snowbirdThe term snowbird has been around for nearly 100 years and was originally used to describe seasonal workers moving south during the winter months. Today’s snowbirds are usually retirees who escape cold weather in the Midwest and the Northeast and flock to warm climates.

If you’re thinking about becoming a snowbird, you’re in good company. But there’s more to do than pack your bags and go. Here are a few tips to transition into the snowbird lifestyle and embrace the best of both worlds.

Choose Your Location

While embarking on a new adventure as a snowbird is exhilarating, you have to choose your destination at some point. It’s time to stop daydreaming and choose between being an expat in Mexico, enjoying the mountains in Arizona or relaxing beachside in Florida. Make a few visits to the area for a few winter seasons and rent a condo or home in different areas to see which suits you best. Remember to set up activities and join clubs to meet new friends and get into the spirit of snowbirding.

Set up Two Residences

Once you settle on your location, decide whether you want to rent or purchase a home. Both have their advantages and risks. A rental is more flexible if you want to change things up, but it may not offer the stable, second-home feeling you’re after. It’s harder to invite family to your vacation home when you’re not sure where you’ll be or how many rooms you can offer. Buying a home offers more permanency, but taxes, upkeep and maintenance can add up financially.

Consider what kinds of supplies, furniture and creature comforts you’ll need to set up your winter home. If your grandchildren plan to visit, outfit an entire kid’s room at Rooms To Go or opt for second-hand wares at a local consignment store. Don’t forget about linens, dishes and overlooked items like pots and pans, as well.

Manage Your Homes

Owning or renting two homes also means managing two homes. Hire a property manager to keep up your vacation home while you’re away. Ask about renting out your property to summer tourists or to long-term tenants who will evacuate come winter. Install a security camera to monitor your second home from your smartphone or tablet, and stay up-to-date on the condition of your property and any safety issues.

Avoid Common Mistakes

Some snowbirds establish their permanent residency in their wintering state to offset taxes. For example, Florida doesn’t have state income tax, so it is attractive for senior citizens who are looking to save money. However, it’s important to consult with a tax attorney first to ensure you legally qualify and aren’t still considered a resident of your home state.

Find Healthcare Options

Spending several months a year in another home requires healthcare backup plans. Do your research in advance if you require regular checkups, have a medical condition or need access to a state-of-the-art hospital. Seeking medical help in your winter home of Mexico may not be a viable option depending on your situation. However, securing private healthcare and hospitals abroad may be cheaper and a more attractive option.

Stay Organized

Don’t get caught without important medical information, files or documents and face a costly flight to go get them. Store what you need in the cloud with Dropbox or Mozy to access your files and photos in one place. Keep track of important contact information from your healthcare providers, family and emergency numbers and important paperwork before leaving. Invest in a smartphone or tablet so you have instant access to all the information you need.