Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

Snowbird Four Week Packing Timeline
Plan your travel bags so each person knows exactly how much space they are allotted for clothing, kitchen, bath, office and pet/s.

Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

Snowbird Checklists for Leaving Home

Snowbirds have a dual goal prior to departure: not only packing, but prepping their home for an extended time away. Packing and prepping for departure is important, unavoidable and time consuming, but it is easily my least favorite aspect of being a snowbird. I like organization, structure and predictable outcomes; however, the timing of packing and prepping is tricky because there's so many variables that can affect even the most well-prepared snowbird.

You might think you're on target only to have a near-miss almost derail your plans. As an example, about a week before we departed our first season, the back yard started retaining alarming levels of water. We had to find and hire a company on short notice to trench our drainage tile further away from the house. Another year, water came out of the recessed ceiling light on the lower level and a  plumber had to be called in to help us. The stress, expense and timing of unforeseen last minute issues is exactly why snowbirds need to offset by managing prep and packing as much as possible.

By setting up a four week timeline, it can help reduce the panic of overlooking essential items. If you pack too soon, the likelihood of duplicating items or fishing things back out increases, while packing at the eleventh hour, also known as "panic packing" greatly improves your chances of forgetting stuff. Sure, you can try to get a member of your home team to go over to your house, retrieve your eyeglasses, spare keys, wedding ring, medication, favorite shoes or whatever it is, then pack it up and ship it, but who wants to pile on that kind of added responsibility when you're already asking a lot as it is?

To reduce guesswork, I've outlined a basic four week timeline to aid with planning projects and assist with gauging where you generally need to be at each weekly interval. Weeks four and three have a much broader tone than the last two. The last two weeks ideally should be focused on minor tasks if at all possible and only the most essential social plans. Be prepared for hitting burnout around the two week mark. When it happens, and it will, acknowledge your feelings, take a break and double down when you are ready. Don't forget to give extra attention to your pet/s -- they sense and react to your stress and all of the changes. Help them feel safe and secure with extra love and nutritional supplements.

Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

Four Weeks Out

Make Lists, Lists and More Lists

Lists are the lifeblood of snowbird packing prep. Without the basic framework of to-do's, how can anyone possibly know if they are on track? Make lists, post them in plain view on your bathroom mirror and refrigerator and assign who is doing what. Then start knocking them down line by line.

Snowbird Packing Timeline
Don't forget to give extra attention to your pet/s -- they sense and react to your stress and all of the changes. Help them feel safe and secure with extra love

Snowbirds who depart after the December holidays need to be even more organized due to the rushed frenzy of decorating, entertaining, shopping and socializing only to tear it all down and pack it away to redirect energy for prepping, packing and departing. I prefer to remove all winter seasonal items and set up for the season we return, spring. I don't want to come home to a time capsule. Our Northern neighbors take the opposite approach so there's less stress prior to heading out the door. Either way, there's a mountain of work to do and separating tasks into many different lists is a good start.

Lists can be organized by categories such as:

  1. Work/Career
  2. Personal: Health care, grooming, financial, civic, etc.
  3. Rooms of the house: bedroom, kitchen, bath, office, garage, storage room, etc.
  4. Pet/s
  5. Social Life: plans with friends and loved ones
  6. Clothing/Accessories
  7. Daily meals for the last week to use up your perishables
  8. Last minute departure checklist

Finalize and complete the highest priority projects

How to decide what is the highest priority? What will be a major issue if it doesn't get done in advance of departure? Then work backwards from there. An example would be your security system. If you already have a monitored alarm service, but no cameras installed, then make sure it gets completed no later than four weeks ahead of departure. The same is true for installing devices such as automatic timers for your interior and exterior lights. Not only do you need time to schedule projects with third parties, you'll also want to thoroughly field test your new or existing systems. Restock batteries so your home team can easily replace them if needed.


Think about how your unoccupied home will appear to anyone from the exterior as well as from the interior. If you keep your curtains closed to retain heat and privacy, consider replacing lighter colored window treatments so they blend in better from the street view. Dark blinds and curtains draw less attention than treatments with a white liner.

If your home is occupied while you are away, window treatments that don't attract attention will help ease your mind whether open, closed or slightly askew.

From here, tackle your next highest priority projects. For me, this includes a major sweep of the house to declutter, shine and polish every surface, plus make cosmetic improvements. This year, we focused on installing new light fixtures in four areas of our home and took on a partial kitchen remodel -- a remodel that best case, will not be completed until a few hours before we leave. I do not recommend this at all. It is too much.

With four weeks to go:

Tackle the largest, most essential projects to prep your home: repairs, painting, added security, deep cleaning, sorting and donating items to charity, etc.

Check your home's major systems, such as furnace, sump pump, security, etc. Schedule maintenance or repairs as necessary.

Connect with your home team to make sure they are still on board.

Working snowbirds have the added huge responsibility of prepping their contact lists and files, computers, inventory, parts, vendors, shipping/receiving and so much more. Good organization and communication of who is doing what and when is essential. Use lists, double check and cross check. There's no shortcuts here, stay ahead of your self-determined deadlines as much as humanly possible.


Let your snowbird friends know of your travel timeline.

Book your hotel for the trip down, if it's not already done.

Clean and spiff up your guest rooms and any infrequently used areas of your home that you want to sparkle. Nobody wants to leave an unkempt house, but prepping guest rooms is the very last priority as you're flying out the door, which is why it should be done far in advance.

Decide if you are turning your water off. Most long term snowbirds with vacant homes do, but there's pros and cons if you're away for weeks vs. months.

Pack your pet's travel bag: There's typically no reason your pet's bag can't be packed four weeks in advance with the caveat that the last minute items will wait until the days prior to departing. Everything your dog needs while away should be packed and ready:  medical paperwork, canned food, new and favorite toys, treats, heart worm and other meds, flashlight/s, bandanas, brushes, vitamins, etc. Of course, dog bowls, food, bedding and leashes will need to wait until the last minute.


Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

Three Weeks Out

Execute Your Lists and Projects

With three weeks to go, continue knocking down items on every list and re-evaluate what is realistic to accomplish prior to departure. Order anything that needs to arrive before departing.

Now is the time to start staging the items that need to travel with you. Start by selecting things you know you won't need to use prior to leaving. As an example, I pull beach towels, warm weather clothes and shoes from my closet, inspect them for any issues, then place them together so I can get a visual check of what is or isn't on deck.


Wash, iron and take articles of clothing to the dry cleaners if needed.

Start staging your kitchen, bathroom, office and laundry items that need to travel with you.

Stop purchasing any unnecessary perishable refrigerator or pantry items. This is the time to be consuming or weeding out your fridge/s, freezer/s and cupboards, not adding to your inventory. It won't taste any fresher when you return, so eat it up.

Complete all necessary appointments prior to or during the three week window. An example, salon and hair appointments plus anything else such as appointments with your financial planner, legal or tax advisers.

Schedule your pet's grooming appointment.

Order anything that needs to arrive prior to departure.

Clean the refrigerator/s.

Clean the garage.

Clean all hard floor surfaces.

Wipe down your baseboards.

Repair items and paint as needed.

Schedule your vehicle's check-up if not already completed.

Pack your cash and any gift cards you plan to use while away.

The majority of your social engagements should be completed during the last two to three weeks prior to departure.

Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

Two Weeks Out

Fine Tune Your Lists and Projects

With two weeks to go, a significant amount of your lists and projects should be completed, but of course there's still a ton to do. Every day should be dedicated to crossing off more items from the lists because new ones will inevitably pop up. It's unavoidable. If you're like me, 50% of your tasks won't even be on the lists, which adds to the emotional pile. With two weeks to go, some projects will need to be postponed or be put into the "on the bubble" category. Recognize that you and your spouse or partner will be more irritable and short-fused with the stress of everything. It's part of the departure process and bound to happen. Avoid being around anyone who is coughing or outright sick. Wash your hands frequently, don't touch anything you don't have to and use plenty of hand sanitizer, especially if in public places.

Only purchase fresh vegetables and perishable items you plan to consume prior to leaving.

Try to use up as much meat from your freezer/s as possible in case the power goes out while away. Nobody wants to lose expensive frozen meat if they don't have to.

Pick up your dry cleaning, last minute prescriptions or anything else that can be done in advance.

Update your lists of passwords, contacts and other important information, then put them with your staged office files.

Take your pet to be groomed.

Make copies of everything in you and your spouse or partner's wallets: driver's license, credit cards, membership cards, etc. Weed out and leave behind anything non-critical that is taking up space. Why tote your merchant loyalty cards around if those businesses are not located in your southern community?

Drop off charity donations.

Deliver smaller plants to your home team care giver.

Bring your vehicle in for service to be checked over.

Replace the hand sanitizer in your vehicle's drink holder or console with a full bottle.

Detail the interior of your vehicle. Go over anything that still needs to be done to prep it for travel.

Ensure you have all the parts and cords for your radar detector, GPS device, phone quick charger and multi-socket cigarette lighter splitter.

Don't forget to pack maps and directions. Like us, you may travel through back country or areas where there is no cell service to call for directions or use your GPS.

Give your loved ones an itinerary and contact information in case they need to reach you.

If hosting a farewell social event, keep it as simple as possible. If your staged items are covering your entire dining room table, figure out where to put them while you are hosting your guests.

Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

One Week Out

The final 25%

With just one week to departure, 75% or more of your lists and projects should be completed, but for every item knocked off, be ready for a new one to appear. It would be wise at this point to decide what isn't going to get done and postpone it for your return. Remember, burn out is likely to happen around this time, so be prepared to combat it with some "me" time. You may also feel less able to remember things and concentrate. Take extra care of yourself. This is not the time to get sick, but every snowbird worries about being unable to make the trip due to themselves, their loved ones and/or their pets. The emotional undertones are what add to snowbird stress levels.

Personally, I don't think this isn't the time to be working on projects such as painting your master bathroom. However, I am guilty of it with less than a week to go. Why? Because by keeping very busy, I am attempting to take my mind off everything that has or can go wrong.

Be prepared for last minute social invitations. Maybe you can squeeze it in or maybe not. If you're on the fence about a last-minute offer, politely decline and say it isn't going to work before departing. Be realistic about not taking on too much and if you must turn down an invitation, make solid plans with those person/s for your return.

Don't try to host anything. Instead, have loved ones drop by your home to say farewell, but don't extend offers of a meal. We prepared a home-cooked family luncheon mere days before departing our first season, but I now view that as a rookie mistake. It's too much work.

Only attempt essential minor shopping during the last week. This isn't the time to go on a major spree to overhaul your wardrobe. Save it for your warm weather destination.

Double check that you packed your passwords, keys and paperwork to get into your snowbird home or rental.

Finish all laundry, including clothes for your trip, bed linens and bed spreads.

Take photos of each of your vehicle's odometers.

Photograph and/or video record your favorite, most valuable and/or key possessions, then put them away out of sight.

Ensure your home team knows when and what they are doing, how to get into your home and how to contact you should a problem occur.

Start the process of acclimating to the time change in your snowbird destination. For us, there's a one hour difference, which doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Yet every year in our southern home we eat on Central Time, but we struggle to adjust our sleep patterns from Eastern Time. This means we rise at the crack of dawn and can't stay awake past 10 pm. Well, frankly, we don't actually ever fully adjust to the time change, but we do try.

Confirm your hotel reservation.

Clean high profile windows and glass on doors.

Make sure you are on track with your trash and recycling schedule to minimize anything that will sit in your garage while away.

Consume the majority of your fridge's perishables.

Finish the rest of your social plans and farewells.

Snowbird Packing and Prep Four Week Timeline

One Day To Go

Crunch Time

Vacuum and clean the floors and surfaces of your home's main areas, such as the kitchen, living and bath rooms.

Wipe down any remaining smudges on windows.

Fill your fuel tank and run the vehicle through the car wash.

Prep portions of your pet's dry food into baggies and pack into the travel bag.

Lay out your clothing for the trip to your destination.

Prepare your hotel duffel bag/s and toiletries so they can be packed the morning of departure. This is key. No one wants to make the mistake of arriving at the hotel only to realize they have to dig out their sleepwear or any misplaced items from the fully loaded vehicle.

Toss out remaining perishables from the refrigerator.

Run your final load in the dishwasher, then unload it.

Wipe down all mirrors, counter tops and last minute surfaces.

Determine when you're turning the water off OR prop all exterior sink cabinet doors open

Ensure you have your wallet/s, identification, passports (if applicable), jewelry, airfare, blank checks, phones, chargers, computer devices and so forth staged or packed.

Close blinds/window treatments as necessary.

Adjust the thermostat.

Load your vehicle except for the last minute items.

Try to get a good night's rest and travel safely!


"Plan your work for today and every day. Then work your plan."

-- Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

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