It’s not all about Florida, Florida, Florida

Once the big decision to retire is made, many people also decide to move — and we know they head down to Florida in droves. Florida has long been popular because of its temperate climate and established senior communities. But what other factors do seniors need to take under consideration before making the big move? And what are the hot, new places to retire? Valerie D’Elia, host of “The Travel Show” on the WOR Radio Network and travel correspondent for NY1 News, was invited on “Today” to talk about the factors that people need to think about when choosing a retirement location.

Before making a decision on a retirement location, there are several quality-of-life factors to consider:

  • Cost-of-living, including real estate prices
  • Climate
  • Health care
  • Culture
  • Safety
  • Transportation
  • Nearness to family and especially grandchildren: Seniors really need to have an honest conversation with their adult children. They need to find out how much time their kids and grandkids will really have to spend with them, should they make the decision to make a move to be closer to their family.

Contrary to common belief, a big trend in retirement locations is big cities. One reason is because of transportation, which is key since seniors need to plan ahead for a time when they may not be able to drive.  Large cities usually have accessible public transportation. Contrast that with suburbs, where driving is essential to getting around. Other trends include college towns, which are starting to develop adult-education curriculums to attract older students.

Retirement hot spots
Big cities: New York
There is an endless list of activities — you can “live a la carte” and always find something to do for every financial level. At the City Opera at Lincoln Center, you can stand in line in the morning for $10 tickets, and most Carnegie Hall performances sell partial-view seats for $35. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities (for example, you can help plant tulips in Central Park) and many health clubs offer senior rates. Seniors can get a permanent MetroCard at half price and always have access to buses and subway trains.

College towns: Ashland, Ore.The atmosphere of college towns is extremely attractive to retirees and you get a wide range of amenities — cultural activities, athletic events, educational opportunities and excellent medical facilities in a stimulating environment. Ashland, Ore., is located between San Francisco and Portland, so city life is just a quick flight or train ride away.  Ashland has a nine-month-long Shakespeare Festival, which features many volunteer opportunities like ticket taking or costume repair. It’s also situated near Southern Oregon University, which offers adult-education programs. Ashland has the great feel of small town living but offers many restaurants, galleries and antique shops. It’s also very scenic, with lots of great outdoor activities nearby.

Budget towns: San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is the eighth largest city in the country but has one of the lowest costs of living among major U.S. cities. For example, the median selling price for new homes in 2003 was $104,000. It’s just three hours from the Texas Gulf Coast and four hours to the Mexican border. The average temperature is around 68 degrees. The area is chock-full of history, as the Alamo and a great cowboy culture lives on in the city.

Retirement Knockoffs: St. George, UtahSt. George, Utah, is also known as “the other Palm Springs.” It’s located in Southwestern Utah, just two hours from Vegas. It’s beautiful red rock country, near Zion National Park, which offers great opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking. St. George also has great golf courses and a desert climate, with lots of sun. Thirty percent of the residents are retirees, so there are always social activities going on and the opportunity to make new friends. The city also has a very low crime rate.

Undiscovered: New Bern, N.C., "North down South”New Bern, N.C., is popular with Northeasterners who want to stay closer to relatives up north and don’t want to go as far as Florida. It’s only three and a half hours from Raleigh. It has three seasons, but no real winter. As one resident put it, there’s “enough to remind us of the north, but not enough to make us unhappy.” The city has a 56-square-block downtown historic district on the waterfront. It’s close to the beaches of Morehead City, and the Outer Banks is four hours away. New Bern is situated on two rivers, the Neuse and Trent, that spill out into the Atlantic Ocean. These are protected waters for sailing, boating and fishing. New Bern also has fabulous golf courses.

Overseas: Central America, especially Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama
A new breed of retirees going abroad is looking beyond Costa Rica and Belize. These alternative Central American countries are offering incentives such as discounted health care and tax-free relocation services to entice Americans to retire south of the border. Real estate is very cheap — an entire island can be bought for $70,000, and coffee farms and cattle ranches are also for sale. The weather is pleasant and there is beautiful colonial architecture. But there are some major caveats, because safety can be quite a concern.