Category Archives: Musings

Reflections on RV life and travel.

RVing in Ontario

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.

Using our Ontario Provincial Parks Seasonal Day Pass in 2010 with our first trailer Grace at the dog beach at Wasaga Provincial Park.
Using our Ontario Provincial Parks Seasonal Day Pass in 2010 with our first trailer Grace at the dog beach at Wasaga Provincial Park. We parked overnight at the nearby Walmart so we could roll in first thing in the morning.

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.

My lovely but shady site at New Lowell. After 4 seasons, I am missing the sunshine!

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!

Worst Things About RV Life

Universal RV Challenges
Reading the RV blogs I’ve come across more than one RV List of Worsts including this one posted by Happiest Camper: 10 Worst Things about Living in an RV. I always find it interesting that while some things are universal, there are other things people find hard about RV living that don’t affect us. First the commonalities: resource limits in water, sewer, electricity, wifi and cell signal are always an adjustment compared to sticks & bricks life. Less space, the need to constantly clean up that space, and being around each other 24/7 are also shared concerns.

Continue reading Worst Things About RV Life

The Disconnect between the Now & the Not Yet

“But I’m caught in between the now and the not yet: sometimes it seems like forever and ever that I’ve been reaching to be all that I am but I’m only a few steps nearer… yet I’m nearer!”
Amy Grant, The Now and the Not Yet, Straight Ahead album, 1984

A Strange Disconnect
While this decision to go full-timing may seem to have come up suddenly, the truth is that we have been living a lie. This idea has been formulating in our brains for years but we kept it to ourselves. I am a big believer in not announcing publicly grand plans of what you are “going to do” years in advance, for the simple reason that you never know what life holds. But keeping it quiet created a strange disconnect for us, where we acted like everything was normal when we knew soon everything was going to change.

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Acting normal at a Christmas dinner with friends in Dec 2014 – not time to say anything yet but it is always on our minds.

Our Long Lead Time
Our timeline to escape to FT RV living was long since we are also retiring from employment to do it. Workcampers or “Location Independent Professionals” often make the transition to FT RV life in the time it takes them to become remote employees or start a new mobile business. Our plan included continuing to focus on our savings while setting up the rental properties that would ultimately fund our retirement. Figuring out when James could comfortably leave his job involved complex spreadsheets and detailed budgets that over time showed us this thing we were contemplating was in fact possible.

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Hanging with friends and still acting normal in Dec 2014. We broke the news to this amazing group of friends at the same Christmas potluck one year later.

The past several years have allowed us plenty of time to research our plan by reading the many FT RV blogs online. Yet the process of learning about this incredible community of nomads has only increased the huge disconnect between our lives now and how we envision ourselves. It’s not unlike the disjointed sense I felt in my final years of employment at the insurance office: a bottom tax-bracket position that increasingly did not make sense as my rental business responsibilities and our wealth grew. I saw myself as a semi-retired/self-employed person of means, and yet I slogged away as a customer service representative. Yet my tenure in low-pay insurance sales did finally end and our wealth, rather than stagnating, grew even faster as I invested my new found free-time in improving our rentals for even greater income and capital appreciation.

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Out of the closet (and in our jammies) one year later in December 2015. What a relief to finally share our big plans with our good friends!

Freedom From Work, Freedom to Travel
When life goes on the same way for so long, it can be difficult to believe it will ever change. But when changes finally do start to happen, you realize that maybe your crazy dreams can come true. There isn’t a morning I wake up and don’t remember the blessing it is to not have to go to the office. I never take it for granted: it is the best thing in the world and worth more than any luxury car, McMansion or designer clothes. To me, being rich is being in control of my time. But the next step is to get James out of his job for his mental and physical well-being. Once we are both retired from employment, then we can exchange our sticks and bricks home for the means to travel. Ultimately these are the 2 main reasons for our FTRV plan: to free James from the stress of his job and to explore this beautiful continent!

Finally Changes Are Happening: New Tow Vehicle
So finally something happened: after 3 years with our trailer Nellie parked at a seasonal campground, we bought a tow vehicle!

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Taking delivery of our new to us 2011 Honda Odyssey EX minivan from the Honda dealer in Barrie, Ontario April 2015. We rode 2 up on the motorcycle to pick it up!

We had waited because we were saving up for our FT RV goal: our car wasn’t done yet and the longer we waited, the newer the tow vehicle would be when we make the leap. Plus, seasonal RV life is a great experience in it’s own right, albeit one very different from nomadic adventures. Our seasonal campground location is ideal – just over an hour from home, 20 minutes to the beach with a huge array of destinations and activities within a short drive. But I will admit, the third season was tough. We were definitely ready to hit the road, yet unable to do so. Now that we have our Honda Odyssey van Eddie equipped with a class 3 hitch receiver and top of the line weight distribution hitch, brake controller and transmission cooler, we are actually able to travel.

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Shiny new hitch and receiver installed by Can Am in London, Ontario May 2015.

Telling the Truth
My plan is by taking some longer trips, we can test drive this new RV lifestyle. No longer just dreaming, we can get out there and live it, at least for a few weeks at a time. While these will be short-term trips, we want to approach them not as vacations but as life on the road as retirees on a budget. We can test out our boondock capabilities in terms of solar vs generator use, gain practice in managing our on-board water supplies, and experience accessing different kinds of overnight camping/parking opportunities. In the process, we can stop living a lie and start telling the truth: that we are towing our RV on great adventures on our way to becoming full-time RVers!