August 23, 2012

By Scott Littlejohn

That question conjures up all kinds of images for Canadians wanting to escape winter - palm trees, coconut drinks, blazing sun…   …but there’s always a catch! Airfare, hotel and meal costs, and health care costs quickly pop that happy bubble for most of us considering an extended winter away from our home and native land.  And you can’t get your RV to that tropical island either to cut down on the accommodation costs. There’s a compromise solution. Vancouver Island awaits you as your ‘winter escape- lite’.

Once you stop rolling your eyes, you may find it’s worth running the movie in your head and think about this affordable and realistic option and consider joining the hundreds of Canuck RV’ers who call North America’s top rated island their winter home. I’ll console you by reminding you that lying on a beach in the sun isn’t good for your skin, and for most of us, bathing suits aren’t that flattering anyway. But fall and winter on Vancouver Island can be amazing in an RV. I spoke with a group of Snowbirds recently to get their take on winter RV’ing on the Island.

The Snowbirds that I spoke to were from various parts of Canada, from Ontario to Northern BC, and most were retired. Some were full timers, while some kept homes, but wanted to be away from them to escape the extreme cold where their ‘bricks and mortar’ homes are. The thing they all have in common is their love of RV’ing and exploring their surroundings- whether urban or natural. Activities include walking, shopping, swimming, paddling, golfing, fishing, skiing, birding, dining, scuba - Vancouver Island delivers a never ending menu of diverse choices either to your door, or within an hour’s drive. Snowbirds ran out of winter before they ran out of things to do!

These Snowbirds stayed in Canada, and enjoyed familiar language, currency, customs, and health care. I know they made strong new friendships and enjoyed a sense of community, because I’m on a Snowbirds Facebook page and even though they’ve scattered far and wide for the summer, they continue to stay in touch with the folks they became close to last winter.

The Island is less than two hours away by ferry, and it’s a BIG island at nearly 300 miles long and a population of over 750,000. Most of the population is on the drier East side, where the annual rainfall is about 26 inches. Yes, it rains more in the winter, but at least it’s rarely snow! The southern portion of the Island boasts Canada’s warmest winter temperatures, with average temperatures above freezing.

Every large RV park tries to make their Snowbirds feel at home by organizing group events, such as potluck dinners, games nights, hiking groups, crafting groups, fitness groups and park clubhouses are rarely empty. At our park, we also hosted free seminars on geocaching, birding, Facebook, and photo editing. 

Here’s a list of tips from the Snowbirds if you’re considering wintering on the Island.

  • Use auxiliary electric heaters instead of propane (drier and more affordable)
  • Skirt the RV- warmer floors, less energy use
  • Wrap water line with heat tape and plug it in on the few days when the temperature drops below freezing
  • Rent a larger propane tank
  • Get vent ‘pillows’ to prevent heat loss through roof vents
  • Keep cupboard doors cracked to prevent any mould (heat needs to get inside)
  • Invest in layered clothing with a waterproof shell, and waterproof walking/hiking shoes

Where else can you ski (with an ocean view!) and golf on the same day?  On the Island you can choose to visit Mt. Washington for winter activities (a training site for our 2010 Olympic team). But for the most part, winter doesn’t come to your door.  We have many Snowbirds who come back year after year, and the wide range of activities and sense of community are the common thread.

Affordability is part of the attraction too- low off season rates! Though each park will approach fees differently, the bottom line costs are roughly $425-$500/month from October thru April, for a full service site, after heating costs and Provincial taxes are factored in. That typically includes a cable TV service. Internet will likely incur additional cost.

Is it a tropical Island?  Hardly. But if you have an RV and aren’t punching a time clock, it can be a very satisfying and affordable place to discover.  This winter, don’t hibernate, activate!

August 23, 2012

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