With brutally cold weather gripping much of the United States (as I write this article), many “snowbirds” who are enjoying sunshine and margaritas in Arizona or Florida are probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
A snowbird, in case you’re not familiar with this parlance, is a term used in North America to describe someone who moves southward (from northern latitudes) in the winter, only to move back northward when warmer weather returns (in the spring or summer).
As someone who jobbed at luxury car dealerships in both Michigan and Florida, I spent a good deal of my professional time working with clients who were snowbirds. The timelines were different, but I found Easter to be the unofficial demarcation for heading north, with Thanksgiving or so being the unofficial demarcation for heading back south again.
I always thought this was a neat trick.
You get the best of both worlds. You get to have your cake and eat it, too.
It’s a nice balance between a settled lifestyle and a nomadic lifestyle, where one is able to more or less have a permanent home – or center of life operations – while also indulging in their inner wanderlust every year.
Moreover, since the most comfortable temperature for most human beings is somewhere around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, snowbirds essentially get to live within a constant zone of optimal environmental comfort.
I haven’t yet added an article to my Happiness Is series on this particular subject, but I will note that year-round warm weather and sunshine definitely adds to my happiness. Seasonal affective disorder is something that would creep up almost every year when I lived in Michigan.
Whereas I actually believe there’s a lot of value in discomfort, this is more in the sense of keeping one’s edge sharp – one should not necessarily strive to have constant comfort by avoiding all challenges and responsibilities in life. I don’t, however, believe there’s a lot of value in walking around in freezing and potentially life-threatening weather.
But that environmental comfort allows a snowbird to also spend a lot of time in contrasting areas, as places in northern states/areas are almost always different from places in southern states/areas. While it’s not like living in a different country, infrastructure, political views, religious views, and even daily habits vary to certain degrees between places in northern states and places in southern states.
The problem with the snowbird lifestyle, though, is that it’s quite expensive. It’s perhaps even prohibitively expensive. And this is just one reason why the snowbird lifestyle is usually reserved for older people who have the financial resources to execute it. Plus, they usually don’t have jobs tying them down to any one location.
But since most of you readers are actively chasing a lifestyle that cuts out the job, could we not also figure out a way to optimize the snowbird idea?
Well, I believe there’s a far better solution out there for prospective snowbirds.
This solution could substitute a more typical North American snowbird lifestyle, saving a ton of money in the process. And due to this solution being much cheaper, one could access this lifestyle decades before a more typical snowbird’s idea of seasonal trekking.
This solution should be thought of as something that bolts onto and complements one’s existing plans to become financially independent and/or retire relatively early in life.
Are you ready?
Let’s check it out.
Southeast Asia In The Winter
If you can’t tell by that headline, I’m proposing replicating the snowbird lifestyle completely outside of the United States.
I’ve already discussed how becoming a dividend expat turned me into an instant millionaire. The financial benefits of relocating overseas could be substantial, but I won’t rehash it today. That said, those financial benefits underpin this idea, making it a viable and attractive snowbird solution/substitution.
With those financial benefits in mind, living in Southeast Asia instead of, say, Florida during the cooler months (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) would be far cheaper. It would also probably be healthier. And it would also be much more dynamic and exciting.
This isn’t even to mention that the beaches in Thailand are arguably better than anything the US has to offer (outside of Hawaii, maybe).
I personally plan to continue living in Thailand indefinitely. But there’s a possibility that I might end up living here on a more seasonal basis, choosing to live outside the country during the hot/rainy season.
That leads me to the summer destination…
Eastern Europe In The Summer
Eastern Europe appeals to me for some of the same reasons that Southeast Asia does.
Much of Eastern Europe isn’t as cheap as much of Southeast Asia. But almost all of Eastern Europe is far cheaper than just about any option in North America.
And since this proposal would involve spending only the summertime in Eastern Europe, one’s overall annual spend probably wouldn’t rise that much, averaged out across the year.
For example, I spent just over $1,200 in my first month here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
And that was all while living a lifestyle that has no rules whatsoever (for my personal tastes/values). That’s living in a beautiful apartment in the trendiest and most walkable part of the city. That’s eating out for every meal (and paying for two people more than 25% of the time). That’s playing tourist and Mr. Meetup. You get the idea.
I think this exact lifestyle could be replicated for not much more money in many places in Eastern Europe. Alternatively, one could drop the lifestyle down a notch or two and probably spend a similar amount of money to what I spend here in Chiang Mai.
Some of the better options in this region of the world include Budapest, Bucharest, and Prague. But there are cheaper cities on the fringe. Furthermore, one could pick a different city every year, offering even more exploration and adventure opportunities every summer.
These cities in Eastern Europe aren’t just much cheaper than many similar choices in the States, but they’re also likely to be far more lively and vibrant. In my opinion, you’re likely going to be getting a lot more for a lot less.
In fact, I may end up checking out Eastern Europe this summer, as visiting now requires far less resource expenditure relative to what was necessary back when I was still living in the States.
No Longer Two Homes To Worry About/Pay For
The much lower cost structure that exists in these places is already enough to make this solution a very appealing substitution for what a typical snowbird might aim for and/or experience.
And this lower cost structure could allow someone who is aiming for – or someone who has achieved – financial independence an opportunity to “follow the weather”, all while experiencing a fascinating adventure that may very well lead a much higher overall quality of life relative to the available alternatives in North America.
But the financial benefits become supercharged when you factor in the fact that one wouldn’t have to worry about two homes/abodes.
My personal experience with and exposure to snowbirds has allowed me to ask them questions about how they manage that lifestyle.
What I found out is that they typically have a permanent home in the north. They may have a nice house in Toronto, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, etc.
The housing options then diverge a bit when they come south. Some rent a vacation house for a few months. Some have a second home in Southwest Florida (or somewhere else south). Some rent furnished apartments temporarily.
But the thing is, every single snowbird I talked to was paying for two shelters simultaneously for at least a few months of the year, which adds quite a bit of cost to this lifestyle.
Well, alternating between Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe would allow one to completely eliminate this ongoing concern from their life, as furnished apartments are more commonplace and accessible in this part of the world, all while costing much less money than what they do back in the States.
And if you’re a minimalist, you certainly don’t need a large and permanent structure just to keep a bunch of stuff at.
So what I would do, if I were to execute this idea, is simply rent a furnished apartment on a monthly basis in one location at a time. When I’m ready to migrate northward or southward, I would just put my stuff in a bag or two, fly back to my other city, and then find a new monthly, furnished, all-inclusive rental. This could be repeated indefinitely.
This idea isn’t for everyone, nor is living as an expat in the first place.
But I think this is a very viable and attractive alternative to the more traditional snowbird lifestyle.
And it’s actually an idea that’s starting to gain traction within my own mind. It’s probably not something I’d look to execute this year or the next, but I can actually envision a future in which I live outside of Thailand for a few months, when the heat and rain here is at it’s peak.
Being a snowbird isn’t just for older retirees.
What do you think? Is this the ultimate snowbird solution?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If this is an idea that appeals to you, or if you’re interested in achieving financial independence at all, I’ve compiled some fantastic resources that could provide tremendous support. I’ve personally used these resources to become financially independent in my early 30s, so check them out!