Now that there's a chill in the air, many Canadians are setting their sights on how best to avoid winter. For snowbirds, there's more to it than just booking a flight and hotel and packing a bag with the bare essentials for the beach. If only it were that easy!
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates travel plans as the land border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed until at least October 21. U.S. air travel restrictions begin in early November, requiring all foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated to enter the country. Snowbirds should adhere to all government travel advisories and research entry requirements of destination countries before departing from or returning to Canada.
Apart from the current restrictions, when you are away from the comforts of home for an extended stay, there's a lot to consider. That’s why we've rounded up a few tips and tricks to help ensure you're ready.
Get adequate travel insurance coverage
When you plan to be out of the country for months at a time, some important items can't be taken for granted. Take your provincial health care coverage, for example. You can only be outside of your home province for so long before you lose it. Play it safe. Find out how long you can be away because if you exceed what's allowed, you may have to go on a waiting period to re-establish your health care eligibility after returning home.
You'll also want to ensure you have emergency health care coverage for your travels beyond the border because your provincial coverage doesn't cut it. It's estimated that your government health insurance may cover, at best, up to 10% of your total out-of-country emergency health care costs. Some provinces cover less or nothing at all. It's essential then that you protect your trip, your health, and your finances and secure snowbird travel insurance before you take flight.
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The following are additional pre-travel housekeeping items to sort out as well:
- Check your health card and passport to ensure they do not expire while you are away and renew if necessary. Check the expiry dates on your credit cards, too.
- Arrange for pre-authorized payments or set up online banking so you can pay your bills.
- Prepare a list of emergency contacts for yourself and family and friends.
- Pack enough of your medication(s) to cover your time away but never combine your prescriptions into one container; keep them separate with the pharmacy labels still affixed to the bottle.
- If you wear glasses, get a copy of your prescription so that if you lose or break your eyewear, you'll be able to replace them easily.
- If you're planning on travelling with your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, save money by getting a plan that allows for international texting and data to avoid or minimize roaming fees.
Ensure your home is ready to be unoccupied
It's essential to ensure your home is protected, and your first step in doing this is to call your home insurance provider. Ask them what you need to do to ensure your home insurance coverage stays in effect while you're on holiday. For example, often, they'll require that you have someone check in on the house (inside and out) regularly if you are away for more than a few weeks.
Over and above your home insurance provider’s requirements, you'll also want to:
- Have your furnace maintained, gutters cleaned, and your roof inspected to make sure it's in tip-top shape and can weather the worst that winter has to offer.
- Call your telephone, cable, or internet provider to suspend your service temporarily. However, make sure doing so won't interfere with your home's security system if you have one.
- Hire someone to clear snow from your driveway, sidewalk, and path after each snowfall.
- Invest in timers for your lights and stagger them, so they go on and off at various times to give passersby the appearance that someone is home.
- Arrange to have someone you trust collect any junk mail or flyers that land at your front doorstep.
- Plan to store any valuables in a safety deposit box while you are away.
- Cancel any regular deliveries and forward your mail.
- Unplug all unnecessary electronics and appliances.
Organize the car
If driving to your destination, let your auto insurance provider know about your plans to make sure you're fully covered wherever your travels take you. For example, did you know your auto insurance isn't valid in Mexico?
It's also a good idea to:
- Take your car to the mechanic to get a tune-up, ensuring it's ready for the road trip ahead.
- Renew your licence plate, auto insurance, and driver's licence before leaving if they're going to expire while you're away.
- Consider joining a roadside assistance program that can help you both in Canada and outside of the country.
- Create an emergency kit for the car. Make sure it includes things like first aid items, a flashlight, reflective triangles or road flares, jumper cables, tire pressure gauge, and water.
- Bring a spare car key, just in case.
- Don't overdo it. Take frequent breaks from driving and take your time.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and with these tips and ideas, you can help ensure your plan to follow the sun's warmth this winter will go off without a hitch.