As it turns out, the number one variable in determining where to change our mailing address is how this will affect the cost of our auto insurance. Auto insurance is very expensive in Ontario and pricing varies widely by location. Getting your vehicle rated for a different location than the mailing address is extremely difficult. Having cheap auto insurance saves on the tow vehicle and the motorcycle and may prove especially important if we get into trouble with tickets or at-fault accidents in the future. Ergo, I have asked my auto insurance company to quote me at 15 different friends and family addresses to help decide who we should approach to receive our mail. It’s a lot to ask someone so we don’t want to waste anyone’s time by asking the wrong person.
Results are in. Unfortunately, our closest family members live in the city with higher auto prices. The best rates are found to the north including Innisfil, Barrie, Orillia and surprisingly Mount Albert. The next best price is in Milton, followed by Grimsby and Niagara Falls where 2 of my sisters live – these would also be reasonable options for us as they would only be about $100 more on the tow vehicle per year compared to the most affordable areas.
Fortunately, our good friend Jenn in Mount Albert agreed to receive our mail for us so we are set! This is a huge relief as having a true “home” address, not just a post office box, is absolutely necessary for tax and insurance purposes. As they say, only criminals live at no fixed address! Mount Albert is also conveniently close to our rental properties where we will be storing our important papers so it will be very convenient to pick up our mail, sort and organize it and head over to storage to file away the important stuff. Another major step in our plan: check!
So here I am at the end of our fourth and final camping season at New Lowell Conservation Area campground. When I got back from our Bar Harbor Trip at the end of Sept, I told Jane of our full-time plans and that we would be giving up our site. I had to call back a day or two later to say how much we have enjoyed our time there and are sad to go. Jane offered for me to move my trailer to an open spot not under the trees for winter storage and since Doane Road Storage rates are now $67 per month, $225 to keep Nellie here for 6.5 months is a deal too good to pass up.
James and I just enjoyed a fantastic Thanksgiving long weekend together at New Lowell with great weather and our friend Mel driving up for a day visit on Monday. We got out in the canoe twice, did some hiking and had a pizza from Life’s a Slice! We also enjoyed a beautiful fall colours motorcycle ride on Sunday meeting up serendipitously with friends Kerry and Jason at the Thornbury Fish Ladder – in all a great final weekend. James expressed sadness at leaving this park and I feel a bit sad as well. However, I have a much stronger feeling of excitement about all the new places we will be going to because we won’t be committed to one spot. This park has been a perfect fit for our needs while we had no tow vehicle and were tied to our house in Markham. Long term, however, it is not what we want: we want to travel, even within Ontario. There is so much we haven’t seen and so many beautiful places we want to revisit, like our fantastic winter camping/Taylor Coach Campout destination MacGregor Point Provincial Park on lake Huron.
James also mentioned that he feels our plan is a bit scary. He is definitely committed to our full-time RV plan and we have decided that we will not wait One More Year: we are go for 2016! However, as we get closer and start having to make changes and decisions to stay on track, like giving up our site at New Lowell, the reality of what we are doing closes in. Yes, it is scary and, like the sadness, I feel it a bit too. However, once again, I have a much stronger feeling of calm and confidence about our plan than feeling scared. While James is more fully engaged in our current life, working full-time and spending more time in the city this summer, I have connected with the full-time RV world through reading blogs and following RVers on Instagram. I am constantly engaging with this community of people and am keenly aware that they are out there enjoying this lifestyle while we are still in our sticks and bricks home.
In the years leading up to our go-date, I had wondered how I will feel about selling our beautiful home and leaving that comfortable, secure place behind forever. But now that we are getting close, I feel ready. Our neighbourhood is too busy now: a new building is going in across the street and a new mall just around the corner. This is great for resale but not great for me living here: the traffic and population density are more than I want, the noise, air pollution, lack of privacy are all reasons to go. Plus, I feel like I don’t want to live in the same house for 20 or 30 years. We have been here 14 years now and it feels like time for a change. It has been a great house for us: just the right size, an excellent location for James work, for getting around and extremely desirable for resale. No regrets on buying this home, but now it is time to go.
To tell my sister and her family about our full-time RV plans, James and I decided to make a guessing game of it with the kids. At dinner, we announced that we were preparing for a big life change next summer and wanted to share it with them. Pausing to see if they would start asking 20 questions, we were surprised when my nephew Ben almost immediately guessed, “You are retiring to travel more!” So what could we say but, yes! While that was true, we quickly realized that there was a lot more to explain.
Their first question was about James’ job. When we said James is going to quit his job, Adrienne asked, don’t you like your job? Not really, I don’t love my job. But how can we afford to retire so early? Ben proposed a game of 2 lies, 1 truth where I make 3 statements and they have to guess which one is true. First up: how can we afford it? Options were: we won the lottery; we did well on our investments; we will live on our rental income (answer is C). But how can we live on our rental income when our rental income pays the mortgages? Answer is that we will sell our house to pay off the mortgages (didn’t quite get to 2 lies on that one).
Next is where are we going to live? Options: We will move to Mexico; we will become snowbirds in the southern US; or we will live in a Class A motorhome (answer is B). My sister thought sure we would be buying the Class A but no, we like our little trailer too much. We had to explain to the kids what snowbirds are! Ben asked but how does that help you save money? James explained that you only have to save money until you retire. I said that it’s not cheap traveling in the USA but we can save money by living in our trailer! When Ben found out we would be living in our trailer he was surprised: “You are going to live in your trailer!?!” he asked! “Yes, we are going to live in our trailer!” I asserted. This clearly hadn’t occurred to him as a possibility. :o) Bronwyn was sad that she wouldn’t see us as often but I explained that we would only be away for the winter and would see them in the summertime. She seemed happy with this and said okay that’s good!
Next question: who will take care of our rentals while we are gone? Options: We will hire an outside property management company; we will place superman in one of our apartments and he will take care of it; we will assume nothing will go wrong and not worry about it (answer is B, we already placed a super man as our superintendent and he already dealt with a flood no problem!). Of course no one guessed Superman, they all guessed C, but this was a trick question!
Being Odd Ducks
Did you know 80% of RVers are over the age of 50*? Not only that but most of the other 20% are work campers and/or travel with children. Boy, we are odd ducks out here: retired, childless, Canadian couple in their forties full-time RVing in a tiny travel trailer with a motorcycle on the road. We are not going to meet many RVers quite like us. I suspect that is true for most RVers: everyone has their own approach to the RV lifestyle and unique RV set-up. Still, I think we are extra weird: Canadians full-timers are rare to begin with. Most are retired snowbirds of retirement age and most have a much bigger RV than us.
RVing in the USA vs Canada
Our RV trips in 2015 have been about learning how to RV in the USA. The US is very RV friendly: they recognize that there are full-timers out there: the construct is widely understood and business exist to serve them. Even here in the northeastern states, I notice differences from Canada. For example: plentiful National Forests offering free, dispersed camping suitable for RVers (not just hike-in sites); Ranger Stations providing information or where to find them; a free dump station at the outlet mall in Conway (wow!); visitor centers in Adirondack Park and here in the White Mountains offering FREE WIFI (not just for customers) and even a lovely sitting area to access it.
Some things are similar in Ontario: some Walmarts, rest stops and casinos will allow overnight parking; Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts have locations in Ontario. But in other ways, Ontario is a much harder place to RV: there is crown land camping but the government website is cumbersome and there is no one to call and point us in the right direction.
Provincial Parks vs State Parks
Ontario provincial parks charge more on average than the state parks in the US (even after the exchange rate) plus they want an extra vehicle charge of $12 per night for the second vehicle and there is no pass for this. This is in stark contrast to campgrounds in the US where almost every campground includes parking for 2 vehicles. The only work around we have found is using our seasonal day pass to get the motorcycle into the provincial park and then hiding it behind the trailer overnight. Still, an overzealous ranger could come by after hours and give us a ticket for not having an actual overnight pass on the motorcycle. Why the day pass isn’t also valid as a secondary vehicle overnight pass is beyond me.
The provincial parks seasonal day pass, not cheap at $120 for the 2016 season (it goes up every year), gets us daytime access to any Ontario provincial park and we buy one every year. With day use, we can go in and enjoy the parks typically until 10pm and can access beaches, trails, showers and dump stations. Interestingly, the provincial parks do not charge a dump station fee because there are basically no full-timers in Ontario traveling around needing to dump, so dump station use by non-campers is a non-issue.
However, dumping at provincial parks doesn’t help us when we are in the Greater Toronto Area as there are no nearby provincial parks. The closest are Earl Rowe in Alliston and Sibbald Point in Sutton – both about 40 mins from Newmarket at the northern edge of the GTA. Along Lake Ontario, there is Bronte Creek in Oakville in the west while Darlington is even farther east. Near Orillia is Bass Lake on the west side, while Mara and McRae Point are near Casino Rama east of Lake Couchiching. Of course there are lots more provincial parks in the east and north and all along Lake Erie. This network of parks will help us move from friend’s properties to HH to BDW sites and still have dumping options.
Giving up our Seasonal Site at New Lowell Conservation Area
One thing weighs heavily on my mind as my return to Ontario looms: we must decide if we want to pay the deposit to retain our site at New Lowell next year. I wasn’t sure we should have even retained it this year: we knew we would be traveling a lot though we didn’t know I would have a major renovation take over my life in July. Yet James and I were both not ready to let it go: as a result we have effectively paid $2200 for trailer storage plus a few camping weekends here and there. Not financially efficient but we allowed ourselves some financial inefficiency in this, our test-out-this-lifestyle year.
Next year we will actually sell the house, organize, purge and store our things, and transition to living in Nellie full-time. But when exactly will this happen? Even if we end up with a June 30 closing, I would want to spend the summer way up north exploring some of Ontario’s crown land, assuming we don’t have any rental turnover’s to deal with in the height of summer. My preference is for a mid- July or mid-August closing: a longer closing would give me the time to fully organize everything after we have a firm deal in hand to put a real fire under my butt.
Regardless of our closing date, I don’t see us spending much time at the trailer in New Lowell in 2016. Frankly, after spending 3 summers there, then traveling this year, I am ready for more new adventures. Our site is too shady and the effort involved in packing to go back and forth does not appeal to me just to be there. But without a seasonal site lined up, where do we go after our house is gone?
Other Ontario Options
Tottenham Conservation area offers seasonal and monthly rates and are open until Thanksgiving. Rouge Valley has camping in the east end of Toronto. Valens is another option near Cambridge and they only close for December so we can stay there until we are ready to cross the border. Or, we could try moving around: head north for some crown land camping to enjoy the fall colours, overnight at the casinos in Innisfil and Orillia, see if a BDW will take us in for a bit, try some of the HHs in the Niagara area.
If we need to be near Newmarket for a turnover, I bet the Lowes would let us park and even unhitch for a few days or a week. We would almost certainly be buying a few things at that time and with my corporate account, I am a verified customer! There is also a giant movie theatre there – maybe if we go see a couple movies they will allow us to park for a few days and even unhitch. If our big rental is temporarily vacant, we could actually park our rig in the driveway while working on an apartment – town by-laws even allow it. There is a new carpool lot at 404 and Queensville Sideroad with lots of room and a new onroute just opened on the 400 near Innisfil: both they will allow overnight parking though not unhitching.
All this to say, RVing in Ontario and particularly near the GTA will not be easy. Getting a seasonal site in Tottenham in 2017 is easy and affordable but is not necessarily the camping experience we want. For 2016, I think we need to save our money and just see what happens. We really need to just get out there and do it to learn what will work. We are smart, resourceful people and we will figure it out! As RVers like to say, if you plan every detail in advance, there is no opportunity for serendipity to work things out!