Canadian winters are very cold and pretty long. As temperatures dip throughout Canada, a generous number of Candians head south to escape the winter wind, slippery ice and the mounds, and mounds of snow. Most choose a destination in a warmer climate for a 5-6 month escape. Their route of migration and destinations vary from Spain to Costa-Rica and the Bahamas, California, Jamaica, just to name a few.
To most, they are known as Snowbirds.
When we hear this term, most of us imagine an elderly couple driving in a long classic car, wearing cute beige sun hats. We picture them tanned, wrinkled and happy, sitting by the beach or on a golf course swinging their putters, enjoying their retired life.
But that isn’t always the case. Nowadays, Snowbirds come in all shapes, sizes, colours… and ages. Take me for instance. I am one of a few but very proud Black, and young Canadian Snowbirds.
Black Canadians can be Snowbirds too!
It all started back in 2010; sitting in my small living room with my grand-mother. She exhaled and shook her head. We had planned to go walking by the water but we felt discouraged and trapped. The weather predictions were not favorable, with an expectation of ice and snow for the rest of the day. She told me she had made a decision to spend the following winter weeks under the sun. I picked up my tablet and began researching options for an 83 year old woman, who was seeking a sunny destination, not far from Eastern Canada. It needed to be safe and in close proximity to medical aid if needed.
I wanted her to enjoy these days: free of ice, snow and those thick heavy grey skies. I had just survived an accident and I would be recovering for some time still. Trying to be active during the winter was difficult. Because of my injuries, I could feel the cold weather forcibly contracting my muscles, this made it challenging to balance myself and walk in the snow. I also recognized the new difficulties of undressing/dressing every time I wanted to step outside. Winter magnified the impact and was a threat to a speedy recovery. Therefore, I began to consider the benefits of traveling with Snow. Just for a month or two, in the southern U.S., enough time to catch a tropical vibe and come home. Some restful time in the sun with Snow… yes that was the solution.
No, not the actual frozen flakes of water… Snow is also my grand-mother’s name. This lovely matriarch who raised 13 kids while hard working morning till night. After all those years, she was overdue for the sunkissed life; her kids were grown with kids of their own. With no more work, she was finally free.
Different feathers can still flock together.
But being a Snowbird doesn’t only mean being retired. In more recent years, business owners who seek flexible work locations or seasonal employment positions have also adopted this lifestyle. There are young families, traveling couples or single go-getters. Some have serious health conditions, like pulmonary illnesses or cold sensitive injuries – just like me. Others simply prefer the hot weather. Snowbirds no longer fit one mold, there are many factors that make up this new migrant profile. The reasons for the annual move vary; just as much as their origins and life stages do. In my case, I had found strong motivations to make this lifestyle change.
Snowbirds LOVE Florida.
Only 2000 kms drive away, Canadians can easily travel to Florida to avoid the winter months. Most of the time they drive their own vehicles and head south where they are united with other Canadians. Living in bright tropical communities but still experiencing their culture and native tongue. And to add spontaneity, a quick and affordable flight can reunite them with friends and family from back home. As a Snowbird, I often extend invitations to Canadian friends and family.
Being only a two-and-a-half-hour flight away: Florida does represent the quickest option to sunny soil for Canadians. The Canadian chamber reports that more than 700,000 Canadians travel to Florida every year. Some have decided to live in the south full time, leaving Canada for good. No matter what the duration, Florida and other parts of the southern United States get hit by what I like to call the Snowbird Invasion. We have our own culture and way of living in the United States. Big Canadian communities, with Canadian grocers, selling Canadian products and among international flavors… it really works out!
Be aware of the Snowbird rules and plan it out.
Like most pleasures, there are a series of rules and regulations to respect while traveling outside our country of residence. Unwanted interruption of healthcare or heavy penalties can result if the residence status requirements are not respected. Canadians who want to keep their Canadian benefits and ensure no interruption, must respect the residency requirements.
Covid has enabled many to move south this past Winter. Online school and home tutoring can be taken advantage of in Tampa, Dominican Republic, or anywhere else that has decent internet service. Be sure that your child should be registered in the school where they will be attending once you return home.
To work legally abroad, a work visa is required.The criteria and the often lengthy waiting periods require patience, effort and maneuvering of logistics… but it’s possible. Nowadays, Covid has absolutely strengthened the work-from-home possibilities. Because of this, certain individuals have been migrating south to avoid often weekly snow shoveling and repeated winter boot lacing while quarantining.
Here comes the (housing) BOOM!
Not unlike many areas in North America with great real estate options, South Florida has been recording an explosive real estate boom so far in 2021. The median price for a home has grown by as much as 50% in some areas compared to 2020. Most homebuyers can now expect a bidding war when they try to purchase a sunshine property. Zillow, a popular online real estate marketplace, recently reported that 15% more people relocated to South Florida rather than moving out of the state. This reality definitely reflects the increase in winter home purchases by the Snowbird population.
Home sickness is a reality for Snowbirds.
Traveling south has many obvious benefits but to be fair, it’s not all sunbathing and margaritas. The distance can also create emotional circumstances and feelings of isolation, especially when quarantined. I call it the Canadian blues. On some days, I really miss my hometown reference… like my coffee spot, a quick subway transit, or my smiley neighbour and the unexpected visits from family members just dropping in to chat.
Certain pressing realities can easily create feverish “hometown blues”. A breakup, a job loss, and other stressful times can quickly add emotional clouds to your sunny life. Nothing compares to someone’s physical presence. Sure, video calls help but we all know it’s not the real thing. And there are things that happen back home that you can’t be there for, some things just can be handled in your absence; your rental property back home needs constant repairs, your car breaks down and your trusty ( and way cheaper) mechanic is 2000 kms away, your friend has a miscarriage or you miss your niece’s music recital… you being away from home can be not only sweet and sunny but sad and salty.
Cold Weather Ain’t For Everybody.
They say that if you don’t like something: change it or learn to live with it. I love Canada, I wouldn’t change it, but the way I live with it is by leaving. This said, after spending 5 weeks under dark clouds, in slushy streets, and slippery pavements, and freezer burning winds: I’m over it. Snow is literally the main reason that I made the seasonal move to Florida. The community, the lovely weather, the population’s welcoming attitude and many other positives keep me coming back.
Once this pandemic clears, (all this sunshine makes me very optimistic) if layering up with hoodies, coats, and the loads of other winter gear isn’t your jam, I believe it’s time to change your winter location! Visit Florida! Visit California! visit anywhere that’s snowless.
Add some “sunshine jelly” to your life and to your winter days. Make tropical life your “jam”.