This spring Patti Douglas loaded the necessities, a digital archive of family photos, an inherited antique bowl and her 14-year-old cat into her new travel trailer and hit the road.
She sold her home near Markham, Ont., just outside of Toronto, bought a new Ford F-150, and gave away most of her furniture and household goods. Widowed three years ago, now 62 and retired, Ms. Douglas will become one of a growing number of Canadian retirees making their home on the open road.
“I started going to RV shows just for something to do and got hooked on the idea,” she says.
She planned to work a few more years as a college professor but that became challenging. Real estate prices in her area spiked and she made her decision.
“In a matter of weeks I renovated, staged and sold my house, bought a trailer, and ordered a truck,” she says.
Her new adventure is called full-timing, trading “sticks-and-bricks” homes for living year-round in a recreational vehicle, whether a motorhome or travel trailer.
The Canadian Camping and RV Council says there are at least 50,000 full-time Canadian RVers who normally spend winters in the U.S. More than two million Canadian households own an RV and overall the industry was worth $6.1-billion to the Canadian economy in 2017, including vehicle sales, expenditures and travel, according to the Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association.
The growing popularity of full-timing is evident in long-term campers at many parks and campgrounds, says Roland Van Meurs, manager of member and travel services for the Alberta Motor Association.
“They’re there for four or five months at a time and when you walk by their sites they have little gardens, they have a whole setup like home,” he says.
RV living has its benefits, Mr. Van Meurs says. Home is where you go and RVs today can be quite luxurious. New, these vehicles cost anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000, with “tip-outs” to expand the space when parked, solar power, full bathroom amenities, a washer and dryer, and even a fireplace.
It’s not for everyone, however, and Mr. Van Meurs recommends that anyone considering RV living take the time to rent various RV models to test-drive their interest.
“It really gives you an idea whether it’s a lifestyle you’re going to like and it also gives you an idea of how much space you need,” he says. “If you’re going to spend the amount you potentially can on an RV or motorhome or trailer, you want to make sure you’re going to like it.”
Mr. Van Meurs also recommends RVers plan well in advance, particularly for summer and particularly this year, with many normal travel plans disrupted by the pandemic.
His main advice for full-timers is to check and double-check all of your insurance: vehicle, RV, trailer contents, health. Even interprovincial travel might require additional out-of-province coverage, depending on your province.
And keep up-to-date on travel advisories, especially now, to ensure you are abiding by advisories and not invalidating your coverage.
“Make sure you have the right coverage,” Mr. Van Meurs says.
Ron Haidenger, a full-time RVer with his wife Linda, and administrator of the RV Mentor website, says Canadians also need to be aware that they can spend a maximum of 182 days a year in the U.S.
Some provinces also require residency for a certain number of months of the year to qualify for provincial medicare coverage, he says.
The Haidengers retired in mid-2014; he was an independent tech consultant and she worked in the banking industry. They spent up to 10 months of the year on the road for a couple of years before deciding to sell their home and go full-time.
“We come back to Vancouver for Christmas to visit the grandkids. We’ve put on about 65,000 miles going from West Coast to East Coast, down the Eastern Seaboard, back across the U.S. and so forth,” says Mr. Haidenger, who designed an RV logbook app he makes available for free so travellers can track their favourite campsites, points of interest, fuel usage and maintenance costs.
A couple of years ago, the couple bought a condo in Surrey, a fortunate purchase as Ms. Haidenger was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo treatment. She has recovered and they plan to leave again soon.
“As soon as they say we can travel again we’re out of here,” Mr. Haidenger says.
They have a 43-foot diesel motorhome with a four-wheel-drive Jeep they tow behind, “for exploring.”
“We use our motorhome as a base camp. We go some place, park for a week or two to explore the area, then we pull up the anchor and move onto another place.”
The Haidengers love their retirement adventures. Ms. Douglas is undecided.
She moved from a 2,200-square-foot home into a 24-foot travel trailer. COVID travel restrictions pose a challenge so she will tour Ontario with hopes to head to the West Coast for winter.
“I have no idea if I’m going to love this or hate it. Hopefully I’m going to love it and off I’ll go and it will be the dream that I’m envisioning,” she says.
Tips for full-timers:
- Check your insurance and make sure you’re covered for long-term occupation of the vehicle. Not all plans cover full-time living.
- Ensure you are covered for the contents of your RV and not just the vehicle itself.
- Get a full mechanical inspection before setting off and get roadside coverage. RV breakdowns can be costly and some insurance policies require proof of mechanical inspection annually.
- Purchase health coverage for travel outside of Canada but also for interprovincial travel. Most provincial medicare plans cover out-of-province care but they may reimburse for medical transport rather than pay directly.
- Make sure you have COVID coverage. Some policies also have clauses on pre-existing conditions. Discuss with your insurance provider.
- Check government travel advisories and cross-check with your insurance coverage to ensure your policy is valid under current travel advisories.