The ideal retirement for many people involves not only saying goodbye to the daily grind and getting the freedom to spend their days as they please, but also the opportunity to live a nomadic lifestyle and to stay where the weather is nice all year long. In the summers, this means a northern or temperate climate. In the winter, it's time to head south or perhaps for the mountains. For an increasing number of people around the world, the dream of being a snowbird that migrates according to the seasons has become a reality.

More Affordable Than Ever
There are a variety of ways to partake of the "snowbird" lifestyle, and the way you choose to follow the sunshine will determine how much it will cost. Starting at the top end of the expense scale, some snowbirds simply purchase a second home in their desired winter retreat location. This approach creates a substantial and ongoing set of expenses that may, depending on how lavish the property is and where it is located, even surpass the costs associated with a primary residence.

The purchase of a condominium can be a less expensive option. At the high end of the market, luxury condos provide many of the same amenities available to homeowners at a fraction of the cost of a standalone property. Still, the cost of acquisition is likely to run anywhere from the high tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on where the condo is located, its size and its level of luxury.

Of course, condos are also a good choice for people who simply want a maintenance-free lifestyle. This can be a particularly appealing option for retirees and for those seeking to avoid the costs and hassles associated with maintaining a second home.

If lower costs and greater flexibility are a big draw for you, purchasing a motor home may be the right move. Motors homes, commonly referred to as recreational vehicles (RVs), provide the ability to change your winter destination each year and to choose how long you will stay and how much you will spend on each trip. If money is tight, you can park your RV, stay home and save your cash.

Like other options, RVs come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and price ranges. At the high end, there are some truly magnificent machines available, including those with hot tubs, flat screen televisions, massive bedroom suites and most of the comforts of home. At the low end, a simple RV will have significantly fewer amenities and will be available at a significantly lower cost. An outlay in the tens of thousands as opposed to the hundreds of thousands can get you started. Keep in mind that the larger RVs will cost more to fuel and maintain, so make your purchase with ongoing expenses in mind.

Manufactured housing is another option. While the mere sound of "trailer park" can evoke a decidedly downscale image, that stereotype couldn't be farther from the truth at many upscale facilities. Spacious, clean and modern upscale trailer parks offer all the amenities of home and at prices that are more affordable to a great many people. Costs in the tens of thousands can get you into some really nice accommodations, especially if you're just looking for nice weather and aren't stuck on being in trendy locales. Parks can be found in premier snowbird destinations that may offer swimming pools, clubhouses, organized events, landscaped lawns, and more. Relatively maintenance-free exteriors and on-site services such as lawn care can make for easy living both when you are on-site and when you are not.

Renting is yet another way to spend the winter someplace warm. It's also a great way to test the waters. You can rent winter digs in various areas to find one that you like before you settle in with a more permanent residence, or you can rent in a different place each year to enjoy the variety. You can rent upscale accommodations, basic accommodations and everything in between, enjoying the lifestyle you desire without any of the hassles or expenses of year-round ownership. Costs for a season are likely to be in the thousands or low tens of thousands.

When Your Flight Hits Turbulence...
There are a few things that may go wrong for snowbirds, stealing from their fun in the sun. Let's take a closer look at two of the biggest ones.

Taking Care of Home While You Are Away
Despite its strong appeal, the snowbird lifestyle isn't all sunny times. When you are not living in your home, you are still going to have challenges to address. If you choose to purchase your winter retreat, there will certainly be bills to pay. There will also be concerns about maintaining the property, including landscaping, checking on it after storms occur, and ensuring that the heat or air-conditioning is operating. Protecting the property from burglars is another potential concern. If you are not at one of your homes for months at a time, a vacant property can be attractive to thieves. Friends, family, professional services and careful planning can mitigate these issues, but due to their varying costs they should all be taken into consideration when choosing how to set up your snowbird lifestyle. Remember, even if you choose the most maintenance-free option available, you will still need to make arrangements for all these issues when it comes to caring for either residence.

Medical Insurance
Medical coverage is another major concern for snowbirds. Check your policy for travel coverage. You may need travel insurance, particularly if your winter destination is outside your country of residence. Similarly, if you come from Canada or other countries that offer socialized medicine, be careful not to overstay your time limit outside of your home country or you may find yourself needing to re-establish residency in order to regain healthcare coverage when you return home. If your home country does not offer government-sponsored healthcare, obtaining treatment and prescriptions may be a challenge if you are outside of your health insurance plan's coverage area. This may occur even if you remain inside your own country, so make sure you prepare in advance so that you are not surprised by a big bill when you need help the most.

The Bottom Line
Looking for a temperate climate year-round is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been going on for centuries in Europe and has a long history in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. With careful planning and a solid understanding of the costs and concerns, you too can migrate with the seasons.

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