Snow Birding in Retirement: Our First Trip

When we initially retired, I envisioned going south for the winter, since I’m not a big fan of the cold and rain. We don’t get much snow in southern Oregon, but it does rain a lot in the winter. Snow birders from the west coast tend to head south to southern California, Las Vegas, and Arizona. 

Friends and relatives have told me great things about spending the winter in each of those places. These snow birding locations cover a large area with many different towns to choose from. But they all share a desert like climate which is great in the winter. Dry and 70-80 degrees. Except for the southern California Coast which can be cooler.

Our first snow birding adventure was a different type of RVing than we had ever done before. We were used to traveling short distances each day and exploring each area as we moved from place to place. This time we took a long drive and stayed in one place for a longer period. Since we would be staying in one place for an extended length of time we considered the need for a car. We started our first snow birding trip without pulling a car, thinking that if we need to go somewhere we would just take an Uber. Also we were training to walk 450 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago that summer so we needed to do lots of walking. 

Upon arriving at our first snow birding location, one of the first things we noticed was the campground was much nicer than the ones where we had been staying. These were more like resorts than campgrounds. We chose nicer places with lots of activities, since most of our time would be spent onsite. Some of their activities include golf, tennis, pickle ball, bocce ball, aerobics, dance classes, quilting, wood working, lapidary, jewelry making, stained glass making, concerts, live music at the pool, gyms, socials, restaurants, swimming pools, water exercise classes, book clubs, poker games, other card games, pool tables, ping pong, horse shoes, dances, parties, softball games, church services, movies, hiking clubs, musical jam sessions, and so much more.

Along with the nicer resorts, comes an expectation for nicer RVs. For the first time our 17 year old motorhome was getting called out for being too old. The nicer campgrounds have a rule that RVs more than 10 years old need specific approval to stay at the resorts. I was required to send a picture of our RV before they would give me a reservation. That was a bit of a hassle. Our RV was in great shape and looked nice so we were never turned down. But we began to think about replacing it with a newer model.

Our old RV had analog televisions so we couldn’t hook up to cable at any site. We carried lots of VHS tapes in the rig for our viewing pleasure. Since I was writing my real estate book and we were training for the Camino, we wouldn’t watch much TV anyway. Instead we watched one of our VHS movies in the evening. Realizing how much nicer it could be to have a newer, updated motorhome, we started shopping online for a new RV while we were down where the snow birders sell their old ones creating an abundance of used RV inventory.

Since we didn’t know where we wanted to go, as every place we hear about sounded good, we decided to go to lots of places and stay about a week at each to see what was out there.

We left home on January 16th after turning in our tax information to our CPA. We figured he could work while we travel. We took two days to get to Bakersfield, CA, where I did my residency. The weather was beautiful there and we were at a resort right on a nice long bike path which gave us a great place to walk and access to explore the city. We met some old friends from residency days and stayed there for 11 nights.

We then worked our way to Las Vegas over a couple of days exploring the desert towns along the way. Upon arrival we rented a car for our time in Las Vegas to be able to easily get to the airport to pick up my mother and her friend who flew in to spend a week with us, and to visit the other places we were going to explore during the stay. Our accommodations were an RV parking lot at a casino (Circus Circus) that was next to a time share that we traded into for my mother and her friend. We stayed in Vegas ten nights and enjoyed exploring the town, visiting museums, multiple live shows, the Hoover Dam and the Valley of Fire. 

We then drove south to Yuma, Arizona which is right on the Mexican border, where we met my cousin and his wife from South Dakota, who also were snow birding in their motorhome. This park was on a golf course. We stayed eight nights in Yuma. 

Next, we camped in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where we were without hook ups for three nights. We attended a couple of ranger programs, and enjoyed hikes in the area, including a moonlight hike in the desert which was an interesting experience as we could see very well in the dessert without a flashlight with the full moon lighting the way. 

Our next stop was Tucson, Arizona where we got caught in a freak snowstorm. Snow was so unfamiliar to the locals that they didn’t know what to do in the snow. We could have stayed home for that kind of weather. But it only lasted two days and we were back to nice weather again. This was our first experience with a mega resort. Our campground had 1,100 RV sites and so many activities no one could do them all. There were many great hiking trails in this area. One evening we had the pleasure of having dinner with the Physician on FIRE and his family who were vacationing in Tucson as well.

After much online searching, we finally narrowed down our new RV choice to two contenders. One new diesel pusher in Tucson, and a year old gas rig in Phoenix (our next stop). 

On our final day in Tucson, we checked out of the resort, drove to the RV store, and spent the morning looking over and test driving the diesel pusher. Then we drove to Phoenix and spent the afternoon with the gas Bounder (similar to what we were currently driving). We liked the Bounder the best and it was nice that it was half the price of the diesel pusher. I love it when the less expensive option is our favorite. 

In order to avoid paying Arizona sales tax, we agreed to take possession of our new rig after our stay in Mesa. They would shuttle us in a van while the dealership drove our motorhome over the state line into California, where we would then take possession. After leaving the motorhome lot we drove our old motorhome to our RV resort in Mesa, Arizona for 10 nights. This resort had 2,000 RV spaces and was the winter home of a couple we know from our hometown. We also spent a couple days with my South Dakota cousin and his wife who were staying at a nearby resort in Mesa.

While we were in Mesa, we celebrated my birthday by walking six miles to a restaurant for lunch followed by a movie. After the movie we walked six miles back to our RV. How many of you ever did that for your birthday? We also went on other hikes in the desert surrounding Mesa.

On the last day in Mesa we drove our motorhome to the RV store to pick up the new RV. They parked us next to the new one and we spent the day moving all our stuff from one RV to the other. We spayed that night in their parking lot and the next day we said goodbye to our 17-year old trusty motorhome and continued on our trip. They drove us to California to deliver the motorhome without sales tax and we continued on our adventure. 

We spent the first two nights in Blythe, California along the banks of the Colorado river getting better acquainted with our new RV. We then went to El Centro California for the next seven nights. This was an interesting place. The Blue Angles were doing their winter aerial practice at this location so we got a show from them twice a day. This place also was on a golf course. 

Our next stop was on Mission bay in San Diego, California. Turned out we had bad timing. We arrived as spring break began. Throughout our trip so far we had been staying in resorts with an age 55+ requirement. Now we were surrounded by kids and partying adults. After spending many years wanting to camp at this location, it was a letdown. Arriving with the spring break crowd, the noisy kids as well as their parents, and the sleepless nights made for a unrestful stay. Walking along the beach was nice though.

We then went up to Burbank, California to cap off the trip with a conference I was attending in Hollywood. We spent five nights in Burbank before taking two days to drive home.

Our first snow birding trip took eleven weeks and we traveled 2,929 miles. We got a chance to explore many different locations and came home in a different motorhome than when we started. We needed an Uber about 7 times, not counting twice a day to get to and from my conference. 

Lessons learned:

The resorts are filled with about 60% Canadians who also like to snow bird.

The 55+ resorts are way quieter and more relaxing for snow birders.

We should stay longer at each site.

We were often the youngest people in the resorts and were often asked how I retired so young.

We think it would be nicer if we pull a car next time. More convenient than calling an Uber, especially for remote hikes.

The numerous activities really made the time fly by. I wasn’t ready to go home.

The motor home is the right size for us to take a long trip.

Audio books really make the time fly when driving between locations.

Every park runs their poker game differently. 

We loved the trip.

How about you? Have you been snow birding yet? Are you looking forward to it? If you are ready to pull the trigger and move into your retirement era, pick up a copy of The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement and meet us in Mesa next year to see our new Jeep Cherokee tow vehicle.

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