Escaping winter's wrath: snowbird travel tipsIf you plan to escape winter's wrath by heading south for a month or two, or maybe even more, there are many things you'll want to consider doing now before it's too late.

Snowbird travel tips

  • A few months prior to leaving make appointments for a checkup with you doctor, dentist and eye doctor (if you wear glasses or contacts).
  • Find out how long you can stay outside your home province without losing your health care eligibility. If you're going away longer than what is normally allowed, sometimes you can apply to have your allowable absence extended. Barring this, if you exceed the amount of time your province allows, you may have to go on a waiting period to re-establish your health care eligibility after returning home.
  • Check your driver's licence, health card and passport to make sure they do not expire while you are away, and renew if necessary. Check the expiry dates on your credit cards too, as well as any insurance policies you have such as your auto insurance or home insurance.
  • Do you require a travel visa? If you're travelling to the United States, chances are you don't. There are some exceptions however; so it's best to check. Read the U.S. Embassy's information about Canadians requiring visas to be sure. If you're going to a country other than the U.S., you'll want to check that country's visa requirements.

As you get closer to your departure date, you'll want to:

  • Ask your doctor to detail your prescriptions in a note (you may be asked about them at the border). Also, take enough of your medication with you 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. Lastly, if you wear glasses, get a copy of your prescription so that if you should lose or break your eyewear you'll be able to easily replace them.
  • Arrange for pre-authorized billing, or set up Internet banking so you can pay your utilities, taxes, insurance, telephone, or cable/satellite bills.

    Tip: Did you know you can suspend your cable/satellite service for the time you are away, thereby minimizing your bill? Even though there is typically a maintenance fee for doing so, it can save you money in the long run if you're going to be away for a couple of months.
  • Contact your home insurer to see if they have requirements that must be met in order to ensure your coverage stays in force. Often for extended vacations, they'll require that you have someone check in on the house on a regular basis, and ask that you winterize your home.

    Tip: Resist the temptation to turn off your heat as doing so could cause your pipes to burst from freezing. A common rule-of-thumb is to turn your heat down to about 12° Celsius but it's best to confirm with your insurer to see what they recommend.
  • If driving to your destination, let your auto insurer provider know about your plans to make sure you're fully covered wherever your travels take you. (Did you know your auto insurance isn't valid in Mexico?) Also, take your car into your mechanic to get a tune-up ensuring it's ready for the long trip ahead.

    Tip: When leaving, and then again when returning, check the border wait times so that, if you have options, you can pick the border crossing that's least busy.
  • Buy snowbird travel insurance. According to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada you should "not rely on your provincial or territorial health plan to cover costs if you get sick or are injured while abroad. Out-of-country health care can be costly, and your health plan may not cover any medical expenses abroad. It is your responsibility to seek information from your provincial or territorial health authority and to obtain supplementary travel insurance and understand the terms of your policy."
  • Suspend or cancel your newspaper delivery or any magazine and newsletter subscriptions.
  • Disguise the fact no one is home by arranging to have someone:
    • Pick up your mail and any junk mail that may be delivered to your residence.
    • Clear your driveway of snow, and shovel walkways, paths and sidewalks.
  • Give the appearance someone is home and:
    • Install timers on lights throughout the house and staggering them so they go on and off at different times.
    • Ask a trusted person to occasionally park in your driveway.
    • Ask a neighbour to occasionally put some of their garbage out on collection day in front or your house for pick-up.
    • Check your voicemail or answering machine regularly; erase unimportant phone calls and return important messages.
  • Prepare a list of emergency contacts for yourself, and also family and friends.

    For your family and friends, they should know where you are going to be and how to get a hold of you. For their peace of mind, check in often and let them know when they can expect to hear from you next.

    For yourself, have a list of your family and friend's phone numbers handy as well as contact information for the closest Canadian government office. There are more than 260 offices in 150 countries worldwide that can help you while travelling. Among other things, they can help you replace a lost or stolen passport, or if you become ill provide you with a list of local doctors or hospitals in the area where you are staying. Visit Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada for a list of offices in the country where you're staying.
  • If you're planning on travelling with your laptop, tablet or smartphone, you can save a lot of money by getting a plan that allows for international texting and data. Having a plan that allows for unlimited international texting will reduce roaming fees.
  • Plan to have enough cash on hand to assist with purchases just in case credit or debit cards are not accepted. It is a good idea to create a budget to keep track of all of your expenses.

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