Are you a snowbird traveling south for the winter? Tips, advice and information for snowbird retirees who plan to travel to warmer destinations during the winter months. For those that do not know what a snowbird is, it is commonly defined as a northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter.
This topic is particularly interesting to me. My partner at Excel, Vaughn Peterson and his wife Duana spent nearly 30 years making the trek from Kansas to South Texas for the winter. They echoed many of tips you're going to read in this article, especially about closing up your northern home, and how to make the process of living in another state part-time easier.
We Hope You Find These Tips Useful
• Arrange for a mail hold, or mail forwarding, depending on how long you will be away. The USPS will also gather up your mail and send it on to you for a fee when you will be gone an extended period of time. Financial documents such as bank statements, credit card statements, etc cannot be forwarded. Make arrangements with your financial institution to add a seasonal address.)
• Have as many bill pays online as possible. Utilities, credit cards, rent, mortgage, whatever you have that you can pay online, do so. This way, if mail goes astray you are still getting an email alert an account is due, and you can pay from your checking account online.
• Cancel your newspaper delivery. Arrange a start and stop date. If you want to keep up on local news, see if your local newspaper has an electronic edition.
• Cancel your trash service if necessary.
• Arrange for a part time caretaker for your property. Friend, relative, or paid service, someone needs to check on your house weekly or every other week. Leave a phone number with a neighbor for emergency purposes (assuming you have a cordial relationship with a neighbor). Make sure they go through the whole house. If someone isn’t there every day they won’t catch everything that could happen in your house, but footprints in the snow, even on occasion, will help deter a thief. You can also check with your local police department if they have a “vacation check program”, and if so, what it entails.
• Get a plow service. Make certain they shovel the walkways too. This not only will help you avoid a ticket in many municipalities, but it also doesn’t scream “no one is home!” to a would be robber.
• Put your telephone, cable and/or internet on vacation hold. Not all companies offer this service, so call your local utilities and ask. You will pay a monthly fee that is significantly less than if you were paying for regular service.
• Empty the refrigerator. Use this as an opportunity to clean out the fridge. It is funny how those condiments you opened “last week” were actually opened up months or years ago, and are now expired. If you are unplugging your refrigerator, and it is a refrigerator/freezer unit, make certain you have emptied the freezer too. Note: if you DO unplug the unit(s), you will need to leave the door open to prevent mold and foul odors.
• Empty your dishwasher. Leave the door open. This prevents mold and foul odors.
• Open up the washing machine lid. If you have a fuel efficient machine that has an outside detergent load, open that too. This will prevent mold as well as foul odors.
• Take out ALL the trash. You don’t want anything left in the house to stink.
• Shut off the water in your northern home. Open all the drains to let the water flow out, and leave open the lowest drain. Yes, I understand you will still have the heat on low, but believe me, there are enough stories of pipes bursting that it just isn’t worth keeping the water on and undrained while you are away for an extended period of time. This will also help prevent water from sitting in pipes and stinking up the place if you are gone for a long time. Just shut off the water and drain the pipes.
• Drain the Hot Water Heater. Not only does it cut down on the gas bill, you won't have to worry about the hot water tank splitting. Be sure to shut off the pilot since there is no water to heat. Make sure you read the directions for your hot water tank. If your tank is electric, you will need to unplug that one!
• Close the fireplace flue. This way heat doesn’t escape, and you won’t have any “friends” finding their way down the vent.
• Set the heat to low. Like low-low. The last thing you want to do is pay to heat the house to 72° when you aren’t home. These days, you can get set up with a phone or the internet so you can track your house settings (with the correct thermostat). This will make it easy to make certain it no warmer than 60° in your house.
• Store your valuables in a safe. While you probably have things you regularly store in a fire-proof safe, you may want to add any jewelry you won’t be taking down south, important documents, guns, etc. “Just in case” there is a fire or burglary while you are gone.
• If you have a landline turn off the ringer. That way, the neighbors (and would-be thieves) won’t hear the phone ringing without anyone picking up. If you have an answering machine, don’t change to an away message. Leave your regular message and retrieve new messages remotely.
• Unplug unnecessary lights and appliances. Even when running, plugged in fixtures can draw electricity. No sense paying for something no one uses.
• Leave a few lights on inside your house. Set timers, and have different settings for different days of the week.
• Make sure all your windows are locked. Adjust your curtains so that some of the lights you have going on will be seen from outside. Total darkness isn’t something you want.
• Set the house alarm. If you have an alarm system at your house, set it, and leave a relative or local friend as a contact with the alarm company. We had a scare once when the front door alarm triggered (for no apparent reason) while we were in Vegas over New Year’s. My brother met the police at the house, and the police walked through to make certain no one was in the house and nothing had been stolen or trashed.
• Set motion detectors if separate from your alarm system. We have both alarm and independent motion detectors, so we set ’em all!
• Lock your gate if you have one to the backyard to deter trespassers.
• You may want to consider having a doctor down south and up north. Set up your Doctor down south with contact numbers in case you or your spouse have an emergency. Also consider having a Dentist in both locations.
• Make sure your prescriptions are with a pharmacy that is easily accessible in both states. Many scripts will let you fill a 90 day supply, so if you're only going for a month or so, you can bring them from home. However once you are staying more than 90 days, this becomes more difficult to do. There are Walgreens and CVS stores in most States. Same goes for WalMart, Target, and mail order drugs.
• Have a vet for your pets in both states. Unless, of course, you don't have a pet... Then disregard. :)
• If you have houseplants plants give them away if you plan on being gone for months on end, or make certain your caretaker is taking care of the foliage too.
Recognize that whatever you do to prevent mishaps, unless you have a 24/7 caretaker for your home while you are away, you may yet come back home to an unfortunate surprise. If that happens, take a deep breath, look at each other, and just say "Welcome Home!"
These are just some friendly tips based on the experience of many Snowbirders I've had the privilege of knowing who have shared their stories and ideas. If you have more tips, please leave a comment below this article.