BY KENT SHAW, CFA
While we spend our professional time thinking about investments for your portfolios at MONTAG, portfolio managers are people too, and we look forward to spending time with our families like anyone else. Indeed, summer is upon us and that means different things to different people. For the kids, it may mean sleeping in, no homework, and a deep dive into the freedom of childhood. For parents, it can often be just a different flavor of chaos with a side of heat to make it interesting. And then there is the family road trip.
Family road trips can be a great time of bonding but can also be taxing on already tired parents. In an attempt to make that upcoming road trip a little less stressful we offer some suggestions this week. Some of these are more applicable to families with young kids but a few will be helpful to everyone.
Leaving on Time
Trying to get out the door at an appointed time feels like work. It’s vacation after all, why do we need a schedule? If you don’t need one, then enjoy the freedom and leave whenever you get around to it. However, if you must arrive in time to check in at a hotel or in time for dinner with friends or family, some planning may pay off in terms of punctuality and lower stress. In my family, we have a perfectly consistently record in this area. We have never left on time. But we are getting better.
One of the best ways to leave on time (or closer to your target time) is to plan a bit. To that end, I created a spreadsheet to think about the steps needed to leave on time and track them. Some screenshots are shown below. The items on the list will vary by family, of course. The list starts on the left at 4 days before you plan to leave and there are different groups of tasks shown for each day. My actual list is bigger than this and includes specific packing list for our kids. Depending on the age of your kids, you may want more oversight. I actually ask them to place all of their items next to their suitcase so a parent can check before the items are packed. Five days with one pair of underwear can be a problem (the voice of experience).
The Battle Against Boredom
If you have a long drive ahead, some thought should be given to entertainment during the trek. The License Plate game will only get you so far, perhaps out of the neighborhood. We’ve collected a few ideas below that might be helpful.
- Books – library, borrow from friends, order online
- Digital books – digital books can be purchased but can also be checked out from the local library through an app from Overdrive (link). Keep in mind that high demand books may have a waiting list so it’s best to add several to your list a few weeks before your trip. Books can be checked out for 21 days.
- If possible, save digital screens (movies, etc.) for any night time driving when it’s more difficult to read or do other activities without distracting the driver.
- Depending on the age of your kids, printing mazes and word searches from the Internet can be worth your time and limit screen time, if that’s a goal. Similar books can also be purchased. This link from Amazon has a long list of kids activity books for ages 4 to 12: link.
- If possible, find an audio book that everyone can listen to together. Books on history can be very engaging and there are many fiction books where the audio reader uses different voices for the characters which can add a lot to the experience. Most audio books are 8 to 12 hours or longer. Audible (link), is a service owned by Amazon that offers thousands of audio books that can be purchased directly or you can subscribe for $15/month and get books at a reduced rate.
- Movies on tablets – Netflix and Amazon both offer the ability to download certain movie and TV titles directly to a device so there’s no need for cell signal while you’re on the road. It takes a while to download this content and you must have enough space on your device so try to do this a few days before you leave.
- The master charger. Some newer cars have charging ports but for those of us still living in the dark ages, you might consider a charger like this that offers USB ports as well as a standard plug to charge or run a laptop or other device. We’ve had very good results with the device linked above ($17).
Keeping order in the family chariot may be difficult but a little effort can go a long way. All you need is trash cans! The floor of our family vehicle often reminds me of that last day of the County Fair at closing time — snack bags, crumbs, and fast food cups as far as the eye can see. One solution is a local trash can and an easy way to accomplish that is to buy plastic pet food containers (link) with a large snap lid. Place a trash bag inside then snap on the lid and offer some kind instructions to those sitting in “coach” about filling it up. Maybe even have a contest: whichever group in the car has the cleanest floor gets to pick where you stop for lunch/dinner.
Don’t Forget to Prepare the Pilot
Sanity for the driver always seems to be an afterthought but it’s important. A set of wireless headphones connected to your phone can be a life saver if everyone in the car is engaged in other activities. A phone mount that attaches to the air conditioning vent in the car (link) improves safety and offers easy access to controls for music and audio books. For music, there are a number of options. Spotify offers streaming music for free with a few commercials every 30 minutes or you can subscribe for around $10/month to get unlimited streaming with no commercials (link). At the moment, Spotify has a promotion where you receive 3 months of premium service with no ads for $0.99 so you can listen to the full catalog of the Bee Gees without interruption. Google (link) and Apple (link) offer similar services but Spotify’s library is the largest. Be sure to build some playlists ahead of time so there’s no need to touch your phone while driving. For a change of pace from music, there are a large number of comedy albums available too.
There are thousands of podcasts available on almost any subject imaginable. If you’re not familiar with podcasts, you should investigate. Podcasts are essentially audio entertainment focused on fiction and non-fiction topics with far fewer commercials than conventional radio. One of my favorites is How I Built This from NPR. Each week the author interviews an entrepreneur on how they began their business. You can read a short introduction on podcasts here.
How much longer?
This next tip might be helpful depending on the age of your kids. Print a map for each kid with enough detail to show cities and towns so they can follow along during the trip. Mark expected stops with the number of miles from the last destination. Maps can be printed from Google Maps online easily and you can zoom in to areas of interest. For the young ones, discuss mile markers, what they mean, and do a little math on the fly. “We’re at mile marker 106 and we have 94 miles to go before we turn so what mile market should we look for?”
A Few Final Thoughts
If your family vehicle is a minivan or SUV, plastic boxes can be a great investment (Target). If you need to pack groceries, games, and other items with strange shapes these boxes will make the packing much easier and reduce the number of trips to the car. We use two in our minivan along with suitcases. If you are using the Google Maps app for navigation, download the maps data to keep offline (link) before you leave the house. If there is any interruption in cell signal you’re navigation won’t be hindered. This is imperative if you are traveling to some areas of the mountains or to smaller towns where data signals can be sparse.
We love our work here at MONTAG, but we love our play, too. And hopefully some of this information will enable you to have a less stressful trip this summer. Like most things in life, a little bit of preparation offers a much greater reward. Happy trails to you and yours!