Sunday Guest Post: A Gaggle of Snowbirds

Unlike some of my friends, my decision to retire was not difficult. A career as a home builder had been both challenging and rewarding, but it often required long hours and could be stressful at times. An additional career as an officer in the U. S. Army Reserve was equally rewarding, but it took time away from my family and consumed vacation time for more years than I care to remember. I planned to use the “Golden Years” as a means to even things out a bit.

Today, my passion is travel and sharing the journey with others on our website, Easin’ Along. I want to see as much of North America as I am able, and I want to do it by taking the roads less traveled. After several extended road trips in our car, Helen (adorable wife) and I invested in an RV. Now, a 26-foot travel trailer named Gracey has become our home on the road with the potential to enrich our lives tremendously.

Around the time Donna honored us with a request for a contribution to her Sunday Series, we were preparing to take Gracey on our next adventure–a snowbird trip to someplace warm. My suggestion to Donna was a post about snowbird retirees if I could find any. Well, Donna, we found a gaggle, and we couldn’t wait to introduce a sampling of these interesting folks to your readers.

Ken and Patty have been snowbirding in Florida campgrounds since 2003 to escape the winters of Southern Michigan. After overhearing a group of volunteers discussing their campground duties for the day, Patty immediately told Ken that she wanted to get involved. They have volunteered at campgrounds ever since and served as campground hosts on occasion. Their current post is The Orman House, a historical home in Apalachicola, Florida built in 1838 by a cotton merchant. They volunteer as guides three days a week, but work in the gardens on their off days “just because we love it.”

Bill and Eileen began coming to Jekyll Island, GA from their home near Akron, Ohio many years ago. Wanting to do more than sit and whittle, Bill soon volunteered to perform odd jobs around the camp. After parking Gracey in the campground at Jekyll Island State Park, we would see this pleasant gentleman applying a coat of paint to signposts, doors, windows while chatting with everyone who passed. Bill told me that painting gives him a great deal of satisfaction and allows him to engage with other snowbirds. “Besides,” he said, “there is a lot to paint here, so this is great job security.” Bill is a volunteer who loves his winters and his work.

Jeff and Barney, two brothers from Buffalo, NY come to the Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, FL every year to serve as hosts in the RV Park on the base. Both are Army retirees with over 20 years of service to our country. We met them shortly after we arrived and encountered difficulty connecting the utilities to Gracey. Jeff and Barney came immediately, and soon we were up and running. We discovered that we had served in several of the same posts in Germany, and I had a delightful time sharing old Army stories with them. The next morning we found this tireless twosome in the camp kitchen cooking up pancakes for the monthly pancake breakfast. Throughout our stay, we continued to see both men riding through camp in golf carts offering a hand to anyone in need. I enjoyed meeting them.

Not all the snowbirds we met were looking for responsibility. Some just came to thaw out and pursue activities other than the usual chores associated with life in their hometown. We observed a couple in Panama City who visited the beach each day to read, perhaps work a crossword puzzle or nap. Others came south to participate in the many campground activities organized by the volunteers. We found large bulletin boards filled with lists of activities available to snowbirds eager for stimulation and social encounters. Others just wanted to sit around a campfire and share information about RV lifestyle and travel, including very valuable information about favorite campgrounds.

One morning at Jekyll Island, I passed the Community Room where three ladies were seated in comfortable chairs, each knitting furiously, and absorbed in lively conversation. I entered the room and asked them what they were making. A lady, with an enormous ball of twine in her lap, looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Friends.”

In a word, that sums up much about snowbird retirees.

Joe Bruner retired from a career in the home building industry and a second career as an officer in the US Army Reserve.  He and his wife Helen, who retired from the staff of a private preparatory school, live in Knoxville, Tennessee. They have written extensively about their travels and retirement lifestyle on their website Easin’ Along.

From Retirement Reflections: Thank you to Joe for providing us with this insight into a snowbird’s sample lifestyle. I enjoyed learning about some of the possible options to snowbirding that I hadn’t realized before. Up next week, we welcome back the writer behind ‘Travels with Fran‘. She will share with us some of the changes that she experienced in her ‘second retirement’…and the changes to her blog that have resulted. Please join us there!

54 Replies to “Sunday Guest Post: A Gaggle of Snowbirds”

  1. Hi Joe! Enjoyed reading your post! Maybe someday hubby and I will meet you and Helen along the way during our travels. Hubby wants to do the same thing you’re doing. We won’t be snowbirds though as we live in Alabama! We want to travel and explore but I have 2 requirements – RV must have extra comfy bed (to accommodate my fibromyalgia) and an onboard washer and dryer would be nice 🙂 I loved that the knitting ladies said that they were making friends! Going over to check out your site! Donna, sharing this post on Fb, G+, Pn, and Tw ♥

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    1. Hello Dee,
      You should have no trouble finding an RV that fits your needs and lifestyle. At a recent RV show, Helen and I found that the choices are endless. Thanks for visiting Easin’ Along and your nice comments!

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  2. It was through blogging that I discovered this huge sub-culture of retirees criss-crossing the US in their RVs. It is a unique lifestyle and everyone I’ve read about shares stories similar to yours. Making friends seems to be the common theme 🙂

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    1. Hello Joanne,
      We have now made three extended trips in an RV and have loved meeting the full-timers during our stays. They love their life and are so laid back. I could join them, but Helen prefers having a home to return to even if it is for a short period.

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  3. Joe – Thanks for pointing out that some snowbirds just want to sit on the beach & read /nap for a bit! Our snowbird adventure this year did not quite pan out…but we are now on the Gulf Coast of FL for 2 weeks of (hopefully) sunny warm days. I was feeling a bit guilty about just lazing around – only a couple of beach walks and a couple of yoga classes all week. But sometimes that is what the body needs… and I’m glad you highlighted that’s OK too. Too often the volunteers and part-time passion-workers are only those highlighted. Good to read you on Donna’s site!

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    1. Hi, Pat- I am so glad to hear that you and your husband have made it to Florida and are enjoying your time there. Lazing around (with a couple of beach walks thrown in for good measure) is nothing to feel guilty about. That’s exactly what I would be doing!

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    2. Hello Pat,
      You won’t find many RVers without a lounge chair. Sitting and chatting is a large part of the lifestyle. Helen loves to work puzzles. So far, we have not taken a volunteer assignment since we like to go sightseeing in new places. Maybe someday…

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    1. Hello Jill,
      Great to hear from you as well. We remain convinced that retirement is the best gig out there. After all, we have worked hard and believe that this is our time together. We’re so blessed to be able to enjoy it.

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  4. We have thought about a camper/RV in retirement but right now we enjoy renting a condo on the beach. We can head south the first of Fl and come back to Oh in mid-March. Retirement is great just do it your own way.

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    1. Hello Victoria,
      Sounds like you have figured out what is best for you. If you are ever curious about the RV lifestyle, I would suggest renting one first. That’s how we were introduced to the experience. We rented one and took it from hour ome in Tennessee to the California coast. We were “hooked” after that!

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  5. Hi Joe, I enjoyed reading your post and am new to this snowbird terminology. I think I understand what it means! Your lifestyle sounds great and it just shows everyone does retirement differently. Thanks Donna for another highly interesting guest.

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    1. Hi, Debbie – Thanks for stopping by and commenting on Joe’s post. I believe that ‘snowbird’ is a North American term for a northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter. Do you have a similar term in Australia….or a typical place where Australian in cooler climates go to beat the winter?

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    2. Hello Debbie,
      I think that most snowbirds tend to go to one spot and stay there, and that is what we hope to do next year. Florida is a “tough ticket” in the winter and we could only make short-term reservations so we moved around. We enjoyed it nevertheless. Glad you enjoyed our guest post.

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  6. Although my husband and I don’t have an RV (yet), these tales of life on the road are tempting. We wouldn’t be snowbirds since we live in Southern California but I love road trips and RVing seems to be a great way to see the country. If only gas wasn’t so expensive…

    By the way (in response to Deb’s question and Donna’s response) where I live, we have what we call “sunbirds.” Those are all the people from Arizona who come over to our area to get out of the 100F + (37.8C +) temps they have back home.

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      1. Hello Janis,
        We can relate to “sunbirds”. Our oldest child lives in Southern California and every time we visit, I fall in love with the weather and understand why so many people live there. Don’t let gas prices keep you from enjoying an RV. You save a lot of money avoiding hotel bills and dining out.

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  7. I applaud you for actually buying the RV and doing what so many of us just talk about but never take action. When my husband and I retire someday, one of my dreams is to drive across the United States at a leisurely pace. Your post inspired me.

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    1. Hello Cathi,
      Glad that you are inspired. There is nothing to compare to traveling across America on the road less traveled. We are blessed with staggering beauty here and I do hope you take advantage of it.

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    1. Hello Laura,
      The volunteers often trade campsite fees for volunteering a few hours. This is a great way to hold down travel expenses as well as meet some very interesting people.

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  8. I can just hear Joe’s story like a narration in a wonderful doco. Well done to the gaggle of snow birders for all your voluntary work.

    I love the woman and her ball of string. Perfect.

    Thanks for sharing Donna.
    Louise

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    1. Hi, Louise – Thank you for dropping by and commenting on Joe’s post. I agree that the woman with her ball of string is a perfect ending to this article. Funny, although I have never met Joe IRL, I too can hear his voice narrating this story!

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    1. Hello Marty,
      Delighted to be of some help. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend St. Augustine and Jekyll Island as places that would have something for everyone. We plan to go back for sure!

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  9. Thanks for introducing some of the characters you met along the way during your first snowbird season, Joe! There are plenty of RVers spending the winters in the Southern States; it is a bit similar to another group of retirees, spending half the year on their sailboat in the tropics. Looking forward to full-time RVing ourselves again, but I think we will spend the first winter in Arizona or Mexico. I extensively traveled by camper and sailboat along the east coast in past years, meeting personalities like the ones you met as well. 🙂

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    1. Hello Liesbet,
      I’m certain that I could get used to living on a sailboat in the tropics but will stay with Gracey (our trailer) for now. There is a lot to see and do out there and it sounds like you have taken advantage of every opportunity. Wishing you all the best as you continue Easin’ Along!

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    1. Hello Ally,
      We know how blessed we are to be able to travel at our own pace through this awesome country we live in. We love sharing the places we have visited and the people we meet along the way with others. For us, this is what makes retirement a great gig!

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  10. I guess we would be the opposite of snowbirds – travelling TO the snow (for skiing). We also like to do truck and camper trips in the summer, but we tend to head into the wilderness rather than to RV campsites.

    Jude

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    1. Hello Dr. Sock,
      To me, skiing was the perfect vacation because it had everything that I love–fresh air, exercise, pretty girls, beer, and bed at nine o’clock. That was a long time ago with my wife’s knee replacement in between. Nevertheless, I hope to do it again someday.

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  11. Nice to meet you Joe. I loved hearing about the snowbirds you’ve met and the things they do for enjoyment. I have a few years until retirement, but have a dream (not quite yet a plan) to get an RV and spend the first six months or so traveling the 48 lower states. I want to see some places and meet some of the people across this country before I start visiting the rest of the world. Your post inspired me to start the real planning, so I can make this happen.

    Thanks, Donna, for another great guest post and a chance to meet another blogger. Have a lovely day!

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    1. Hello Christie,
      That is a dream that you can make happen, and a good dream it is. We’ve made it through 37 states and counting. The first thing you notice about the RV people you meet is that they are very laid back and in love with their lifestyle. That is the characteristic that appealed to us the most. I hope you follow that dream!

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  12. I’m such a home body, I don’t know if I could travel in an RV, but the thought of warm weather in the south appeals to me right now, having endured a rough Maine winter. I can picture my husband working as a handy man since he can do about anything, but I wouldn’t be so quick to take up employment. Haha! Glad to meet you, Joe, and that you are making up for all those missed vacations now that you are retired.

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  13. Yesterday, hubs and I went to a local RV show to start gathering information for our eventual purchase of a Class B travel van. Joe’s description of all of the people we will meet makes me want to go even more! Don’t know if we’ll stay put for very long, as we want to see a lot of this beautiful country, but it was nice to read about all of the options! ~ Lynn

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  14. Hi, Lynn – It is exciting to hear that you and your husband are currently looking at travel vans. How fun! I am glad to hear that Joe’s post was helpful to you. I agree that it was very inspiring. Good luck with your shopping and your eventual purchase!

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