Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Snowbirds: Stretch Your Travel Dollar With These Tips (and Destinations)
BY Vawn Himmelsbach | October 25th, 2022
After two-and-a-half years of pandemic-related border measures and closures, Canadian snowbirds are ready to take flight once again this winter. But don’t expect travel to pick up where it left off in 2019. There are new challenges to contend with, like inflation, the weak Canadian dollar and the rising cost of real estate.
Then there’s the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on popular snowbird destinations in southwest Florida, such as Fort Myers. For snowbirds who’ve traditionally flocked to this region during Canada’s coldest months, their favourite rental property (or second home) may have been damaged or destroyed.
That means the rental pool will be reduced, and what’s left will be more expensive. But this has been an issue since the onset of the pandemic, thanks to a real estate boom in Florida and the entire U.S. Sun Belt that has led to soaring prices. Many rental units are no longer on the market — or they’ve become a lot more expensive.
“In some Florida destinations, we’ve seen increases of 100 to 200 per cent for rentals from pre-COVID times,” says Stephen Fine, president of Snowbird Advisor. That isn’t necessarily going to stop snowbirds from travelling this winter. “But they are going to change their habits,” he says. “Some may go for shorter periods — four or five months instead of six months.”
In any destination, there are ‘prime’ properties and ‘secondary’ properties. Snowbirds may want to consider a secondary property if they’re looking to stretch their dollar. “If they usually rent a place right on the water, they might rent a place inland instead,” says Fine.
The cost of flights, vehicle transport and rental cars has also gone up. While driving your own vehicle may seem like a cheaper option, you can expect to pay more for gas, hotels and meals in restaurants. If you’re travelling in an RV, it may be worth staying in one locale rather than driving to multiple destinations to save money on gas.
Canadians who usually head to popular snowbird locales may want to consider lesser-known destinations this year to get the most bang for their buck.
Here are five options:
1. Off-the-Radar Florida
If Fort Myers isn’t an option this year, consider some of Florida’s lesser-known snowbird destinations, which still offer sun, sand and balmy temperatures. Anna Maria Island, for example, offers all the perks of island living, yet tends to fly under the radar. In general, the Florida Panhandle is a good bet for more affordable accommodations.
Tybee Island is walkable and bikeable, with crab shacks, birdwatching and boutiquing, but without the high-season crowds (and prices). Plus, it’s close to historic Savannah. Midway between Savannah and Jacksonville is the Golden Isles, made up of four barrier islands; St. Simons is the largest island, with golfing, fishing and more than 100 restaurants to choose from.
From the beaches of the Gulf Coast to Texas Hill Country, ‘Winter Texans’ have plenty of options here — especially for RVing. Affordable accommodations and RV parks can be found in Galveston (a barrier island near Houston), the Corpus Christi area (such as nearby Padre Island and Mustang Island) and the Rio Grande Valley (like subtropical McAllen, with palm trees and tropical birds, just a few miles from Mexico).
Florida isn’t the only place to feel that warm Gulf of Mexico breeze: Alabama has more than 30 miles of coastal shoreline and white-sand beaches along the Gulf. Mobile, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer balmy weather and Southern hospitality for winter-weary Canadians — without the prices of some of their Florida neighbours. There are plenty of affordable RV parks, too.
While the rest of the world isn’t immune to inflation, there are still plenty of international destinations where snowbirds can stretch their dollar. In Mexico, for example, many Canadians are discovering inland communities such as Merida and San Miguel de Allende, while Puerto Escondido and the Mayan Coast offer coastal options away from the more heavily touristed areas. Also consider European destinations like southern Spain and Portugal that can be surprisingly affordable during the off-season.