It’s that Snowbird time of year

As the polar vortex nears, and the wind turns bitter, we are seeing so many of our customers head south for the winter.  With phrases like “I’m getting out of here”, it makes those of us left here longing for balmy breezes, and shorts weather.

As my husband and I inch nearer to that magical retirement age, we have begun to dream of following in the footsteps of so many customers before us.  The questions of what type of camper to buy, how basic or luxurious, how big, and so many other items crop up.

If you are fortunate enough to own a larger pickup, you can opt for a large travel trailer or for a luxurious fifth wheel.  However, we are seeing a trend in our retirees to downsize for many reasons.  They aren’t as sure of themselves driving with a big rig, or they want to economize due to their fixed incomes by downsizing for fuel economy. 

If budget allows for it, many will opt for the motorhome option.  This allows them the convenience of driving with access to the interior on the road as well as to only have the “bad” gas mileage until they reach their destination.  After that, they unhook that little “toad” or car that they towed down, and toodle around getting 30mpg or better. 

Once the decision on the type of camper, now is the big one of where do you go?  Many Nebraskans opt for Texas, with a few going into Arizona.  In these areas they can rent a site by the month in an RV resort with all the hookups and amenities that you would want in warm weather.  Swimming pool? Check. Clubhouse? Check.  Laundry facilities? Check.  It all depends on your wants and needs.  Many people will go to the same RV resort every year creating lifelong friendships with people from all the U.S. as well as many from Canada.  It is a great phenomenon that happens in the RV world.  All of a sudden, anyone with a camper is a potential friend.  They will celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and mourn death together.  They send each other postcards, and Facebook or email them to maintain that friendship. 

Others will opt to “hit the open road” during the winter months, driving sometimes from coast to coast in the southern parts of the United States discovering all the wonders to be had.  These nomads thrive on new places, new faces (now that sounds like song lyrics to me…..) and all the adventures to be had by visiting all the out of the way places and attractions that others never get to see.

Now back to those of us sitting at home in Nebraska – pining for those warm breezes.  We receive those corny postcards from our friends down south with pictures showing them by the palm trees, and us scraping the ice from the windshields.  Usually these cute mailings show up during blizzard conditions and sub zero temperatures. While you grimace at your own circumstances, you are still glad that they have the ability to enjoy their winter. 

Back to the original thought process for this entry – snowbirding.  What do you pack?  Once again, I will remind everyone that there are grocery stores in every part of the country, so don’t overpack.  If you forgot something, pick it up along the way.  You don’t have a schedule, so stopping shouldn’t be a big hassle.  Bring the necessities as far as food, and if you are from Nebraska, don’t forget to stock up the freezer with some good corn fed beef.  Avoid bringing all the canned goods you put up this summer.  A few won’t hurt, but loading all the cupboards with that salsa, jellies, or tomatoes will seriously cut into your cargo capacity.  Avoid what I call “food hoarding” at all costs. 

When my husband and I travel, we love to sample the local flavors of where we visit.  We have discovered some amazing foods and dishes while on the road.  We stop at local farmer’s markets or grocery stores to see the samplings where we are visiting.  I have discovered that carrying only the basics serves me best.  That way, I can put some culinary creativity into our meals on the road, and keep the refrigerator open for extra treasures as we travel. 

We were visiting Key West recently for our 30th wedding anniversary, and my best culinary experience happened while eating at Deuce’s Off the Hook Grill which was a little way down the street from where we were staying.  I ordered the Zuppa de Deuces – a glorious dish featuring clams, oysters, mussels and shrimp in a butter garlic sauce served over capellini.  About the 4th bite, I felt something in the food and spit out – get this – a pearl!  It was only the 2nd time in the restaurant’s history that this had happened.  Some people have the silver spoon, I have pearls!  (Oh, and no cracked tooth in the telling of this)

Always keep room in the camper for treasures while you are traveling – I love to look at flea markets, antique shops, and all the local little shops along the way.  You can learn so much about the area you are visiting by doing this.  We always chat with the shop people or owners of the shops about the area, and come away with some fascinating information.  One town like this was Fairhope, Alabama.  A completely unique town that is community owned, with its’ history dating into the late 1800’s.  Below is a description from Wikipedia:

Fairhope was founded in November 1894 on the site of former Alabama City as a radical Georgist “Single-Tax” colony by the Fairhope Industrial Association, a group of 28 followers of economist Henry George who had incorporated earlier that year in Des Moines, Iowa.[4] Their corporate constitution explained their purpose in founding a new colony:

“to establish and conduct a model community or colony, free from all forms of private monopoly, and to secure to its members therein equality of opportunity, the full reward of individual efforts, and the benefits of co-operation in matters of general concern

In forming their demonstration project, they pooled their funds to purchase land at “Stapleton’s pasture” on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay and then divided it into a number of long-term leaseholds. The corporation paid all governmental taxes from rents paid by the lessees, thus simulating a single-tax. The purpose of the single-tax colony was to eliminate disincentives for productive use of land and thereby retain the value of land for the community.  The Fairhope Single-Tax Corporation still operates, with 1,800 leaseholds covering more than 4,000 acres (16 km2) in and around the current city of Fairhope. Despite the ideals of the corporation, the town has transitioned from utopian experiment to artists’ and intellectuals’ colony to boutique resort and affluent suburb of Mobile.

For over 50 years, fishermen and residents of Fairhope have experienced the “jubilee” phenomenon. During a jubilee along the shores of Mobile Bay, some aquatic animals, including blue crabs, flounder, stingrays, and eels, come to the shallow water. At those times, it is possible to catch the fish, crabs, and other sea life near the water’s edge.

The residents are warm and inviting, and the town itself is beautifully kept and extremely clean.  This is a place that we will definitely visit again.  My husband and I took the time to go through the local town museum explaining the history of the area and were so surprised to learn about the leaseholds and the jubilee.  The most surprising thing about Fairhope was that it was actually originated in the midwest in Des Moines!  The town is only a short drive from Pensacola, Florida.  It was a great day trip to learn about a completely unique town in the United States.  We visited some of the antique shops for a good flavor of the south as well, and met some extremely charming ladies in the local jewelry store who had heard of Nebraska, and knew that we grew corn.  Oh, if they would only visit and learn about our area….They did say they would one day, though.  But it would need to be in the summer…..

On to packing once again.  Even though you are going into a warmer climate, you will need to pack clothing for 4 seasons.  We have found that even though Florida is in a tropical climate, that when the wind blows in over the Atlantic that the wind along with the moisture will take a fairly nice day in the 60’s into what feels like 40 degrees.  The nights down there are cooler unless you are in Key West, and in the winter months, rain is a given. 

Tools are definitely an RV’ers friends.  Make sure to have a good assortment of the basics, but items like the table saw are better off left at home.  Always have a good supply of chemical and RV toilet paper.  This commodity is a little harder to find in rural areas.  Have a good drinking water hose and a water pressure regulator.  Many campgrounds or resorts will build up incredible water pressure and could blow out some plumbing if you don’t have that regulator. 

Especially when traveling in unfamiliar areas, make sure to have a surge protector for your coach.  With today’s electronics, the expense of a lightning strike or power surge could skyrocket.  $300 now, or $3,000 later – you decide.  Another handy item is to have a step stool or folding step ladder.  It will come in handy for so many things inside and outside of the coach.  Naturally, flashlights are critical – they will light your path in an unfamiliar area or act as a beacon if you are broken down on the side of the road.

Since this is a world that revolves around the internet, you will find yourself paying bills and banking online.  Make sure that you always keep passwords written down somewhere away from the computer.  Also, if you get mobile internet through your cell phone provider, make sure that you can bring up a secure connection.  Look into firewalls, etc.  Most of the campgrounds that provide internet have an open connection.  Become informed on what you can do to protect yourself on the road.  The majority of the campgrounds don’t have internet or it is spotty.  That is why you want the ability to have your own hot spot. 

This suggestion is one we learned while camping this summer in Manitou Springs, Colorado – our friends had these plastic baggies hanging from their awning – I finally had to ask why.  I was told that if you half fill the baggy with water and put a penny in it, bees and flies will avoid your campsite.  Son of a gun, after a week, no flying critters.  Inexpensive but easy.  Your neighbors will think you are nuts, but I swear that it works!

While you are camping you will want to have items to set up your outdoor patio – lawn chairs, tablecloth for the picnic table, grill, and outside rug/mat if it is allowed at the campground you are visiting.  A citronella candle is always handy as well, and if you are fortunate enough, the outside TV for watching the games in style.  This brings us to the options of over the air TV or satellite.  Some campgrounds will offer cable TV, but with the popularity of portable satellite units, it is becoming harder to find.  Choose the service you prefer – whether it is Dish or Direct, choose the satellite that will fit your needs best and you are set to go.  Having a little side table for beverages is nice, and doubles as a space for the remote control or book of the day.

Well, all this has been fun, but the polar vortex beckons, and the snow boots are getting unburied.  I will keep up with all my snowbird friends on Facebook, and dream of the day that I can hopefully follow in their footsteps.  The warm weather is calling my name particularly loud today!  Now for the planning for next spring’s camping season – find the campgrounds, plan the adventures, and take advantage of the warm spells during the winter to get outdoors for a bit.  Spring will be here sooner than you think.

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