Written by Brett Semper
What I learned about clothing, furniture, supplies, pets, mail, and why we had the good fortune to bring bicycles
This article has been reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org.
After 50 years of Buffalo winters, my husband and I were ready to try something new. My grandparents were snowbirds and my dad was too for many years. Why not? So, in February of 2020, we rented a house in Naples, Florida, for one month. In 2021 we rent a different house from January to March.
I imagined lazy days by the pool, going to the beach regularly and the luxury of not needing a winter coat. Snowbirding ended up being a lot more difficult than we expected and combined with the pressure of the pandemic it was less than ideal for us. But I’ve learned a variety of lessons on how to prepare, what to bring, what to buy and how to make it work.
We primarily brought summer clothes (because it was Florida!). However, as it had been freezing cold for several weeks, I never had enough warm clothes and wished I had brought more long sleeves, pants, and socks. Some mornings I ended up putting on my winter coat which I had been using for the drive.
I brought all my bathing suits and since we have a pool this was smart, just to be able to spin in it. You need more than two pairs if you use them daily.
The takeaway: Bring more warm clothes than you think you need and know that you can’t overdress in a swimsuit.
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I knew i could not live without one good knife and a small collection of my favorite herbs and spices, so i brought these with me and those were good calls. But I was not prepared for ordinary kitchens.
Neither of the two homes we stayed in had:
I bought all of these items at dollar stores, discount stores, and HomeGoods and left them at home when I got home.
Takeaway: If you like to cook, bring essentials with you and plan to supplement the kitchen with a dollar store or discount store. Order basic supplies (salt, sugar, flour, tea, coffee, perishables) via Instacart delivery on the day of your arrival (make the list before you leave home).
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We filled out our prescriptions before we left, then took them to a branch close to where we stayed for refills. This strategy worked smoothly. I brought my hair dryer, but the house had one. The local stores weren’t carrying some of the drugstore beauty staples I use, so I ended up ordering online. Each house had one bottle of soap, no tissues and one roll of toilet paper in each bathroom. We were lucky because there were plenty of nice towels as well as beach towels.
Takeaway: Order Instacart delivery of essential paper products and toiletries for delivery when you arrive so you don’t have to pack and get the items at your doorstep.
I set up all of our household bills so I could pay them online. I didn’t think to bring envelopes or packing tape or stamps or scissors and I needed all of those items and had to buy them. We both brought our laptops, work files, and plans to work while we were there, but the house has no desks or office chairs. I tried working at the dining room table and it just wasn’t comfortable. We bought a used desk, foldable table and desk chair from a charity shop and donated them when we left.
Bonus: Working from somewhere isn’t the same as vacationing, so you have to make sacrifices or plan to buy what you need to work effectively.
Although our billing was done online, I needed to get the mail. You can only keep your email for 30 days. If you forward it, USPS will not forward third class (like magazines: they actually throw them out). If you pay for a premium forwarding service, they will send it all, but it’s very expensive. The post office lost things and it took longer than promised to forward the mail.
The takeaway: The least expensive and simplest option is to have someone at home collect your mail and mail it to you in a flat rate box once a week. Or plan to buy magazines in stores and just forward first class mail.
General home living
We completely underestimated how difficult it was to live for a long time in a house that is not ours. It’s one thing to stay in a hotel or Airbnb (ABNB) for a week, but it’s quite another to live with someone else’s furniture, beds, and linens for three months.
The bed hurt my hips, so I bought a thick mattress topper and wished I had brought one set of pretty sheets as well as my own pillow.
The living room had one slippery sectional (very uncomfortable) and no loungers. We bought a small chair and armchair with footstool at a charity shop so we could sit comfortably and donated them when we left.
The house had basic cable and internet, and we were able to watch our streaming services. However, regular DVR programming wasn’t included, so we ended up paying a small amount for an upgrade so we could DVR and watch our favorite shows.
We were expecting to eat outside on the porch and turned the dining table into a workspace. Unfortunately, it was often too cold or too hot to sit there to eat most nights, so we crammed into a corner of the dining table to eat.
The takeaway: The rental unit won’t have all the comforts of home, so set aside a small budget for things that may need to be completed.
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One of the most challenging aspects of our trip was that we brought along two golden retrievers. The homes we stayed in did not have fenced yards. We’ve been going to a dog beach and dog park regularly, but both dogs are constantly picking up germs and getting sick again and again, so we finally had to stop going. This meant more walking and we had to buy flashlights for night walks.
Finding a vet who could see us was near impossible. We ended up in the emergency service and were finally able to become patients at a nearby clinic after waiting several weeks.
The takeaway: Find a vet a few months in advance of your arrival and make an initial appointment so you can get pet health care. Be prepared to deal with dog park issues or plan long daily walks.
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We thoroughly enjoyed having a pool and swam almost every day. We stayed close enough to the beach to be able to ride the bikes we brought to get there. This was an unplanned stroke of luck because we mainly went to the beach at sunset or weekends when it was impossible to find parking. Some lots required resident stickers while hourly pay lots were filled in before 10am If we didn’t have bikes it would have been impossible to get to the beach easily.
We missed our friends and family and felt isolated and alone in a place where we knew no one. Some people were not welcome. Traffic was a challenge, with all the other snowbirds in town, making it hard to get anywhere.
Planning activities such as boat tours, kayaking, day trips, and hikes gave us things to look forward to and occupied our free time.
Benefit: Stay somewhere close to friends or family so you have a social network. Research beach access in advance. Plan activities so you don’t focus on the people you miss.
Snowbirding is not a holiday. Indeed, living in a rented house or apartment is very different from a short trip. Planning ahead and buying the things you can’t live without can make the experience more fun and enjoyable.
Brette Sember is the author of numerous books on divorce, child custody, business, health, food, and travel. You write online content and do indexing and editing.
This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org (c) 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. all rights are save.
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