May 17, 2016

Can You Spend Part Of The Year Away From Family?



This is  an intriguing question posed by a new reader. I have addressed something similar in a past post, but from the perspective of the kids who are left behind when parents or grandparents spend part of the year somewhere else. This time let's turn our focus on those who leave for the summer or winter.

The ability to follow the sun, live part of the year in a place you love, or spend extended time visiting family and friends is one of the true blessings of retirement. If the budget, spirit, and obligations permit, there is nothing preventing you from jumping in the RV, a plane, or car and hitting the road. 

Living in Arizona, I am exposed to this concept every year. Folks from colder or rainier places stream into the state from October until April. Then, they head back to the places that are much more pleasant than the desert during our blistering summers. Those of us who live here fulltime do our best to find places to hide for at least part of those super-hot months. Flagstaff is two hours away and 30 degrees cooler. San Diego beckons with its moderate temperatures and foggy coastline. Portland or Seattle are a 4 hour flight north (or 7 day RV trip!).

If someone has family scattered across the country, being a seasonal traveller can solve two problems: allowing you to satisfy your wanderlust and renew family ties. With no offspring or a family setup that doesn't invite much contact, living part of the year in another location is simply a question of affordability and desire. 

But, what about the situations where some or all of your close family and good friends live where you call home? How do you feel when you move away for part of the year? How do you maintain contact with loved ones when you are away? 

One common response is that the the reason for an empty nest is to feel free to get up and go when the urge is there. E-mail, video services like Skype, text messaging, even a private Facebook page or blog meant just for family members can keep everyone up to date. In the case of an emergency or major family event, driving or flying home are options. 

Another reaction might be that your kids have their own family, and the grandkid are of the age (think teenage) when contact with the grandparents is less frequent anyway. Being gone for a season would not as big an obstacle as it was when they were younger.  

Some folks have told me that the chance to travel and live in places that make them happy, while still healthy enough, is a key factor in deciding to be away from family. Missing loved ones is not easy, but giving up lifestyle dreams would be harder.

I know a few couples who love the fact they now have two places that feel like home. Friends, belongings, and activities exist in both their summer and winter locations that make them feel settled and comfortable. They have built important relationships in both locations.

Betty and I have had to find our personal limits and what mix of family closeness and road trips work for us. For a few years we had given serious thought to spending several months of our summers in Portland, Oregon. We love the area and have some great friends we enjoy tremendously. We would escape the heat that has been our companion for over 30 years in Arizona.

Being honest with ourselves, though, we realized that being gone all summer in Oregon would not work. Neither of us wants to be away from other family members that long.  We love our new home and being close to those we care about. 


We do like RV travel. Some of our trips are just a few days or a week, but some of them have lasted for almost two months. Much like the Oregon decision, we have determined that two months away from family and our home is our limit. 

Even with all the ways to stay in touch, our thoughts begin to turn toward home somewhere around the 6 week mark. Like a horse heading for the barn, the RV starts to point that way.

The reader who submitted the question, and I too, am interested in your thoughts. Living for part of the year somewhere other than your primary home - is it difficult, create problems, or have you adjusted to the separation well?


26 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    Although a few years away from retirement, we are having a difficult time of deciding where home will be when we do retire. Our three adult children basically could not live farther apart in the USA - New Hampshire, Northern California, and Georgia. We will miss so much family/grandchildren time because of this. What we think will happen is to have a home base somewhere, possibly Florida for that October-April timeframe and then travel to those three places (and New Jersey, where my sisters live) the other months of the year. This really pulls us to retire earlier, while health is still with us, to allow us to do this. So basically our problem is sort of the opposite from what you stated in your post as we will leave home to be with family. Very curious what other folks are doing.

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    1. Apparently your kids didn't get the memo about not being too far away! You do have the potential for a lot of airline miles with that situation.

      A seasonal base and then traveling to family when your grandkids and others are likely to have summer vacation time is probably your best solution. If you are able, retiring early while health is not an issue will help quite a bit.

      Thanks, Scott. I am anxious to see what others will say, too.

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  2. As you know, we travel to FL to escape the brutal winters of upstate NY. The last two years we stayed for 3 months. It's a long time to be away from family and friends, but such a relief not to have to deal with the cold, blustery winters.

    I have family obligations, especially for my very elderly mom who needs quite a bit of support. Fortunately my siblings have stepped in while we are gone. I am very happy to shoulder the responsibilities the other 9 months, in exchange for this warm weather 3 month break.

    By extending our stay to 3 months, the sense of social isolation has become more pronounced. The condo building we rent each winter, while beautiful and in a great location, is primarily occupied by people who live there year round. People are quite friendly in passing, but we have always had the sense that folks are not interested in developing friendships with snowbirds. This is understandable; why put the effort into a relationship of someone you will see only 3 months of the year, and possibly may not return the following winter as well. This has resulted in social isolation for us; not good!

    Because of this, we have decided to rent a condo further south where our close friends from NY stay. It is a relatively small building of about 35 units, and almost all are snowbirds. They have developed a very nice community of friendships, looking forward to seeing each other every winter. We were lucky that a condo became available for us to rent, and are looking forward to being in the same location with our friends.

    Keeping in touch with family and friends while we are gone has worked out well for us. Snail-Mail and phone calls for my mom, who loves the frequent contact while we are away. Technology has provided us with lots of options for keeping in touch. Not the same as being there in person, but it's a tradeoff that for us is worth it.

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    1. The social aspects of being a seasonal traveller are difficult. The folks I know who have established friendships stay in each location for close to 6 months, and the population is probably 90% snowbirds, so that is easier.

      Ther change to the other condo sounds as though it will work out much better. You will have horror stories of Syracuse snow and Upstate winters to share!

      I don't think I could do 3 months away from family and home, though give me a condo on Maui and I may try it.

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  3. Well, we thought we had it figured out years ago, but we didn't. When we finally bought a beach house in 2000 we thought it would be the family compound for summers. The older the grandkids get the less time they have for weekends away, let alone anything longer. So we decided to sell both houses and buy one in Cape May. It was the best decision we've made.
    We are still within a couple of hours from our kids. We can take a break and visit friends in FL in the winter or travel somewhere else. This year we didn't go anywhere because Dave's dad was in hospice and then passed in late March. The winter wasn't brutal, which was a gift, and we didn't mind being here when the summer crowd left. Now we shake our heads at all the 'traffic'! lol! Having 2 homes was more than we really wanted to deal with and that was the tipping point. Being able to take short vacations works for us.
    b

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    1. I know you love Cape May. The pictures you post on Facebook most mornings are delightful.

      The age of the grandkids probably is a key point. Ours are 9, 8, and soon to be 6. Just this week we have 3 events of theirs to visit. Last week there were 2 others plus dinner and movie together on Sunday. So, now is when being only a few minutes away is so nice. In another 5-6 years, that level of involvement will probably drop quite a bit. I just trust our health will still be good so we can stretch things a bit if we choose.

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  4. Our situation is easier than many for traveling - both sets of parents are passed, and our only child we left in NY when we moved to TN has moved permanently to NC, only 4-5 hours away. We see her multiple times a year, either when we are traveling and pull into their house on Lake Norman for a few days, or when they come to stay with us for a few.

    We have a high level of points with the Wyndham Vacation Club, so Deb and I are traveling up to four months of the year, staying at their resorts. We have it easy in that respect since we primarily travel during the Fall and Winter months, when places like Myrtle Beach and Edisto Island are less in demand and much easier to secure oceanfront places. For example, we'll take off for five weeks during late Oct-Nov and we already have eight weeks booked in Jan-Feb as well. Between time we also spend in New Orleans and places like Sevierville, we'll be up to the four months/year average. And the beauty is that we can host friends or our daughter when they can join us, since we usually have multi-bedroom setups. Oh yeah, since our summer temps here on the Cumberland Plateau are pleasant, we can enjoy the best of both worlds, staying here to enjoy those months, and traveling during the cooler times.

    The hardest part was initially leaving our daughter, but with Facetime and other means we talk to her pretty much every day, and her move to NC made her much closer in proximity to us. Getting together multiple times per year is pretty much what we did when we lived in NY, but now we have her 100% of the time we are together. Life is good.

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    1. You and Deb do have a nice setup. I wonder if other readers have a similar arrangement with vacation clubs or loyalty programs. When I traveled all the time for business I would get lots free stays in Hiltons or Marriott's with their point system.

      Having your daughter and her family that close is a blessing. Besides, North Carolina is a pretty place to be.

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  5. Technology has certainly improved to allow for more connections, allowing for virtual face-to-face at the least. I do not regularly escape the existing clime, but many in my circle do. I've observed the reunion of extended families at the "second home" allowing for a vacation for all. Those in my circle who leave for 2-4 months also seem to participate in the geographical "no", i.e. that's not something I can deal with because now I'm a 4-hr (or more)plane ride away.

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    1. Technology has made quite a difference. Even when we are on just a month or so RV trip, the ability to text, e-mail, and occasionally Skype helps, though Skype seems to drop out a lot. I'm afraid nothing replaces an in-person hug, though.

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  6. My children and grandchildren live in the northeast. My brother and sister live in Florida. After much angst, we bought a condo in Florida, plus have the family home back in New York. Now, we can finally see everyone per year. We are spending six months a year with the kids in NY over the summer/warmer months. And six months with my siblings in Florida during the colder winter months.In between, we use FaceTime (SKYPE) and have set up regular meetings with the kids and grandkids. (My bro and sis will not FaceTime LOL!).
    Since we just started this a few weeks ago, I have no idea about Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. We have to work those out. (Note: I haven't spent those holidays with my siblings in decades). Easter was easy, because we were back in NY and my oldest daughter hosted the holiday.
    If we book airline tix in advance, $99 one way tickets can be found. Thankfully both granddaughters have summer birthdays, so that's covered. As well as recitals and other grandchildren events, like graduations.
    Texting, photo sharing, FaceBook keeps us all connected everyday! Everyone is on Apple so it's easy for all of us to stay close without technical difficulties. I've also started writing little bed time stories my daughters can read to the grandkids at night. Of course, Grandma is always the star of these little stories! I send each child a little love text at the end of the day. And I remember all of the above each and every night in my daily prayers. I hope we are all always together for as long as possible!

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    1. Oh, I love that idea of writing bedtime stories to be read to the grandkids, and the love text every day. Those are absolutely priceless ideas, Cindi. Betty and I will "steal" those ideas for our 2 month trip later this year. We will be out of town for our grandson's 10th birthday party, the first birthday of his we have missed. Maybe the love text and Facetime will help.

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  7. It really does take some experimentation and soul searching to figure out what REALLY makes one happy! We have figured out we don't enjoy long car/RV drives and don't necessarily want to be away for months at a time.After moving BACK to the Valley,I have reconnected with good friends and have coffee dates,wine dates,coloring book dates,on a regular basis, that I cherish! I rejoined a church I love and I volunteer.I have commitments at the Desert Botanical Garden (though not in summer when it is 115 degrees!!) I take art classes and other meetup group activities locally. And we enjoy our home, pool,library,neighbors,gardening.. Of course, we like to "escape" the heat and so we are traveling to see family in New Jersey,renting a beach house during part of the summer (Wildwood), and another 10 days in Oregon.I have a reunion with grade school (!) buddies In Colorado In August.. and we'll take a week in Santa Fe in the Fall.We find we are more refreshed by shorter trips, and by varying it up a bit, not the same thing or one place for too long.. That said,I know snowbirds who absolutely love the 6 months/6 months lifestyle.. but it's not for us. Astrology plays a role! We're both Cancerians (home-lovers!!!)

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    1. Like you and Ken, we like mostly short trips...a few days to a week or so. In fact, our 4 day trip to Silver City New Mexico last month was one of our favorite new "finds" of the last few years. Our Alaskan cruise is a week and a San Diego beach house rental for the week over 4th of July with the whole family are perfect for us. That said, I am getting excited about the September-October RVtrip back east!

      We could never be gone for 6 months. There is too much here to keep us happy and involved.

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  8. Like Scott and others, our kids are spread out, in our case from NY to SC. We're trying to figure out where to retire to ... but I just know that as soon as we decide, at least one of the kids will decide to move again!

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    1. I'm glad you mentioned that, Tom. I think we tend to assume that if we move close to our kids they will never relocate for employment or preference. Then, we are living in a place that isn't home and has no family.

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  9. I don’t have children or grandkids so my comments are from a different perspective. My aunt who lives in Utah with her son and his wife and seven kids between them, would love to come and stay with me in Arizona for more than just a long weekend. The problem is, it would create big problems for her son. She has become the housekeeper, babysitter, cook, chauffeur and everything else that goes along with running a household of two working parents and lots of kids. If I sound a little peeved, I am, because I know my aunt feels she is being taken advantage of. I suspect there are other retirees in the same situation that don’t want to upset their kid’s lives by living their own lives.

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    1. I can guarantee you are correct: retirees stuck in a situation because of family commitments or needs. Besides the type of situation you describe, there are retirees who are the primary caregivers for their parents and unable to move or travel freely, or those raising grandkids full time after death or a divorce.

      I have never found an adequate answer to these arrangements. I am hesitant to offer a suggestion since I don't know all the details of your aunt's situation. But, in general, I am a firm believer that we must live in a way that balances our commitments and our own needs. If we shortchange our self, there are physical and emotional costs.

      A creative way to have the kids cared for by friends or church arrangements must be possible....maybe not ideal. but doable.

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  10. We downsized to a condo in our home town of Toronto in 2012.
    We have spent the last four winters away in various places since we retired. We also own a lot of timeshare.

    The first year we drove to Las Vegas and rented a place for a couple of months and also used some timeshare and then went to Mexico for two weeks.
    The next year we used our timeshare, drove to LV again and then flew to Mazatlan for 1 weeks and added on side trips to Cabo San Lucas for a week and then 2 weeks in California before we drove home taking our time.
    Winter 2014-2015 we drove to LV for a month and then flew to Singapore, then Bangkok, took a Mekong river cruise through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Then floew to Australia for a month and then to New Zealand before taking a very long leisurely drive back to Toronto spending a couple of weeks in Texas.
    This last winter we spent 3 months in Mexico, Mazatlan, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Puerto Vallarta using a combination of timeshare, rentals and hotels. We travelled by bus in complete safety and comfort.
    Thanks to the blogging community we have met up with many people on our travels some of whom are now close friends.

    Mu husband has children but they live in Montreal with their children who are heavily involved in various activities. So even planning a weekend visit with them is difficult to manage around everyone's schedules.
    We hope to continue travelling like this for as long as we can.

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    1. Envy!!!! What an exciting and memorable time you must have had on these fabulous trips. Driving the 2300 miles from Toronto to Las Vegas and then back would be quite an adventure on its own.

      Obviously, you love to travel and are making the most of your opportunities.

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  11. I suspect we may be one of those couples who have two places that feel like home. Here is our story.

    In 1996, we moved to AZ from MN. No, it wasn't retirement, but the kids were out of the house. I had my own consulting business, so it was easy to move. We were tired of the snow (at least I was)and a two story house no longer met our needs. So we packed up and moved to a single story house in sunny AZ to begin a new chapter in life.

    In 1999 (after three brutal AZ summers)we bought a small condo in MN. As we were spending several weeks a year there already, we calculated it would be both cheaper and more convenient to have our own place. Sort of a "cabin up north." This was followed by the first of several grandchildren, and we were soon spending several months each year in MN.

    In 2000, we started making an annual road trip to/from MN (along with cheap flights.) Saw much of the west by taking different routes.

    In 2004, we bought a small trailer for these trips (after a particularly stinky hotel room.) The road trip now became a couple of weeks. Great fun.

    In 2012, we replaced the trainer with a small RV, along with moving the a larger condo. So we now spend at least 4 months in MN, up to 2 months on the road, and the remaining time in AZ.

    One younger son moved to CT, so we even "camped" in his driveway a couple of times. Great way to visit -- nobody has to give up their bed, and we can retreat to the RV. A recent fall return trip to AZ was via CT -- almost 5000 miles and almost a month. A great time was had by all.

    In the meantime, the grandkids are growing up(several are teenagers)so as many have noted, they are less excited about seeing Grandma and Grandpa. Nevertheless, I'm glad we've had the time together, and I cherish it.

    So what next? Last year my business partner passed away, so I'm now winding down a 30+ year business. The plans are more time in the RV, as we continue to split our time between MN and AZ.

    As Bob would say, it has been a satisfying journey, and it continues to evolve. My recommendation -- don't just dream about it -- do it while you can. I'm certainly glad we did.

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    1. As you would say, Daryl, "forge a new path." When our grandkids are older we may adopt what you and Mary are doing: half the year in AZ, 2-3 months on the road, and the other 3 months in Portland or someplace we'd like to really connect with.

      I like how you have taken a step forward after each change in your lifestyle or interests rather than jumping instantly into a totally new arrangement. As things evolve, so does your living plan. That makes tremendous sense.

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  12. We just returned to Canada after living overseas for fourteen years. We are now a reasonable drive away to most of our family members and we are greatly enjoying making up for lost time. Despite almost six months of steady rain during our winters, we've decided not to be away for more than one month at a time--at least for now. Your post, and the comments above, are very helpful for future consideration--for when our grandchildren are older--or our children decide to move.
    Donna
    www.retirementreflections.com

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    1. Wow...14 years away. I would love to get your thoughts on all the adjustments you had to make in staying away for that long and then everything you had to do to readapt to coming home. If you'd like to share drop me an email(satisfyingretirement@gmail.com) It might make a very interesting and helpful post for others.

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  13. I think the reason we have evolved into 6 here and 6n there kind of snowbirds has to do with the commitment. Once we found the little park model we now call home for 6 months, we began making it our own. We committed ourselves to doing that. It is turning into the dollhouse we imagined when we made the purchase. It has taken us 8+ years.

    While we are working at that we are making friends, golfing and continuing to travel.

    It could be that once it is perfect, we will be done and move on to a different adventure. In our world no decision is forever. That is the beauty of being free. And as always our family plays a big part in every move we make. They truly are the center of our lives.

    Take care Bob. This one was very interesting.

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    1. You make an important point, Baraba. Ownership probably makes quite a difference in how one sees the snowbird home. Renting never allows you to decorate it or store your belongings for the half year you are gone.

      I wouldn't be surprised if you and Earl make your Tucson place exactly the way you want it and then sell it and head off to Mexico for a fresh adventure!

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