A Canadian Snowbird’s Introduction To the RV Lifestyle

Best RV Tips for Canadian Snowbirds

While many Canadian snowbirds have been living the RV lifestyle for quite some time, a recent trend has seen a significant increase in snowbirds choosing RVs over rental accommodations or vacation home ownership for their winters away from Canada.

The trend has been driven largely by Baby Boomers, who are retiring in increasing numbers. These Boomers are re-inventing retirement by turning away from traditional winter vacation accommodations in favour of state of the art homes on wheels. 

The RV industry has actually been on the upswing for the last 15 years, largely due to Baby Boomers, according to Shane Devenish, Executive Director of the Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association (CRVA). “As this generation reaches retirement age, they have a significant amount of savings and the drive to embark on RV ownership has been remarkable in contributing to the growth in this industry,” he said. “And 60% of all RV buyers are first time buyers.”

Boomers and the “mature” category make up about 40% of the RV and campers’ market, according to Devenish.   

To help other Canadians snowbirds considering the RV lifestyle, Snowbird Advisor interviewed a panel of experienced snowbird RV owners to share their input.

According to our panelists, the carefree lifestyle along with the ability to travel when and where you want without much planning was the main appeal.  Some had experienced it earlier in life when their kids were young, while others only started at retirement, or just before retirement. 

Why Canadian snowbirds are choosing RVing

There are many reasons why snowbirds choose the RV lifestyle. Here are just a few:

  • 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

Or as one panelist put it: “Unlike staying in a rental, I know the bed I’m crawling into each night and I’m surrounded by my stuff and comforts of home.”

What types of RVs are most popular for snowbirds?

RVs vary in size and type but simply put, they are either a motorhome or a travel trailer, with amenities that depend on size and cost. The big difference is that motorhomes are vehicle that you actually drive, while travel trailers are designed to be towed behind your family car, SUV, minivan or pickup truck.

According to GoRVing, today’s RV travel trailers are the most popular, as they’re the most spacious and allow you to stay in comfort and style while RV camping. 

Once you arrive at your destination, you simply unhitch the trailer and your vehicle is free to make trips around town or to local attractions. This popular RV type comes in various sizes and configurations, with the largest being spacious “fifth-wheel” trailers that even have split level floor-plans inside.

Devenish has a theory about Snowbirds: “I think Snowbirds primary attraction to RVs is in large part due to the ease and luxury the vehicles offer when traveling. Baby boomers are used to having the absolute best in life and they expect this from their RVs as well”

Should you rent an RV before you buy?

Although it can be expensive, it is not a bad idea to try renting an RV before you leap into ownership. 

According to GoRVing, typical RV rentals include motorhomes, but you can also choose to rent travel trailers if you have the proper vehicle to tow with. RV rental costs depend on what type of RV you want to rent, and the overall size you require for your sleeping and living accommodations. 

An average 25-foot class C motorhome, the most popular rented model, will cost about $1,000-$1,200/week. Travel trailers will typically cost about $500/week. Depending on features and the season, prices may vary, and you may need to also rent a pickup truck.

If you rent, there are no costs for maintenance or registration. However, there may be additional charges for a TV and DVD Player, extra mileage, or a winterizing fee for wintertime RVing. 

There are many companies that rent RVs. You may also want to check out websites like RVezy, Outdoorsy and Airbnb who pair owners and renters online.

Should you buy a new or used RV?

Just like automobiles, new RVs depreciate considerably once they are taken off the lot. There are many bargains to be had by buying a used RV, but of course, you will want to check its condition and maintenance history carefully. 

Also, most RVs are manufactured in the U.S., so with the currency exchange, the new units are more expensive at the moment, advised one of our panelists.

“The biggest advantage to buying a pre-owned RV is price. You’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck if you take this route. However, a new RV will feature the latest and greatest in design, no one else will have ever lived in your RV and the mileage won’t be racked up,” says Chris Mahoney, President of GoRVing Canada. 

How much does an RV cost in Canada?

Anyone even contemplating this lifestyle should attend at least one RV show, according to Devenish.  You will find many experts there to give you advice, as well as all different models of motorhomes and trailers. There are also lots of other exhibitors such as camp grounds, RV parks, insurance vendors, etc. 

Mahoney says that the safest route is to buy your RV from a dealer. “There are some key benefits to purchasing RVs through an RV dealer. Online research is a great start, but you really need to see, feel and touch an RV before you know if it’s the right one. In terms of costs, it varies depending on what you’re looking for.”

Most snowbird buyers would be looking at a range between $75,000 to $500,000. The cost can be even higher for the most luxurious RVs.

What are the other costs associated with the RV lifestyle? 

There are a number of additional costs that you must factor in when considering purchasing an RV.  These include fuel, a suitable towing car (if you require it and don’t already own one), insurance, extended warranty and RV park fees.

As one of our panelists said: “It would all depend on what type of vehicle you have (diesel or gas); whether you are towing and if you are travelling in the U.S. or Canada (fuel is much cheaper in the U.S. even with the exchange). Insurance is also a big thing, we pay $1100/year for our trailer as the replacement cost is high and we spend several months living in it. Park fees vary just like hotel rates – it depends on the amenities of the park, time of year, length of stay, location of park, etc. I would say on our 4 month tour last fall, we averaged about $50 USD per night. “

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

Needing a special license is one of the largest misconceptions from potential buyers, according to Mahoney. You don’t need a special license to drive a motorhome provided that it is less than 11,000 Kgs (24,250 lbs) and does not have air brakes. The same applies to tow vehicles + RV as long as the combined weight is less than 11,000 Kg. 

This would effectively allow anyone with a standard Class G Licence to drive the majority of the motor homes and most tow vehicles on the market. However, for the larger units, you will need a special license.

It is best to check your Provincial rules covering this.  

What are the most popular RV winter destinations?

Typically, the most popular RV winter destinations mirror other popular destinations for Canadian snowbirds in the Southern U.S.:

  • Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley and Southern California
  • Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma in Arizona
  • Lake Havasu, Nevada
  • Gulf Coast of Texas
  • Everywhere in Florida

Other advice from our experts …. 

From Shane Devenish: “I would encourage retirees to go online and find out as much as possible from those who are already RVing. There are countless blogs and articles about RV destinations, tech tips and what is new.” 

One panelist advises: “Like boating, it's not a great investment -- but it is a great lifestyle. Bought carefully, an RV doesn't have to break the bank, it can transport you to parts of North America which are not only fun, but educational as well. And most RVers would laud the friendships they make, the relaxed lifestyle and the sense of community you can’t get elsewhere.”

Another panelist says it is all about having your home with you wherever you go.  “Once you get the unit you like, it becomes your home with the comfort of having your own things surrounding you.”

“There are so many amazing advantages of this lifestyle choice in retirement – moving around the country and changing scenery (and weather) whenever you feel like; meeting like-minded people doing the same things you do (golfing, hiking, wine tasting, craft/art fairs, markets of all kinds); visiting various places and taking part in the local cultural experiences like festivals and events; and not feeling like you have to return to the same place every winter. Freedom!”

“We try to only plan on 4 hours of driving time in one day and that’s enough. Plus, we try and stay a couple of nights in most places and a week in some, giving us the opportunity to sightsee and relax.”

We’ll give GoRVing the last word: “It’s all about buying the RV that’s right for you. And if you’re the type of person who wants to take charge of your schedule, then an RV is a perfect match for you.”

Disclaimer: The material provided on the SnowbirdAdvisor.ca website is for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, real estate or other advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you require such advice, you should retain a qualified professional to advise you.