What to Pack, What Not To
Packing and Organization Strategies for Snowbirds
Bring Only Your Best
Snowbird men and women have different wardrobe needs, but there are some common traits. How much is too much stuff? If you have a washer and dryer onsite, you don't need to pack a lot of clothes, but be smart about your choices. Don't think you're suddenly going to wear the items that have been lingering in your closet, untouched for a year or more.
Bring only your favorite and best-fitting items that can multi-function. By multi-function, that means scaling back to one casual jacket and one dressier jacket, limited jewelry, a reversible belt, one large and one small purse and just a few pairs of shoes that serve more than one purpose. Take a good look at the items you intend to bring and evaluate if there's duplicates? Why bring two pairs of the same black pants? Instead, pack one each of black, white, blue and khaki. From there, mix and match, wear layers and don't worry about "repeating" your wardrobe. No one but you will even notice. What does get noticed is if you look consistent. Remember, you'll want to save space for the items you purchase while away.
One of the best assets of your snowbird closet is an airy, uncrammed, uncluttered feeling when you look at your wardrobe. We have a walk in closet at home and in our winter condo. By far I love my condo closet the most because it is clean, clear, concise.
If you have a small closet in your winter home, you won't have space for lots of extras, so don't put yourself through the agony of packing too much stuff, only to have to weed it out once in your second home.
Space Bags - Not Suitcases
The first few years we travelled in a traditional sedan, which believe it or not, my husband specifically bought for our first time as snowbirds. It is a great car that we still own, but in hindsight it is not the best plan for snowbirds. Our dog took up the entire back seat, which left only the floor in the back seat and the trunk for "everything else." Eventually, we bought a very large SUV, yet it too is quickly filled to the max.
Because of having very limited space, no matter what size your vehicle is, my best packing hack is space bags! I purchased several sizes and my husband uses one large space bag for his clothes, I get one for my clothes and there's a third for beach towels, sheets and more clothes. We each fill our bags with anything we wish, but it all must fit in the bag. This helps avoid surprises when it is time to load the vehicle.
The space bags are sealed with a vacuum cleaner, which means you will not be able to access the items in your space bags until you arrive at your destination. You will also need to re-seal them when you leave your destination, which could be problematic if your winter home doesn't have a vacuum cleaner. I found the space bags didn't hold a seal after the first year, so repurchase them if needed. Overall, I love using space bags in lieu of a suit case, which is a waste of valuable space in the trunk and why have empty suitcases sitting around in your snowbird home if you don't have to?
Color Coded Duffel Bags
So, you're wondering what do you do with your clothes for the trip to/from your winter destination? I use color coded cargo bags to easily know which bag belongs to me, my husband or our dog. And the type of bag indicates what is inside: orange canvas bag is for bottled beverages and snacks; lime green duffel is our travel toiletries to/from our destination; an oversized light green canvas bag is for the dog; a black duffel is my husband's travel clothes and a pale blue tote bag is for my travel clothes (which then turns into my beach bag).
Color coded bags are so much easier when you are unloading at your destination. Pack your vehicle with the color-coded travel bags within easy reach to quickly unload when you get to your hotel. Not having to rummage around for stuff scattered around in multiple bags and boxes will help with your sanity. You're road weary by that point and just want to relax, so anything to make your life simpler is worth the effort. No one wants to lug unnecessary items into and out of your hotel room.
What's in our Closet?
Here's what's in our closet after being away for six+ weeks. My husband's quantities are on the left and mine are on the right. The + items were purchased while away. Because we have a full size washer and dryer in our condo, we packed accordingly.
2 = short sleeved = 2 + 1
7 = long sleeved = 2
2 = Collarless = 2
4 = Short sleeves = 0
1+1 = Long Sleeves = 1
2 = Cardigan Sweaters = 2
2 = Pullovers = 0
0 = Zippered Athletic = 3
1 = Windbreaker = 0
0 = Trench coat = 1
0 = Winter coat = 1
5 = Jeans = 3
0 = Capris = 1
1 = Khakis = 0
1 = Sweats/Yoga = 2
1 = Athletic shorts = 2+2
2 = Cargo shorts = 0
0= Baseball Caps = 2+2
0 = Purses = 2+2
0 = Scarves = 2
1 = Belts = 1
0 = Tanks = 2
3 = Pairs of Socks = 2
3+2 = Loafers = 0
0 = Dressy sandals = 1
0 = Flip flops = 0
0 = Walking shoes = 2
Of course, preferably bring enough undergarments to last at least two weeks without having to wash them. And/or buy more while away. Even if you don't live in an area with plentiful retail shops, you can always shop online.
Jewelry is another consideration and here's what we brought:
1 = Wedding ring = 1
2 = Bracelets = 4
0 = Pairs of earrings = 4
1 = Necklace = 2
What to Leave Behind... Or Not
After six+ weeks of snowbirding, what should have been left behind? About HALF of the clothes we brought. Well, at least in some categories. Don't overdo your shoes, jewelry, purses and jackets. Make it work with a scaled back wardrobe.
Food Prep Appliances
Our condo was promoted as "well stocked," and it is, but that doesn't mean all of your favorite appliances and gadgets from home will be supplied. If there's a special high quality knife, or well designed Williams Sonoma® spatulas and gadgets you can't live without, then it's better to bring them. I can almost guarantee your snowbird rental will not be stocked with Pampered Chef® products, it will be basic inexpensive items that have seen their share of use. Otherwise, you may decide to make it work with what you have in your winter home or you could buy it once there. Or, if you're like me and you pared it down a little too much, have a friend or loved one stop by your home and ship it to you.
Our first year in our Southern home we purchased a small, inexpensive crock pot and used it a couple times. We should have left it behind instead of toting it back home, only to haul it back the second year. We already have a fleet of crock pots in our primary residence, so the newest one is now a permanent asset of our winter rental for others to use until we return.
Bathroom Appliances, Prescriptions & Toiletries
If your rental doesn't have blow dryers and night lights, it's nice to find out in advance. It's not worth spending your time running around buying these items when you can easily bring them from home.
Bring anything you don't want to have to order or buy, such as cosmetics, hair spray, combs, brushes, shampoo/conditioner, jewelry cleaner, nail polish remover and polish, spray tan equipment and supplies, hair extensions, hair appliances and more. Most of it doesn't take up that much space.
Don't forget to pack a supply of vitamins and aspirin, antacids, first aid items and medications/prescriptions. You don't want to have to purchase full quantities of your vitamins only to end up with a dozen bottles of items that you only needed a handful. Double up where possible -- as an example, supplements that can be easily distinguished can all go in one bottle or baggie. As an example, fish oil; pink multi-vitamins and round antacid tablets are all compatible in one baggie.
Some snowbirds prefer to transport their own pantry food from home, but there's no way it would fit in our vehicle either to/from our winter destination. We bring a few snacks for the road trip and then purchase everything else once at our destination.
Figuring out when to eat up your winter home's food is an art form that most snowbirds I've talked to have spent years trying to master. We gave away and tossed out more food than I want to think about our first and second years of snowbirding because neither a styrofoam cooler or box would possibly fit into our overloaded vehicle.
Pack enough pet food, medications, vitamins, leashes and supplies to last at least a week or more in your winter destination and make sure your pet has a comfortable bed. If you are in a remote area, you'll want to make plans to order your pet food/supplies online.
The first year, because of limited space in the sedan, we didn't have room to pack a large commercial pet bed for our Golden Retriever, so we brought a 2' X 3' carpet remnant that he likes. It packs flat, it was a piece of home and provided some softness in an all-tile condo, which was chilly at times. If you have room, bring your pet's bed and haul it into the hotel on the way to and from. It will help calm them down due to the stress of travel.
Your snowbird contract should let you know if you need to bring your own linens and towels, but if it doesn't, find out in advance. Some snowbirds prefer to have their own linens, or they bring their own so their pets can sleep in bed and not potentially ruin the rental sheets.
Our rental has two kitchen towels and two dish cloths, which would last us 1-2 days. So we brought our own to supplement.
Most rentals don't provide beach towels, so purchase new ones at your destination or bring your own from home.
Don't forget to pack scissors, a stapler, screw driver, tape, paper clips, note paper, envelopes, stamps and pens. No one wants to drive around looking for these items if you don't have to.
If you are not sure about needing spare keys while away, bring them. It's not worth calling a locksmith if you lock your only set in your car. Or worrying about whether someone borrowed your car while you were away because the keys were right there in the kitchen drawer. Likewise if you hide your spare keys/valuables at your primary home while away, make sure you can easily figure out where you hid them! It may be a surprise, but your memory about these things will fade the longer you are gone.
"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."
--Susan Heller Anderson, reporter for the New York Times