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Get Ready, Snowbirds! Tips to Travel Safer This Winter

September 1, 2016

Get Ready, Snowbirds! Tips to Travel Safer This WinterSure, the snow may be a long way’s off but soon enough, dropping temperatures and that first sight of flurries may have us thinking of warmer climes. If you’re a snowbird, chances are you’re already making your travel plans for the coming season and are crossing off days on the calendar in anticipation of your stay down south. Whether you’re planning on being gone for one month or five months, here are some tips to keep in mind when getting ready for your break from winter.

Health Care

  • Schedule a check-up with your family doctor and any specialists a few months prior to leaving. Don’t forget to book a visit to the dentist and the eye doctor as well.
  • Check to see how long you can stay outside of your home province without losing your health coverage.
  • If you take prescription medication, ensure you order enough to cover you for your entire time away from home. Ask a doctor to write a note explaining all of your medications and why you require them. When packing, make sure you keep each medication in its original prescription bottle—never combine them into one container.
  • If you wear glasses, bring along a copy of your prescription so you can have them replaced if you accidentally lose or break them.

Travel

  • Ensure that your driver’s licence, health card and passport do not expire while you’re away. If so, renew them well before leaving as it can take several weeks for you to receive the new cards or passport. It’s also important to check the expiry dates on your credit cards and your home and auto insurance.
  • Check if you need a travel visa. Snowbirds heading to the United States usually don’t but there can be exceptions, so it’s a good idea to read the U.S. Embassy’s information about Canadians requiring visas. For other countries, make sure you check the requirements well ahead of your departure date.
  • If you plan on using your smartphone or tablet while away, consider purchasing an international texting and data plan from your service provider. This can help reduce roaming fees.
  • Purchase snowbird travel insurance. Your provincial or territorial health plan will likely not cover the bulk of your medical bills you if you get sick or injured while out of the country. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada says it’s the travellers’ responsibility to obtain travel insurance and understand the terms of your policy.

Your Home

  • Set up pre-authorized billing and online banking to ensure that any utilities, taxes, insurance and phone bills are paid on time while you’re away.
  • Have your mail forwarded to you at your destination. For more information on this process, visit Canada Post’s website.
  • Cancel any newspaper or magazine subscriptions for the duration of your vacation.
  • If you have cable or satellite TV, you may be able to suspend service. This may require you to pay a maintenance fee but will still result in savings if you’re gone for several months or more.
  • Keep your home insurance provider in the loop to find out if there’s any requirements that need to be met before you leave to keep your coverage in force. Depending on how long you’re away, you may need to arrange for a family member or neighbour to check your home on a regular basis.
  • Do not turn off your heat! While it might seem like a great way to save money while you’re away, this will cause you a huge headache if your pipes freeze. Check with your home insurance provider to see what they recommend: many suggest keeping your thermostat set to 12° Celsius.
  • Ensure your home appears lived-in and occupied. This means:
    • arranging for someone to pick up any junk mail
    • booking snow removal service for your driveway, any paths on your property and the sidewalk in front of your home
    • installing timers on lights and staggering them so they turn on and off at various times
    • asking someone you know and trust to occasionally park in your driveway
    • having a neighbour put some of their garbage and recycling on your lawn on pick-up day
    • checking voicemail and returning any important messages

Your car

  • Book a visit to your local mechanic or auto shop for a tune up ahead of the long drive.
  • Let your auto insurance provider know about your plans. Your Canadian auto insurance will provide you with coverage while travelling in the U.S., but depending on your liability limit you may want to discuss increasing it for your time away.
  • If you’re on a schedule, check the wait times at each border crossing. This can help you prepare to add extra time to your drive, or find another nearby crossing that might not be as busy:

Keep in touch

  • Family and friends need to have a way to get a hold of you in emergency situations. Provide them with all your contact information. Check in with your contacts often for their peace of mind, whether through Skype, text, e-mail or phone.
  • Prepare your own list of emergency contacts and keep it on a piece of paper, separate from your contact list in your phone.
  • Write or print out contact information for the closest Canadian government office to where you will be staying. There are more than 260 offices in 150 countries around the world that can help you in emergency situations—everything from losing your passport to what to do should you become ill. Visit Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada for a list of offices in the country where you’re staying.

Relax and Enjoy!

Here comes the easy part—take a deep breath and soak in all the wonderful aspects of the sun’s warmth when down south. If you’re well-prepared for the journey and are covered by travel insurance, you won’t have much to worry about—besides how you’ll fill your days while on vacation.