• Florida remains the quintessential snowbird destination, with six cities in top 10 best places for winter visitors
  • Texas stands out as the most budget-friendly housing market for snowbirds
  • New Yorkers win both warmer weather and lower housing costs when moving South, but Ohioans will encounter higher costs than back home
  • Remote workers join retirees in forming today’s snowbird cohort
  • About 1 million people in Canada are switching to more favorable climates each year, but only 31% of Canadian snowbirds are expected to hit the road in 2020

Millions of Americans and Canadians are heading south every year for a few months, in a quest to escape the harsh winters and bitter colds of America’s northern regions. Commonly known as snowbirds, they’re part of a long tradition – people started moving south for the winter back in the 19th century, with influential Americans such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford maintaining winter homes in Fort Myers, Florida. Seasonal migrants are part of the engine that augments the economies of the Sun Belt and the Southern states and have become staples of local communities in places like Mesa and Yuma in Arizona and Clearwater in Florida.

Come 2020, snowbirding plans suffered changes and delays, much like every other aspect of our lives. Many people postponed or even cancelled traveling plans in the first half of the year, leaving short-term rental community operators and tourism-dependent locations faced with uncertainty and distress. Confronted with a loss of key economic drivers, Hawaii, Nevada and Florida are the three states expected to see the sharpest revenue reductions in 2021 – 19.6%, 18.2% and 10%, respectively.

Pandemic concerns reduce interest in snowbirding, yet seasonal migration still on

Online searches related to short-term rentals for US snowbirds are showing a moderate 14% drop in interest when comparing the first 11 months of 2020 with the same period of 2019.

However, as the job market and economy have started to see signs of a rebound, winter relocation plans are on the table again. 2020 has made people resourceful in finding new ways to reach their destinations, whether that means having swapped air travel for RV travel, relocating closer to home, or just making sure to observe all safety and quarantine measures.

Additionally, retirees who traditionally make up the bulk of the snowbirding population are now joined by a growing number of remote workers who are no longer tied to physical offices and can work from anywhere. “What we’re seeing isn’t just snowbirds relocating now, but rather the “Zoomcation” or Remote Worker relocation trend,” says Angela Durko, PhD, and Instructional Associate Professor at Texas A&M University. “Previously it was typically a retiree traveling via RV or to a second home from the North to locations like Arizona or Florida for the winter. Now, it’s the young couple who are both working from “home,” the family with children who opted for virtual learning, or the business professional who has never had the time to leave their desk job, all with newfound freedom to work/educate from the location of their choosing.”

But when travel is possible, which road is best to take? Here at STORAGECafe we decided to investigate which are the top destinations for sun lovers, even under the current circumstances. We drafted a Top 100 Best Cities for Snowbirds ranking based on several factors, including temperature, the proportion of housing units for seasonal use out of the vacant housing stock (houses that are not classified as primary residences), proximity to beaches, and the number of golf courses and parks in each area. Self storage was also taken into account, as many snowbirds choose to store belongings (beach accessories, sport equipment, hobby gear, and clothing) in the location where they spend their winters – this means they can travel lighter.

We also looked at safety-related indicators as well as internet speed, which for digital workers might be a deal breaker. Another metric we considered was the COVID-19 community vulnerability index, as calculated by the Surgo Foundation.

Florida, California and Arizona stand out as hotspots for Snowbirds and “Zoombirds” alike

The south, west and Sun Belt regions of the US are the hot destinations for winter travel, not only for Americans but for Canadians as well.

More than one million Canadians are taking the road to the US for a 3- to 6-month period in winter to escape freezing cold temperatures. “We have seen estimates that over 1 million Canadian snowbirds head somewhere warm for some or all of the winter months, with the majority of those individuals going to the U.S. Top destinations for Canadian snowbirds in the U.S. are Florida, Arizona, California, Texas and Hawaii,” said Stephen Fine, president and managing editor of Snowbird Advisor.

These figures generally illustrate behavior in regular years, but 2020 is no regular year. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions on non-essential travel across the US-Canada land borders have now been extended through January 21. “There are definitely fewer snowbirds than usual. Many who would have left already are taking a wait-and-see approach about travelling at this time,” added Stephen Fine. But die-hard snowbirds are still intent on traveling, all while taking the necessary precautions. The organization conducted a survey recently that showed 31% of its members still plan to relocate this winter, with 25% undecided and 44% intent on cancelling travel plans.

For Americans, it’s smaller cities that look like being the most acceptable relocation destinations this year. Fewer crowds, and more outdoor space to facilitate relaxation as well as affordability are the main things that draw people to the South. Moreover, according to Dr. Simon Hudson at the University of South Carolina, “the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to an increase in this movement from North to South, as snowbirds in big cities seek to find safer environments. At the same time, destinations for snowbirds will have to place an increased emphasis on health and safety and some states’ destinations might benefit from a ‘halo effect’ resulting from the positive media they have received in dealing with the crisis and for being perceived as ‘COVID-free’.”

At state level, the fight is between California and Florida in terms of the number of towns and cities that made it to the top 100 best destinations for snowbirds. However, when it comes to how high those cities are placed in this list, Florida is the net winner. California has 34 cities and towns in the top 100, but none of them makes the top 10, and their average ranking stands at 74. Florida, on the other hand, has 29 cities in top 100 – and also takes the first four positions.

Let’s first dive into the most popular states for snowbirds – and the best destination city in each state – then go to the top 100 best cities for snowbirds nationwide.

Florida

Florida is the quintessential snowbird destination – and has been that way for more than a century. Besides the friendly temperatures and sandy beaches, Florida has created an infrastructure of affordable rental complexes and senior communities that make it easier for snowbirds to spend the winter in the area. In fact, six out of the first ten cities in our top 100 best destinations for snowbirds are from Florida, showing its real might in terms of power of attraction for this category of visitors.

Boca Raton, Florida, ranks first nationally and obviously at state level also, followed by Jupiter and West Palm Beach. All three cities have October to March average temperatures in the mid-70s, a sizable percentage of their vacant housing inventory dedicated to seasonal use, and provide easy access to beaches, golf courses and parks.

Although snowbirding to Florida is dominated by retirees, this type of annual migration is appealing for other categories of people also. “I first became a snowbird at the age of forty-something and this season we are returning for our sixth time,” said Lana Scherer, creator of Midlife Snowbird. “We arrive towards the end of January so we can celebrate our anniversary and stay until early March when the rates increase due to Spring Break. We stay six weeks, which is long enough to get away from the worst of the winter weather,” she added.

“Our number one criteria is to be oceanfront with plenty of space for ourselves, our Golden Retriever and our business. Because we chose oceanfront property, the rate for our southern home condo is about three to four times more expensive than our primary home, so we offset that with a shorter stay. We chose Miramar Beach, which is part of the greater Destin area in Northwest Florida because it is a relatively easy 12-hour drive and beachfront rentals are not as expensive as further south,” continued Lana Scherer.

Although she and her husband love spending time in Florida during the winter and are actively working toward buying a property in the area, they don’t envisage moving there permanently. “Like many other snowbirds, we don’t plan to give up our Northern home, we prefer the balance of living in two distinctive communities, each with invaluable features. A private, fenced yard, plentiful storage and a garage help us realize how much we need and appreciate those things that are lacking in our southern condo. Our time at the beach is special, yet it’s impossible to replicate the best features of each of our homes, so we enjoy them for what they are.”

Dealing with storage needs is one of the issues that snowbirds need to figure out before taking on this lifestyle. “We have friends who stay from early November to March. In the off-season, they share a local storage unit with another couple so they can keep items such as golf clubs, beach chairs and umbrellas, a recliner chair and area rugs, plus smaller appliances and items they don’t want to take back and forth every year. They make arrangements to have a service deliver the items from the storage unit, so everything is set up when they arrive and then put them back in storage upon departure”, detailed Lana Scherer.

Eileen Herford, a retiree originally from Pittsburgh, PA, is relocating to Dunedin, Florida, each year, for up to six months. “For the past 20 years, I’ve lived here 5-6 months out of the year. I’d usually come to Florida from around September 15 until April 25, depending on the weather in the north. If someone called and said it’s freezing up there, I’d be delaying my trip”, she explained.

The main reason Eileen Herford remains dedicated to this lifestyle is her health and wellbeing. “It’s the best of best worlds. It helps to maintain your health. Sun, saltwater and air are the finest healers in the world. You can do the things you like to do — boating, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling — they’re all at your fingertips. Much more fun than shoveling snow in the north during the winter. Would you rather put suntan lotion on you or put salt on the driveway or the sidewalk leading up your door? It’s easy to make friends because most snowbirds have the same mindset. You won’t miss any of your sports, because we have sports bars for every game. Gyms are very prolific as you can do aerobics, yoga, and most of them have an inside pool so you can do your lapses. Do you like dancing? Zumba classes are offered by every gym,” she added, detailing the advantages of moving to Florida for the winter.

California

Beside perpetually warm weather, California also boasts amazing beaches, unique desert areas, and nine natural parks including Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The state is very well-connected by air or land, and family attractions such as Universal Studios only add to the fun, so it definitely qualifies as a prime destination for snowbirds. On the downside, California also boasts high housing and living costs. In fact, the top three most expensive snowbird destinations are in the Golden State.

Irvine is the best ranked Californian city for snowbirds in our list, sitting at number 16. With a population of almost 300,000, Irvine scores well for beaches – there are almost 50 miles of them in the area. The city also has about 20% of its vacant housing stock dedicated to seasonal use. It’s worth noting that property taxes in California are favorable to snowbirds interested in purchasing a second home – the average property tax rate in the state is 0.77%, compared to a national average of 1.08%.

Irvine is followed by Indio and San Diego. About two thirds of the vacant houses in Indio are destined for seasonal use – and, unlike Irvine and San Diego, which are close to the coast, Indio is a desert city located in the Coachella Valley, a mere 23 miles east of Palm Springs.

San Diego is one of the largest cities in our top 100 and takes 33rd place nationally. The city has a good portion of its vacant housing inventory, 25%, earmarked for seasonal use, and it also scores serious points regarding access to beaches, with about 57 miles of them available to visitors.

Texas

Texas can pride itself on having 17 cities in the top 100 best destinations for snowbirds. The average rank of those cities is around 57, higher than California’s by about 17 ranking positions. We must also acknowledge that snowbirds are known by another name in the Lone Star State – they’re generally referred to as Winter Texans.

Although Texas embarked on the snowbird train later than Florida or California, the trend is gaining speed here too, bringing in droves of retirees seeking out a bit of Texan warmth – both literally and figuratively.

Recent research done by the University of Texas focuses on visitors spending the winter in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most popular areas in the state for this demographic. The research defines the Valley’s winter Texan as around 72 years of age, married, in a 2-person household, and with an average annual household income of about $65,000. The winter visitors are pouring in from Canada, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan.

Corpus Christi, the best-placed Texan city in our top 100, has around 326,000 residents – above average for snowbird destinations. The city scores well in terms of beaches and golf courses and enjoys a comfortable October to March average temperature of 65 degrees – actually the “coolest” among the top 10 best destinations for snowbirds overall.

Austin, with approximately one million residents, is among the largest cities to make it into our top 100 best snowbird destinations. It has only 15% of its vacant housing inventory dedicated to seasonal use, but, at the same time, there are more than 20 RV parks located in the city and nearby. Austin is a great golfing destination, with almost 30 courses in the area.

Mission, located in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the snowbird hotspots in the state of Texas, takes 42nd place overall. The city has a substantial number of vacant houses registered as seasonal housing units – almost 60%.

Arizona

Arizona enjoys an average of 300 sunny days per year and, during winter, the scorching desert turns into a pleasant, warm environment, perfect for outdoor activities.

Gilbert is the highest-ranking Arizonan city in our nationwide top 100, landing on the 10th spot, followed by Mesa and Chandler, which occupy the 14 and 15 places in the list. Other major Arizonan cities that make it into the top 100 best destinations for snowbirds include Phoenix, Tucson and Scottsdale.

Gilbert, a Maricopa County city with about 255,000 permanent residents, enjoys average temperatures of around 60 degrees from October to March – definitely on the cooler side among the favorite snowbird destinations, but helped by the dry, sunny weather. The city is a great golfing destination, with seven courses available in the area. About a third of the vacant houses in the city are seasonal housing units, suggesting a strong snowbird community.

Mesa, located in Maricopa County, is a bustling city of about 500,000 residents, suitable for winter visitors interested in perks like great restaurants, shopping areas, and so on. The city has a very high proportion – around 60% – of vacant homes dedicated to seasonal use.

Chandler, with its 260,000 permanent residents, gives that suburban, peaceful vibe many winter visitors desire. An average temperature in the low 60s and the 13 golf courses in the area turn it into a great destination for golf lovers. The city is just a short distance away from Phoenix, which might be important for winter visitors interested in a variety of dining out and shopping opportunities.

From Hawaii to Nevada and South Carolina – what other states are preferred snowbird destinations?

Honolulu, Hawaii, enters the top 100 best snowbird destinations in 6th place, but it’s also the only location in the state that makes it into the list. With balmy October to March temperatures in the mid-70s, plenty of beaches and 42% of the vacant housing inventory dedicated to seasonal use, Honolulu’s downsides are the distance from the continental US, involving a mandatory flight, and the high cost of living, including housing.

The AdvisorSmith City Cost of Living Index gives Honolulu a score of 166.5, meaning that it’s 66.5% more expensive to live there compared to the average cost of living in over 500 U.S. metro areas. The average rent during the snowbird season is around $1,700 per month, significantly higher than the $990 per month in Corpus Christi, a city comparable in size and which also has miles of amazing beaches.

South Carolina is featured in the top 100 best snowbird destinations with two cities, Mount Pleasant on 5 and Charleston on 44. Mount Pleasant has almost 40% of its vacant housing units earmarked for seasonal use, and ranks high for safety, while the average winter temperatures are in the low 60s – ideal for people who prefer peaceful, not-too-hot locations. Charleston, on the other hand, provides a more urban lifestyle with many opportunities for dining out, entertainment, and shopping.

New Orleans and Baton Rouge, in Louisiana, are up-and-coming snowbird destinations and are ranked 45th and 47th, respectively, in our top 100. Besides the balmy winter temperatures and the infrastructure needed to accommodate visitors, both cities are famed foodie havens and have a unique culture and architecture. New Orleans is a prime golfing destination, with no less than nine courses available in the city.

North Carolina, Virginia and Nevada make it into the top 100 with one city each: Wilmington, NC, at 72, Virginia Beach at 69, and Henderson at 98.

Palm Beach County, FL, totals four cities in top 10 best snowbird destinations

Moving from state level to individual cities, let’s go through our list’s winners and see what exactly makes them ideal destinations for winter visitors.

1. Boca Raton, Florida

Located on Florida’s southeastern coast, Boca Raton, a medium-sized city of about 100,000 residents, has more than half of its vacant housing stock earmarked for seasonal use and an average temperature of 74 degrees from October to March. Besides scoring high for its beaches, parks and golf courses, Boca Raton also has good average internet speed, making it a great location for snowbirds that are working remotely.

2. Jupiter, Florida

Florida’s southeastern coast and Palm Beach County are hotspots for snowbirds, with multiple entries in our top 10. One of them is Jupiter, a city of 65,000 permanent residents with almost 80% of its vacant housing inventory dedicated to seasonal use, plus several RV parks in the area. In other words, a strong community of winter visitors relocates here every year to enjoy its 20 miles of beaches and no less than 19 golf courses.

3. West Palm Beach, Florida

West Palm Beach, another southeastern Floridian city, scores well across the board – perfect average winter temperatures in the low 70s, more than half of its vacant housing inventory dedicated to seasonal use, plus plenty of access to beaches, golf courses and parks. The city is also home to Antique Row, a famed art and design district that hosts more than 50 antique and arts shops.

4. Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers was one of the first cities in Florida to become a snowbird destination and is carrying the tradition forward. This medium-sized Lee County city with 87,000 permanent residents sees 55% of its vacant housing units occupied for seasonal use. The city also has several RV parks for snowbirds who prefer to relocate for the winter using campervans or motorhomes. Besides beaches, parks, golfing and dining out, visitors can also enjoy the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, as well and numerous natural parks.

5. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

South Carolina is an up-and-coming destination for snowbirds. Mount Pleasant, with less than 100,000 residents, nice average winter temperatures of around 69 degrees, and almost 40% of its vacant housing units registered for seasonal use, fits right in as a snowbird destination. The city also scores very well in terms of safety and internet speed, making it suitable for different categories of winter visitors.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu is the largest city (almost 350,000 residents) and the only state capital among the 10 best destinations for snowbirds. With the average winter temperature a perfect 75 degrees and 30 miles of beaches in the area, its only downside is obviously the travel distance. Honolulu is also an excellent golfing destination, and the proportion of vacant homes for seasonal use is high for a city its size – 42%.

7. Clearwater, Florida

Clearwater, located in Pinellas County, is a little bit cooler than the previous Floridian cities in our top 100, with an average temperature from October to March in the high 60s – but, compared to the state’s southeastern areas, it also entails a significantly shorter drive for most snowbirds. Over 60% of the vacant housing stock in the city are used for seasonal accommodation. The city ranks well for golf courses, with no less than nine in the area.

8. Delray Beach, Florida

Delray Beach is located between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, thus creating a cluster of amazing snowbird destinations. A small city of about 70,000 residents, it has 67% of its vacant homes registered for seasonal use. Delray Beach is more than your run-of-the-mill resort city, and features a lively arts scene on Pineapple Grove and an amazing selection of restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

9. Corpus Christi, Texas

The only Texan city in top 10 is also the second-largest among them, with a population of 326,000. The proportion of vacant housing units for seasonal use is the lowest among these first ten cities – just 18%. However, Corpus Christi has more than a dozen RV and motorhome parks in and around the city. Almost 40 miles of beaches in and around Corpus Christi, plus eight golf courses, are available for winter Texans’ enjoyment.

10. Gilbert, Arizona

The only city in Arizona that shows up in top 10, Gilbert is located in Maricopa County, and its main selling points include the comfortable winter temperatures of around 60 degrees and plenty of sun. It has more than a third of its vacant housing units dedicated to seasonal use. RV parks are also common in the area, for the snowbirds that prefer the RV lifestyle.

Brownsville, TX makes the most affordable snowbird destination

Affordability is a significant factor for many people, and when solely looking at housing costs, Texas is easily the most budget-friendly destination for snowbirds. We based our ranking on the average rent in each city during the past snowbirds’ season, October 2019 to March 2020, courtesy of Yardi Matrix.

Florida offers some amazing attractions, but affordability is not among the state’s perks. Rather, people will find Texas much more approachable, with eight cities ranking among the top 10 most affordable locations. Arizona and Louisiana also make the top 10 affordability list with one location each.

The most affordable snowbird location is Brownsville, Texas, with an average rent of $730, followed by Harlingen and McAllen, with average rents of $745 and $777, respectively. Corpus Christi takes ninth place in both rankings – the best locations overall and the most affordable locations – with an average rent of $989. Boca Raton, Florida, the best city for snowbirds overall, gets the 77th position for affordability, with an average rent of $2,070.

The least affordable snowbird destinations in our list are in California, and include Santa Monica, with an average rent of $3,870, Palo Alto with $3,768 and Redondo Beach with $2,583.

Snowbirding comes at a cost, higher for Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois residents

We selected the most popular states of origin for snowbirds based on average winter temperatures and visitors’ data from the destination states. We also looked at the volume of snowbird-related online searches from the states of origin, and, by pairing it with the cost of living as calculated by the US Census, determined which Americans are better off financially by migrating south during the winter, and which are spending more money than at their primary place of living.

New Yorkers are the luckiest in terms of financial leverage, as living costs in most of their favorite destination states are lower than those in their state of origin. Snowbirds from New York are most interested in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Hawaii, with the last-named being the only one where living costs are marginally (3%) higher than in New York.

Ohio snowbirds, who are mainly interested in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, are experiencing a higher cost of living in all of these destination states compared to their native state. If they decide to spend the winter in Florida, they’ll be paying about 13% more on necessities than at home. Illinoisans and Michiganders, who are also more interested in Florida than in any other state, are dealing with costs of living that are 3.6% and 8.7% higher, respectively, than in their state of origin.

Beaches, parks or golfing? Best snowbird destinations based on outdoor activities

Being able to participate in outdoor activities is one of the main reasons why people choose to spend their winters in areas with warm climates. Snowbirds may pick one location over the other based on opportunities for practicing their favorite outdoor activities.

Huntington Beach, California, takes the top spot for beaches, with 104 miles of them alongside and near to the city, followed by Costa Mesa, with 100 miles of beaches, and San Diego, with 57 miles.

Avondale, Arizona, ranks the highest for parks, with almost 10,000 square feet of park space per capita, followed by the Texan cities Waco and Georgetown.

The best golfing destinations are Houston, Texas, with 38, courses, followed by Orlando, Florida and Scottsdale, Arizona, with 37 and 36 courses, respectively.


Snowbirds make an important contribution in the economies of the communities where they spend their winters. A clearer image of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire snowbird ecosystem will only be visible by mid-2021, but it will most likely show a drop from previous years in terms of economic impact.

What the Experts Say

Besides analyzing the data, we considered it would be helpful to ask reputable experts in the tourism and hospitality field, to find out more about snowbirding and its impact on American tourism and communities, and the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic affects it. Here are their answers:

Christine Vogt, Professor, School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, Arizona State University

What types of socio-economic impact does this temporary migration pattern have not only on the destination cities, but also on those that are vacated for the winter?

The top impact is traffic. For some communities this traffic is welcomed and doesn’t cause issues for locals, but other communities are overwhelmed when snowbirds and any of their visitors stay or visit nearby destinations. An example is that Yuma Arizona is equipped to handle the increased traffic from snowbirds, whereas Sedona Arizona experiences traffic gridlock and it can walk an extra hour to get across town. Social impacts tend to be positive unless snowbirds are isolated in a community and do not mix with the local residents and businesses. Economic impacts are generally positive and welcome by urban and rural communities.

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Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has an influence on the snowbirds’ trend? For example, do you think that people who are now working remotely might decide to relocate in order to get access to a more time outdoors and a more relaxed lifestyle during this winter?

Typically snowbird destinations will see new and return part-year residents, particularly those who own a home and can travel by car. Some snowbirds, both retirees and remote workers, who own or rent a RV will likely be traveling this winter season to warmer climate places. The Southwest will continue to provide a warmer winter climate and abundant outdoor spaces.

Is there anything else you might want to add about the snowbird lifestyle?

COVID has changed travel. Snowbird travel is less impacted than other types of travel such as indoor events, business travel, shopping trips, and international travel.

Simon Hudson, Ph.D., Professor, School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, University of South Carolina

What types of socio-economic impact does this temporary migration pattern have not only on the destination cities, but also on those that are vacated for the winter?

Certainly these migrants are a desirable demographic group for towns, regions and countries seeking to expand their tax base and create jobs. They spend money on local goods and services, rent or buy accommodation, and often volunteer their time and money for local causes. Many of them are digital nomads who are also leveraging technology, outsourcing their talents internationally as freelancers or consultants, while embracing a cheaper quality of daily life abroad.

In the US, many destinations that attract snowbirds have been working hard to convert those snowbirds into retirees. Research suggests that about a third of 45-65 year-old Americans say they plan to move house when they reach retirement age, with over 40% of those saying they will move to another state.

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This trend has been recognized by the federal government, which officially designates retirement destinations. And across the US, local governments, quick to seize this opportunity, are certifying towns and cities as retirement-friendly in order to lure retirees to relocate to their states.

The nation’s 70+ million baby boomers have fueled double digit population growth in some old staples for retirees—such as Naples Florida—but also other places far from the Sunbelt, including Jackson, Wyoming, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Among baby boomers looking to move, the most important factors in deciding where to relocate weigh heavily towards an area’s cost of living and access to preferred healthcare programs. American retirees increasingly like to relocate to rural places because of the natural and cultural amenities and a more relaxed pace of life.

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has an influence on the snowbirds’ trend? For example, do you think that people who are now working remotely might decide to relocate in order to get access to a more time outdoors and a more relaxed lifestyle during this winter?

Yes, definitely. As I said above, we are seeing an increasing number of digital nomads (like myself – I moved to Portugal in June) who have realized during this pandemic that they can work anywhere. In 2020 there was a transformation in the way people interact with each other, receive medical care, spend leisure time, and conduct many of the routine transactions of life. These changes have accelerated the migration to digital technologies at stunning scale and speed, and we have all realized there is much of life that we can conduct remotely. Outdoor spaces have also become a priority for many – particularly those living in big cities. After lockdowns, outdoor spaces have become synonymous with freedom, providing a sense of release and respite from domestic confinement. However, this winter may be too soon to see large numbers of snowbirds on the move once more.

The COVID-19 pandemic may lead to an increase in this movement from North to South, as snowbirds in big cities seek to find safer environments. At the same time, destinations for snowbirds will have to place an increased emphasis on health and safety and some states destinations might benefit from a ‘halo effect’ resulting from the positive media they have received in dealing the crisis and for being perceived as ‘COVID-free’.

Is there anything else you might want to add about the snowbird lifestyle?

Many snowbirds have been unable to travel during 2020, but there will be pent-up demand. Health and safety will be a priority for many though, and as the world opens up to travel once more, some destinations might benefit from a ‘halo effect’ resulting from the positive media they have received in dealing the crisis and for being perceived as ‘COVID-free’.

Dongoh Joo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Health and Human Performance, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Can you approximate the number of Americans relocating temporarily to areas with warmer climates during winter?

Estimation is difficult when it comes to any kind of domestic tourism. They are not subject to any documentation like international travelers. However, it is believed that around 100,000 Winter Texans visit LRGV area each year. According to a study, Yuma (AZ) receives around 70,000 a year. Florida has about a million snowbirds statewide, but roughly 30 ~ 50% of them are from Canada. My estimation is that there are about 3~3.5 million American snowbirds traveling domestically. This is based on a Canadian case, where 1% of its people are snowbirding to the US.

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What types of socio-economic impact does this temporary migration pattern have not only on the destination cities, but also on those that are vacated for the winter?

For destination communities, positive economic impacts (job, income, and tax) would be most discernible. I assume social impacts are mostly neutral or negative unless snowbirds are making decent efforts to blend into the community and participate in community org and events. A sudden, temporal increase in the local population puts additional stress on public infrastructure, which leads to greater upkeep. Unfortunately, it is tricky for destination communities to make an additional investment to build more roads and hire more public employees just to accommodate seasonal demand. For snowbirds, social and cultural impacts would be more salient. They snowbird because doing so improves their quality of life. They can be more active when the weather is more amicable. Outdoor activities are very conducive to mental and physical health but rarely possible in areas where winter is so severe. Also, while they are en route to their destinations, they can have memorable moments and strengthen their in-group social ties. They can learn about different cultures from other snowbirds or residents in the destination.

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has an influence on the snowbirds’ trend? For example, do you think that people who are now working remotely might decide to relocate in order to get access to a more time outdoors and a more relaxed lifestyle during this winter?

The pandemic will surely affect the snowbirding pattern. On the bright side, there might be more snowbirds, since working from home has become a norm. However, my expectation is more pessimistic. Most snowbirds are elderly individuals who are over 60. They are individuals who higher risk from COVID-19, so they are less likely to travel this winter. Furthermore, even for young snow birds, the economy is not good and can be worse in the coming months. Basically, we have more time, in return for less disposable income and greater risk. This is not good for any tourism to happen. Also, residents may not want to have outsiders coming to their community amid the pandemic.

Dr. Angela Durko, Instructional Associate Professor, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Texas A&M University

What types of socio-economic impact does this temporary migration pattern have not only on the destination cities, but also on those that are vacated for the winter?

Many destinations go through a high, peak and low season yearly. During the typical year, locations know to expect that increase or reduction in visitors and the impact it has on their businesses and economy. During the low time when the snowbirds have vacated, or the students have left campus areas, is a time for locals and day trippers to enjoy the area. The shift in targets for attractions changes, and locals have the ability to use the resources and enjoy the area without the added tourist numbers. Granted, the resources are in part available due to the influx of tourism dollars during the high season, so that is still needed.

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For areas new to remote workers flooding in, there are some unique proposals in the works. For example, the Movers & Shakas program in Hawaii (moversandshakas.org). The goal of this program is to accept a planned number of remote workers on island to measure the strain on resources for locals and visitors, along with the benefits communities might see from increases in long term stays. Before remote work was the only option, some businesses and education entities did not support this and required the 9-5 office presence. As remote work has now shown to be profitable for the business and employee, we expect to see more companies allow employees to live where they please. This would bring those locations that didn’t have an abundance of higher-level professional job openings, become livable options for remote workers.

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has an influence on the snowbirds’ trend? For example, do you think that people who are now working remotely might decide to relocate in order to get access to a more time outdoors and a more relaxed lifestyle during this winter?

What we’re seeing isn’t just snowbirds relocating now, but rather the “Zoomcation” or Remote Worker relocation trend. Previously it was typically a retiree traveling via RV or to a 2nd home from the North to locations like Arizona or Florida for the winter. Now, it’s the young couple who are both working from “home,” the family with children who opted for virtual learning, or the business professional who has never had the time to leave their desk job, all with newfound freedom to work/educate from the location of their choosing. It’s opening new target markets coming to new areas. Not just are people escaping the North for warmer weather, those remote workers in the South are now headed North for a few months for a change of scenery.

Some businesses have already told their employees WFH is the wave of the future. The employee is now not tied to one location nearby a brick and mortar office building, but can decide to spend a few months in a variety of locations. They can find locations that are not as expensive and taxed as their home was, or areas that offer more outdoor opportunities or better work-life balance. Yes, retirees will still travel as we typically know a “Snowbird,” however, you’ll also see the “Zoombird” trend populating those locales too.

Is there anything else you might want to add about the snowbird lifestyle?

For those with the ability, it may be the way of the future. And not just retirees, but those remote workers who want to experience new areas, weather patterns, ways of life. The United States is the only developed country without a mandated government backed vacation policy for workers. We are NO VACATION NATION where Americans historically didn’t use their vacation days or were not allotted them. Experiencing new destinations, time with family and a simple break from the routine was thus difficult. With all the downsides, the pandemic has normalized virtual education, remote work and telehealth. This may now allow workers the ability to find a new work-life balance in a variety of settings without being tied to one location all year long.

Fang Meng, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, University of South Carolina

What types of socio-economic impact does this temporary migration pattern have not only on the destination cities, but also on those that are vacated for the winter?

This temporary migration brings the winter visitors, i.e., snowbirds (usually retirees), to southern states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California during the winter months each year, which benefits the destination cities in many aspects. Snowbirds rent or buy vacation houses/apartments and/or RVs, and pay real estate taxes and gas in destinations. They spend in restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, and parks; they are active in various activities, entertainment, and socializing, and some work seasonal jobs or volunteer.

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Snowbirds spend several months in their southern destinations, which is a big positive impact on the destination’s economy, as well as the socio-cultural understanding between snowbirds and destination communities. Snowbirds, by vacating their primary residence areas, avoid possible senior-unfriendly snow/ice shoveling work or potential danger such as slipping on the ice. They have better health and well-being by maintaining outdoor activities and routines, which could reduce their insurance and medical expenses and benefit their primary residence areas in the long run. However, snowbirds could possibly convert to be “sunbirds” and permanently reside in their southern home, which could be a potential loss to those places that are vacated for the winter, but this permanent migration population is small comparing to the total residents.

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has an influence on the snowbirds’ trend? For example, do you think that people who are now working remotely might decide to relocate in order to get access to a more time outdoors and a more relaxed lifestyle during this winter?

Yes, the COVID-19 has a big influence on the snowbirds’ trend. Snowbirds, especially older adults and people with underlying health conditions, have to consider the number of COVID-19 cases, shutdown and quarantine regulations in their southern destinations. This year has seen a new trend of younger generation joining the snowbird travel, particularly the working professionals between 40 and 60 with their children. As many parents are working remotely and children are taking classes online, more families choose to skip the winter and have more outdoor time in the warmer climate. Some young professionals travel around the country spending a month or two in different destinations – the pandemic actually brings travel opportunities for those who can work from home.

Methodology

  • We analyzed a total of 392 cities to come up with the top 100 best snowbird destinations.
  • The metrics included in the overall score and their weightings are the following: October 2019 – March 2020 average temperature (42.25%); the percentage of seasonal homes out of the vacant housing stock (15%); total beach length within a 10-mile radius of the city (8%); park surface per capita in the city (8%); number of golf courses in the city (7%); offenses known to law enforcement as a percentage of population (3%); average internet speed (1.25%); percentage of population with health insurance (5%); the Covid-19 Community Vulnerability Index at county level (5%); and the average self storage rate for a 10×10 non-climate-controlled unit (5.5%).
  • For the metrics presented above, a higher value means a better ranking with the exception of the following: offenses known to law enforcement as a percentage of the population, for which a lower value means a better ranking; the Covid-19 Community Vulnerability Index, for which a lower value means the city is less vulnerable and gets a better ranking; the average self storage rate, for which less-expensive cities get a better ranking.
  • The temperature data was taken from weathersource.com.
  • The total beach length within a 10-mile radius of the city was computed using the US Environmental Protection Agency 2020 BEACON dataset for active beaches with public access.
  • The park surface area data was obtained from the Trust for Public Land 2020 ParkServe dataset, for open parks, trails and recreation areas with open access.
  • The golf course data was taken from the GolfNow.com course directory.
  • The data for offenses known to law enforcement was taken from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2019 Uniform Crime Reporting program.
  • The average internet speed data was taken from BroadbandNow.com.
  • The Covid-19 Community Vulnerability Index was taken from the Surgo Foundation.
  • The percentage of seasonal homes and the percentage of people with health insurance was computed using the US Census Bureau’s 2019 ACS data.
  • The average self storage street rates were computed using data from Yardi Matrix.
  • The average apartment rents for the October 2019 – March 2020 period were computed using data from Yardi Matrix.
Author

Maria Gatea is a creative writer for STORAGECafé with a background in Journalism and Communication. After covering business and finance-related topics as a freelance writer for 15 years, she is now focusing on researching and writing about the self-storage industry. You may contact Maria via email.

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