My husband, Gary, and I spend the summer months on beautiful Vancouver Island in B.C. Canada, where we live on an alpaca farm.
Then, as soon as the dreary cold rains begin, we head to tropical Panama where our favorite pastime is reclining on our terrace while we munch on fresh fruit bursting with flavor or sip a frosty margarita or ice cold cerveza and watch the iguanas put on their daily performance.
We’re what are colloquially called “snowbirds.” We fly south every winter to enjoy year-round summer.
Having homes in two different countries certainly took some organization and adaptations to arrive at the smooth transition we now enjoy after a few years of ironing out the kinks.
To pave the way for other “snowbirds” I have compiled a list of helpful tips to make this lifestyle as seamless as possible.
1. Keep clothing and shoes at each home. More and more airlines are charging for baggage, sometimes even for a single suitcase for the two of you. In order to avoid that expense, we simply divided our clothing, toiletries, and footwear in half, leaving half in each country. That way we need only to pack the articles needed for the journey itself. Besides, this allows you to purchase a few new items guilt free.
2. Most telephone, television, and internet companies have what is referred to as a “vacation mode” option. This allows users to retain their monthly plans while absent. This typically costs about $20 per month, and saves you paying full-plan costs in two separate countries year-round.
3. Make copies of all important papers such as life insurance policies, powers of attorney, and financial information, ensuring that they are all available, no matter which country you are currently in.
4. If you turn off all or some of your utilities while away, leave a return arrival date with the companies in order to prevent having no water or electricity when you get home, sometimes late at night. Most will gladly accommodate you in this way, free of charge.
5. Unhook the battery cable on your vehicle while away. Arriving home after six months prepared to do the initial grocery shop, and other necessary errands and discovering that your car battery is stone dead, is extremely frustrating.
6. Purchase only six months of insurance at a time to prevent paying insurance on vehicles in two separate countries year-round.
7. Unfortunately having double sets of keys, credit cards, drivers licenses, and currency has the potential to be a nightmare. Upon arrival at either end I simply do a quick exchange and return the “other home” sets to the suitcase for safe keeping. In the same vein, it is beneficial to keep suitcases and carry-ons easily accessible, enabling you to add items for the following trip as you think of them. Inevitably you will discover while in one home that you would prefer to have a particular item in the other. Countless times this practice has saved us from forgetting these objects until the instant we are in need of them and remember they were not packed. It is also wise to top up or purchase travel size items, insert them in the required airline plastic bags, and stash them in your carry-ons well before your departure date.
After much trial and error and discovering of new short cuts, we now have our transitions down to a fine art. Or well oiled machine, if you will. This enables us to kick back, relax, and settle in for our alpaca life or our iguana life, depending on time of year.
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