Retirement is still several years away for Beulah Hodge, but the 51-year-old customer service representative is already dreaming of where she and her husband will live.
"We'd like to move somewhere warmer--we're tired of shoveling snow," the Chicago resident said. "We have our eyes on Georgia or Alabama. What makes those areas attractive is the weather and the fact that they're closer to my family."
Within the next decade, the oldest baby boomers--the leading edge of the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964--will begin retiring or at least reducing their current work hours. Some will also move, although the vast majority, around 80%, are expected to stay in their current homes and communities if they follow recent trends.
If you're thinking about moving, experts say, it's crucial to plan in advance. Moving is likely to be extremely expensive, even if you're headed to an area that appears to be cheaper than your current home.
"We try to plan so that our clients can at least keep the same standard of living, if not higher, in retirement," said Lisette Smith, a certified financial planner in Boston. "For example, a lot of retirees want to do more traveling."
Housing, insurance and taxation issues are the most obvious expenses, but Smith said it's important to consider other costs that moving away involves. They can range from condominium fees to airplane tickets to visit family members who might have lived within driving distance before.
There are also emotional considerations.
"Relocating obviously takes some resources," said Janet Wilmoth, a sociology professor at Purdue University. "There's also the issue of social support, both in terms of friends and family."
Prospective retirees need to think about how well their new community is equipped to handle the changing needs of older residents.
"You're going to want to know about health and human services, like medical care, that are available as well as long-term care and transportation alternatives when you can no longer drive," said Dennis Streets, deputy director of the North Carolina Division of Aging. "You need to get familiar with the state before you make a decision to move."
Many people plan on working during retirement, but that may not be possible everywhere. While popular vacation destinations have a lot of service-industry jobs, such as hotel or restaurant work, they probably have fewer professional offerings.
"It would have to be somewhere where we could pick up other jobs. I don't want to work until I'm 75, but I wouldn't mind a four-day workweek," said Hodge, the Chicago resident, who is interested in the growing suburbs of Atlanta and Birmingham. With a daughter still in college, she and her husband estimate it will take them at least five years--plus jobs in their new hometown--to amass enough savings to fully retire.
Experts suggest that prospective retirees vacation regularly in areas they are considering for a move, preferably at different points throughout the year so they are aware of changes in weather and the level of activity in a community.
Longer-term stays, if possible, are another good measure of a community's livability vs. its vacation potential.
For many people, the question of whether to move comes down to broader quality-of-life issues, such as family, friendship and work considerations.
"Many retirees are looking for people who have the same kind of values they have," said Ron Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement. "They're interested in lifelong learning, meeting new people. My sense is they're people who want change and don't want the kind of place that's the same all the time."
That desire motivated Tom Geyer, a former newspaper publisher from the suburbs, to retire in New York City.
"Some people think if you're retiring you should be going to a place where there's a golf course, lots of peace and quiet and no crime. That wasn't for me," the 54-year-old said. "I live in a 400-square-foot apartment now, but there is no end of activities to do, whether it's theater, music or books."
Geyer did hedge his bets a bit by buying another home in rural Connecticut. He doesn't envision hanging on to it in the long term, though. "It's a lot more lively to be in a place where there's community, street life, stores and people around," he said.
Ultimately, though, moving won't fit many people's plans.
"We've entertained the thought of moving within a 200- or 400-mile radius of here, but my grandkids and my wife's mother are still here," said David Carmichael, 54, a retired pharmaceutical salesman in Albuquerque who now works two days a week at a golf course. "It will still be a nice retirement, though. We're still going to travel around the country."