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Reverse Snowbirding

“Sunbirds” flock to cooler climes when home gets too hot in the summer

By Nancy Monson

Living in a hot-weather climate can be wonderful in the winter. Northerners often envy Southerners and Arizonans basking in warm, sunny weather while they shiver in the cold and ice — and they may even flock to those states as snowbirds. But come summer, the two groups swap places, and those who live in southern states and Arizona typically yearn for cooler destinations.

A person posing with a chunk of glacier ice. Next Avenue, reverse snowbird
"Alaska has never been a more popular destination, and the state has lengthened its cruising season through to October, whereas cruises used to shut down at the end of the summer."  |  Credit: Getty

"The heat and humidity in Texas in the summer are constant, and it doesn't cool down at night like it does in other places," says Damon Gonzalez, a financial planner at Domestique Capital who lives in Plano, northeast of Dallas.

"I love Texas," he adds, "but I hate waking up in July and August and finding it's already 85 degrees outside. Last summer was particularly bad: We went for two months without a break."

While statistics on so-called sunbirds who travel north for the summer — or even snowbirds who go south for the winter — are hard to come by, a 2006 survey published in The Journals of Gerontology observed that about 313,000 adults aged 55 and over left Florida in summer months. Many of these "temporary migrants" had moved to Florida from a cold-weather area and returned to visit family and friends in the summer. Some even kept homes in the second destination.

Sue Ann Adams, a luxury specialist for AAA Auto Club Group in Seminole, Florida, has observed two key trends around sunbirding: (1) more people than ever are seeking refuge from the brutal sun and (2) they are taking longer vacations.

Gonzalez, the financial planner, says he fights the heat by leaving Texas for a full month each summer, and adds that many of his clients do the same. "Working people often can take five to six weeks of vacation or work remotely, and retirees can go wherever they can afford to travel," he says.

Cruising is a popular getaway for sunbirds, and "the cruising season for many summer destinations is extending into fall," says Adams. For example, "Alaska has never been a more popular destination, and the state has lengthened its cruising season through to October, whereas cruises used to shut down at the end of the summer."

Cruise Critic, a website that tracks all things cruises, concurs, reporting that river cruises in particular are getting longer with year-round itineraries; Cruise Critic has also noted a trend toward more solo travelers, particularly women.

In the United States, where AAA tracks statistics on road trips, Nashville and Tennessee are the most popular destinations for domestic travelers. "Nashville is clean and friendly, there is music everywhere and it is an easy drive for Floridians if they don't want to fly there," AAA's Adams says.

Other popular summer destinations include New England, Minnesota, Michigan, Alaska and Canada. Mountain areas are a big draw for people in Arizona and the South; although they may be hot during the day, they cool off in the evening.

A Key to All National Parks

The cooler climates of high-altitude national parks like Glacier in Montana and Yosemite in California are also appealing. A major attraction of national parks is America the Beautiful, the national parks and federal recreation lands pass. For a one-time fee of $80, the lifetime pass allows people aged 62 and older (and anyone in the same car) to enter every national park for no additional charge.

National parks are also accessible to older adults with mobility issues, says Candy B. Harrington, founder of the website Emerging Horizons and author of "Barrier-Free Travel National Park Lodges for Wheelers and Slow Walkers."On the negative side, parks typically are crowded in July and August so it's important to research and plan thoroughly for your summer respite.

International travel can also be an option, but again, you need to pick your destination carefully. Gonzalez says that he enjoys visiting cool European destinations like Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and the Swiss Alps in the summer.


"It works well for me to go to Europe because I can explore during the day while my clients are still sleeping, and then answer emails or phone calls in the afternoon," he says. You want to beware of non-mountainous areas of Europe, however, and popular cities like Paris and Rome: They typically are uncomfortably hot and hotels and restaurants often don't have the level of air conditioning Americans are used to.

Tips for Securing Accommodations

Plan ahead. You can, of course, go a traditional route and book a hotel room or stay with family and friends during the summer, but you can also opt to rent a whole house through Airbnb or VRBO to really settle in for the duration of your trip. Whatever you choose to do, plan a year to a year and a half in advance, advises Adams.

Since more people travel north in the summer and those months are popular vacation times for Northerners and families whose kids are on a break from school, the best accommodations book up quickly (especially in national parks).

Don't expect deals on cruises. The popularity of cruises means "we are not seeing many last-minute deals," so Adams advises booking in advance. Solo cabins, in particular, are reserved quickly. Also, for summer cruises to Florida or the Caribbean, she suggests buying travel insurance that covers hurricanes. "August to October is hurricane season in the South, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't have travel insurance and your cruise gets cancelled," Adams reports.

Consider the advantages of the Southern Hemisphere. "If you're on a budget, South America is wonderful and affordable, and our summer is their winter," says Gonzalez. Similarly, a summer trip "down under" — to Australia or New Zealand — usually brings more temperature weather.

Nancy Monson is a writer, artist and coach who frequently writes about travel, wellness and creativity. She is the author of "Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Pastimes," Connect with her on Instagram. Read More
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