Southward Ho! Snowbird RV Tips for Migrating South

Learn the basics of RV snowbirding

As Neil Young once sang, “the summer ends and the winter winds begin to holler all around the bend…”

The snow doth fly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, it’s that time of year once again when the cooler weather sets in and the truly cold and snowy months of winter loom ever closer on the horizon. Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbirds are already preparing for the journey south for the annual escape to the sub-tropical climates in southern states that include Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California.

Quail Ridge RV Park near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following are several key tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your journey to gorgeous coastal regions, inland escapes, or breathtaking desert areas.

RV and Tow Vehicle/Toad Preparations

Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ensure that your RV and tow vehicle or toad are in top operating condition before leaving for your winter destination by following several practical tips:

  • Have a local auto shop inspect your tow vehicle/toad before departing; you never know if you may have missed something and it’s always a good precaution to take
  • Have a local RV service center inspect tires, brakes, axle bearings, and other moving parts
  • Check the air conditioning to ensure it is working properly. A broken air conditioner in a hotter climate makes for an uncomfortable snowbird experience
  • Add tank cleaner to your rig’s waste tanks

Winterize Your Home

Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preparing your home for an extended absence requires thorough thought and planning. Before heading south for the season, snowbirds must take steps to secure and winterize their homes.

Rio Bend RV and Golf Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check with your insurance agency to determine how extended absences may affect coverage. Determine if your insurer requires a regular walk-through during your absence and if so, how frequently.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrange with a mail forwarding service to have your mail forwarded to your winter destinations.

Arrange with a neighbor, relative, friend, or snow removal service to keep your sidewalks clear of the white stuff that Northerners know all too well.

Palm Springs Joshua Tree KOA, Desert Hot Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ask a friend, neighbor, or relative to be the contact person for your home. The contact person should have access to your home. It’s important to have someone check your home on a regular basis, remove sales flyers, be available in emergency situations, and make repair appointments if necessary. Your home should look like someone is living there.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turn down the thermostat on your heating system.

Unplug lamps, TVs, radios, and all electric appliances.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjust the gas water heater thermostat to “pilot” or turn it off. Turn off the water supply at the main valve. Upon returning home, relight the pilot if you turned it off, and gradually turn the thermostat to the appropriate setting. Don’t forget to turn the water back on before restarting the water heater.

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check outdoor security lights to ensure the motion sensors are functioning correctly.

Finally, lock all windows and doors, and activate the alarm or security system.

Pack the RV

Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to ensure you have stowed aboard you RV all the essential items is to use a checklist. Following is a starting point for creating your own personal checklist:

  • Clothing for all types of weather
  • Toiletries
  • Fully stocked first aid kit
  • Tool box (stow on curb side of RV)
  • Essential house wares (dishware and utensils, cooking supplies, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, fire extinguisher, batteries, LED flashlights)
  • Technology (smart phone, laptop, tablet, ebook reader, printer, camera, batteries, battery chargers)
  • Outdoor recreation/hobby items (hiking boots and poles, fishing poles, cameras and camera supplies and equipment, knitting/quilting/sewing supplies)

Canadian Snowbirds

Lake Osprey RV Resort, Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to all of the usual preparations, Canadian snowbirds must deal with extra details that include:

  • Passports and other travel documents
  • Extended health care insurance (Don’t leave home without it!)
  • Smart phone and internet service
  • Buying U.S. dollars/U.S. dollar credit card
Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I’ll take heat rash over frost bite any day.

—Ken Travous

How to Choose the Right RV and the Right RV Dealership?

Your first step in purchasing an RV is to ask yourself what you would like to do in your recreational vehicle

Recreational vehicles are a great way to see the country and allow owners the freedom to travel.

They are great for weekends and extended vacations, but they are a major investment. And purchasing an RV is considerably more complicated than buying a car.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star Class A motorhome at Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Your first step in purchasing an RV is to ask yourself what you would like to do in your trailer or motorhome. Do you plan to use it for family trips to a nearby lake or for extended travel across the country? Or as a second home in the winter and travel south to a Sunbelt state where it’s sunny, warm, and without snow? Perhaps you’re thinking of selling your home and living full-time in an RV.

Laredo fifth-wheel trailer by Keystone RV at Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

What sizes and styles do you prefer? Will you buy a new or pre-owned RV?

The more time you plan to spend in your RV, the more carefully you need to consider your purchase. There’s no right way to camp. Some people are shopping for an RV with a clean bathroom and comfortable beds that will keep them warm and cozy at night. Other campers are seeking a smaller version of their sticks and bricks house, with all the creature comforts of home. Will everyone be able to eat a meal, play a board game, or watch a movie? Think about how you want to live in the RV, and make sure the floor plan will support that dream.

Coachmen Apex travel trailer at Ambassador RV Resort, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you are a first time RV shopper, you might be surprised—and a little overwhelmed—at how many options there are out there. Once you have settled on the type of RV you are looking for (travel trailer, fifth wheel, motorhome), you’ll still have to decide the size and floor plan that will suit you best.

Thor Motor Coach Tuscany Class A motorhome at The Motorcoach Resort, Chandler, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While you’re trying to determine how you want to use your RV, do some homework. Use the Internet to browse RV brands and styles. Be aware that all manufacturers are not created equal.

If your friends or neighbors own an RV talk with them about their vehicle and their experiences.  Look through the interior; examine various options so you can understand what is available.

Thor Motor Coach Hurricane Class A motorhome at Gila Bend KOA, Gila Bend Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A key factor is size. If you are only planning to use it sporadically, then size might not be an issue. But if you plan on living out of the vehicle for extended periods of time, then a larger RV may be more comfortable. Be aware that some older campgrounds and RV parks have restrictions on size.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star with interior features that include a computer desk, pull-out dining table, and recliners with foot rests © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Additional features can make your ride enjoyable. Choose items that would make your trip as comfortable as possible.

Every RV is a bit different than the next, and some options will be more important to you than others. That’s why it’s important to have a list of “must haves” vs. “nice to haves” before you even start looking. Here are a few features that may or may not be on your list depending on your RV lifestyle:

  • Large awning
  • Outdoor TV
  • Power and automated systems for stabilizing jacks and levelers
  • Smart technology to power mobile devices
2019 Newmar Dutch Star Class A motorhome at Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once you become more acquainted with the marketplace, start visiting RV dealers. After all your research, you should be better prepared to speak with the salespeople clearly and confidently.

One of the greatest benefits of RV travel is being able to use the bathroom and have lunch in our RV kitchen while at rest stops. If this is also important to you, make sure you can access everything you will need even with the slides in. Can you access the bathroom, open the refrigerator, and get into the bedroom? Ask the salesperson to bring in the slides for you to make sure the travel mode will work for you and your family.

Outback travel trailer by Keystone at Quinta Oasis RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Most dealers have an on-site service department. Most RV repairs are specialized and different from regular vehicles.

Like all vehicles, RVs need maintenance and repairs from time to time. When you need to repair or maintain your vehicle, it is essential that you deal with professionals. You will need experienced and excellent customer service. Be aware that all dealers are not created equal.

From the old to the new at Midtown RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After all, your RV is an enormous investment. Don’t trust it to just anyone.

In the interests of full disclosure, we currently own a 2019 Dutch Star diesel pusher. This is our fifth Newmar motorhome and Midtown RV in Penticton, British Columbia, is our trusted dealer. Yes, great customer service matters.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin