This winter we are again “trying on” the wings of a snowbird. You know, that migratory human who flies to warmer climates during the winter months. Some fly south as early as October; others wait until after the holidays. They rent houses or condos, buy homes or park models, or, like us, live in their RVs.

The first time we spent the winter in warmer climates was November 2020 through March 2021 in Arizona and southern California. But it wasn’t a “true” experience because it was during the first year of Covid when Canadians couldn’t easily cross the border to make the trek, and many others stayed home. The RV parks were not anywhere near full capacity, traffic seemed normal, and we were enjoying exploring areas that were new to us.

This winter (December 2022 – March 2023), we are flitting around Florida and getting the FULL experience of a BUSY snowbird season.

There are a couple of ways to snowbird as full-time RVers. One is to pick one RV park and stay long term (three, four, or six months). Another way—the way we are doing it—is to move from park to park every few weeks. We are members of the Thousand Trails (TT) system. Thousand Trails has about 90 RV parks  across the nation (mostly up and down the east and west coasts) in which we can stay for “free” for up to three weeks at a time in the off seasons (up to two weeks during the busy season). Keep in mind that one night in an RV park during the busy season can be between $35 to $200, depending on location. With TT, we bought a certain level of membership (we found one on craigslist that was previously-owned; there’s also a facebook page), and we pay a yearly fee ($935 this year), allowing us to stay in different parks with full or partial hookups at no charge. Our level of membership allows us to reserve a spot at Thousand Trails RV parks six months ahead of time. We also have an add-on to our membership called the Trails Collection, which allows us to reserve spots at Encore RV parks (an additional 100+ parks, for a total of 207) 60 days ahead of time. With our particular plan, we have over 42 parks in Florida to consider. However, during the busy season (and especially after parts of Florida were severely impacted by Hurricane Ian a few months ago), getting into any park has been more challenging.

Carl worked his magic, and we have reservations in different parts of Florida until March 20, when we will be leaving the state. Our first park was Three Flags in Wildwood, Florida, just down the road from the infamous “The Villages” – a popular 55+ community of neighborhoods, golf, and more spanning three counties (and growing!). We then moved to Orlando RV Resort (but it is really in Clermont), where we stayed during the December holidays. This TT park holds 1500 RVs, and watching new ones come in is a spectacle! (Watch our video of 130+ coming in on New Year’s Day.) We are currently at Winter Quarters Manatee, an Encore park in Bradenton. Our path moving forward will be back to Wildwood, then Eutsis, back to Orlando, then a week in Winter Garden before leaving the TT system for a week to boondock at Dupuis Equestrian Campground near Lake Okeechobee. Our final week in Florida will be in Daytona.

At this stage of our full-time RVing lifestyle, we get restless sitting in one place for too long. We didn’t start this journey to stay in one spot for several months. We experienced that last year while Karen was going through treatment, and it was not fun. We’d prefer to move around, see new sights, and experience new places.

So far, this season, our experience has been mixed. Three Flags is a friendly RV park. The people who come back to the park every year for the season have formed a group to host various events. While we were there, we attended a wine tasting event, a potluck dinner, and a breakfast. We also took a couple of bike rides on the Withlacoochee State Trail. While staying at Orlando RV Resort, our daughter Rachel visited us for Christmas, we went to Epcot, and we visited Carl’s son Eric and his girlfriend Patty. Carl played pickleball, installed a new solar panel on the Airstream, and completed a repair on our truck, while Karen did a little bit of spring cleaning in the RV. And we had a couple of wonderful visits with Karen’s college friends, Vicki and Jim.

Our friends, Mickey and Dennis, were in Orlando when we were there, and we rang in the new year with them. We also enjoyed spending time with them at Winter Quarters Manatee. We made a couple of trips with them to the beach to watch the sunset, and we visited the Ringling Art Museum and grounds (free on Monday!). The art museum opened in 1930, and it is spectacular!  Karen could easily spend more time there. We also visited Mike and Gaile from our Piedmont Airstream Club. They live in Venice, Florida six months out of the year. We rode bikes on a portion of the Legacy Trail (extremely busy!) with them, and then they gave us a tour of Venice and Venice Beach. They picked a beautiful location to have their second home.

More bike trails, some kayaking, pickleball, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center, a visit with my cousin in Port St. Lucie, and other activities are on the agenda while here. We are looking forward to all of it.

A major downside during a busy snowbird season: TRAFFIC. Everywhere. We cannot get away from it. It is constant and awful. It can take an hour to go 15-20 miles. Six lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic in many places, not just on the highways. We are increasingly less inclined to snowbird in Florida again, which will make other RVers happy—one more spot available for them in the future!

Have you ever seen an RV park along the side of a major highway? We have passed several while traveling, often commenting on how horrible it would be to stay in a park next to a highway. Well, we are now experiencing it firsthand! Winter Quarters Manatee is right next to I-75. And our site is just across the street from the fence between the highway and the park. Staying here in the future will be a choice of last resort. Luckily, two weeks here is survivable. Other than the constant traffic noise, the park is nice. Pools are heated, the laundry isn’t expensive, and the location is relatively convenient (minus the traffic) to the beach and other locales of interest.

An upside: The weather. We have had a few days of high humidity, and the A/C was turned on. Overall, though, it has been sunny and in the 70s during the day with perfect cooler temperatures at night.

Before we started full-time RVing, we were talking about an “exit plan”—what we would do AFTER traveling full time. The working idea was to buy a park model in a 55+ community in Florida (Carl had already targeted a couple of locations) and become snowbirds. That idea has faded for several reasons, with one now being the traffic! A new “exit plan” is forming but is still a year or two in the future. For now, we are focusing on 2023 travel—Alaska, corn silage and sugar beet harvests, and a trip back to the southwest.

If you are thinking about becoming a snowbird, consider the following:

  • Water or desert? There is a lot of water in Florida – two coasts, lakes, rivers. Much less so in Arizona and California, although you can find it. Lake Havasu and along the Colorado River or on the Pacific coast are a few examples.
  • Stay in one place for several months or move around?
  • Rent or buy? House, condo, mobile home, park model, or RV? What can you afford? Depending on the area in Florida, some house rentals are $4000 or more a month! If you are in a 55+ community with mobile homes, park models, or RVs, you might have lot rent or HOA fees. The good news is you can create a solution that fits your budget.
  • Hiking, biking, boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, pickleball, golf, swimming, hot tubs? Pick an area where you can maximize doing what you enjoy.
  • Access to national parks and monuments? More out west than in Florida.

There are other factors to consider—access to family, traffic, social life, health care, foliage versus desert, altitude—but snowbirding has its benefits.

You do you, and enjoy!