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One popular feature of the RV lifestyle that we at Safford RV can’t help but envy is the chance to use your vehicle to follow the seasons.  There is a name for this.  These people are called snowbirds. They travel south during the winter months in their RV and return in spring.  Clever idea.

In Australia these retired travelers are called grey nomads. They usually travel north in winter in their RVs to catch the warmer weather and return south for spring and summer. Some grey nomads have sold their homes and have chosen to travel on a continuous basis.

A Winter Home

Milt and Kay Olson spend every Christmas in north central Wisconsin with their children and grandchildren, enjoying a meal together, sharing stories of Christmases past and exchanging gifts. Then they take down the Christmas tree, load up the fifth-wheel trailer and head south to escape the below-zero temperatures and snow.

The Olsons, who live in the town of Weston, are some of the more than 1 million “snowbirds” in the U.S. and Canada who flee winters in colder climates for Florida, Arizona, Gulf Shores, Ala., and other refuges. Snowbirds flee the frozen north to live in retirement communities, RV parks and condominiums where they walk the beaches, play golf and participate in other social activities while Wisconsin residents count the days until summer. (for more on some of these lovely RV parks, read our previous blog: Luxury Vacationing at Its Best)

rv snowbirdsThe Olsons stay in Wisconsin longer than most snowbirds, who  typically are getting ready to hit the road right about now — as leaves turn and temperatures drop near freezing at night. The recession, high gasoline prices and a struggling housing market haven’t slowed the migration.

Milt and Kay Olson, for example, retired in the early 2000s from jobs at Northcentral Technical College. They decided it was time to go someplace warm, but they weren’t content on picking just one place. They bought a fifth-wheel trailer and a pickup and alternate among Arizona, Texas and Florida, staying at RV parks for three months and seeing sites throughout the area.

“In the grand scheme of things, the price of fuel is the biggest factor,” Milt Olson, 65, said. “It adds a couple hundred dollars, but you don’t decide to stay home for that.”

rv snowbirds

Tracking the number of snowbirds is difficult because studies are inconsistent and dated. A University of Arizona State study found that more than 300,000 winter residents were living in Arizona at the height of the 2002-03 winter season. A University of Florida study showed that 818,000 people spent the winter of 2005 in that state.

Stefan Rayer, a researcher for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at UF who conducted the 2005 study, said the economic downturn and high unemployment likely have caused that number to drop slightly in recent years.

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A ‘newbie snowbird’s biggest decision is whether they want a fifth-wheel trailer, which is pulled by a truck, or a motorhome. It’s recommended that snowbirds first buy a used RV or motorhome before buying a vehicle for the long-term.  You’re a lot less likely to get hurt financially if you trade-in a year down the road if it doesn’t work out, when you buy used.

rv snowbirdsA decision on a permanent winter location is looming in the near future for the Olsons.  Right now, the avid square-dancing couple prefer texas because they can dance two or three times a day with some of the best dance-callers around, Olson said. The couple, however, have made many friends in Arizona.                       “When we get tired of driving or pulling (the trailer), the next alternative is finding a spot where we can anchor down,” Milt Olson said. We like to drive around yet.”


Milt and Kay are doing it right.  The best advise when starting out on the snowbird trail is to not lock yourself into any one location. Spend at least the first year or two traveling around to different locations, and different RV parks. It will cost more, but too many people wish they had checked out other areas before they bought a site, or picked a location and committed to it.  See as much as you can before you decide.

To take a look at some incredible RVs, visit us at Safford RV – We’ll show you a great selection of fifth wheels, motor homes, Toy Haulers, and more. You are sure to find your warm weather home-away-from-home!

rv snowbirds

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