Several traditionally cold-weather states have enjoyed a fairly moderate end 2015 — thank you, El Niño! — but everyone in the Snow Belt knows the harsh truth: winter is (still) coming. From the powdery mountains of Colorado (averaging 67.3 inches of snow across the stateper year) to the icy shores of New England (Caribou, Maine gets 41 days of subzero temperatures annually), the days will turn frigid soon enough.
Snowbirds wing south, west
Photo from Flickr/Olln Gllbert
For the past 70 years, hundreds of thousands of Americans and their Canadian counterparts have planned accordingly for these frosty changes. These snowbirds, as they are called, are often semi-retired or retired individuals who head to warmer climates once the winter months descend upon the chiller regions of North America.
Who are the 21st century snowbirds?
Today’s snowbirds range in age from the youngest Baby Boomers in their mid-50s to elderly nonagenarians who spend anywhere from two to six months in places like Florida, Arizona, Texas or even more exotic destinations like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Many fit the profile of the RV-driving, camper-tugging crowd that migrate to the tune of nearly a million annual snowbirds in Florida and another 300,000 who head to Arizona. Others, however, are buying second homes, renting condos or sharing apartments across the Sun Belt and beyond.
Did you know…
The term “snowbird” was initially applied to Northern migrant workers who followed the weather south in the 1920s; by the 1960s, it was used for seasonal vacationers in South Florida, as author Godefroy Desrosiers-Lauzon notes in his book Florida’s Snowbirds: Spectacle, Mobility and Community since 1945.
What does almost every snowbird have in common?
That’s simple: limited storage space. No matter where a snowbird lives, or how they get to their winter destination, space is tight. What to pack, store and leave behind is a huge issue — that’s why we made a packing list to help you and your favorite snowbirds plan for the essentials without wasting valuable travel time, living space and money.
Your Surefire Snowbird Packing List
1. Clothes: Be ready for cool weather, too.
Yes, you will need warm weather clothes — short-sleeved shirts, shorts, sandals, etc. Do not, however, assume that every day will be a shift in the sweat factory.
Clearwater, Fla., for example, has an average monthly temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Phoenix, Ariz. — located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert! — averages 56 degrees in the first month of the year. Add a light jacket, a couple pairs of pants and some warm tops to your packing list.
Here’s a very solid example of a snowbird wardrobe from a regular traveler:
Wardrobe … well … my experience in Florida has been to keep it simple and no winter clothing (meaning – heavy wools, heavy knit sweaters, etc). However, tropical weight wool pants, khakis, navy blazer, linen or silk jacket for hubby, “Hawaiian” style shirts, several white/blue long sleeve button down shirts, swimming trunks, navy/black/khaki bermuda shorts . . . and for me, black slacks, jeans, capris and lots of tops, along w/ several dress jackets, a few boho skirts/dresses, bathing suit, all-weather coat for hubby and me . . . some scarves to dress things up as needed and fun costume jewelry to liven up simple tops/slacks. We pack as though we are going on a cruise, basically.
Image from Flickr/Dominic Alves
2. Hobby materials: Packing for your pastimes.
You’ve earned some free time in your retirement to indulge your favorite pastimes! Unfortunately, your model train sets are not going to fit very well in your RV. Some other hobbies, however, make a little more sense on the road — pack accordingly.
Camera: Adam Dachls of Lifehacker writes that photographers should always remember to use extra padding to protect the camera body, lenses and filters; disassemble the entire camera before packing and traveling; bring cleaning supplies for your gear; take only what is necessary (even small items eat up space); and remember your charger. If flying, don’t put your camera in a checked bag and never bring lithium batteries, which are a no-no on planes.
Reading: Finally, time to read all of those books you’ve wanted to tackle! While the tactile experience of holding a hardcover in your hands is both familiar and comforting, you should strongly consider adding a tablet or e-reader to your packing list. Amazon’s 8GB Kindle Fire, for example, can hold 6,000 books. Your suitcase might hold six — and that also means you won’t have room for shoes.
Decorating: Decorating your snowbird living space can be a challenging, fulfilling hobby — and it can save you from lugging bulky appliances, bedding or furniture to your seasonal home. Cross those items off your packing list and collect pieces in your snowbird city, instead. Turn your living space — whether it’s a camper or a condo — into a real home. There are several interior design lessons you can study online for free, and you can utilize storage units to keep key pieces near your snowbird spot rather than taking them back and forth or buying new stuff each year.
3. Electronics: Consolidate your devices.
As noted, a tablet or e-reader is a great substitute for hard copies of books. Depending on your personal comfort level, a laptop, tablet or smartphone also eliminates the need for a television (stream TV online), stereos and radios (same with music — you can even get your favorite stations via apps), clocks (built-in alarms, too), desktop computers, GPS devices, DVDs, address books and even video recorders or cameras. A good smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy S6, or a solid tablet like the iPad Pro an reduce the electronics on your packing list to a single item. And don’t forget your charger!
Photo from Flickr/epSos.de
4. Prescriptions: Plan ahead!
Prescriptions can get complicated when you travel. For example, if you have a prescription for Schedule II drugs — which generally include opioid painkillers, steroids or drugs that may cause dependence — it may be tough to get your prescription refilled out-of-state.
“State laws vary on whether or not pharmacists can fill prescriptions for Schedule II drugs written by a doctor in another state,” Consumer Reports recently explained. “Pharmacies in Massachusetts will only honor prescriptions from six other states, while Texas pharmacies will fill prescriptions from all other states, provided they meet Texas requirements.”
Schedule III, IV and V drugs, on the other hand, can often be filled at any pharmacy if your doctor faxes a prescription.
That’s fine — now how do you pay for those prescriptions?
- If you have insurance through a national provider network, the answer to whether or not your coverage carries over to a different state is usually “yes.”
- If you have insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the answer is “probably.”
- If you use Medicare, things get fuzzier, and you may need supplemental insurance to be safe. The AARP has a good checklist on out-of-state Medicare issues you should review.
The easiest solution: Talk to your pharmacist when planning your trip. If you can legally purchase a long-term supply of your prescription drugs before leaving, you can cross medicine off of your packing list and avoid living in fear that you may be without your meds.
Photo from Flickr/Caitlin Childs
5. Paperwork: Yes, you will need it; no, it doesn’t have to be paper
If you’re a little paranoid like me, paperwork is already high on your packing list. Rental agreements, important insurance documents, driver’s licenses and other forms of identification, tax forms (if you’ll be on the road past April 15) — all of these items should come with you.
But should they come with you in their original format? Here’s where you can save some space and avoid ruining some of the most valuable papers in your life. Scan or photograph key documents and save them on a secure software program so you can access them with your digital devices anywhere.
Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker has a great list of paperworkthat can be digitized.
“My strategy is twofold,” Pinola writes. “Keep a digital and paper version of critical documents that are either, a) hard to replace and related to something of significant value (family health records, for example, or major home improvements), or b) tax- or business-related; (and) knowing that I can’t horde every piece of paper, everything else gets scanned or opted for electronic version.”
6. Pack for your pets, too.
By adding pets to your packing list, I am not suggesting you stick Rover in a suitcase! Rather, remember that your furry friends have needs of their own.
- Does your pet have prescriptions that need to be packed or refilled before leaving?
- Do you have copies of your pet’s medical records?
- Do you plan on buying the essentials like food, leashes, dishes, etc. for your pet at your destination or do they need to come with you?
- Did you pack some of your pet’s favorite toys or blankets to make sure the little guy has some familiarity on the road?
Depending on your pet, you may need to do some homework, as well:
“A few cities and counties in the U.S. have dog breed restrictions, such as those aimed at pit bulls, Rottweilers and other breeds, so check before you visit a destination,” Robin Tierney of Paw-Rescue.org writes. “Usually, you can do this by doing a web search with a combination of keywords such as the breed name and city or county. If you are traveling across the nation’s borders, you typically need a health certificate, so make plans in advance of your trip. A few places may require proof of a rabies vaccination within the past 12 months, so check with the health department at your destination city. You can usually get the info by doing a web search.”
7. Appliances and cookware: Keep your options open.
You probably won’t eat every meal in a restaurant for two to six months. If you are not traveling via RV, however, you probably also don’t want to take up a ton of room by loading half of your kitchen into a moving truck or the trunk of your car.
There is an easier way, especially if you plan to return to the same (or a nearby) location again and again.
“If you are renting, you may want to bring some small appliances that you use regularly, such as a crock pot, roaster, blender,” notes one seasoned snowbird in a City-Data.com forum.”If this is a place you own, you may want to just buy those items. Definitely not worth hauling them back and forth every year. We learned this the hard way. We found a crockpot for under $15, electric frying pan, roaster, etc. all at markdown. Now we no longer haul those items around and it is a blessed relief.”
Look into self storage, as well — a small storage unit for your appliances, table settings and other household necessities may save you crucial space and cost when making the trip each year.
Photo from Flickr/WishIllinois
8. Sporting goods: Self storage is your friend.
If you plan on playing golf or tennis, doing a little fishing or even playing linebacker for the retirement community football team (well, probably not that), you’ll need to include your equipment on your packing list. These items may also be relevant to self storage — better to leave a set of clubs near your snowbird destination rather than risk damage and waste travel space with your home set each year.
Bonus Packing List Pro Tips
Photo from Flickr/Andre Plenaar
Don’t bring toiletries. They take up space, they can make a mess in transit and they are not very expensive. Buy your toiletries when you get to your destination.
Mail your stuff. If you have a lot of small items that you find you’re using year after year, would it be cheaper to get a storage unit or simply mail these items back and forth to yourself? Check out our storage unit estimator to see how much room you’d need in a storage unit and take a look at the shipping costs for USPS, UPS and FedEx before making a decision.
Forward your mail. It takes about five minutes and costs $1.05 to forward your USPS mail to a temporary residence for up to one year. You can do it online right now.
Make friends. It may sound trite, but meaningful relationships are the spice of life. Find other people with similar interests, or who will be living near you year after year, or who even come from the same part of the United States as you do.
“You have to be outgoing,” longtime snowbird Rita Weiner told Cleveland Magazine. “I’ll never forget: We went into a restaurant one time and saw a man sitting with an Indians cap on. We went right up and introduced ourselves.”
“Being snowbirds helps (snowbirds) develop a social network and to become integrated into life in the Sun Belt,” added Eva Kahana, a sociology professor of Case Western Reserve. “That keeps seniors from being isolated after their move. Contrary to popular beliefs, those older adults who move do not feel cut off and readily make new friends.”
The last note on your packing list: Self Storage
Maybe you want car storage while you are gone. You may want to securely stash some valuables while out of state. There are several reasons to use self storage at your primary city of residence or your snowbird locale — simply find a storage unit near you and one of our managers can get you set up with the storage space that is right for you.
Have fun, snowbirds! Feel free to share your thoughts on packing list essentials for snowbirds in the Comments section below or tweet us @LifeStorage.