a group of senior travellers

Tips for snowbirds heading south

An increasing number of Canadian snowbirds are travelling south

As the winter approaches, a significant portion of the Canadian population begins to plan their escape. They are the retirees that flock south each winter to enjoy the warm weather in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona or Mexico. And why wouldn’t they? Who wants to spend their days shovelling snow when they could be walking on the beach, right?

An estimated 1.3 million Canadians are preparing to head south this winter to avoid the snow, poor driving conditions and frigid temperatures, and these numbers are expected to rise in the next few years as more and more Canadians reach the age of retirement.

Travel considerations for snowbirds

Considering the advanced age of the snowbird populace, and the fact they tend to travel for extended periods of time, snowbirds are faced with a completely different set of travel considerations compared to people who take traditional one or two week vacations. These factors impact their travel insurance needs, coverage options, accommodations and health care needs.

On average, snowbirds spend about 60 days down south during the winter, so it’s important to take the time to properly prepare for each trip.

Travel tips

If you are planning on making the trip south this year, the following tips and advice serve as a  reminder of the things you need to prepare before you leave:

  1. Make sure you are healthy enough to travel: Before you book your accommodations and plan your trip, your first consideration should be your health and health care needs.You need to make sure you are healthy enough to travel and healthy enough to be away from your doctor for an extended period of time. Make an appointment with your family doctor and get a checkup to ensure you are in good health.  
  2. Prepare your medical records and medication for your trip: Once you get a clean bill of health, you should prepare copies of your medical records, prescriptions and organize any necessary medication you might need for your trip.
  3. Research the area where you will be staying: It’s important to familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be staying in, especially if you’re new to it. While many people have a tendency to focus on tourist areas and common places to visit, it’s also important to familiarize yourself with the location of hospitals, the police station, walk-in clinics, pharmacies and grocery stores, and places you will might visit regularly. This will help you acclimatize to the area more quickly and easily when you arrive, which is even more important if it’s your first time in the area.
  4. Know how long you can be out of the province: Are you aware of how long you are allowed to be outside your province for your provincial health insurance plan to be valid? In Ontario, you are allowed to be out of the province for up to 7 months. You will also need to determine how long you can stay in another country.  
  5.  Get your paperwork in order: At any time during your trip, and especially when you are going through customs, you could be asked to produce paperwork outlining your travel plans, accommodations and prescriptions. Make sure you bring all relevant paperwork and keep it accessible to avoid issues at the border. Also, make sure to double-check your passport to ensure it will be valid for the duration of the trip.
  6. Make your travel arrangements well in advance: Make your travel arrangements as soon as you know when you will be leaving. Plan your route and book your hotels if you are driving, or book your flights if you are flying. The sooner you make these arrangements, the better. Booking early also allows you to keep tabs on travel deals and save money on your trip.
  7. Get travel insurance for your trip: As soon as you book your trip, it’s important to secure a travel insurance policy. Emergency medical treatment could cost you thousands of dollars without a snowbird travel insurance policy. Depending on how long you are staying and where you are going, choosing an annual policy may be your best option. Ask your travel insurance company to assist you with selecting the travel policy that’s right for you.
  8. Know your provincial health care limits: Did you know that your provincial health insurance plan covers approximately 8% of your medical costs if you are in the United States? Knowing your provincial health care coverage limits helps you to plan accordingly. It can also help you choose a travel insurance plan to cover any emergency medical care that OHIP won’t cover while you are out of the country.
  9. Make sure your finances are accounted for: While this was more challenging in the past, the Internet has made managing finances much easier. Make sure you have online access to all of your bills or set up pre-authorized payments. Also, talk with your credit card company, bank and insurance company and let them know you will be travelling.
  10. Prepare and secure your home: Since you will be away for an extended period, it’s a good idea to ask someone to care for your home while you’re away, preferably a family member or trusted neighbour. Request that they pick up the mail, care for your plants and perform other maintenance as needed. Before you leave, make sure your home is 100% secure: check that all windows and doors are locked and that your security system is armed, if you have it. It’s also a good idea to talk with your home insurance provider and security company to let them know the details of your trip and who will be caring for your home in your absence.
  11. Make a list of travel necessities: To make sure that you don’t forget anything important, it’s a good idea to make a list of everything you need to take with you on your trip. Ask your travelling partner to review the list, and check off each item as you pack it.
  12. Double-check your suitcases: Before you zip up your suitcase, make sure that everything important is accounted for. Forgetting your sandals is one thing, but forgetting your medication or passport is something you cannot afford to do, or you will be home sooner than you think. If you’re flying, double-check your suitcase when you arrive at your destination to make sure everything made the trip safely. If something is missing or damaged, notify the airline immediately.
  13. Keep essential items in your carry-on bag: Whether you are travelling by car or by plane, keep all of your essential items with you in your carry-on bag. Doing so allows you to access these items when you need them, and it makes it less likely that the items are lost or stolen while you are in transit.
  14. Check out the area once you arrive: When you arrive at your destination, quickly familiarize yourself with the area. Make sure that you have all the local phone numbers and addresses for any doctors or medical facilities you may need. Also, make sure you check out your accommodations thoroughly to ensure there are no issues and that it’s everything that was advertised when you booked it.
  15. Do something new and have fun: Perhaps the most important thing you can do on your trip is to have fun. Try new things and take advantage of every minute on your trip.

Having a safe and relaxing trip has a lot to do with preparation. If you take the time to prepare properly for your trip and tie any loose ends at home, you’re more likely to have a safe, healthy and worry-free trip.