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Technology for Snowbirds: Prepping for the Move South

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With the advent of fall, retirees from all over the northern climes are preparing to make their annual migration to Florida, Texas, and other southern states. Even the most technology savvy snowbirds, however, face challenges when migrating their hardware, software, and online services from one location to another. In this article, My Windows 8 Computer for Seniors author Michael Miller presents a checklist of everything snowbirds need to know when moving their computers, tablets, smartphones, and email accounts south.

If you’re an older American or Canadian living north of the Mason-Dixon line, the cold winters can get to you. That’s why so many seniors become snowbirds, migrating south during the winter months. It’s the best of both worlds – beautiful northern summers, and warm southern winters.

Of course, there’s a lot of work involved making move south for the winter – especially when it comes to your personal technology. If you’re like most seniors, you have at least one PC, a smartphone, maybe even a tablet that you have to move and reconnect in your new location. You also have to deal with phone service and cable service – both up north and down south. There’s a lot you have to deal with.

Preparing for the Move

Let’s start with what you need to do before you make the move. If you set everything up right at the beginning, it’ll be a lot easier for you when you get moved in down south.

On the computer front, moving is always easier when your equipment is portable. This means, when it’s time to buy a new PC, going with a laptop instead of a desktop model. Yes, you can move a desktop unit (and one of the new all-in-one models is better than an older style unit with separate monitor and system unit, when moving day comes), but it’s just a ton easier to pack and carry a compact, one-piece, laptop PC than it is a bigger desktop unit with multiple add-on components. You can stick a laptop in a carrying bag and be done with it; with a desktop system, you’ll want to pack each of the parts in its own individual box, which means more stuff to pack and ship, and then unpack on the other end.

Whatever type of system you have, make sure you label all the connecting cables before (or while) you disconnect them. On a laptop PC, that may just be the power cable and the cable that connects to your printer. On a desktop system, we’re talking cables for your monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, you name it. You may even want to make a diagram of where all the cables connect – or just take a picture of the back of your PC with your smartphone. You can refer to this picture or diagram when you’re reconnecting everything down south.

I recommend making a system backup of your computer’s hard drive before you leave. Back up to a removable hard disk, and pack it separately. This way if your computer is lost or damaged in the move, you have a backup copy of all your important files. You can also back up to an online backup service, such as Carbonite, so that you can access your backup files from whatever location you’re at.

I’ve found that many seniors think they have to maintain two separate email accounts, one for each location. (After all, you have different Internet service providers on each end, right?) That is a needless complication. When you’ve moving from one location to another, or just travel a lot, the better approach is to maintain a single web-based email account with Google’s Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Microsoft’s Outlook.com. All these services are free and let you send and receive email from any location, using just your web browser – no software to install. You can manage your email when you’re home up north or down south, or anywhere in between. (Another plus: You can also check your web-based email from your smartphone or tablet.) So if you don’t yet have a web-based email account, open one before you make the move.

You’ll probably want to turn off your Internet and cable TV service for those months you’re out of town, just as you do with your other utilities. Check with your provider, however, to see if they have special programs for snowbirds, with free or reduced rates during the out-of-town months; many do.

As to mobile phone service, this should carry with you as you travel. Virtually all U.S. mobile accounts are nationwide, so you pay the same rate whether you’re in Duluth or Sarasota. (Canadian accounts may differ; check with your provider to make sure you’re on an account that works both in Canada and the U.S.)

One more thing. You probably want to take your wireless router with you to use in your southern home. (If you don’t, you’ll have to purchase another wireless router for use down there – a $100 or so expense you don’t have to make.) You don’t, however, have to take your cable or DSL modem for your Internet connection. Your Internet service provider in your new location should provide its own modem when you connect your service down there.

Moving Your Equipment

Moving tablets and mobile phones are easy – just put ‘em in your pocket or purse and go. Moving a computer, however, can be a bit more complicated.

As noted previously, the easiest type of computer to move is a laptop. You don’t need the original packing box, just a nice padded bag of some sort. I recommend keeping your laptop bag with you in your car, rather than packing it with your larger items, so you don’t lose it during the move.

If you have a desktop computer system, packing is easier if you have the original boxes. All the pieces and parts should easily go back in the original Styrofoam and cardboard, which means you have to worry less about damage during the move.

If you don’t have the original boxes, consider taking the equipment to one of those pack-and-ship stores to have them do a professional job for you. If you’re packing yourself, get plenty of bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts, and make sure everything is packed nice and sturdy. If you can, try to put the keyboard and mouse in the same box as the system unit, so there’s fewer things to worry about.

Whether you have a notebook or desktop PC, make sure you pack all the cables and cords to connect everything together. You don’t want to arrive in your winter digs and find you’re short a power cable or USB cord. The best approach is to label each cord with masking tape or something similar, then stick them all in a resealable plastic bag. This way they’re all in one place, nothing to misplace. (While you’re at it, put any USB memory drives you might have in the same bag, just for convenience.)

Make sure you take all your instruction manuals with you, too, in case you forget how something connects or works. It also wouldn’t hurt to bring copies of all your software installation discs, if you have them. If, for whatever reason, you need to reinstall a software program, you don’t want those discs to be a thousand miles away.

Getting Connected in Your New Location

Okay, you’ve traveled south and the weather’s a lot nicer than what you left behind. It’s now time to unpack everything and get reconnected.

Let’s start with your computer. The first thing to do is line up your Internet service. This may be provided with your cable TV service, or with your landline phone service. Make sure it’s connected and turned on, so when you get your PC up and running you can be immediately online.

Your Internet service provider should provide its own cable or DSL modem. Some will even provide a wireless router (for a fee) for Wi-Fi connectivity – although if you brought your own router from up north you don’t need another one. Ask your provider if they offer any half-year snowbird plans; you don’t need or want to for twelve months of service if you’re only there for six.

The same goes for your cable or satellite TV service. Most major cable companies, I’ve found, have special plans for the large and growing number of snowbirds in their areas. You may have to ask what’s available, but it’s worth the inquiry. After all, you’re not the first or only snowbird to deal with this.

With your Internet service in place, it’s time to set up and connect your computer system. You’ll probably want a Wi-Fi connection in your new location, so hook up your wireless router to your cable or DSL modem and get everything going. If you use the same router you had up north, there’s probably not much new you have to do in the way of configuration; just connect your modem and your computer(s) and you should be ready to go. If you have a new or separate wireless router in your snowbird lair, you’ll need to configure it just as you would any new router. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course.

Connecting a notebook PC should be a snap. Just locate and connect to your router’s wireless network, or connect directly to the router with an Ethernet cable. If you’re using the same router as you did up north, the connection may happen automatically. If it’s a different router, you’ll need to have Windows or the Mac OS search for and connect to the new wireless network.

If you have a desktop computer system, you have more things to connect. Even if you have an all-in-one unit, you still have to connect your keyboard, mouse, and printer (if you have one). If you have a traditional desktop system, add a monitor and speakers to the list of things to connect. Most of these peripherals today connect via USB, so that makes things easier. And don’t forget to connect your desktop PC to your wireless modem, typically with an Ethernet cable.

Connecting your smartphone and tablet to your wireless network should be about the same as connecting them back north. Use your device’s setup screen to turn on Wi-Fi, find your network, and connect to it. Don’t forget to enter the network password when prompted!

Finally, if you took my advice and subscribed to a web-based email service, you don’t have to worry about moving between two different email accounts. Just log onto Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Outlook.com and head right to your inbox; all your email will follow you from your old location to your new one. No new configuration necessary.

If you do the proper planning, it shouldn’t take too long to get everything up and running in your winter home. Given the mobile nature of today’s technology, there’s very little that’s bound to a single location. That gives you a lot of freedom – which is just what most snowbirds crave.

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