So I was talking to my girlfriend about RVing... answering all kinds of questions... and I remembered how hard it was for me, as a Canadian, to find pertinent information about this lifestyle. So I decided to write a blog post about all the things you need to know as a Canadian RVer to give her a clean and concise point of reference. Of course, I am hoping that this will help other people in the future too.
The following is based only on our experience to date but keep in mind we've only been doing this for 6 months so we are not experts.
First things first:
There are 3 different types of RV's. Prices are based on reasonable condition and just estimates.
Travel Trailers - these are towed behind a car/truck at bumper level, your typical going to the lake for the weekend kind of trailer. Easy, inexpensive and they are now (very recently) available with slideouts also. No longer weekends only, these travel trailers are now as luxurious as 5th Wheels (see below) but all on one level, great for people with physical limitations. Almost no storage especially outside, so difficult for full timing. Requires suitable car/truck to tow it with, lightweight, driver's seat in separate vehicle. Not as stable on the highway, more difficult to back up and requires additional equipment such as stabilizers and sway bars. Separate vehicle means you have something to drive when you get where you're going. Be sure the vehicle you are towing with is rated for the weight of the trailer you intend to pull. For example: DO NOT pull a 20,000 lb trailer with a car rated to tow 5,000lb.
Ballpark Price: $20,000 - $50,000 CAD
Motorhomes - A driveable trailer available in 3 different configurations:
Class A - Good full time option. Plenty of storage in the 'basement', ie. plenty of bays beneath for storage. Generally comes with a built in Generator for power, slides for more roominess inside and easy access to driver's seat. Requires a second vehicle to be towed (called a Toad) on the back for driving around when you get where you're going. You don't want to try to take a Class A into a typical parking lot so a toad is a must.
Ballpark Price: $50,000 - $1,500,000 CAD
Insurance: Expensive (our is in the $240/mo range)
Class B / B+ - Essentially a converted van with all the amenities you will need strategically arranged, minimal storage, no slides, easy access to driver's seat. B+ is an extended version, the extra length providing more living space. Can easily park in any parking spot. Great for Stealth parking ie. parking undetected as an RV giving you more overnight options.
Ballpark Price: $120,000 - $160,000 CAD
Class C/C+ - Cab over the driver's seat generally has a bed though sometimes more cupboard space. more storage than a B but less than an A, Class C's now have slides allowing for more living space. More maneuverable but can also do with a toad for when you get where you're going.
Ballpark Price: $50,000 - $180,000 CAD
Fifth Wheels - Great full time option. Large trailers which connect to a truck bed via a 5th Wheel Hitch (similar to a semi). Very large living space, large 'basement' storage and interior storage, slides (as many as 5 slides or as few as 1). Some have two bathroom or bath and a half, handy for guests. Pulling truck means you have a vehicle for getting around when you get where you're going. Again, Do not pull a 5th Wheel with a 1/4 ton truck, make sure your truck is rated for the weight you require it to pull. Due to the weight of a 5th wheel, the trucks required to tow with can be hard to find parking for at say Walmart or Safeway. 5th wheel have a seperate bedroom usually located above the hitch but some 5th wheels have the bedroom in the rear and the livingroom above the hitch. This space is accessible by a couple of steps, awkward if you have physical limitations. In my opinion, 5th Wheels are the most 'homey'.
Ballpark Price: $45,000 - $85,000 CAD
Buying an RV... Many things to consider before buying an RV. We live in the RV the same way we lived in our sticks and bricks. Not much is different. So when buying an RV keep that in mind. Also as a Canadian I advise, even if you intend to spend 6 months in the States, you should make every effort to get an RV that is 3 or preferably 4 season rated, also called 'Arctic Package'. This will keep you plenty cool down south on hot days and warm during the Spring/Fall when travelling back and forth to/from Canada.
Consider how much of your RV runs on electric vs propane. RV's that are fully electric mean you will be tied to resorts/parks... the more propane your RV operates on the more flexibility you will have with regard to where to stay. Also the size of your rig should be given a great deal of consideration. The longer it is the harder to find a resort/park that can accomodate it, and maneuverability is much harder the longer your set up is also. Try to balance comfort and length, ideally you will be spending most of your time outdoors anyway, but on cold/wet days you do not want to be cramped.
As much as you may like to think you will have company, you don't want to have a lot of wasted space so consider the number of people your rig sleeps. You'll likely be surprised how rarely extra sleeping space is needed and usually the couch will convert to a bed, making room for those rare occasions and saving the expense of extra space for bunk beds, etc which could be used for storage.
If your RV has slides, how much is accessible with the slides in? You will want to access the fridge when you stop for lunch, the bed when you overnight while travelling, the bathroom would be a great convenience - believe me. If the slides block any of these items, my advise would be to keep looking.
It is also advisable to live and buy in a Province with little to no Sales Tax for obvious reasons. You can plate it in your home province but will need to pay the sales tax amount to that Province when you plate it. If you are planning to live fulltime in your RV then your residency will be an important decision. For us, this is Alberta. Alberta has no Sales Tax, insurance is reasonable, Personal Income Tax is low and Health Insurance is free.
Stationary - This style of RVing means you buy an RV, place it at a site in an RV Park somewhere and it never moves. Good for University students, Grandparents who don't want a big house but want to stay near the family. Price will vary by park.
Boondocking - Boondocking is all about going into the Boonies and being self-sufficient. Creating your own power and supplying you own water. Dealing with your tanks usually requires taking the RV to an RV Dump Station somewhere every few days or a week, depending on how well you conserve water. Your showerhead should have a 'pause' valve to save water while you lather. Some are better at this than others so much thought should go into it before you consider this endeavor.
Boondocking is FREE!! There is a ton of free Boondocking/Overnight Parking in the SW of the US, but as you move further East there are less and less Boondocking options available down here. Similarly, Ontario has virtually no boondocking, they have that Province sealed up pretty tight. Also available, including Ontario is Boondocker's Welcome which gives you other RVers who have a space for you and your rig to stay in their driveway or on their land for a night, maybe two (by invitation) - for free (though you should provide a small gift, make a purchase in the case of a business or offer to pay for electric if it is provided). Being in 'the boonies' can be dangerous so use your common sense in your location choices and if you are uncomfortable even a little, move. Find a new location. Even staying at a Walmart is preferable to being uncomfortable or in personal danger.
Resort/Park - Travelling around and staying at one resort/park for a week, a couple of weeks or a month at a time before moving on to another RV resort/park. Resorts/parks can range from $300/month to $3000/month with full-hookups (water, sewer and electric) so it is wise to plan ahead. Florida and California are especially expensive but other states especially during the summer are pretty pricey as well. We got very lucky on this front in California. Resorts/Parks are the safest places to be as everyone watches out for each other. Assuming you don't choose a Park in 'the hood', of course.
Snowbird - 6 months in the US and 6 months in Canada. The United States of America only allows you to spend a maximum of 182 days a year in the US and they have a wonky calculator which uses the previous few years of visits in its calculations. Learn this system before your second year and DO NOT under ANY circumstances stay more than 182 days your first year. You can be forced to pay taxes on your Canadian income to the IRS as well as to CCRA if you do! This should not be taken lightly. Fly or even walk if you have to to be across that border in time. Allow yourself plenty of time for the trip north in case of emergency, bad weather or vehicle problems. Snowbirds can spend the entire 6 months at one park or move from park to park as they see fit.
Fulltime in Canada?
This is possible. Again, a 4 season RV is preferable. You will want to be in a location that is relatively warm in winter such as Victoria, BC / Osoyoos, BC etc. You will need to put a 'skirt' around your RV to keep the wind out from under it which will help you keep warm. I am aware of people fulltiming in their RV in Fort McMurray but you've got to be pretty hearty for that I think. Walton's resort in Osoyoos for the winter will run you around $500/month plus Electric.
Points to Ponder:
1. Check into Provincial tax details, each Province is different for Sales/HST/GST/Personal taxes.
2. Residency requirements ie. How long can you be out of Province before losing residency and thereby Health Insurance coverage. Alberta is 6 months but some Provinces differ, so don't assume.
3. Mail. In order to get residency you require an address. UPS offers mailboxes which provide you with a street address. Be sure to consider the address of the UPS store itself, you don't want your address to appear like this: 101-253-42578 Main Street... Your address for residency purposes should appear as: 101-42578 Main Street. UPS will also forward your mail to you wherever you are whenever you request it.
4. Travel Insurance. You NEED this if you cross into the States! The US has extraordinarily expensive health care so this Travel Insurance can be the difference between life/death or at the very least bankruptcy should something unforeseen occur.
5. Work Camping. This is an option to Canadians in Canada, there are many campgrounds that will hire RVers to run their campgrounds and provide them with free/inexpensive sites and/or pay in return. This can be especially helpful if you do not own a home and cannot afford RV Park rates. Canadians CANNOT work in the US without the proper documentation.
6. I recommend, although it's not a required thing, to have a drinking water filter. Some parks are old and their inground plumbing has not been updated in decades...
7. Once you have a mailbox street address, change your cell phone address. Take proof of your new address (ie. phone bill, etc) to any Motor Vehicle office and get your new Driver's license, apply for the Health Care of the Province you have chosen and generally you are a resident after 3 months.
8. As for funds transfers/banking, etc. We pay all our bills online through our bank website and apply everything else to our Credit Card. We then withdraw a set amount each week to use as spending money. Keep in mind that the exchange rate, currently, is 1.25% so every $1 USD is $1.25 CAD. The ATM charges approx $3.50 for each withdrawal but we have found - surprisingly, that neither the Credit Card nor the Bank charges any additional fees other than the exchange rate of the day. I do not know if that is based on our banking history/Credit rating or just how they do it so check into this at your own bank.
8a. Americans are just getting into chip cards now so a lot of gas station pumps are swipe only, if your card's swiper is not working you will need to pay inside each time and guess how much gas you need. ATM's take the chip cards. If asked what your ZIP code is: it will begin with 00 and then use the 3 numerical digits of your Canadian Postal Code as the last 3 digits of your ZIP.. as an example: If your Postal Code is A1B2C3 then your ZIP for Credit Card purposes will be 00123. If this does not work, put the 00 after your 3 numerical Postal Code digits.
9. For getting around, we highly recommend an RV (or at least trucker's) GPS this specific system allows you to enter the height, weight, width and length of your RV setup. The GPS will then route you based on these parameters and you won't end up stuck under a low bridge in the middle of either New York or NoWhere.
10. Once you have your RV where you want it to be, you can use your Google Maps app on your cell phone while in your toad, to show you in real time what the traffic is like enroute to the destination you have chosen, perhaps a restaurant of RV supply shop.
11. Each State and Province has a Visitor Center, these are great for stopping on long travel days, many will allow you to stay overnight, and they will provide you with free maps and information about the sights and sounds of their particular State/Province.
12. RVers are very friendly (for the most part), and always willing to lend a hand and/or knowledge. There is a very real sense of camaraderie amongst RVers. Happy hour is a 3pm daily occasion at campgrounds/resorts, and in some instances boondocking locations, should you choose to partake once in a while. No one cares WHAT your drinking, just that your there so take a coffee or even water if you find the alcohol a bit much.
13. RV Tanks are not the nightmare they are portrayed to be. Just be sure to have a designated pair of gloves in the dump bay of your RV and use them. Ensure that all hoses are properly connected PRIOR to pulling the levers. Our tanks are of fairly typical sizes and we can last 3 days boondocking with both of us showering, dishes, drinking water before our tanks are full. If you don't want to move your rig every 3 days, you will need to conserve water better (alternate shower days) or stay somewhere with full hookups, we have lasted 6 days boondocking without dumping tanks so it can be done.
Do not leave your black tank open, even when at a full-hookup site - ever (bugs/mice/rats from the sewer will crawl in), and keep a dip in your sewer hose if your gray tank is left open (bugs don't swim under water). Simply close the grey tank valve the day prior to dumping your black tank to accumulate some rinse water, dump the black tank first then rinse the hoses by pulling the grey tank last.
Sewer hoses are delicate and can easily be torn/poked so be careful with it until you can purchase a heavy duty one.
14. It is wise to eventually get a portable water softener and water filter if you are moving around and unfamiliar with the water at your location. A lot of parks (again, back to old plumbing) have very hard water which can cause health problems. This is not required before leaving on your journey but don't wait too long as this hard water can build up in your RV's pipes and cause problems over time.
15. In cold (freezing) weather, leave a tap dripping. It doesn't need to be much but a drip will keep the water moving and moving water will not freeze. As long as you protect the drain from clogging should the water make it float you can use a dish cloth to minimize the sound of the drip. (turn the drain plug upside down and/or tie the rag to the tap)
16. If taking a pet into the US, ensure the animal is up to date on all immunizations, and ensure the Vet knows where you are taking the animal. We have a flea/tick prescription that we administer to our Dog every month to make sure he stays healthy during our travels. Border patrol will require up to date immunization records for your animal also. Do not leave an animal unattended inside the RV for extended periods, just like a car it can get extremely hot inside an RV and the animal could die. On reasonable temperature days you could leave the animal with blinds down/windows open, etc. Use common sense to ensure the safety of your pet.
17. If you have an issue with your RV, my first suggestion (except in emergencies, obviously) is to check YouTube. There are a ton of DIY how to fix this and that with your RV videos online which could save you $Thousands$.
18. Always maintain a basic set of tools, and I personally recommend a compact air compressor that is appropriate for RV tires. A typical air compressor will be okay for car tires of around 50psi, but an RV's tires could take 80psi or more so ensure your compressor is sufficient for the job. This way you can fill your tires if you find them low when you are in the middle of nowhere,. Having an RV towed is very expensive.
19. Your sewer hose and water hose should be a minimum of 25 ft long to accommodate unusual site layouts, hookups are not all conveniently located.
20. Solar power is a luxury you do not necessarily need. We thought we needed it for Brad's CPAP machine and it has certainly come in handy on several occasions... but $10,000 handy? Probably not. A simple CPAP battery that can be charged while the generator is on or while your driving would suffice. While we don't regret getting 480w of solar, new batteries, upgraded wiring and tilted panels- because we unexpectedly changed our travel style we could have done without them. However, for boondocking they were a great asset with his CPAP. Hindsight...
21. There are a lot of RV Clubs/Groups available. As an example, Escapees has many smaller groups within it, a Boondocker's group, a sewing group, bird watching group... just about anything that interests you, where you can meet like minded people to travel with.
22. Toilet paper must be RV or Septic approved. Do not use regular household TP unless it is 1 Ply as it will bung up your tanks. Scots now makes an RV paper which can be found at Walmart or online. RV appropriate paper can be found at RV stores such as Camping World or a Dealership.
23. Ensure that you have a Surge protector, again- old campgrounds may have poor wiring and could fry your RV's electrical system, available in 30Amp or 50Amp depending on your RV's Amperage.
24. A slide is a portion of a wall which extends outwards when parked to allow for more living space, before driving these must be pulled (automatic) in.
25. When travelling keep in mind that the longer you stay somewhere the lower the rate will be. For example: One night could be $55, a week $200 but a month will be $600. Nightly rates usually include electric, most weekly rates include electric but if you stay for a month they will generally add the electric to your bill. ie $600/month + electric.
26. There are programs like Passport America which cost about $50/year, these programs provide you with discounts of up to 50% off at a resort/park. Thousand Trails is another more expensive option that offers you significant discounts at a multitude of different parks all around the US.
27. KNOW YOUR VEHICLES HEIGHT. Always measure it yourself, just because the dealer says its 12'6" doesn't mean it is, changes may have been made by a previous owner that the dealer/newest owner is unaware of. Never fully trust a GPS, pay attention to clearance signs along your route. Don't get stuck. For the most part, clearance will not be an issue but when you get into back areas there is a chance of a low bridge or other obstruction like low hanging trees which could tear your roof. If you are unsure - pull over and check. Replacing a roof is very expensive.
28. Due to the size of your RV set up, toll roads can be costly and there are a lot of them. When routing your GPS always review the route before approving it, and stay alert as you drive.
There are plenty of people who will tell you that you NEED this or that, you do not. There are a few items that would be must haves but very few. Most items are pick up as you go along items. Leveller Jack Pads would be a must have (see below) in my opinion, as is an RV appropriate GPS.
Items we wouldn't be without: (other than the above mentioned items)
* as much as possible all items should be collapsible or otherwise space saving.
* The links below are for examples and pricing ideas only and not necessarily recommendations for that particular product.
Stovetop Kettle, Bucket, Flashlight (including black light to see snakes and scorpions at night), Compact BBQ, water jug to hold Berkeyized water, storage containers, air tight canisters, (for rice, sugar, etc.), vent insulators (one for every ceiling vent), cheap garden hose (extremely handy for rinsing your RV or other outdoor chores), leveller jack pads (keep your rig from sinking into gravel/dirt - important).
During our own research we found a lot of information at www.roamingrv.com, Carol Anne has compiled quite a bit of information for Canadian RVers.
I will update this Blog Post as our experience changes.