5 Tips to Plan Your Winter Escape to the USA

With the days shortening and the shadow of below zero temperatures looming ahead, now is a good time to start planning your winter escape. Many snowbirds flock to our neighbours to the South for the best alternatives in terms of warmer weather and sunny destinations.

Sadly, gone are the days when the loonie was on par with the US dollar. This means that travelling for a longer period of time to the USA now requires a bit of planning in order to get more value for your holiday.

Here are five ways to help you save money during your next winter escape down South:

1. Bank and Credit Cards

When it comes down to currency exchange, there are three convenient options: converting a large sum of money before leaving, withdrawing local currency from an ATM or using a credit card when possible.

Using a credit card abroad will generally incur fewer fees, even considering the 2-3% foreign transaction fee imposed by credit card companies. Fortunately, according to the website Money We Have, there are a few credit cards available to Canadians with no foreign transaction fees, such as:
Marriott Rewards Premier Visa
Rogers Platinum MasterCard
– Fido MasterCard
Home Trust preferred Visa
Amazon.ca Rewards Visa Card

Another option is to get a US dollar credit card issued from a Canadian Bank. Alternatively, as some banks have branches in the States, you can also open a US bank account with them to avoid the ATM withdrawal and foreign transaction fees. With certain institutions, it is even possible to get the transfer fees from the Canadian account to the US account removed.

2. Transportation

Snowbirds who wish to migrate down south for the winter can choose to do so by land or by air. Driving your own car has been known to be the most cost-efficient method of transport. Not only are gas prices in the States much cheaper than in Canada, having your personal car will give you a lot more autonomy and freedom once you reach your destination. Here are a few things to consider before undertaking such a journey such as:
– Getting a full checkup of the vehicle;
– Verifying the validity of your driver’s licence, car registration, insurance and roadside assistance (contact your car insurance provider to make sure you are covered outside of the country);
– Anticipating additional costs such as toll, rest stops, parking fees/permits (in certain apartment complexes) or getting an international driver’s licence.
With the increase in low-cost carriers and incredible flight deals offered online, flying can also be an affordable way to reach your winter destination. Consider expanding your search to airports just south of the borders for even better deals. Flights to Florida leaving from Burlington tend to be much cheaper than from Montreal or Ottawa for instance. Keep in mind that once you’ve arrived at your destination, you might have to add the costs of renting a car or using public transport to get around.

3. Accommodation

From renting/leasing a condo to buying a holiday home to driving a RV, accommodation options will most likely take up a big chunk of your budget.

Owning a RV will allow for a more location-independent lifestyle. It can be very convenient and comforting to have your home on wheels without worrying about paying rent or the stress of owning a property abroad. However, this type of travelling might not be suitable for everyone.

For first-timers or those new to the snowbird way of life, renting a condo or a vacation home can be an interesting option. This will allow you to test out destinations before the long-term commitment of purchasing a secondary residence. Factors such as the location, the size and the services offered will obviously influence the costs.

Compared to buying, renting comes with many advantages such as not being tied down, avoiding insurance, property taxes and fees and having fewer responsibilities during the off months. However, to ensure that feeling of “home away from home” year after year, it might be necessary to book rentals well ahead of time. Here are some websites specialized in the vacation rental market:
VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner)
TripAdvisor (Vacation Rentals)

4. Destinations

Finding the ideal destination where to spend your winter months can be brain-racking. Before committing to one specific area, it is recommended to visit a few places for a shorter period to evaluate the living costs. Take the time to research where the closest amenities are, activities that are available and, of course, the kind of weather expected. Popular US States for Canadian snowbirds include Florida, Arizona, Texas and California.

Some destinations such as Virginia Beach, Scottsdale (Arizona) and Kissimmee (Florida) have been offering deals targeting snowbirds by matching the value of the Canadian dollar. This is to encourage tourism to destinations affected by the drop in the Canadian dollar. Also, don’t underestimate the appeal of less touristy spots within popular sunshine states.

Although the States are a very attractive destination for snowbirds, it could be worth looking into destinations further south in order to reduce costs. Countries like Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica have lower costs of living while not neglecting the sunshine factor.

5. Travel Insurance

Regardless of age or even health condition, travelling to the United States without proper travel insurance carries a lot of risks. Compared to Canada, receiving emergency health care in the US can result in huge financial ramifications. Snowbirds heading down south for the winter should be particularly aware of this, especially when leaving for an extended period of time.

Make sure to contact your travel insurance broker now to determine which plan is best suited for your needs regarding pre-existing health condition and the length of your trip. Having a private travel insurance will allow you to have peace of mind to enjoy those winter months under the sun. For more information about Snowbirds Travel Insurance, visit the FAQ section provided by Escapade Travel Insurance.

As more and more retirees wish to escape the grueling winter months, embracing a snowbird lifestyle can be an interesting alternative. Planning ahead with plenty of research and careful preparation will allow you get your dose of sunshine without breaking your budget.