The word “snowbird” evokes a lot of envy for those of us trapped in the frozen tundra of the North. What are snowbirds, exactly? They are described as “northerners who move to a warmer southern state in the winter.” A lot of people are looking for a change of scenery, especially with pandemic fatigue affecting so many. And with the ability to work remotely, many retirees (the original snowbirds) are now being joined by a growing number of younger, baby boomer "birds" in their migration to warmer climes.
At one time, early in our marriage, Chuck and I were lucky enough to be snowbirds for a few years. We rented a house in Miami that was owned by a relative of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown records. And, another year, we rented a house on Fisher Island and then a condo across from the ocean in Miami Beach. Those were such relaxing, carefree days, gone for now, but the memories of being able to escape Chicago winters still happily linger. The only downside I can recall was the loss of a few houseplants. For us, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
I don't know what it would feel like to own a house in both climates. I wish I did. I can't imagine how wonderful it would be to know that you didn't have to live through another Chicago winter—you could just hop on a plane, car, or RV and be whisked away to palm tree paradise.
However, I am lucky to KNOW some snowbirds, so I guess this is as close as I'll get. I posed some questions as to why and how this life worked for them and what might be the downside, if any.
Stanley Paul, one of Chicago's most famous bandleaders, has performed for show business legends like Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Bette Midler during his long tenure at the Pump Room. He has been renting a house in Palm Springs for the last 10 years. The only thing he misses about Chicago is his friends, but even then he still keeps in touch via Zoom calls and texting. He loves hiking in the hills, the consignment shops (he's an avid antiques collector) and just sitting by the pool in weather that “is perfect every day.” He said, with COVID-19, the restaurants are closed for now but he cooks a lot and spends time with his “bubble” friends.
Susan Gohl, philanthropist, longtime Service Club of Chicago member, enjoys snowbirding to her home in Naples, Florida. She loves the “uplifting sunshine, nice people, outside events, all taxes lower, feels safer, no heavy clothes or boots and a fascinating international population.” She said she misses the snow here "sometimes, but not often, especially when driving" and the cultural and dining scenes are better in Chicago and more diverse. She added, “It's much different now during COVID and with travel restrictions, but sun lovers who can are flocking to both coasts and beautiful beaches.”
Bobbi Panter, entrepreneur, philanthropist and animal lover, started her snowbirding journey in 1969 courtesy of her parents, who owned a place on Anna Maria Island, Florida. Bobbi and her husband Matt bought it in 2005 and don’t see many negatives about having a winter home except that it does keep them from traveling to other places. She misses Chicago's holiday light experiences like Zoo Lights and Lightscape at the Botanic Gardens, ice skating, social events, shopping and the “buzz of a great city.” “One of the greatest benefits of being a snowbird in a warm climate is the health benefits,” she said. “It helps to keep a positive mental attitude.”
Since 2011, philanthropist Cheryl Coleman has enjoyed having a home in Naples, Florida. She said, "The worst part of being a snowbird, of course, is missing friends and the energy of Chicago. There is nothing more beautiful and dramatic than Chicago covered in snow when the winter sun breaks through."
Fashion show producer Tracey Tarantino DiBuono (founder ZZAZZ Productions) and her husband Joey (owner Tufano's Vernon Park Tap restaurant) have been traveling back and forth to Naples, Florida for quite a while. She loves having more time to focus on her husband and family when she's away and being able to golf and work out outside. She said the days feel longer there and that she can get more done in the sun. A downside to being in Florida, she added, is that Christmases in warmer climates don't seem as special. Her grandkids enjoy ice-skating and checking out wintry holiday lights. “It's not the same doing them ‘in the sun,’” she said. She also feels an energy boost due to the increase in vitamin D.
Sarasota Magazine says 44 percent of snowbirds say they’re not going away this winter because of the pandemic—but of the ones who are, 50 percent are going to Florida. Those are my people, as Florida is my favorite warm weather destination too.
Feeling the warm sun on my face and having my toes in the sand trumps snow and ice every day, all day long. Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up my goals perfectly: "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air." Wait for me Miami!