When the winter months roll in, thousands across the U.S. pack their bags and head to tropical islands or southern states, hoping to escape the cold with a long-term stay in a warmer climate. Though the snowbird lifestyle has been more traditionally linked to older generations, retirees, and grandma and grandpa’s winter vacation to Florida, the switch to remote work has made skipping town easier for all ages. How do these seasonal travelers map out their yearly migration?
If you’re thinking about trying your hand at seasonal living, we’ve got a few tips, general know-how, and snowbird rental recommendations to start with. Trading out shoveling snow for soft sands, living part-time between your home and your warm weather home-away-from-home might be worth considering. Luckily, we think your winter’s looking bright.
The term “snowbird” has been around since 1923, used at first to describe workers that would move south for winter gigs, but by the ’70s, the name became a reference to retirees looking to spend the winter months somewhere warm. In recent years, due to the option of remote work, more young professionals and families are taking wing for winter travel.
Regardless of age, snowbirds typically live in a primary residence for the better half of the year, but head south in the colder months to a winter home or long-term rental home for some reprieve and relaxation. The length of travel may differ, with some families indulging in a brief retreat for a month or two, while veteran snowbirds might lounge under the sun for six months or more. Whether vacationing all winter long or enjoying a sunnier business-as-usual, snowbirds stick to warm weather destinations like Florida, Texas, and Hawaii, then return back to their home state once the snow melts.
First things first, you’ll want to do the math in making sure a long-term winter vacation makes sense for you. Make a budget, taking into consideration where you might go, how long you might stay, and what kind of home you’d prefer to make your winter hideaway. Once you have the budget set, plan the year ahead with your trip in mind. In your budgeting, don’t forget to keep in mind any related fees in bringing pets along, and the maintenance costs of taking care of your home while you’re away.
To save money, you can often check with resorts and vacation rental companies, who may provide special offers when you lease a long-term stay with them. At Vacasa, we use the term “snowbird rentals” for homes that allow longer stays (28 days or more). Though rates differ, some homes offer incentives or discounted rates based on seasonality and length of stay. You can use the “Snowbird-friendly” amenity filter on our site to search for these homes in your preferred destination.
In spending months away, a snowbird trip doesn’t necessarily mean a vacation. Make sure whichever warm weather destination you have in mind will have what you need to be comfortable living your everyday life. (For some, working from the beach could be a dream or a distraction.) Look for environments and communities that will be a good fit, offering restaurants you like, groups you feel connected to, access to the outdoors, and nearby kid-friendly activities if applicable.
Consider if you’d prefer an isolated or popular getaway or whether the beach, desert, or tropical island could feel more like home. Spending a winter vacation in Florida might be the most common snowbird go-to, but there are plenty of other places to travel in the winter, including Mexico, Costa Rica, California, Arizona, and the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Once you’ve got a location in your sights, find a long-term condo rental or home with all the qualities you need, like a nearby grocery store, a fully-equipped kitchen, a washer/dryer, pet-friendly policies, and WiFi so that there’s as little disruption to your routine as possible. Lastly, if you’d like, factor in any amenities that will make your trip even sweeter, like outdoor pools, hot tubs, or direct beach access.
Your first winter away from home, try out the snowbird lifestyle for a few weeks. Your dream vacation spot may feel different once it's a bit more lived-in. Before committing to a multi-month or long-term stay, get a taste of how an extended trip will be with a test run. With this experience in mind, you’ll have a better understanding if your favorite snowbird destination meets your needs, what to remember to pack for next year, and what to expect going forward.
You’re heading out to the sunshine to take it easy—make sure the details at home are taken care of so you don’t stress over them from miles away. Opt for services like auto-pay for utilities and costs tied to your primary residence, consider a storage unit for any vehicles, and don’t forget to forward your mail to keep things as worry-free as possible.
When it comes to prescriptions and medical care, call your health insurance to check coverage in the area you’ll be staying in or plan ahead and bring enough medications with you (as well as for any family members and pets tagging along).
Think about asking a close friend in your home state to come by every so often to check on things at your primary residence, or take advantage of smart home technology like cameras and water leak detectors so that you can keep a closer eye on things, and lighting systems you can automate or control remotely to make the house look more lived-in while you’re away.
Arrange any care for landscaping or snow and take proper precaution in making sure the pipes won’t freeze in your absence. Snowbirds keep notoriously thorough checklists to ensure nothing’s missed before they sink their feet into the sand, so their experience and recommended to-do lists are your gain.
To make travel easier, plan to pack light. Consolidate electronics, switch out bulky books for an e-reader, and keep a simple wardrobe.
With a long-term stay, you won’t need to plan every outfit ahead, so grab some of your favorite warm weather staples and take advantage of being able to do laundry. Depending on where you’re headed, bring some light jackets and long sleeves for windier days. If you’re looking to take a winter vacation in Arizona, remember that the desert temperatures dip with cooler nights and early mornings.
Don’t pack what you can buy once you get there—while it might seem cost-efficient, a few bottles of lotion and toothpaste might take up more vital suitcase space than you’d think. Pack layers, your sunglasses, any important documents, and some touches from home to make your long-term vacation rental stay a little cozier.