Canadians are a hardy lot, but there are limits to how much cold and snow we can take. In fact, an increasing number of us are spending at least part of our winter season traveling south to the U.S. or Mexico. Affectionately known as “Snowbirds” many of these travellers head south each Autumn or early winter, many staying until early April and May. Many will tow a car behind their RV assuring convenient transportation while away.
If you are a snowbird preparing to head south to escape some or all of the Canadian winter, here is a checklist to ensure your travels are safe, convenient and fun!
Preparing your RV and Vehicle
Nothing can take the joy out of a road trip like experiencing mechanical problems on your route. That's why taking measured steps to ensure your vehicles are prepared is so critical. This starts with having vehicles inspected and serviced to assure safe and uninterrupted travels.
Your vehicle maintenance checklist should include:
- Tires. Your tires will impact your ride, mileage, stopping distance and road grip. A blowout can potentially cause an accident. Tires should be inspected for sufficient tread, pressure and any unusual wear patterns. Replace tires as necessary.
- Heating and Cooling System. Have your heating and cooling system flushed before departure and have your hoses and camps checked. A pressure check should be prepared to determine any small leaks. Keep in mind what serves as "anti-freeze" in Canada more often serves as "coolant" down south.
- Brakes. Brakes are critical when towing, especially when traveling through hilly or mountainous regions.
- Fluids. Make sure all fluids are clean, fresh and full. These include your oil, washer fluid, transmission fluid, and brake fluid.
- Lights and Electronics. Now is a good time to make sure all of your lights are working properly, including headlamps, brake lights, high-beans, turn-signals, and others.
Update Yourself on Border Rules and Regulations
Rules can, and do change when it comes to international travel. What was fine on your last trip may have changed for your next. Even rules entering the United States can differ from those when re-entering Canada. Rules for entering Mexico or back into the U.S. may differ. Rules can be particularly specific when it comes to foods, alcohol, guns and personal protection devices, drugs, plants, and even proper paperwork and identification.
Check registration and drivers' licenses to make sure they are correct and up-to-date as well as your passport. Check with your insurance broker to make sure your vehicle insurance is updated and the correct coverage is in place before hitting the road.
Preparing Your Home
It makes sense that the longer you will be away from your Canadian home, the more time it will take to prepare, the more details you will also need to cover.
- Stopping Mail and Deliveries. Make arrangements to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped. Request the postal service hold your mail or arrange for someone to pick up your mail on a regular basis.
- Review your Homeowners' Insurance. Discuss with your broker your travel plans and make sure you are covered for vandalism, burglary or other potential calamities that may occur in your absence.
- Utilities. While you will likely want to maintain some level of warmth in your home and lights on timers for security you will likely not need cable or internet service. If you are maintaining heat, have someone check on the home periodically. If you are turning off heat and water, make sure your home is properly winterized.
- Consider a security camera/system. “Smart” security cameras and systems are more affordable than ever and can give you peace of mind while on the road. A security system also may earn a discount on a homeowners' insurance policy.
Insurance, Medication, and Paperwork
Snowbirds have a lot more at stake when traveling than those on a week-long holiday or cruise. This makes having the appropriate insurance, medicines, and paperwork just that much more important.
- Travel Insurance. While travel insurance may be an afterthought for those going on “vacation”, an extended stay outside of Canada makes travel insurance worth an extra look. It is an affordable layer of protection that can help ensure your travels are unimpeded.
- Medical Insurance. Check your coverage to find out where your coverage may be lacking when traveling outside of Canada.
- Medications. Know what medications you will need through the duration of your visit and any limitations there may be on bringing them into the U.S. or Mexico. Bring copies of prescriptions to document your medications are necessary and prescribed for your use.
- Contact Information in an Emergency. You want to make sure you are covered on both ends of your trip, in that someone in Canada knows how and where you can be contacted and emergency personnel have access to who to contact in Canada in an emergency. It is also a good idea to have documents signed so someone in Canada can act on your behalf in case of emergency or financial issues in your absence. A power of attorney for financial and medical can be valuable.
- Credit Cards. Monitor the expiration dates of your credit cards before departure so you can request new ones ahead of time. Notify your credit card company that you will be traveling outside of the country so your cards won't be frozen due to suspected fraudulent activity.
- Traveling with Pets. Check the requirements for bringing pets in the US and Mexico to avoid any quarantine periods. Get documentation from your vet regarding any vaccines and shots that show your pet is disease-free. Have documentation for any pet medications you may be traveling with.
Whether you are snowbirding to a new or an unfamiliar location, preparation is key to a pleasant trip. Being properly protected with travel, healthcare, homeowners and auto insurance can go a long way in providing you that peace of mind on your road trip.