September 23, 2012

By Scott Littlejohn

You have your RV ready for extended stay travel, you’ve arranged automatic payments for as many bills as you can, and have your online banking set up to take care of everything else while you’re gone, and your bricks and mortar home has been readied for an extended empty spell. You’re all ready to leave the land of serious winter and head for gentler weather and adventure and join the growing ranks of Snowbirds!  The question is - where do you go?  Do you stay in Canada or do you travel south to the beckoning warm weather of the South Western United States?

If you’re retired, or will be in the next few years, and have the luxury of owning an RV, one that is large, comfy and reliable enough to live in for the winter, I’d bet Canadian Tire money that you’ve considered the idea of travelling south for the winter - especially if you live where winter means ice and snow.  Maybe you’re full time RV’ers who revel in travelling this great land through the summer months and do your living outdoors - and suddenly in late September or early October, you notice a morning frost. It’s time to make plans quick to get somewhere that snow isn’t on the menu. But where to go, for most of us, isn’t black and white, but as many shades of grey as the heads of those of us who ponder such questions.  Let’s start with the ‘warm’ winter regions of Canada.

Canada

Your options for wintering North of the 49th are pretty straight forward.  Do you prefer drier and colder, or warmer and moister?  Winters become milder as you travel further south and west of the Rockies. If moisture avoidance is high on your checklist, you’ll want to consider the south Okanagan – the northern tip of the Sonoran desert. A number of wonderful parks offer low off season rates and cater to Snowbirds, and while temperatures dip below 0 degrees in December and January there is very little snow fall, the air is dry and the skies are sunnier than farther west.  Typically golfing is available throughout the winter and the region is considered ‘Napa North’ with dozens of wineries to visit and a winters-worth of wines to sample. It’s a top tourist destination, which can be experienced at a leisurely pace sans crowds and line ups all fall and winter long.

But if you want to learn about Gor-Tex and layers and you really don’t like snow and freezing temperatures, it’s time to consider the south west coast of B.C. and Vancouver Island.  Statistically, the southern 100 miles of the east side of Vancouver Island (still with me?) have the warmest winter temperatures in Canada. It’s known as a temperate rainforest, which exist in very few regions in the world. It does rain but don’t think of it as rain, think of it as ‘not snow’.  The up side is that it’s lush, green and outdoor activities are plentiful with wonderful outdoor loving people everywhere.  The  ocean views, activities and sight seeing are a uniquely Vancouver Island experience.

The Canadian winter snowbird zones offer some wonderful benefits. There’s typically golfing available and both the south Okanagan and Vancouver Island offer the unique opportunity to enjoy snow from a distance. You don’t have to give up your favourite snow sports, just get in your car and drive to them to enjoy a day or three. When you’ve had enough snow, simply drive away. The south Okanagan has Apex Ski Resort (1.5 hrs from Oliver, BC) and Mount Baldy (40 min fro Oliver) while Vancouver Island has Mount Washington (75 min from Nanaimo).

And your indoor winter sports are also easily accessible with hockey rinks in every town and curling rinks like the Nanaimo Curling Club and the Oliver Curling Centre. You can bet there will be passionate crowds getting together everywhere to watch the 100th Grey Cup.

Add to this list that you’ll have no concerns with phone plans, health care, banking, exchange rates, language, customs and laws – and you are provided with an overwhelming number of good reasons to spend at least part of your winter in southern BC.

The constant among the year round Canadian ‘warm winter’ RV parks is that they want and appreciate your business, and most do a great job of trying to make your winter stay entertaining and memorable.  When everything is factored in, site rental, electricity, cable and Wi-fi and taxes, expect to pay between $500 and $650 per month, depending on the park and its amenities.

U.S.

Now if you live in the Canadian prairies and it’s a toss up between western BC and the sunbelt of the western U.S. for the winter, unless you have an intolerance to heat and sun, why wouldn’t you go to the U.S.  Patriotism aside, the two word answer is almost always ‘health care’.  As long as you can find and afford travel health insurance that truly covers you, the U.S. can be very enticing with the dollar near par. 

Do your own research and know that being unprepared with inadequate travel health insurance can change your life and that of your family. With the cost of private medical care in the U.S., you are gambling your life savings if you travel south without appropriate coverage.  There are unbelievable horror stories of people who thought they were covered, find themselves needing medical attention on a southern holiday only to find out that they are under or uninsured, sometimes months after they return home.

Plan well in advance of your U.S. holiday to get your travel insurance and be scrupulously honest when filling out any medical questionnaires your insurance company might need before issuing your insurance- an improperly filled out medical form when getting insurance, deliberate or innocent, has resulted in claim denials, leaving staggering medical bills to be paid by the patient. You may need advice from your physician or even your lawyer if you are uncertain of how to answer some of the questions.  Allow time for that, so that you can have the peace of mind of knowing your health insurance bases are truly covered and you can enjoy your trip.

Since the sun belt of the U.S. caters to Canadian Snowbirds, you will find a wide range of RV park prices and amenities.  A quick Google trip through the south western States turned up ‘all in’ monthly winter RV rates of $450- $1500 and more!  Now that’s selection! 

Be realistic about what you like to do, and where you go will be an easy decision. The beauty of wintering in an RV is that unlike a condo or a hotel, it’s portable.  If you find you make the wrong decision on your winter destination, hop in the driver’s seat and soon you’ll be somewhere that fits better.  It’s always good to see the world through fresher eyes than pressure eyes- that’s why we all love the RV lifestyle!  Safe journeys!

September 23, 2012

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