Grey nomads: Aging optimally on the road

The Bottom Line

  • More and more retirees are adopting a nomadic lifestyle. They travel independently and for long periods of time, especially in recreational vehicles.
  • Many "grey nomads", however, suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes.
  • Chronic disease management is important to prevent complications, especially during long trips to remote areas where access to medication and health services may be limited. 
  • Digital technologies and the increased use of telehealth offer new ways of supporting grey nomads.

For decades, our Canadian "snowbirds" have crossed the border in search of warmer temperatures. Cross-border travel restrictions, lockdowns and concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the habits and plans of many. Indeed, many have turned to the recreational vehicle (RV) lifestyle. There has been a real explosion in RV sales during the pandemic.(1)

The RV lifestyle is also a way to redefine what it means to be "older" and to adopt an active lifestyle, to prioritize independence and personal fulfillment. Some retirees even sell everything to live in their RV and travel across the country (and beyond). If this phenomenon seems recent here, it is not the case in Australia. For more than two decades, Australia has seen a growing community of "grey nomads" who travel independently and for extended periods in their caravan or motor home.(2)

A nomadic lifestyle can reveal some challenges when it comes to chronic disease management. What lessons can we learn from Australia's grey nomads with type 1 and 2 diabetes?

What research tells us

An evidence synthesis identified 10 studies examining the experiences and behaviours of grey nomads with type 1 and 2 diabetes in Australia.(3)

The findings reveal that grey nomads are over 55 and live with at least one chronic disease (8% of them living with diabetes).

These people see their nomadic lifestyle as a way to help them maintain healthy and active lives. However, studies reveal that many of them have high levels of alcohol consumption and obesity, as well as a below average quality of life.

Also, studies show that about 8% of them have to return prematurely from their trip for health reasons. They do little or no planning for their health needs and do not bring enough medicines during their journey, which leads to the use of local health services on the road. In rural and remote areas, limited access to primary care often forces them to go to emergency services, which sometimes have difficulty coping with the influx of new patients.

Diabetes self-management

Grey nomads with diabetes manage their disease on their own and must pay attention to their diet, monitor their blood sugar levels and take the necessary medications. Uncontrolled diabetes results in off-target blood sugar levels, increased complications, poorer quality of life and higher risk of death.

Grey nomads who have been well informed and trained by their healthcare professionals have better skills in controlling their diabetes on long trips because they are more knowledgeable about their disease, are aware of the signs and symptoms of poorly controlled diabetes, and know when to seek care. In addition, the possibility of talking remotely with their health professionals promotes better care in the event of a problem.


Are you interested in the nomadic way of life?

Here are some tips to prepare for it:

- Inform your healthcare professionals about your project.

- Make sure you have access to your electronic health record (or a printed copy of your record) to support continuity of care.(4)

- List your medications and purchase the amount needed for the duration of your trip.

- Community pharmacists along your itinerary can answer questions about your medications, blood sugar monitoring, etc.

- Agree on a way to communicate remotely with your healthcare professionals: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth and virtual care have increased. If you are not comfortable with technology, now is a good time to get started!

- Find out about digital technologies to facilitate the self-management of your disease: Alert systems for medication, tools to monitor your blood sugar levels, remote-monitoring tools that can be used by your care team, etc.

- If you are traveling outside Canada, find out about the rules for continuing to benefit from your health insurance coverage.

We wish you a safe journey on the road!

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Author Details


  1. Canadian Camping and RV Council. Pandemic fueled resurgence In the RV market. 2022.
  2. Higgs PF, Quirk F. "Grey nomads" in Australia: are they a good model for successful aging and health? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2007 Oct;1114:251-7. doi: 10.1196/annals.1396.030. PMID: 17986585.
  3. De Bellis A, McCloud CH, Giles J, Apolloni M, Abigail W, Hill P, McClory L. Grey nomads with diabetes self-management on the road: A scoping review. Rural and Remote Health. 2021 Jul;21(3):6517. doi: 10.22605/RRH6517. Epub 2021 Jul 25. PMID: 34303325.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.