I live in our RV full-time, we use a UPS Store as our mailing address. Technology has made a mobile lifestyle so much easier, and because of that, you don’t even have to be retired to join this flock of warm weather seekers.

4. Friendships. Leaving familiar territory behind can be scary to many. Fears of loneliness and leaving friends behind are a huge concern.

Fear not! With so many communities in the south catering to snowbirds, lots of folks find themselves with a full social schedule. It’s just a matter of saying hi and introducing yourself to neighbors.

Social engagement is extremely easy in the RVing community. It can be a little more challenging for other types of travel, but in general, the choice is yours to be as social or anti-social as you care to be.

I’ve made so many wonderful friends via this blog … RVers and non-RVers alike, and it’s always fun meeting in person.

5. Slow down. If possible, you’ll want to take your time traveling back and forth between your northern and southern locations. By stretching out the drive, you can see sights along the way. Enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Last spring, Al and I took almost a month to travel from our snowbird home (RV Park) in Arizona to our summer home in northern Wisconsin (family property). To say we took our time might be an understatement. We had a great time visiting friends and taking in sights along the way.

When we are sure that we are on the right road there is no need to plan our journey too far ahead. No need to burden ourselves with doubts and fears as to the obstacles that may bar our progress. We cannot take more than one step at a time. – Orison Swett Marden

The best thing about RV snowbirding

The best thing about being an RV snowbird is our mobility. We’re able to travel as quickly or slowly as we choose, and if we end up somewhere that we’re not thrilled about, we can easily pack things up and move to a new location.

However … with the increasing popularity in RV travel, without a reservation during those peak winter months, you may find yourself with few to no options to park your RV, especially in highly desirable places. Even in the west, we’ve seen a decrease in boondocking options and RV Parks are at capacity during the months of January, February, and March. So, a little extra planning might be in order.

Although Al and I have settled down for the season in an RV Park in Phoenix, Arizona, we didn’t start off doing so during our early snowbird years. Our first snowbird trip lasted only seven weeks due to work obligations. Wanting to take in as many sights as possible, we moved around the desert southwest exploring.

F250 Truck and a Keystone fifth wheel camped near the shores of Lake Powell, Page, Arizona

We traveled similarly during our second winter, but during our third winter, we had become full-time RVers and changed up our travels. We split up our winter in the south between the Texas Gulf Coast and Arizona desert and continued those winter sojourns for the next three years up until Hurricane Harvey struck and severely damaged several of our favorite Texas locations.

Although Texas has recovered, for the most part, Al and I have found an RV community and developed friendships such that we’re content staying stationary at this RV park in Phoenix for the winter… for now, anyway. With that said, I’m not done traveling to the Gulf Coast. So many choices, so little time!

So, where do you spend your winter?

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66 thoughts on “How to Live the Snowbird Life

  1. This was a great post about being a snow bird! Thanks for all the helpful information and it has given me some food for thought. You have some amazing photographs.

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  2. Ingrid,
    We love our snowbird lifestyle, but have a place in a FL mobile home community and a cottage in NH rather than full time rving. Yet we are looking forward to a different type of snowbird adventure next winter where we will rent out our FL place and take our TT to the desert southwest. I really don’t care if I ever shovel snow again, even though it’s quite pretty to look at through the window as it’s falling. But then, the next day, it just gets all dirty and slushy. Yuck.
    I think the key is to do what you want, what you are comfortable with, but also be open to new places, people, and experiences. I also agree that snowbird communities make it very easy to make friends and be involved so that missing friends and family “back home” isn’t quite so difficult.
    Already have reservations for Jan 2021 at Lake Corpus Christi and are looking at the Havasu area of AZ for Feb and March. Any suggestions?

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    1. Planning already for 2021? Boy, you’re on top of things. Hope you add Mustang Island/Port Aransas to that travel itinerary. Lake Havasu State Park is a fave of ours. If you’re looking for a longer stay, maybe Campbell Cove RV Park, but note, all the RV parks in Havasu pack’m in. Be sure and let me know if you’ll be passing through Phoenix or Sedona.

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  3. I am with you, Ingrid, I do not miss the cold and scary driving conditions. We have lived North with a great deal of snow. Now, we deal primarily with rain. I don’t mind a rainy day since it also gives me an excuse to cocoon, write, read, get caught up indoors. I have not been a snowbird. Interesting and a great tip on using a UPS store as a mailing address. I also hear how reservations and planning is really important. A very interesting post!

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    1. Thank you Erica. I too can handle rain much easier than snow. And yes, reservations are definitely important these days as more and more baby boomers retire and snowbird. I know my RV park is full right now!

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  4. We’ve managed to (mostly) escape winters for many years now, first by just taking long winter trips in our trailer and for the past seven winters, traveling fulltime. As you said, we love being able to choose where we want to be. It’s going to be hard to decide where to settle down when the time comes! Your sunset photo (I’m thinking it’s from the Texas Gulf Coast?) is gorgeous!

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    1. Yes, that image was taken along the Texas Gulf Coast. Such beautiful mornings! I totally agree with the decision to settle down … difficult. Thank goodness we have lots of choices 😊

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  5. We have been snowbirds in San Tan Valley, AZ (just south of Phoenix) for the past 2 winters. We talked about Florida, but decided on the Phoenix, AZ area instead. Once we sell our house in Missouri, we will be here in Arizona full time, and when it gets too hot in the summer, we will travel–I don’t know what you call folks that leave the heat for cooler weather! P.S. We love it here!

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    1. We have several friends around the valley that live here year-round and travel during those hot summer months. I’m sure when it’s time for us to return to a traditional sticks and bricks, it’ll most likely be somewhere in the Phoenix valley. It’s easy getting used to the beautiful skies and lack of humidity. I understand why you love it here.

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  6. We love our Snowbird life. We are a bit different as we have houses in both places. We have begun to make new friends in Pennsylvania. And it has made for fun summers!

    Great post GirlFriend!

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  7. An informative post and interesting to read the similarities and differences between US Snowbirds and Aus Grey Nomads. We head north to escape a much milder winter and after travelling for the past 7 or so years we’re now finding more ‘favourite’ places to stay longer. Safe travels!

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    1. I think after years of travel, we all find favorites that we enjoy returning to. Although it’s fun to explore new places, there’s something comforting about returning to familiar territory. One of these days, I’d love to make it to Australia.

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  8. Thanks for this article! We are still at the abridged version of anowbirding, but getting closer to spending more time down south. We love the desert and ocean, but it looks like the desert will be the winner for us as well. In the meantime, we resolved to enjoying winter while we are here and it’s working.

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    1. My favorite winters were when we split our time between the desert and the Gulf, but since our children live in Phoenix, we’ve chosen to spend the majority of the winter here. Plus, we found an RV Park that we really enjoy. There’s no right or wrong way to snowbird even if that means short jaunts. Hope you’re staying warm!

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  9. Great post!! Could you explain how using UPS as your mailing address works? We have used Escapees before and recently (with being stationary and even in a temporary apt due to medical issues) we cancelled our mail service. Always open to other possibilities. Thanks, Ingrid!!

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    1. Thank you! Most UPS stores work very much like Escapees mail service. Since health insurance and medical care for me are deciding factors, we felt an Arizona address was in my best interest (especially since we spend the most amount of time in AZ). I have had some issues using the address since it’s a commercial location, but that’s been few and far between. Hope that helps!

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  10. These are all excellent tips – thank you for carefully thinking them out! We’re still working here in Florida. We do enjoy visiting the desert Southwest – I can see the appeal. I need to see the saguaro again. I saw a picture in a photo magazine that is such a good idea that I need to try it myself!

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      1. I am so inspired I can’t stand it – going to repeat our trip last year but more time in Page and add the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The picture I am talking about on my Audubon Weekly Calendar shows a saguaro with the tip of one arm close up in the foreground, and through the arms you see another saguaro in the background. It’s really amazing. Hope you have lots of good photo moments coming up!

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  11. Wonderful post Ingrid. This is our first winter as snow birds and have decided to move around, although we have spent the first 6 weeks in southeast Texas, moving to the coast from here. Thankfully we decided once we found a spot for the holidays we knew enough to book it for the holiday and days beyond.

    We are only planning out maybe a month in advance so spots where we want them are a little difficult for stays particularly over the weekend. So we expect probably moving on Fridays away from “populated” areas for the weekends where spots are easier to find. Although I don’t have much experience with all this I did find by the end of February and into March spots were to be found for longer stays.

    Karen wanted to move around during our first winter and I wanted to stay for three months in one place. Glad we are doing it her way. We both like the one and two week stays but I’m thinking more like six weeks in a geographic area, with plenty of day trips, may are a better way to find the hidden sites to see.

    Glad you guys are still on the road so we can continue to learn from you.

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    1. Those first two to three winters, I highly recommend moving around. We usually focused on monthly stays since that’s the most economical and in between the monthly we’d do weekly. By giving yourself enough time in one location, you won’t feel rushed. It also allows for inclement weather. Sounds like you two are settling in and finding your own style of travel. Enjoy!

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  12. Great article, Ingrid and a helpful guide for (potential) snowbirds. There are so many options, indeed! As you know, Mark and I don’t like cold weather either (although Maya seems to prefer it). We “tried” to get warm(ish) three winters in a row, but were unlucky with the “extremes” of those seasons first in Northern California, then in Southern California, and last year in Southern Arizona. So, while we adore the west and especially the deserts of Arizona and Utah, we’ve decided to be snow birds in Florida this winter. Except… so far, we haven’t gotten any further south than St. Augustine! 🙂

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    1. RVing and cold weather do not go together in my opinion. So, I’m right there with you in searching out those warm-weather climates. Glad you found some agreeable weather this winter.🙂

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  13. Ingrid,
    We just returned from a month in Florida and are pretty certain that we will return at least one more year for a longer stay. We dug a little deeper into Key West and learned that there is more to it than nightlife and rum bars. Biking is excellent and we want to take some sailing trips next time. Still consider AZ a fav though. Great post.

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    1. I’ve always wanted to spend some extended time in the Keys, but not sure that’ll ever happen. We seemed to have settled into desert life rather well although I do miss the water. Rum bars? Count me in 😆

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  14. Very good and timely information. We usually stay home in coastal Georgia for most of the winter although we have been snowbirding in a Florida in our RV a few times. We are the kind of snowbirds who bounce from place to place for a month or two. It takes a lot of planning to do that in a Florida. We stayed mostly in state parks and federal parks but enjoyed an occasional private RV resort. I had to make reservations 11 months ahead for the Florida state parks. Even though where we live is warmer than a lot of places (and we have snowbirds who come here for the winter) when it gets too cold for flip flops it’s too cold for me!

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    1. Hi Wandering Dawg(s), This seems odd addressing you like this; it seems rude, but it is your profile name ;>). I’ll pretend we are native Americans from centuries ago. Please call me “Commenter Shood be Wurking.” Anyway, I noticed you live in Coastal GA. As I will be retiring in a few short years, I am thinking of relocating from “up north” to the Amelia Island area Full Time except when I’m RV’ing several months out of the year. Do you have any impressions of that area?

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    2. You live in such a beautiful spot that I can’t imagine the need to snowbird other than a change of scenery from time to time. Yeah, I’ve heard FL can be difficult for reservations. I think that and distance have been a detractor for me. Long before my RV life, I spent a fair amount of time visiting the Tampa area and Orlando. Always enjoyed those visits. Yep, flip flop weather is where it’s at 😃

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  15. The nice thing about your life is your’re only a plane ride or fairly short drive from a snow excursion. We like to be 5-6 week snowbirds but then be home but couldn’t do it this year do to hip.

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    1. Actually, we’re only a two-hour drive away from a ski resort … Snowbowl up in Flagstaff. We’ve thought about heading up for a day of snow tubing, but the thought of bundling up in winter clothing just hasn’t sounded appealing. 😆 Hope you’re staying warm!

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  16. I always love your informative articles, Ingrid. As you know, we’ve tasted a little of the snowbird life, and could easily adopt that lifestyle. Once Hans retires and we get situated in Spokane in 2021, I’ll be even more motivated to get out of the gray and cold for a few weeks, or longer. We have a large group of friends who are able to spend winters in La Ventana, Baja, windsurfing and kiteboarding. We may travel there and stay one day, but like you, there are a lot of other places I want to see. Hoping you get lots of desert blooms. We got rain last night which washed away the gray, at least for today 😁

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    1. I know when the time comes, you and Hans will love snowbirding for weeks at a time. The sunny days here really spoil us. Tuesday and Wednesday were overcast, cloudy and even foggy which is so unusual around for Phoenix. Thankfully, we’re quickly back to blue skies and loving it 🌵 No gray for this gal!

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    1. You know, it’s nice to visit the mountains after a fresh coating of snow … beautiful, but the day to day of winter is something we no longer relish. I have no doubt you guys will love a little snowbirding. Be sure and let me know if I can offer any additional tidbits.

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  17. Some of the best friends we have met were while snowbirding, a great way to spend the winter! Although we must be one of those early birds as we seem to leave the north late and come back too early!

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    1. Same for us, we’ve met so many great people snowbirding. Yes, you two seem to embrace that northern weather just fine. Al and I not so much. I think we’ve turned into reptiles and anything under 70 degrees requires a jacket of some sort. 🥶

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  18. We are also Canadians, and have spent the last 7 winters camping on Camping at Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor area, just North of Yuma, Arizona. We love the quiet of the desert, but as you say, also the friendships we have made down here. I also think we are so lucky to be able to live this lifestyle, however long that may be, and we finally have to stay in the frozen North, we will cherish our desert memories

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    1. Yuma is a great place to snowbird. If our children didn’t live in Phoenix, we might spend more time there ourselves. Unfortunately, we can’t keep traveling forever and I’m glad you enjoyed your time in AZ while you could. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 😊

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  19. We got to enjoy the RVing lifestyle for ten lovely years as Canadians. I would add a couple of points if you are Canadian. Travel health Insurance is really only available to the healthy so have a plan for winter stays when you can no longer go south. This can be a stick house (we did that) or an RV that you can actually survive in during cold. There are such RVs. They cost double but if you plan to spend a winter in Canada it’s well worth it. You asked where we went. We are not resort type people and after first trying the west we decided it was the sweet humid sleepy south under the Spanish Moss that suited us. In order of our favourites, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Eastern Texas, and Arkansas have the most wonderful Army Corps of Engineers sites which were what we loved best of all type of campgrounds. For deep winter, the Florida pan handle was a joy. Our last doctor’s appointment was positive so I am still holding up hope that we can be back on the road next winter. Winter is not so bad when you don’t have to go out unless you want to. If we can’t get health insurance, there is still much of Canada we can explore in summer.

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    1. I totally get why you enjoy those southern states. This is our second winter staying in the desert and I’m missing our sojourns to the Gulf Coast. I loved splitting our winter between the two locales, but life happens as you well know. Hopefully, next winter you can escape the northern cold for a trip south. In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful summers in the north country 🙂

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