Living Life as a Snowbird

I am a native New Yorker. Every year, when it starts to get cold, I follow the birds and migrate south for the winter. The winters in New York always took a toll on my body and as I got older, I had saved up enough money to purchase a condo in Florida. I wanted to be warm. I want to leave 28 degrees in New York and arrive in Florida where it is 72 degrees and sunny.

After almost a year of searching, I purchased a condo in Florida in a small town of 4,000 people on a barrier island, with one way on and one way off. It’s the furthest thing from the chaos of New York. The town is a complete “endless summer” beach town. It’s not uncommon to see people walking around barefoot or in their bathing suits while eating lunch at a restaurant. I chose this town because it is ranked as one of the top retirement communities in Florida. For me, retirement means accessible. There are sidewalks and two accessible ramps that allow beach access. The fire department has wheelchair beach chairs available for anyone to use upon request. I spend most of my time in the water swimming or bouncing up and down for exercise. The locals are very friendly. Almost nosy.  All the local businesses are accessible, and people know me by either the kid from New York or the guy in the power wheelchair. Almost everyone waves or stops to have a conversation with you. It’s so different from New York.

As great as my experiences are once I’m in Florida, there are some cons. The biggest issue is getting there. My local airport offers direct flights from New York to Orlando. This is great and very convenient, but I always worry about my power wheelchair, from the time I get to the airport, to the time I land. I worry about my power wheelchair and what condition it will be in when I land. I refer to my Quantum® Edge® 3 electric wheelchair with iLevel® as my legs.  Will something be damaged? Will I be stranded at the airport? If I’m flying alone to Florida, my stress level is even worse. I always try to prepare for the worse. Because it can only get better. In the past, I have had three chairs destroyed by airlines. Thankfully, my local airport in New York is small and the staff has been great with my chair so far. I fly about five round trips a year from my parents in New York to my condo in Florida. 

Another con for living the snowbird life is having to plan my trips ahead of time. I usually book my flights a few weeks before I leave. Thankfully, I have family in the Orlando area, so I always call them and let them know my flight and plans before scheduling my trip. I make sure they are around and not working when I will be landing, just in case my chair gets damaged and I get stuck at the airport. I try to let two people know my travel plans. One person to help and another as a backup in case my original person has an emergency and can’t help me. I also make sure I have numbers to two accessible cab companies in the area. Usually, if I’m traveling by myself, I take an accessible cab from the airport to my condo. I usually call and book a ride with two cab companies for the same time when I land. This way I know someone is going to pick me up. If they both show up, I pay the fee, or I give the driver $20 for the inconvenience. I have learned this is better than a cab not showing up at all and you are stuck at the airport for two hours before an accessible cab does show. This has happened to me before and is very frustrating and scary as well as mentally draining. There are a lot of moving parts when traveling in my Edge® 3 Power Chair. I have a set of clothes in Florida, which allows me to fly with no bags. This is a major convenience but, the coordination for even a one-way flight is a process.

After hurricane Irma hit Florida, my condo took some damage. My screened-in porch and my air conditioner unit was destroyed. My area was hit hard. My neighbors and family members were all focused on taking care of their own places and getting their businesses back up and running. It took over a week for us to get power back up on the island. With my air conditioner not working, I was worried about mold in my place because of the humidity. I was in New York when the hurricane hit, and I ended up having to fly down to assess damage. My neighbor offered to let me to stay with him but I couldn’t get into his bathroom because of the lack of accessibility. Trying to get a last-minute flight, transportation and a place to stay that was all accessible was really a challenge. I had to book a hotel that was 45 minutes away because the local hotels were closed due to damage. Between the cost of cab rides, the hotel and service calls, it was a logistical nightmare. I had mold in my fridge. My air conditioner unit was completely broken and needed to be replaced. I had to call 3 air conditioner repair services before I could get someone to come out within my five-day trip because air conditioning and plumbing services were in high demand. Ultimately, this cost me a lot of money, some of which insurance did not cover.

If I wasn’t in a power wheelchair, I could have rented a cheap rental car and stayed with my neighbor and saved a lot of money. The lesson I learned from this is to always be prepared. Having a disability always cost you a lot more money, so make sure you have an emergency fund saved. I also made a deal with the management company that oversees my homeowner’s association. If an issue like this comes up again, I will pay the management company to address any issues from storm damage. Even though this costs money, it’s worth not having to catch a last-minute flight. Although I’m always prepared for the worse, once I make it to Florida and the sun is hitting my face, all my worries wash away. This makes all the aggravation worth it.

About Josh McDermott: Josh is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab®. He is a public speaker and has served as a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Josh lives in New York and loves to travel. Click here to learn more about Josh.