Arizona is one of the most popular places in the US to retire. In addition to making it a full-time home, thousands of people become snowbirds in the valley of the sun, escaping south to enjoy the mild temperatures that constitute winter and fall seasons.
We caught up with one snowbird who has been commuting back and forth from Oregon for seven years. Barbara Torris and her husband have made Tucson their destination of choice and we wanted to share her story to help inspire those looking to become a snowbird in Arizona.
Barbara Torris is a Writer at Retire In Style Blog and has some first-hand tips for becoming a snowbird.
“My husband and I have always traveled as much as possible given the fact that we were parents, had careers and family that needed our attention. Most of our travel was work related so we would be away for short periods of time. It seemed perfectly normal to take a one or two day vacation. But when we retired, our children were grown and out of college. As a result freedom was ours for the taking,” says Torris.
And that’s the kind of freedom many people are in search of. Torris tells us what the basics are for making that dream a reality.
“We were RV travelers for many years. As our retirement evolved we realized that the dark winters were taking a toll on us… Being six-month snowbirds did not happen immediately but it has become our way of living and has been for about seven years. We now own a park model in Tucson, AZ. We love our way of life,” explains Torris.
Choosing How to Live
Torris suggests considering all your options when planning your snowbird lifestyle.
She says that places where snowbirds usually reside often provide opportunities to rent fully furnished apartments or park models (also known as recreational park trailers) in RV resorts. You can contact a real estate agent to ask about these places and look online to see if they offer amenities.
“Financially speaking we do not live beyond our means. In fact, when we realized that the RV we owned was a money pit, we decided to sell and find something less expensive. Our park model was our next move and we find it very affordable. Our RV resort is very luxurious in a very down home sort of way,” shares Torris.
“Well, we are small town people even though our home is in the Portland, Oregon metro area. Tucson, lovingly called The Old Pueblo, is just the right mix of big city and small town living,” says Torris.
One advantage to the Phoenix Metro area is the range of experiences nearby. You can live the big city life in Downtown Phoenix, or you can find just the right small town in one of the many that surround the core city.
Torris’ Four Tips for Becoming a Snowbird
1. Dream Big
“I would always urge a dreamer of the snowbird lifestyle to rent a place in the community of their choice. Come to the southern part of the USA and stay in something you can afford. Remember, dreaming is okay but if you are looking to live this way for an extended period of time you must be able to pay rent either on an apartment or a RV space or make payments on a vacation home,” says Torris.
She also says that if you are only planning to stay for one or two months in a park model, you might consider renting your park model out through the resort you are living in. Torris says that could help you pay the bills and it’s always good to have someone living in your place as much as possible.
2. Consider an RV or Park Model
“If someone had told me that owning a park model in a resort was as affordable as it is, I would have pushed for that in the beginning. We could have saved ourselves a lot of money in the long run. Having a small home to stay in that is ours is wonderful. And we can afford to travel abroad too. That is a very good thing,” shares Torris.
3. Storage 411
If you’re looking to store a vehicle or other items you own. Make sure the unit you rent has everything you need to be comfortable.
“The first consideration is security and climate of the place of your choice. We do not use a storage unit but if we did we could need one to be dry in Oregon, cool in Arizona and above all bug proof. In both places, the weather is a real consideration,” says Torris
“We know a lot of people that keep an extra vehicle in Arizona… If the snowbird does not have a place to park their vehicle where they spend the winters, they will need to rent space somewhere. But if they have garage or even a protected carport, rental is not necessary… There are storage units that specialize in that need so there are many choices,” says Torris.
She reminds us that the cost for renting storage needs to be taken into consideration when making a budget for being a snowbird.
“It is just part of the overhead of living in a vacation home that is far from the primary residence,” says Torris.
4. Food and Appliances
“When we arrive in the fall, we need to buy all those necessities that are perishable. When we leave in the spring, we do it all in reverse and give a lot away. If a snowbird has a way to store those things, it would be a real money saver. But I am not sure renting a space for that would be a win,” explains Torris.
Make sure you don’t leave out anything that could attract critters or spoil in either location. You should leave your dishwasher empty (clean) and open, as well as your washer, so there’s no risk for mold or sitting water.
Additional Pointers to Ease Your Mind
We wanted to include a few tips useful no matter what side of the US you’re headed to so we talked to Ann, from Ann’s Entitled Life, who lives in New York and snowbirds in St. Augustine, Florida. She and her husband head south for three months during the cold NY Winter and have been for five years. She adds a few words of wisdom to keep in mind.
“While preparation and organization go a long way toward making a short term move easy and fun, recognize that not all mishaps are preventable. Still for many escaping the snow and ice of winter for a relatively warmer climate for several months is well worth the risk,” says Ann.
Ann does bring furniture when she visits her Florida condo but says they’re lucky to have plenty of storage room there.
“We bring in our patio furniture prior to leaving for the season. We do have a storage unit in the basement garage, but it smells musty and we have chosen not to store anything porous in there. As things rust very quickly (we are on the ocean), we’re also wary of buying any unfinished metal even for the inside!” explains Ann.
“Make certain you cover and/or bring inside [furniture] when you leave your snowbird residence; you never know what type of weather event may happen while you are gone turning your patio furniture into flying missiles,” recommends Ann.
As you read about these two snowbird families, you can get an idea of what a journey becoming a snowbird can be. But overall, both Torris and Ann say it’s definitely worth it and makes the adventure all that more enjoyable. It seems only fair to leave the last word to Torris:
“Retirement is a wonderful journey and we are always ready to venture out into the world… there are so many things we love about our life. The sun is wonderful, of course, but I think in the end, it is the people. We dance, play bocce ball, golf, read and I write my blog for readers across our nation. I love our life.”
All photos provided by Barbara Torris.