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How to Choose a Snowbird Location

When you decide to seek out sunshine and warmer climates during the winter months, one of the first questions you might have is how to select a snowbird location.

It's a frequent question we get from people who find this blog!

If you've enjoyed vacationing in southern regions, you may already have a list of places to narrow down. And family or friends who snowbird or live in the south may also try to convince you to choose a winter destination near them.

But what do you do if you want to try a snowbird lifestyle and aren't sure where to start?

And what if you have a list of places to consider, from popular destinations to remote villages, and still have “analysis paralysis” and can't choose a location after doing some research?

This is when you can give our decision-making model a try!

Vicki (one of the site co-founders) has a Doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on decision analysis. The model she explains below gives you an alternative to just “going with your gut” or staring at a bunch of pros and cons lists.

It will help focus you on what matters most to you and minimize regrets about the snowbird destination you ultimately choose for your winter season.

decision making illustration

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Steps to Making a Smart Decision

While we focus on choosing snowbird locations in this article, this is a process you can use to help make any decision you're struggling with.

And you may even use it proactively, so you don't have as many challenges making a choice!

1. Develop the Selection Question

This step may be easy for this particular decision because your question is likely similar to, “What Snowbird Destination is Best For Me/Us?”

But suppose you're using this process for other situations.

In that case, it's essential to know that you may waste a lot of time and energy struggling with a decision because you haven't clarified the question you're trying to answer.

Make sure your question doesn't have a yes/no response or limit the choices you consider (i.e., “Is Phoenix a good place for me/us to snowbird?” or “Is West Palm Beach or The Villages a better snowbird location?”) I

Broad questions generally allow more creative options to be considered.

2. Brainstorm Your Goals

Considering your “wants” and “needs” will help you generate a list of goals, i.e., “Wants” – a quiet location, beautiful beaches, national parks, and plenty of activities close by, or “Needs” – close proximity to a medical center, airport, or interstate.

It would help if you also thought about things you want to avoid, i.e., terrible traffic, excessive heat, high cost of living area.

Then, word your goals in short phrases such as:

  • “We need to be within a half hour of a major airport to fly home for family events.”
  • “We prefer a small town location with a lower cost of living.”
  • “I want to be able to walk to the beach.”
  • “We want to live in an active retirement community popular with other Canadian Snowbirds.”
  • “I want to avoid frequently driving on major (busy!) highways such as I-75.”
  • “We need a dog park nearby or want a dog-friendly downtown”

3. Rank Your Goals

Once your goals are listed, you need to rank them based on importance.

Don't overthink your response – just read the goal and decide if it is:

  • essential or extremely important
  • very important
  • important
  • somewhat important

Your list from top to bottom is the “musts” (extremely important) first, down to the goals that matter only somewhat to you.

4. Generate a List of Options (Locations)

What destinations have you already identified? Think broadly here!

Consider all options that you come up with. The process will quickly eliminate those that won't meet your goals!

Here are a few articles that might help you generate your list:

5. Organize a Results Table

Review the table below. You will likely have more than four goals to rank. So you may have more than one (or two) goals in each category – essential or extremely important, very important, important, or only somewhat important.

Decide whether the option (location) across the top of your chart meets each goal on the left side, i.e. is it “likely” to meet the goal or “unlikely” to meet it?

You may need to do more research in this step. Don't be afraid to add comments for clarity.

RESULTS TABLELocation Option #1Location Option #2Location Option #3Location Option #4
Extremely Important Goal
“Can walk to the beach”
Very Important Goal
1. “Live within 30 mins of a major hospital”
2. “Dog park nearby or dog-friendly downtown”
Important Goal
1. “Within a 2-day drive from home”
2. “Canadian Snowbird community available”
Somewhat Important Goal
“Active art district or music scene nearby”
Grab our template here.

6. Use the Results Table to Compare Options (Locations)

This is the point in the decision process where you narrow down the options.

  • Look across the rows to see if any goal is met equally by ALL of the location options. If this happened, cross out that goal and row of results.
    • While it may feel strange to take out a goal, if each location meets it – the information will not help you narrow down your options.
  • Review the extremely important goal(s) that you identified. Are there any location options unlikely to meet these goals?
    • If so, you should remove this destination from consideration since it doesn't meet what you determined to be most important.
  • Now choose two location options (columns) and compare them from top to bottom. Does one clearly “beat out” the other in terms of meeting your highest ranking goals?
    • If so, remove the “losing” option from consideration. If they are similar in terms of meeting goals, keep both options “in the mix.”
  • Continue this process (comparing two options at a time) until you have options that appear to “tie” or until the best option is clear.
  • If you have two or more “tying” options, consider the trade-offs for choosing each location (i.e. being closer to the beach means you'll have to deal with terrible traffic, or choosing popular snowbird destinations means you'll have a lot to do but will have to pay more.)
  • If the tradeoffs for one option are more appealing than the tradeoffs for the other, remove the lesser option from consideration.

7. Determine the Best Option (Location)

When you reach this step, you will be able to determine the option that will most likely meet your goals.

If you've done your due diligence on the various destinations, there's a good chance you'll be satisfied with your decision (even if it is not a “perfect” location.)

If you still have a tie after all of your comparisons are complete, you'd probably be happy in either location.

Deciding Where You'll Spend Winter Months

While this decision-making process may seem difficult at first, it's really easy to use. Use a piece of paper to make a chart or set up a spreadsheet to organize your information, or grab our template (make a copy) to use online or print out.

Your table doesn't have to be fancy to be effective!

In the end, you may decide to go with a different location than what comes up as the “best” choice in the chart. And that's fine too.

While the process gives you a wealth of information to make a good choice for your snowbirding destination, your life and feelings are dynamic.

A goal that wasn't really important to you one month maybe be very important to you the next. Something may change in one of the locations, and that could influence your final decision as well.

Chances of being happy with your warmer weather destination will improve when you make use of the chart because you go through a decision making process and do not simply choose a location you think you'll like.

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