How To Become A Snowbird Sooner

If the thought of spending another February in the harsh Canadian climate has you burrowing under three parkas and refusing to leave your house, then perhaps you might want to consider heading down south for the winter. Each year, thousands of Canadians drive or fly down south to spend the cold months in the bliss of the hot southern sun. From Florida to Arizona, Mexico to California, and, more frequently, far away destinations such as Panama and Thailand, these warm climates attract generally retired (or nearing retirement) Canadians who are tired of dealing with Old Man Winter. It's a lifestyle many mistake as being merely for the rich and fabulous, but with proper planning, you too can say goodbye to snow shovelling and hello to sunbathing. We sat down with veteran snowbirds Ralph and Carol to learn the tricks of the trade for the snowbird lifestyle, something they describe as "Spring Break for seniors."

Start Saving

Setting aside money each month now will mean you have the means to pay for your great escape later. "As long as you can budget for the monthly payment, that's it," Ralph says. Food, alcohol, the nightlife—and even golfing—are all cheaper down south. Location can also impact your budget. "If you go away from the beaches the price drops quite a bit," says Ralph. "It's a fraction of the price."

Make friends

One of Ralph and Carol's favourite parts about being a snowbird is they constantly get to hang out with their friends. If you have friends with snowbird pads, visit them! And if you don't, Ralph and Carol recommend teaming up with some of your friends and going in on a place together.

Explore the area

Before you retire, Carol recommends heading down for about three weeks to check out different cities and neighbourhoods and get a feel for the different communities they offer. You want to find out what the other people who live there are like. Are they the same age? Do they have the same lifestyle? All of these things will deepen your experience, so scope it out in person before you sign any contracts. If you are looking to buy, they recommend renting in an area first. This will help you determine if you've chosen the location that's right for you.

Be open-minded

When they were younger, Ralph and Carol dreamed of the sought-after beachfront condo, but overtime their idea of the perfect winter retreat changed. They realized what they valued more was a sense of community, a good party, and a location that wasn't too far from the beach. They ended up at a mobile home park outside of the main strip. They say it's a great option, especially for people who like having others around. "We can just walk outside, people are just sitting out, you walk around and you get to meet people that way," Carol says.

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Take things slow

Carol and Ralph have been snowbirds for 12 years. When they first started, Ralph wasn't yet retired and would work remotely down south from the comfort of his warm Florida porch. Once he retired, they started staying for longer periods of time and now spend four months a year living as snowbirds. "We had two friends down there and we stayed a week with each couple, then we rented our own place for a month," says Carol. "Now we've been renting there ever since—for the whole winter."

Get involved

If you're looking for Carol and Ralph, you'll probably find them on the golf course. Ralph was a long-time golfer, but Carol never picked up a club until she was in her 60s. Golf created a social network, it introduced them to new people allowing them to make new friends, and it gave them a sense of belonging that made their second home feel like their first. They recommend joining groups to meet people with shared interests and to enrich your overall experience.

Get active

They also recommend taking advantage of the beautiful landscape that is offered. They take frequent walks along the beach and say their snowbird lifestyle and the warm weather keeps them active, healthy and young. "It's got to add years to your life," Ralph says. Not to mention, it's free!

Enjoy the journey

Driving down south has been an adventure for the couple. "That's a big part of the trip down," they say. It has allowed them to explore all different parts of the States and they have developed a number of favourite stops. Driving also gives them the opportunity to visit family and friends along the way. "We don't care about how long it takes us to get there."

Know the Rules

And of course, make sure you know the rules. Know how many months you can be out of your province and what you need to do to ensure your home insurance and auto insurance remain valid while you're away. Don't forget to purchase snowbird travel insurance prior to your departure, even if you're just going down to get a feel for the place, to ensure that you're protected. And most of all, stay warm and have fun! That's what the snowbird lifestyle is all about.

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