This checklist is filled with advice on how to be a snowbird the cheapest way possible. You’ll also learn some packing tips that will make your travel time less stressful.

how to be a snowbird on a budget

For roughly the past 70 years, hundreds of thousands of Americans and their Canadian counterparts have looked into how to be a snowbird. So what is a snowbird? Snowbirds are people who temporarily move to areas with warmer weather to avoid the harsh winter climates in their hometowns. These travelers are often semi-retired or retired individuals who have a second residence in regions like Florida, Texas or Arizona.

However, even people in their thirties take advantage of snowbirding without being fully retired. The ability to telecommute has increased the number of young people living a more transient lifestyle. People of all ages are looking for ways cheaply to take advantage of the snowbird lifestyle.

One way people save money is by planning well in advance and packing efficiently. Setting a budget and sticking to it will also help keep the extra travel and living accommodations more manageable. This snowbird checklist provides you with a ton of tips and advice to get started.

Did you know…

The term “snowbird” originated from Northern migrant workers who followed the weather south in the 1920s. By the 1960s, the title was used to describe seasonal vacationers in South Florida.

1. Keep a Simple Wardrobe

how to be a snowbird on a budget

Even if you’re going to be in Miami for the winter, you will need some cool weather clothing. Consider that Phoenix — located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert — averages 56 degrees in the first month of the year. Add a light jacket, a couple of pairs of pants and some warm tops to your packing list.

However, don’t go overboard. The more streamlined your wardrobe, the less you’ll pay in moving expenses. You won’t need a full winter jacket, but you might pack a light blazer and some long sleeves.

2. Contact Your Insurance Company

how to be a snowbird cheap

Prescriptions and medical expenses 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. Your insurance might not cover out-of-network services either.

So how do you know if your prescriptions and other medical costs will be covered?

  • 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 your insurance is through the Affordable Care Act, the answer is “probably.”
  • With Medicare, things get fuzzier, and you may need supplemental insurance to be safe. The AARP has a useful checklist on out-of-state Medicare issues you should review.

The easiest solution: Talk to your pharmacist and health insurance provider 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. Also, you may be able to temporarily adjust your health insurance to include out-of-network services.

3. Think Inexpensive Hobbies

how to be a snowbird on a budget

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 and going out every night can get expensive. Pack some items you already own that will keep you occupied both during travel and once you get to your temporary home.

Here are a few hobbies we love and some tips to consider:

Photography: If you already own a camera, make sure to use extra padding to protect the camera body, lenses, and filters. Disassemble the entire camera before packing and traveling. If flying, don’t put your camera in a checked bag and never bring lithium batteries, which are a no-no on planes. If you don’t have a camera, you can still take up photography as a pastime using your smartphone!

Reading: 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 — which can turn into a costly investment.

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 pieces near your snowbird spot rather than taking them back and forth or buying new stuff each year.

4. Consolidate Electronics

snowbirding in your 30s

As noted, a tablet or e-reader is a great substitute for hard copies of books. Depending on your comfort level, a laptop, tablet or smartphone also eliminates the need for other costly electronics.

If you have a laptop and a smartphone, you won’t need to spend money on the following:

  • Television (stream TV online)
  • Stereos and radios (you can even get your favorite stations via apps)
  • Clocks (built-in alarms, too)
  • Desktop computers
  • GPS devices
  • DVDs
  • Address books
  • Video recorders or cameras

A good smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy S6, or a solid tablet like the iPad Pro can reduce the electronics on your packing list to a single item. And don’t forget your charger!

5. Go Digital

snowbird checklist

If you’re a little paranoid, paperwork is already high on your packing list. Rental agreements, essential 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.

Making sure you bring necessary files with you to get your taxes done on time will prevent you from costly fees and keep the IRS off your back.

6. Pack for Your Pets

snowbird packing list

By adding pets to your packing list, you’ll be able to plan for their expenses in advance and shop around for the best price on medications, food, etc. Remember that your furry friends have needs of their own, so don’t leave their travel requirements to the last minute.

  • 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?
  • What requirements does the snowbird city have in regards to pet registration? Are there any restrictions? Do I need proof of rabies paperwork?

7. Cook at Home

what is a snowbird

To save money, you shouldn’t eat every meal in a restaurant for two to six months. However, if you are not traveling via RV, 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, bring along small appliances like a crockpot and blender. If you own your property, buy a second set of these appliances and leave them there. You can find many of these small appliances marked down for less than $20.

For people who rent in the same city every year, it might be worth it to look into self storage. 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.

8. Don’t Pack What You Can Buy

snowbirds packing list for travel

It might be tempting to pack toothpaste, mouthwash, and other essentials thinking it will save you money. However, it could end up costing you. Items like shampoo and body wash take up space, and they can make a mess in transit. These toiletries will also add unnecessary weight to your checked luggage.

Bring travel sizes for the extent of your travel, but consider buying full-size toiletries at your winter residence.

9. Decide to Mail or Store

how to become a snowbird

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 direct 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.

Also, don’t forget to 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.

10. Try Self Storage

renting storage when a snowbird

Maybe you want car storage while you are gone. You may want to stash some valuables while you’re out of state. There are several reasons to use self storage at your primary city of residence or your snowbird locale.

Find a storage unit near you, how to 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.

This post originally appeared on the Life Storage blog on 12/22/15 and was revised on 12/21/18 to provide new information.

About the Author

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann has written about self storage and moving since 2015, making her our storage expert. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and Linguistics and has published over 150 articles on moving, storage, and home organization. She is also a contributing writer at The Spruce and Martha Stewart.

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