Top Snowbird Tips and News

Canada’s one-stop resource for snowbirds: snowbirdadvisor.ca. The promise of free and useful information built on a platform for advertising travel-related services targeted at wealthier retired Canadians.

Difficult to get a precise number, although some estimates suggest that over one million Canadian seniors go south to the United States for at least a month or longer. Many will stay three to six months.

Canadians represent the largest international tourist group for the state of Florida. And Canadians are the number one group of international buyers of real estate in Florida. More than half a million Canadians own property in Florida.

Canadians pay cash for U.S. real estate. Very few take out loans.

Canadian snowbirds represent an attractive market for a number of services: insurance, real estate, tax and legal, and destination marketing.

I am a member of the snowbirdadvisor.ca website and I receive regular updates from them. They had recently published an article on an introduction to the RV lifestyle for snowbirds.

The Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association has noticed that retirees are choosing RVs over rental or ownership options when wintering in the United States. There has been a big surge over the past decade in the sale of RVs to the mature market. Over 60% of all Canadian RV buyers are first time buyers.

We were first time buyers. We bought our coach three years ago. Many of our Canadian RV friends did the same as they neared retirement.

The article suggests the following reasons for choosing the RV lifestyle in retirement:

  • Freedom to travel to different destinations each year, or multiple destinations in a single season
  • Ability to leave and return whenever you want
  • Flexibility of schedules and planning
  • Very relaxed lifestyle
  • Your home away from home and your own things are with you all the way
  • Affordability – compared with airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership
  • Enjoy the outdoor and camping lifestyle, but with all the comforts of home
  • You can use your RV for summer trips too – or as a cottage

I’d challenge the affordability reason. Yes, if you spend a few thousand on an old travel trailer and boondock for free, your costs will be quite low. For most, the RV lifestyle is just as costly when compared to airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership. You have to buy the RV, insure it, fuel it, service it, store it, park it and, when all is said and done, it would be far less costly to rent a condo south for the winter.

The article raised a number of questions. These are my thoughts on those questions.

What types of RVs are most popular for snowbirds?

Travel trailers. They represent the largest number of RV shipments in the industry. Fifth wheels would be the most popular for Canadian snowbirds. We see a significantly lower number of Canadian Class A motorhomes in our travels.

Should you rent an RV before you buy?

No. You should research carefully and thoroughly before you buy. We spent considerable time looking at all of the options, manufacturers, and floor plans. Even then we did not buy the perfect coach. They don’t make one yet.

Should you buy a new or used RV?

Used. The depreciation hit is so significant for Canadians that it is really unwise to buy new. We bought new and we have learned a rather expensive lesson. Next time we will buy used.

How much does an RV cost in Canada?

More than it should. Our government insists on impoverishing its citizens through its policies on taxation and devaluing the Canadian dollar. Roughly 90 percent of all RVs sold in Canada are made in the United States. We pay a premium due to our devalued currency and, of course, we pay taxes on the total purchase cost. The cost of an RV might vary between a few thousand for something quite basic to a few million for a luxury Class A. The question isn’t how much an RV might cost. The question is how much are you prepared to spend on an RV?

What are the other costs associated with the RV lifestyle?

More than you might think. As part of our research we looked into all of the following costs: fuel, park fees, RV insurance, travel insurance, currency exchange, maintenance, storage, extended warranty, coach improvements and accessories, roadside assistance, RV clubs and memberships, entertainment (satellite TV and satellite radio), Internet (cellular and WiFi), tow vehicle and accessories (tow bar, supplementary braking system), license fees, toll fees. Those incremental costs can really add up.

Do you need a special driver’s license for an RV?

Possibly. Rules vary by province and by class of RV. In Ontario, the laws governing license class are based primarily on weight. Our coach exceeds 11,000 kgs and we are required to hold a commercial driver’s license. Our coach has an air brake system and we are required to have a special endorsement for the air brake system on our license.

What are the most popular RV winter destinations?

Snowbirds on the eastern side of Canada tend to go to Florida. Snowbirds on the western side of Canada tend to go to California and Arizona. Last winter we travelled both sides. This winter we will stay in Florida.

We love the RV lifestyle and we wouldn’t change our decision embrace the RV lifestyle. Retirement is freedom and we are loving our time in retirement and living out of our RV.

Exit Plan

What is the exit plan? That question keeps coming up every time I hear about a death in our RV community. Most of the people we know in this lifestyle are retired. They are older. Life can end suddenly. We hear of so many couples where a partner dies and the survivor needs to quickly exit the RV lifestyle.

When we tour ownership RV parks, there will always be a story about a motivated seller: “Her husband died and she needs to sell the site.”

When we speak with RV salespeople, there will always be a story about a motivated seller: “His wife passed away suddenly and he just wants out of his coach.”

When I first heard these stories, I just assumed it was a sales technique to try to get us to buy on impulse. Unfortunately the stories about motivated sellers are true.

We have come across many tragic stories which forced a dramatic change to a lifestyle for the surviving partner. Sadly, this could happen to any of us as we grow older regardless of whether we are in a house, living full-time in a motor coach, or sailing the world. Death can happen unexpectedly and most of us are unprepared. We deal with it as best we can after our loved one has passed.

Lorraine and I have discussed our exit plan from the RV lifestyle as a couple. Should we decide to come off the road, we know basically what we will do. That time is hopefully many years out. We are thoroughly enjoying our lives right now as a couple. Together.

Lorraine and I have not discussed how to deal with an unexpected death or what it might mean to journey alone.

As morbid as it may sound, I think we need a bit of a plan in place.

Just in case.

2018 Dutch Star For Sale

Life is difficult. That is how M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled, begins. I read that book shortly after it was published way back in 1978.

Peck wrote that life was never meant to be easy. Our journey in life is fundamentally a series of problems to solve or to ignore. And to solve life’s problems requires discipline: delaying gratification, assuming responsibility, being honest and being balanced.

I first learned the truth about life being difficult at 16 years of age. That is when my father died. That was a hard lesson and it has had a lasting impact on my life.

Which makes this post a difficult one to write.

We made friends with a wonderful couple during our time at Myakka River Motorcoach Resort. The last time we saw this couple was January 1st, 2019. They were continuing their travels in their beautiful Newmar Dutch Star. They had pulled their coach up to the clubhouse area to hook up their toad. I grabbed a few shots before they left.

Lorraine and I went over to say good-bye. Not for long, mind you. We were planning to connect with them in February during our travels. We were both going to be in Alabama at the same time.

A final shot of their coach just before they left the resort.

They were just like us. Keen to live life on the road and to experience a different set of adventures during retirement.

Things didn’t work out for us to connect in Alabama. But that was okay. They were returning to Myakka later this year and we would see them then. We would stay connected through this website and through calls and emails and texts.

Death showed up.

Unexpectedly.

Only a few short months after they left Myakka.

He was gone.

She was left behind.

I still can’t believe it.

She is not able to continue the lifestyle with this coach on her own. And it is for sale. All of the details on this stunning 2018 Dutch Star 4369 can be found on Steinbring’s website. This couple took such great care of their motorhome. If you are in the market for a Dutch Star don’t hesitate. Give Lee at Steinbring a call and you will get an exceptional coach at a great price. Steinbring’s phone number is (320)-834-6333.

When she wrote me to let me know about what had happened, she said the following:

It goes without saying, but it is good to follow your dreams. There are serious curves in the road, but as you know, you still have to get out there.

When Stock Markets Go Down

When the stock market goes up, I am happy. And look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average since the great financial collapse of 2008:

I should be ecstatic, right? Except for Trump tweets and trade wars. And perhaps a long overdue correction for the markets.

When the stock market goes down, as it has over the past few days, I am unhappy. When the stock market goes down and I am surrounded by awful weather, well, that leads to a full-blown depression.

There is no spring in this part of Canada. Nothing but clouds and rain. And cold. We’ve had the heat pumps and the floor heat running continuously since we returned to Ontario.

You get the idea. I am, how should we say, malheureux, unhappy. Unhappy with the stock market. Unhappy with the weather.

Whenever the markets go thump, Lorraine always reminds me that it really doesn’t matter. Keep the course. Don’t let the markets get you down.

She is wise.

But the weather is starting to get to Lorraine. Yesterday she went out and purchased rubber boots. “So nice to finally have dry feet.” she told me.

Life’s little pleasures.

I keep the following rules of investing handy. They came to me from a particularly insightful Canadian investor. To my American friends, I am certain that these rules of investing would also apply to you.

This is what to do when the stock market goes down.

  • Never sell into a storm.
  • Ditch your emotions.
  • Be disciplined. Stick to a plan.
  • Don’t time the market.
  • Never chase returns.
  • Use tax shelters.
  • Start early. Never stop.
  • Invest, don’t gamble. No speculation.
  • Be balanced and diversified.
  • And don’t be a cowboy.

This is what to do when the weather is awful.

Go back to your happy place.

Happy, Wild and Free Again

We had a great seminar on Saturday at the Hitch House. We were warmly welcomed by the Hitch House team, almost like we were family. I think they really missed us. We were stranded here last year for about 6 weeks and that gave us an opportunity to really get to know the team. Wonderful people.

The seminar was packed. The organizers had to bring in more chairs. And yours truly started at 10:30am and did not clear the room until after 1pm. Clearly a lot of interest in the RV lifestyle.

Lorraine and I are by no means experts. We had a dream for our retirement years and we are pursuing that dream.

I promised that I would highlight ten lessons that we have learned during our time on the road so far. There are many more but ten seemed like a good number for the presentation. By the way, if you have an interest, you can download a pdf version of the presentation right here (large file at roughly 100MB). You won’t find much in the way of words as I am violently opposed to “death by Powerpoint” presentations.

Our ten lessons.

  1. Life is short. We see more and more of our friends pass away, often unexpectedly. It comes as a shock and a sharp reminder to live in the moment and to enjoy this blessing and gift of life. Follow your dreams!
  2. (re)Discover your passion. With an abundance of time, you can finally set your own calendar and pursue your passions and interests. People with passion can change the world. The alternative? Hang out in God’s waiting room. Waiting for death. Yuck.
  3. Be bold. Achieving our dream wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a gift. And it took some bold actions, like selling our house and getting rid of a mountain of stuff.
  4. Eat your vegetables. You know what they say, if you don’t have your health, well, life won’t be much fun on the road. You have a choice in how the rest of your life goes, and it can be great. The rules are straightforward: exercise hard and you will grow younger. Care about other people and you will grow happier. Build a life that you think means something and you will grow richer. This from an incredibly inspiring book: Younger Next Year. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about aging well.
  5. Someone will always have a bigger coach. Collect moments, not things. And stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. They’re broke anyway.
  6. There will be bumps along the way. If we accept the fact that things will go wrong, it is a lot more fun when they do go wrong. And believe me, if you own a motorcoach, something is always going wrong.
  7. Never trust the GPS. You determine the destination. Follow your dream and don’t let something (or someone) tell you what to do in life.
  8. Make a new plan, Stan. If you don’t like where you are, if you want a different experience, move on.
  9. Pack one bag. Because that coach is mighty small compared to a house.
  10. Take it easy. You worked hard to get this far. Live every moment, happy, wild and free!

There you go. The Cliff notes from the seminar.

It was wonderful to meet with many of the participants and to chat with them about their dreams.