Many car buyers make purchasing decisions based on the technology fitted to their new ride.
In fact, nearly 60 percent of millennials and 40 percent of older adults would change brands if another car manufacturer offered the technology they wanted. And an average buyer would pay over $2,200 more to have the technology features they wanted in their car. The tech also has to be easy to use. If the technology wasn’t intuitive, more than 30 percent of buyers said they’d look at a completely different car.
Let’s take a look at technology for your car—both what’s currently available and what we’re likely to find in our cars in the coming years.
Having been widely available since the 1990s, keyless entry is a common feature on many of today’s cars. But there have been some updates.
Keyless entry was first introduced by Ford in 1980. It was featured in the Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Continental and Lincoln Town Car, and adopted by the likes of Renault, Nissan and GM soon after.
The first versions used a keypad that required a code to unlock the vehicle. Soon, more sophisticated systems were developed that turned keys into radio transmitters that sent a coded signal to a receiver unit in the car.
Keys have evolved even further so that these days there are a number of automakers that offer smart keys. Used in conjunction with car doors that have touch sensors, these hands-free smart keys (or keycards) rely on a proximity-based system of opening. The mere positioning of the key close to a vehicle unlocks the car as soon as the driver places their hand on the door handle.
In widespread use by a number of carmakers, these smart key systems have a range of names:
- Toyota calls it Smart Key
- Nissan has its Intelligent key system
- Keyless Go is available with Mercedes-Benz cars
- BMW uses Magic Key
Keyless entry systems can also be gesture-based. For instance, one keyless system enables the owner to open the trunk by making a kicking motion with their foot under the rear of the car—particularly handy if your arms are full of shopping bags.
A related development is keyless start, which eliminates the need to insert your key into the ignition. The car’s engine is instead started with a start/stop button.
Pros and Cons of Keyless Entry
Why you’ll like it. Keyless entry and start means easy access and convenience. You won’t have to fumble around for your car keys to unlock the door or start your car anymore. Locking and unlocking your doors, as well as starting and turning off your cars, is now a seamless process.
The hardest part to get used to. It may take some time to get used to being able to get in your car without physically using a key. Or it could take time to adjust to using gestures to open the trunk. Once you’re acclimated, you won’t want to go back to having to use a physical key.
Cars can be commonly found with standard safety features. Car manufacturers have their own names for the suite of safety features. For example, Ford calls its suite, “Co-Pilot 360.” These features can include technology that assists the driver. From blind spot monitoring to adaptive cruise control, these features can provide a semi-autonomous driving experience, while also helping drivers be safer on the road.
- Blind Spot Monitoring. This feature uses sensors on the car to help alert the driver if there is another car in the blind spot. If there is, a light or icon glows in the side mirror. In some models, the car may beep at the driver if they put on their turn signal and try to switch lanes while there is someone in their blind spot.
- Lane Keep Assist. The sensors on the car also used to help keep your car in the lane you’re driving in. When turned on, this feature will beep at the driver if the computer detects the car drifting out of the lane. It’s aimed to prevent distracted driving, as well as drowsy drivers.
- Automatic Breaking. Using cameras on the front of the car, the computer system can also adapt to the speed of traffic while in cruise control. You can set the distance you want to have between you and the car in front of you. If the traffic ahead of you slows down, your car will adjust its speed on its own.
The cameras are also used for automatic emergency breaking. If the car detects a potential collision, your car will break to prevent the collision.
Pros and Cons of Safety Features
Why you’ll like it. These are tech features aimed at keeping you and your family safe. And best of all, more car manufacturers are making these features standard. Technology, like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, can help reduce the chance you get into a rear-end collision – one of the most common accidents.
The hardest part to get used to. After driving for many years, it may be a jarring experience to feel a car accelerate and brake on its own. If it’s available on your car, it could take some time to get used to the semi-autonomous driving features of your car.
Another thing to be aware of is having your car beep at you if you have safety standards turned on. Whether it’s the blind spot monitoring or lane keep assist, you may need to get used to occasionally hearing your car beep at you.
Everyone thinks they’re a safe driver – but how do you know if you are? Telematics uses technology, such as GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope, to monitor your driving behavior and analyzes it to determine how safe you’re being. Aside from learning about your driving habits, one of the biggest perks of telematics is that you could save on your car insurance premium if you demonstrate safe driving behaviors.
Telematics can monitor your driving through a dongle that you plug directly into your vehicle, or with an app you use on your smartphone. The data gathered incudes time of day you’re driving, acceleration and braking habits, and miles driven.
Driving data is analyzed by your insurance company to get a better picture of you as a driver. Data can be recorded for six months of driving. It’s a general rule that the cleaner your driving record, the better you insurance premium. With telematics, an insurer can tell if you’re truly a safe driver, and use collected data to generate discounts to your renewal premium.
Pros and Cons of Telematics
Why you’ll like it. Simply put, it could save you money on your insurance policy. By letting a device or app monitor your driving habits and behavior, it gives an insurance company a better idea of how safe you are. Data showing you’re a safe driver can lead to policy discounts.
The hardest part to get used to. It could be a little nerve-wracking to have your driving monitored and analyzed. Telematics devices and apps collect data on whether you’re accelerating too quickly or braking too aggressively. You may be self-conscious until you forget the device or app is in your car.
Tires that resist puncture or can heal themselves are a huge benefit to drivers for obvious reasons. On average, punctures occur every 46,600 miles (75,000 km), but they always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times: while traveling with children, in bad weather or heading to an important appointment.
There are two types of self-healing tires: run-flat tires and self-sealing tires.
Run-flat tires are self-supporting tires, which enable a car with punctured tires to continue at a lower speed (usually around 50mph) and for a limited distance (up to 50 miles). These tires are fitted to a number of automakers’ products (BMW, in particular, is a fan of the technology).
Self-sealing tires are still in development, though they are slowly entering the market. Most use the latest rubber technology to seal tread punctures of up to 5mm (0.2 inches) in diameter.
Michelin Selfseal, for example, uses a rubber compound that immediately plugs any holes in the tread. Other versions include Kumho Tire’s ‘K-Seal’ technology, Hankook Tire’s Sealguard and Pirelli’s Seal Inside.
But that’s not all! Scientists in Leipzig, Germany, have developed a new rubber technology that promises to enable tires to fix themselves at room temperature over seven days with carbon and nitrogen additives that allow crucial bonds in the rubber to reform.
These compounds and technologies are still relatively new, but hopefully, in the next few years we can expect to be able to avoid unscheduled roadside stops to change a tire.
Pros and Cons of Self-Healing Tires
What you’ll like. If your car’s low tire pressure light turns on or you suspect you have a flat, a run-flat or self-sealing tire can help give you some more time to safely pull over. If you do have a flat, it gives you the ability to drive to a repair shop to get it fixed without having to change a tire on the side of the road.
The hardest part to get used to. You should always check your tires if you suspect you have a flat or if your tire pressure light turns on. Even if you have a flat, you won’t have to take out a spare tire and jack to change the tire. You can drive a certain distance at a given speed to a repair shop.
The Connected Car
Connectivity is a big buzzword in the automotive world at the moment, as manufacturers enable their vehicles to communicate with the outside world, becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, 73% of drivers would change car brands if the other car offered more connectivity.
The ability to tether a smartphone to a car for hands-free use (i.e. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) is just the start.
Companies such as BMW and Audi are now embedding SIM cards in their new cars to enable them to communicate with cloud servers. The SIM card—similar to that in your smartphone—offers immediate access to:
- Emergency and breakdown services
- A call center concierge who can book anything from a movie ticket to a hotel room
- Information on available parking spaces at your destination
Onboard apps can also:
- Sync with your calendar and email
- Access your contacts
- Stream an unlimited number of music tracks
- In the not-too-distant future, communicate with internet-enabled devices in your home (heating, lighting, even a stove)
These onboard systems will help ensure your car integrates seamlessly into your connected lifestyle.
Some cars also have an on-board digital assistant. BMW announced the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant in 2018. The assistant gives drivers the ability to perform in-car actions through voice. For example, a driver can tell the assistant they’re hot, and the AC will turn on. The assistant can also provide important information about the car, such as oil levels.
Hyundai and Kia also announced plans to include on-board digital assistants in its cars in 2019. Some actions the assistant can perform include navigation to a place based on your calendar or driving history.
Car manufacturers are also partnering with Amazon to create unique features with Alexa, the company’s virtual voice assistant. Although still in the early stages, the tech could help drivers find things based on their location or play music.
Pros and Cons of the Connected Car
Why you’ll like it. Connected cars are meant to cut down on distracted driving and help you focus on the road. Plugging in your iPhone or Android phone to use CarPlay or Android Auto lets you use navigation, listen to your music, and access the respective digital assistant.
Digital assistants are created to help you complete tasks with your voice. Whether it’s adding an item to the grocery list, setting a timer, or finding the nearest gas station, a digital assistant helps you complete simple asks. In a car, a digital assistant can help reduce distracted driving and keep your eyes on the road.
The hardest part to get used to. You may be used to adjusting the temperature controls in your car on your own or using your car’s navigation system to search for the closest gas stations. Asking a digital assistant in your car to do these things can be a strange feeling at first – especially if you have to preface the command with a name. For example, “Hey Google,” “Alexa,” or “Hey Siri.”
Car Seat Technology
Most of us are now accustomed to electrical seats that allow us to adjust our position with a button or toggle. Some vehicles even save our seat positioning preferences.
And heated and cooled seats are also regular fixtures in modern cars. Plus, many luxury cars include massage functions to ease our backs on long journeys.
But car seat technology is likely to evolve even more in the coming decades as autonomous, or self-driving, functions in cars will mean that we’ll no longer be bound by the need to sit upright and face forward.
Concept cars with autonomous features have been shown with seats that morph into beds (think the best international airline seats). This could let drivers (or car users, as we would become) to relax and even sleep. Alternatively, seats could swivel around to enable the driver and front-seat passenger to face those seated in the rear of the car, creating a more communal space. For example, Mercedes-Benz’s concept research car is autonomous and the seats turn around to give passengers space to talk.
Car Seat Technology that Monitors Your Health
Car seats will also play a part in improving the wellness of car occupants. As cars in the future become personal mobility vehicles, they may be able to monitor the health of their users—for example, we will find seats checking heart rates of those sitting in them, thanks to sensors embedded in the upholstery and seat belts. If the system, via the sensors, detects a rising pulse, it can either activate a relaxing massage program or alert the driver (or even emergency services via connectivity technology) of the danger.
Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai have already released concepts of such technology at the Consumer Electronics Show, while other brands are developing similar systems.
Pros and Cons of Car Seat Technology
Why you’ll like it. If your car can safely accelerate, brake, and steer on its own, it can give back some of your time. Volvo touts its autonomous features in its cars and that drivers and families can decide how they spend the time in the car. The company suggests drivers can prepare for a meeting or learn new skills. If car manufacturers also build in wellness tracking sensors into seats, it’s another method to help us keep track of our health. Plus, these sensors can alert the proper authorities if something happens while you’re driving.
The hardest part to get used to. We’re used to the idea of a driver and passenger seat. If cars get to the stage of swivel seats, it could take time to get used to the idea that every seat in a car is a passenger seat. Facing the opposite direction while you’re behind the steering wheel could be uncomfortable—especially if you’re not used to letting a car drive itself.
GPS systems are becoming more advanced and more accurate as they incorporate connectivity technology to get information such as real-time traffic conditions and as engineers prepare them for the demands of autonomous cars.
Currently, connected cars constantly transmit their speed and GPS coordinates to a cloud server, which simultaneously provides data about the locations and speeds of nearby cars. Therefore the GPS system in your car is able to use this information to change your programmed route and lead you away from any congestion, saving you time and presumably, stress as well.
The next step for GPS systems will be tied to self-driving cars. Current GPS systems are accurate to around eight yards of the vehicle’s position. Autonomous cars’ positioning systems need to be accurate within inches of where the car is within a driving lane. That’s because a self-driving car needs to be able to follow lane lines, as well as stay in between the lines.
Pros and Cons of Navigation Systems
Why you’ll like it. The more information your car’s navigation system has, the quicker you can get to your destination. If your driving route consists of highway driving, your GPS system could notify you of an accident causing heavy delays. It can then provide you with a different route to your destination.
The hardest part to get used to. Your car steering itself could be unsettling at first. But as GPS accuracy continues to improve, drivers can trust their cars to navigate straight or windy roads.
Features to Combat Distracted Driving
Much of the new automotive technology—especially systems that enable access to smartphones and connected services—will likely make drivers’ lives easier and more convenient. It can even make drivers’ lives safer by reducing the chances of dealing with a road rage incident. But there is one obvious downside.
Connectivity to smartphones, email, SMS messages, social media and music streaming services in the car can create distractions for the driver—distractions that can cause fatal collisions.
The distracted driving situation is unlikely to improve, especially as younger generations are even more wedded to their devices.
In an attempt to address the issue of distracted driving, manufacturers and tech companies could find themselves being forced by legislation to introduce airplane mode-like features to disable the use of cell phones while a car is in motion.
Some tech companies are already adding in features to cut down on distracted driving. Apple recently updated its CarPlay software to include a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. When a person’s iPhone senses they’re driving, this feature silences the phone, prevents the screen from turning on, and automatically sends a reply to texts that you’re driving.
Popular navigation apps, like Waze, are doing similar things. Waze may lock the screen on a person’s phone if they’re driving. It may also ask if the person operating the app through the phone is the passenger before unlocking.
Avoid Distracted Driving With These Tips
Despite these new features, we all need to be vigilant to avoid distractions while driving. Here are a few tips:
- Switch off your cell phone and place it in the glove compartment when driving.
- Sync your car with Bluetooth so you can answer calls without looking at your phone.
- If you don’t have a Bluetooth option in your car, invest in an aftermarket solution, which can cost less than $100.
- Set your GPS destination before starting your journey.
- Ask a front-seat passenger to change the music.
- Try to keep conversation calm and to a minimum. Even that is a distraction.
Although distraction is a major issue at the moment, this could be a (relatively) temporary phase in the history of car use.
This is because the next big leap in automotive technology—autonomous or self-driving features—will be upon us perhaps sooner than you might expect. Tesla, Volvo and BMW already have some limited self-driving capabilities, but these will be increasingly common by the end of the decade.
So if you think that car tech is advanced now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® and the MIT AgeLab explored vehicle technology adoption among mature drivers. These technologies are becoming more available in new cars today. It’s important that all drivers learn how they work and how to use them effectively. This is especially true for mature drivers, as many technologies can enhance the driving experience as we age.
Most drivers are aware of the dangers of driving while distracted. However, something that many drivers do not realize is that in addition to the legal ramifications, these distractions can affect the premiums you pay for your auto insurance.
While any number of things can distract a driver from the road — including eating, adjusting the sound system, or talking to people in your vehicle — the distraction that often has the biggest and most dangerous impact is using a cell phone or other mobile device while driving. That is why it is great to look into cars with hands free devices – such as Bluetooth.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, driving while distracted killed 3,477 people in 2015 and injured an additional 391,000. The vast majority of those accidents occurred because the driver was using a cell phone.
While concern about accidents should be enough to deter drivers from engaging in this risky behavior, state legislatures are also adding financial penalties to distracted driving.
Here’s what you need to know about the financial and legal penalties for driving while distracted.
Distracted Driving and State Laws
With the exception of Arizona, Missouri, and Montana, all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have instituted a ban on texting while driving for drivers of all ages.
Most states have made texting while driving a primary offense, which means law enforcement has the right to pull over an offender simply for violating the ban.
In states where the texting prohibition is a secondary offense for those over the age of 18, such as Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota, the texting ban can only be enforced if the driver is also violating a primary offense. For example, if a driver fails to stop at a stop sign because she is distracted by her cell phone, the officer who pulls her over for failing to stop can also cite her for texting while driving.
The penalties for texting while driving vary from state to state. At one end of the spectrum are states like Virginia that charge a $20 fine for a first offense. On the other end are states like Alaska that can levy a maximum fine of $10,000, plus a maximum of 10 days in prison for a first offense. In between those extremes, drivers face financial penalties ranging from $30 to $750 and additional penalties that may range from demerit points on their licenses to jail time.
In every state with a texting ban, the penalty goes up with subsequent offenses. Drivers in states that assign moving violation points for texting while driving are more likely to see a negative effect on their auto insurance premiums.
Additionally, even if you yourself are not a distracted driver, other people’s distracted driving can affect your insurance premiums. One factor that can affect your auto insurance rates is the number and severity of crashes across the population of drivers in the country and in your state. To the extent that distracted driving contributes to an increase in accidents, other people’s distracted driving can cause your auto insurance rates to increase.
Teens and Distracted Driving
For a variety of reasons, you can expect to see increased premiums when you add teenagers to your auto insurance. One reason is that insurers recognize that teen drivers are the most likely to be distracted behind the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.”
Distraction for teens does not necessarily come from their phones. In 15% of all teen distracted driver accidents, the distraction was talking to or interacting with a passenger in the car, whereas an electronic device was the distracting element in only 12% of such crashes. Another 11% were caused by distractions occurring inside of the vehicle such as eating while driving, reaching for objects or adjusting music and GPS settings.
The concern over distracted driving is one of the reasons why many states have instituted graduated driver’s licensing programs. These programs ease teens into the skills of driving, while placing hard limits on when and with whom teens are allowed to drive. States also impose harsher penalties on teens who drive while distracted to help deter distracted driving behavior.
Mitigating the Dangers of Distracted Driving
Safe drivers who want to keep themselves out of danger may wonder what they can do to reduce the problem of distracted driving.
To start, it’s important to understand which behaviors are most likely to distract you behind the wheel or cause accidents. This means that in addition to refraining from using your phone while driving (and pulling over if a passenger is distracting you), you also need to drive defensively, leave enough room between yourself and vehicles in front of you, check your blind spots, refrain from driving while fatigued or impaired, and wear your seat belt (and insist that your passengers are also properly secured).
For parents, modeling good driving behavior goes a long way to helping novice drivers learn safe habits. Parents need to set clear rules and expectations for teen drivers, and monitor their driving to make sure they are ready to take on the responsibility of getting behind the wheel.
Using Technology to Be a Safer Driver
Though cell phones may be behind the majority of distracted driving incidents, mobile technology can also help to both reduce distractions and reward you for safe driving.
For example, drivers of all ages can take advantage of Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving© feature that seeks to minimize distractions by muting the driver’s incoming calls, texts, and notifications. Both iPhone and Android devices can generate an auto-reply message to alert those calling or sending a text that you that you’ll be back in touch when it’s safe to do so.
In addition, telematics technology can measure your driving habits via a free mobile app that can be downloaded to any smart phone. While you are driving, the app will run passively in the background, using sensors that are already in your phone, such as GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope.
Since this technology is app-based, rather than a tracker installed in a specific car, it will track your driving anytime you get behind the wheel, even if you are driving someone else’s car. This means you will also have to alert the app anytime you are a passenger, or traveling by bicycle, bus, train, or other form of transportation to ensure only your driving habits are measured.
Telematics apps measure things like the time of day you drive, your speed, instances of hard braking, and distance traveled. These measurements can help your insurer understand when and how you drive. In many cases, insurers will offer both a small discount for signing up for such a program, and a potential safe driving discount after a period of data collection (typically about six months) if you have shown yourself to be a safe driver.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Road
Distracted driving has always been a concern on the road, but the sheer number of potential distractions has increased with all the advances in mobile technology.
Mobile phones offer multiple ways to lose focus on your driving — whether it’s the need to use a hand-held device, concentrating on your conversation (even when you’re using a hands-free device), or the temptation to check (or send) a “quick” text. Even cogitative instances like drowsy driving or aggressive driving can be a distraction.
To put the texting dangers into perspective, the NHTSA reports, “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” Probably not a choice you’d consciously make.
But even though new technology can be a distraction behind the wheel, it can also offer solutions to the problems of distracted driving. Taking advantage of do not disturb options on your phone and telematics tracking apps from your insurer can give you the tools you need to help keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and — perhaps most importantly — your mind focused on your driving.
Need a refresher on the rules of the road where you’re driving? Click the image below to go to our state of driving page. Then select a state to learn more about its car culture, average gas price, insurance requirements, distracted driving laws, and more.
Do you rely on an ordinary deadbolt lock, squint through a front door peephole and struggle to remember a long passcode to unlock your phone? It may be time to explore new technologies that can make it a snap to secure your life and home.
Security technology has developed rapidly, merging with smart technology to give consumers on almost any budget the ability to safeguard their devices, homes and lives seamlessly.
Some smart technologies, like biometrics, make it easier for you to access your property, while helping to keep others out. And many smart devices alert you immediately—no matter where you are—when there’s a problem at home.
The cost of adding sensing and communication technology to consumer devices is falling, making smart technology both more affordable and more available. Smart home stats show that 57 percent of Americans say that smart home products save them an average of 30 minutes a day and almost $100 a month.
Security is the leading reason consumers are embracing smart technology for their homes. In fact, three out of five consumers say they buy smart home products because they want to be able to monitor their home from their smartphone. “Security is top of people’s minds right now,” and that’s especially true for those in the 50+ age bracket, says Barry Daoust, a home technology expert and founder of Smarthomes.us, a company that installs smarthome systems.
Fortunately, savvy consumers have an array of home security options, from hiring a pro to install a comprehensive smarthome system to buying individual high-tech products or simply using technology that comes built into most smartphones.
Here are six smart security technologies to help keep you secure.
1. Biometric Technology
Many smartphones now boast biometric technology that allows you to quickly unlock your phone with your eye, face or fingerprint.
Many smart home technologies are operated through smartphone apps, so quick and easy access to your phone is key. But if you protect your phone with a difficult-to-guess passcode, as security experts recommend, it can take a while to punch in the numbers. Or, in a worst-case scenario, you could forget the code and end up locked out of your phone right when you need to check an app to see who’s at your door.
Facial Recognition Technology
Facial recognition involves mapping out facial features, like the distance between the eyebrows, and the curves of the eyes, cheeks and chin. New iPhones, starting with the iPhone X, use facial recognition technology rather than fingerprint recognition.
Fingerprint Recognition Technology
This technology uses either optical or capacitance technology.
- Optical technology takes a digital picture of the fingerprint.
- Capacitance technology, used by older iPhones, detects differences in conductivity between the outer and inner layers of the skin to form an image of the fingerprint.
(Phones aren’t the only devices that feature this type of biometric technology. Some home safes and suitcases can be opened with a fingerprint.)
Iris Recognition Technology
Iris recognition technology is now available on some phones, captures and analyzes an image of the unique patterns in the colored part of your eye that surrounds your pupil. Just as no two fingerprints are the same, no two irises are either. Every iris is “like a snowflake,” according to Iris ID, a biometric technology company.
2. Two-factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication makes your accounts harder to crack. Typically requires a password or code as well as something only you would have on you (e.g., your phone of your fingerprint).
When your home can be controlled from your smartphone, securing your device is crucial for keeping you and your family safe. After all, you don’t want a thief to get ahold of your phone and use it to unlock the front door.
Facial, fingerprint and iris recognition are often used on their own. This type of access is known as one-factor authentication because you need only one thing—a face, finger or eye—to get into an account or device. However, two-factor authentication adds an extra step, making it more difficult for anyone but you to gain access to your personal information.
How It Works
Say you’re trying to log in to your online credit card account from your new laptop, a computer the card issuer’s site doesn’t recognize. First, you enter your passcode. Then a box pops up on the screen asking you to enter a code that was just texted to your smartphone. When you enter the code, you’re logged in to the account.
Two-factor authentication helps make your accounts and devices doubly secure.
3. Security Systems with Connected Cameras
Now, you can keep an eye on your home while you’re running errands, at work or on vacation. Smart security cameras allow you to check areas like your living room or backyard—anywhere, anytime, Daoust says. “Wherever you are in the world, you can log in to check different views of your home,” he adds.
Some systems assign date and time stamps to images, so if you later learn that a camera sensed motion at 3 a.m. on your back porch, you can check the photo of that area from that time, Daoust explains. And many of the connected home security cameras can be accessed through a mobile device, so you won’t even need to have a computer on hand.
Surveillance cameras also allow you to set virtual boundaries in order to receive alerts if they’re breached.
For example, you could set up a virtual perimeter around your swimming pool and get an email or text if someone or something moves across the tripwire, Daoust says. Because “pool hopping” has become popular with some teens, who trespass on private property to go swimming, it may be helpful to have a camera with this high-tech security feature.
4. Smoke Alarms (and Other Devices that Message You)
A small flame can turn into a major fire in just 30 seconds. That’s one reason smoke alarms are a key safety component in any home.
The problem is, if you’re not home when an ordinary smoke alarm goes off, you may have no idea that there’s a problem, says Chris Carney, co-founder and CEO at Abode Systems Inc., a company that provides professional-grade security systems that integrate with a variety of components and devices from various manufacturers.
New smoke alarms, however, can talk to you in a human voice to let you know where there’s a problem—say, smoke in the kitchen—and will even text you, so that you know to call the proper authorities if you’re away.
Water Leak Sensors
Water leak sensors can also provide crucial protection for your home, alerting you to a water leak before it has a chance to cause costly damage, Carney says. Like smoke alarms, the old water leak sensors sounded an alarm that could be heard in the home, but modern ones will text you a warning, he explains.
If you’re far from home, you can ask a trusted neighbor or friend to check out the problem right away, Carney adds.
5. Smart Locks for Your Exterior Doors
Putting a house key under a mat or rock, or even giving one out to a trusted neighbor, is risky, Daoust warns. “As soon as you let a key out of your possession, it can be copied,” he explains. Smart locks make it easier to let family and welcome guests in while keeping intruders out.
With a smart lock, you can give each person an individual code and even set your lock so that certain people can only get in at set times, Daoust says. For example, if the dog walker comes every day at lunchtime, you could set her code to work between noon and 2 p.m.
If your smart lock is connected as part of a smarthome system, you have more options, like setting the lock to automatically arm your home alarm system when you leave, he points out.
And if you’re in bed at night and realize you forgot to lock the back door, you can just grab your smartphone to lock it without getting out of bed. “With a smart lock, you can lock it on the fly any time,” Daoust says.
Important to note:
Smart locks may be vulnerable to hackers, but good encryption and two-factor authentication make them tougher to crack. So, make sure to get a lock that offers strong encryption and two-factor authentication. Just as a reminder, this requires a two-step process to access to a device or account.
Smart doorbells equipped with cameras allow you to see who’s at your door, even if you’re not home. If the doorbell has video intercom, you can see and talk to the person at your door or gate, Daoust says.
Instead of the old “ding dong” sound you hear from an ordinary doorbell, a touch screen pops up on your smartphone or tablet and plays the sound of your choice. “You can start a conversation with the person at door, and they can hear you, but not see you,” Daoust explains.
These doorbells help keep your home secure in that burglars commonly ring the doorbell to see if anyone is home, he points out. If a suspicious person rings your bell while you’re away, as long as you have a good cell signal, you can remotely tell them you’re not interested. “For all they know, you’re inside the house and they may just walk away,” he suggests.
Smart Home Technology: Where to Start
Smart home gadgets and technologies can make it easier to lock down your data and protect your home, giving you peace of mind even when you’re not there, Carney says. “All these connected devices help homeowners understand what’s happening at all times just like they’re at home.” Of course, as technology fills our homes, it becomes more important to declutter old technology to make room for the new. And if you’re not sure which smart technology to try first, check this list of smart home technologies, which recommends good starter devices, such as smart locks and doorbells.
Have you adopted any smart home technology? If you have, which smart appliances or devices have you tried in your home?
Please comment, and let us know which smart home tech you use and how it’s working for you.
Exercise can have many benefits for our physical and mental well-being. But did you know it may also help you be a safer driver? To enjoy exercising even more, ask a friend to join you.
With the MIT AgeLab we researched the connection between physical exercise and driving and found some fascinating results. Our research tracked experienced drivers ages 60-74 as they followed a physical fitness program for 15-20 minutes per day over eight to 10 weeks.
Drivers in the study who were asked to exercise daily:
- Reported greater ease in turning their heads to see blind spots when changing lanes or to back up;
- Were able to rotate their bodies further to scan the driving environment while making right hand turns;
- Were able to get into their cars more rapidly, demonstrating increased overall flexibility.
The research also surveyed drivers 50+ and found that half have not considered how exercise might be beneficial to their ability to drive.
The participants in our study participated in an exercise program that focused on four areas – flexibility, range of motion, strength and coordination.
- Strength Exercises: Strength is important for many driving tasks such as pressing down on a brake pedal. Exercises like biceps curls and squats can help enhance a driver’s strength.
- Range of Motion Exercises: Range of motion is central to actions like putting on your seatbelt easily. Performing exercises like back stretches and heel drops can improve your range of motion.
- Flexibility Exercises: Flexibility is necessary for movements like getting in and out of your car easily. To enhance your flexibility, consider exercises like chest and shoulder expansions and shoulder stretches.
- Coordination Exercises: Coordination can help with the integration of movement in your upper and lower body, such as simultaneously braking and turning. Soccer kicks and lateral steps are good exercises for boosting your coordination.
Exercises like these are easy to learn, can be done anywhere and can be combined with your current exercise program*.
Two-Step Plan for You and a Friend
To add or begin an exercise program* to boost your driving wellness:
- Check with your health provider on the best exercise plan for you. Review our exercise guide, watch our exercise videos, or come up with your own plan.
- Follow a regular exercise program. Connect with a friend, build it into your calendar, and try to spend at least 15-30 minutes a day being active.
*Readers are encouraged to consult with their physician before beginning this or any exercise program.
The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® creates innovative business solutions for the mature market. Staffed by gerontologists, the center is uniquely positioned to apply knowledge of aging to develop one-of-a-kind products and services for The Hartford’s customers, and specialized training for The Hartford’s employees. The center conducts original research in partnership with academic institutions and produces public education programs on safety, mobility and independence. The Hartford has had this in-house expertise since 1984, guiding The Hartford to unparalleled success in understanding and serving the mature market.
It has perhaps never been easier to accumulate clutter. Even if you’re not trying to acquire new possessions, you can suddenly find your home filled with items you don’t need. Fortunately, it’s also pretty easy to get rid of all that extra stuff; all it takes is a little dedication and a good plan.
If you’ve been feeling distracted, overwhelmed, or simply surrounded by things you don’t like or use, following this 30-day declutter challenge for a month will help you clear the clutter and put you on the path to maintain a clutter-free life.
This challenge can be done at any time, whether you start on the first day of the new year or at the start of a new month—or on any day you decide it’s time to make a change.
- The challenge is designed to start simple, easing you into the habit of decluttering.
- It then guides you through larger but more satisfying decluttering projects that will instantly improve your daily life.
- Finally, it prompts you to deal with even the most daunting of spaces, which you’ll now be ready to tackle.
The challenge also is flexible. Because everyone’s lives and homes look different, you can substitute a daily task that doesn’t apply to you with a different one, or switch a task from one day to another to accommodate your schedule.
Let’s get started…
Day 1: Pens and Pencils
Start small, by collecting all the pens and pencils in your home. Make sure to look everywhere, as small items like these tend to migrate from room to room. Test pens to determine whether they still work, and discard any that don’t. Sharpen pencils that need sharpening. Then organize them all neatly where you intend for them to “live” permanently: for example, a cupful of pens in your office, another in the kitchen, and a few pens in your bag.
Day 2: Bags and Pockets
Clean out all your bags, backpacks, wallets, and luggage. While you’re at it, go through the pockets of your coats. Check every pouch, pocket, and hidden section for gum wrappers, scribbled notes, and receipts. (If you’re lucky, you might find some cash, too.) Throw away any junk, and put other items back in their proper place.
Doing this can jump-start a habit of cleaning the clutter from your bag and coat at the end of each day. Start that now, and you’ll never have to do a major decluttering of them again.
Day 3: Food
Go through your refrigerator, freezer, cupboards, pantry, and any other food storage areas you have. Throw away anything that’s expired or unwanted. (You may also choose to donate unopened, nonperishable foods.) Organize what’s left, so you can see and use what you have.
With food, or any item you shop for and use often, keeping your current stock well-organized—so that you can see everything when you open the fridge or cupboard—will help you avoid buying things you don’t need in the future.
Day 4: Junk Drawers
A junk drawer (and this does not technically have to be a drawer; it may be a bedside table, a large bin, a shelf, etc.) is a handy solution to the problem of where to put those necessary odds and ends that don’t have an obvious “home” in your home or apartment. It should not, however, be a receptacle for literal junk, that is, stuff you will never use. Today, sort through your junk areas and separate the useful things from the clutter.
Day 5: Entryways
In any home, the spot just inside the door is crucial in terms of preventing clutter. These areas tend to become a dumping ground for jackets, shoes, keys, glasses, bags, mail, and everything else we want to put down the minute we get home.
The first step in fixing this problem is to tidy the area, putting everything away where it belongs (for example, coats into the hall closet).
The second step is to set up your entryway so that it doesn’t become a clutter hotspot in the future.
In your entryway or any high-traffic area, cut down on clutter by giving specific items a dedicated home, for example, a hook or dish for your keys. Also remove anything that encourages the collection of clutter; no one will ever sit on that decorative chair by the door, but it will practically beg people to pile coats on top of it.
Day 6: Unwanted Clothes
Hopefully, those first five days went well and you’re feeling ready to take your decluttering to the next level. For the next five days, the challenge will focus on your wardrobe. We’re giving that area extra attention because (a) most people buy a lot of clothes and find it difficult to part with them, and (b) clearing out your wardrobe can be one of the most satisfying decluttering projects. When done thoroughly, it can help you move on to decluttering the rest of your home. If you don’t need the full five days for this, take some time off or concentrate on another cluttered area that needs extra work.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at this stage, here are eight reasons to declutter and take back control of your home.
On this first wardrobe day, do a quick sweep of your clothes, shoes, and accessories and gather together any obvious candidates for donation or the trash. Don’t stress about doing a major closet overhaul today; just grab low-hanging fruit, like items that are damaged beyond repair, do not fit, or haven’t been your style in 10 years.
Day 7: Closet, Part 1
Today, evaluate everything in your closet and decide what you want to keep. If you have a large wardrobe, split this task between today and tomorrow, using today to focus on the clothes you wear for work, on weekends, on evenings out, and on dressy occasions. If you store your off-season clothes elsewhere, you can either include them in this declutter, or plan to do another round of closet cleaning when the seasons change. The most efficient way to declutter a closet is to take every item out, try everything on, and put back only those things you truly like, that fit you well, that work with your lifestyle, and that you know you will wear.
A good way to minimize closet clutter long-term is to pack up your off-season pieces and store them elsewhere, like in the back of the closet or under the bed.
This way, you won’t be distracted by clothes that are temporarily unwearable, so you’ll have a much better understanding of exactly what you own. Though it may seem confusing, the method of storing off-season clothing (and other seasonal items, like holiday decorations) out of view has the same effect as clearly displaying frequently used items like food and makeup. In both cases, you’re minimizing possible distractions and organizing your belongings so you can see exactly what you’re working with, removing any confusion about how much you already have, and preventing the purchase of duplicates.
Day 8: Closet, Part 2
Today, continue with the rest of your clothing, concentrating on workout clothes, sleep- and lounge-wear, undergarments, socks, and anything else you didn’t cover yesterday. When you’re done, you should have a pared down wardrobe and two or three piles of clothes you don’t want.
When cleaning out your wardrobe, sort the pieces you don’t want into three piles: one for trash, one for donation and/or sale, and (if applicable) one for tailoring or repair.
Day 9: Outerwear
Today, continue to clear out your wardrobe by sorting through your coats, jackets, vests, and other outerwear.
When clearing out your closet, you may notice wardrobe gaps that you want or need to fill (maybe you have a light jacket and a heavy-duty parka, but nothing appropriate for the in-between weather). Take the time to write those needs down, so that in the future you can shop with a purpose. This works well to prevent buying whatever strikes you in the moment, thus collecting more clothes that will go unworn, cluttering up your closet once more.
Day 10: Accessories
Finally, take care of the little items like shoes, boots, bags, hats, gloves, scarves, jewelry, belts, etc. In addition to removing items you no longer want or need, think about how you organize these small pieces and how you can improve your setup to prevent your accessories from getting cluttered again. While decluttering, you may come across broken or otherwise unusable accessories that you’ve been meaning to take to the jeweler or cobbler.
Be very honest with yourself here; if you really wanted to wear these things, would you have had them repaired by now? Did you simply forget or been busy, schedule a specific time into your calendar to take these items to be fixed. Have you been hanging on to them for vague, aspirational reasons (think satin stilettos that you’ve never worn, but kept in the closet for ten years just in case you’re invited to a fabulous party) this might be the time to let them go.
Day 11: Paper
For the next five days, we’ll focus on decluttering paper items that tend to pile up, if you’re not paying very close attention. Stacks of magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and other incoming mail can be difficult to declutter. (If the thought of finally getting rid of this stuff doesn’t motivate you, consider that excess paper can also be a fire hazard.) It’s just so easy to convince yourself that you really will read them all…someday. Take this day to sort through all those stacks of reading material and mail. Rescue anything important, and deal with it, then recycle the rest.
Day 12: Books
Even if you take pride in your book collection, you probably own at least a few volumes you’ll never, ever read again. Sort through all your books (including those that have escaped from your bookshelves and are scattered around your home) and donate the ones you no longer want.
Day 13: Office Supplies
Whether or not you have a home office, it’s likely that you’ve accumulated a bunch of notebooks, labels, envelopes, stamps, paper clips, staples, etc. in your home. Round them up today and organize them, getting rid of anything you no longer need. While you’re doing this, check up on those pens from Day 1, and reorganize them if they’ve gotten out of control.
Tasks like this are a good reminder that decluttering is a daily habit. When you return lost pens, or any household items, to their home every time you come across them, you won’t have to do regular major cleanups just to keep your place looking neat. Additionally, you won’t keep buying more pens because you can’t find the ones you already own.
Day 14: Filing
There’s no use pretending this one is fun, but it’s necessary, and it will make your life so much easier when you need to find your car title or the name of that doctor you went to in 2005. Go through your filing cabinet (or whatever you use as a system for storing paperwork) and organize everything—recycling or shredding papers you no longer need. It’s worth the effort to shred any materials that contain personally identifiable information, such as bank statements, bills, and credit card offers.
You’re doing a great job. Keep going!
Day 15: Tech/Electronics
If you have a cache of old laptops, cords, cables, plugs, chargers, memory cards, and so on, gather them all in one room and go through them. Also grab small appliances that may no longer work, like lamps or clock radios. Research how to responsibly get rid of tech equipment that you don’t or can’t use, and organize the rest so that the next time you need a spare pair of earbuds or a phone charger, you’ll know where to find it—and that it works.
Day 16: Bedroom
You’re already halfway through your 30-day declutter challenge! The next seven days will address the main rooms or areas in your home, starting with your bedroom. Most people want their bedroom to be a calm space, conducive to sleep and relaxation. To achieve this, get rid of superfluous furniture and decorative items in your bedroom, and return items that belong in other rooms to their homes. Put away anything like clean clothes or extra blankets piled on the bed that might be cluttering up the space.
A Bit of Advice:
If you share a bedroom, don’t move or discard someone else’s belongings without asking. Hopefully, this challenge can be done by all members of your household but, if not, concentrate only on spaces and things that are yours alone. This goes not just for bedrooms, but any shared areas or belongings in your home. Everyone has their own definition of what is and isn’t clutter, so focus on your own clearly defined clutter first.
Day 17: Bathroom
Many products stored or used in the bathroom have relatively short shelf lives, so check expiration dates and make sure your makeup, skincare, and medicines are still good. Also check that you’re not holding on to any empty bottles of soap, shampoo, or cleaning supplies. If you have shelving units, shower caddies, or similar storage containers in your bathroom, consider whether they make the space easier to use or just add to the clutter.
Storage containers can help you corral small items or manage a difficult space (such as a bathroom with no built-in shelves or cabinets). But, more often, we buy these containers without fully considering whether they’re needed, and they soon become clutter themselves. When in doubt, don’t buy storage containers unless you know exactly how and where you’ll use them.
Day 18: Linen Closet
Linen closets, or wherever you store those extra towels, sheets, pillowcases, and blankets, can easily become overstuffed and disorganized. Today, sort through your linens and remove anything that you don’t use. Unless you really keep on top of it, your linen closet can become a black hole of unused, yet useful, items. If you find you’re creating extra space in your linen closet, you may choose to store seasonal linens or decorations there, as well.
Day 19: Storage Area of Your Choice
On this day, clear out any indoor storage area that hasn’t been covered yet. This could be a hall closet, a bedroom closet that wasn’t covered in your wardrobe clear-out, a chest, or the space under the bed.
During this seven-day room-clearing section of the challenge, leave the attic, basement, garage, and outdoors alone for now, as you’ll get to them later—unless, of course, you have some extra time and really feel like tackling them.
In general, if you’re ever motivated to declutter something, go with it!
Day 20: Kitchen
Today, clear your kitchen of any unused or unwanted items such as cookware, dishes, cutlery, glassware, mugs, utensils, and so on. Don’t forget to assess gadgets and small appliances, like potato peelers or blenders, and be honest with yourself about whether you really use them. Especially be on the lookout for duplicates of items that may be taking up your kitchen storage space. To prevent future kitchen clutter, organize those items you do use regularly so that everything is easily accessible.
Day 21: Dining Room
Dining room clutter is usually made up of items that drift in from other rooms. Today, grab anything that doesn’t belong here and return shoes to the closet, mugs to the kitchen, etc. You may also have too much dining room furniture, especially if you downsized from a larger space or have fewer people living with you and visiting than in the past. If you have 10 chairs and never host more than four people, those extra chairs may now be functioning as clutter, and you might be better off without them.
If your home or apartment doesn’t have a separate living room and dining room, you can either adapt Days 21 and 22 to cover other rooms, or split your space into sections. In a one-bedroom apartment, for example, your “dining room” can be the area where you eat (even if it’s just a table) and your “living room” may contain a couch, coffee table, and TV stand.
Day 22: Living Room
Much like the dining room, the living room can collect things that people bring from elsewhere and forget to put away. Scan the room for this type of clutter, being careful not to miss out-of-place items that have been lying around so long that you don’t normally notice them. Depending on how often you actually use your living room, you may find a variety of rarely used items cluttering up the space.
Day 23: Your Personal Clutter Hotspot
This day is another wild card to allow for the quirks of your space and your life. Many homes have a tricky no man’s land where clutter builds up, like the stairs or a little corner nook; you may also have a room not covered in this challenge, like a laundry room or sunroom. Alternately, you can take this day to deal with a clutter hotspot outside your home, like your desk at work, or to revisit any of the prior topics that didn’t get fully addressed in one day.
Day 24: Attic and Basement
You might think the expression “out of sight, out of mind” would apply to clutter—after all, it’s easy enough to shove any objects we don’t want to make decisions about into one of these spacious storage areas. But just being aware that there’s a mess of stuff hiding above or below can be a subtle source of stress. Venture downstairs or upstairs today and sort through those items you’ve stashed away. You may find many things that were difficult to part with at the time, but that you’re now happy to get rid of. Precious memories may fall into this category, if so, here are more tips on how to declutter sentimental items.
Day 25: Car
Most of us spend so much time in our cars that, if we’re not vigilant, they can end up filled with junk, like empty coffee cups, and misplaced items, like scarves or books. The good news is, it doesn’t take too long to clean out your vehicle, so do that today.
If you don’t have a vehicle or any outdoor storage areas, consider taking this day and Day 26 to start planning a yard sale to get rid of the items that didn’t make the cut in this challenge.
Day 26: Outdoor Areas
If you have a garage, shed, porch, steps, or any other outdoor area that’s a magnet for clutter, take this day to sort through everything that’s out there. If you’ve recently moved or downsized, you may have donated or gotten rid of a lot of the items that tend to live in these spaces, but, if you haven’t, clearing cluttered outdoor areas can be a real game-changer. Organize the things you use, and get rid of the things you don’t.
Day 27: Pet and Plant Supplies
With pets and plants come toys, food containers, tools, gloves, and other necessary (and not so necessary) accessories. If you haven’t already dealt with these things on another day, figure out which stuffed toys or terracotta pots you still want, throw out anything that can’t be used, and pass the rest on to another pet- or plant-lover.
Day 28: DIY and Emergency Supplies
You may have encountered some of these in your junk drawer or elsewhere, but today is the day to round up and sort out all the little things you reach for when something needs fixing: batteries, light bulbs, tools, user manuals, tape, screws, hooks, buttons, scissors, needles, thread, and other assorted household bits. Also check out your emergency supplies like flashlights, candles, and matches. Your goal is to organize everything so that it’s readily accessible when you need it, and, of course, to discard anything that’s broken, expired or that you’ll never use.
Day 29: Hobby Equipment and Collections
You may not want to get rid of any of your art supplies, exercise equipment, DVDs, or souvenir refrigerator magnets. But you should go through it all anyway, because—despite your best intentions—collectibles and hobby equipment and supplies can quickly become unmanageable clutter. You may discover that you don’t really use every item you own, or that you’re holding on to some things that no longer make you happy. If so, consider gifting these items to family or friends or donating them to someone who will use and enjoy them. Even if you keep it all, simply reorganizing these items can seriously clear up space in your home, making it easier for you to practice your hobby or appreciate the objects you’ve collected.
Day 30: Email
Email might not seem like something you need to declutter—after all, it doesn’t take up physical space. But repeatedly opening an inbox full of messages you haven’t read or acted on can really drain your energy, making you less productive. Delete what you don’t need, flag what you have to take care of, and save messages you want to preserve to the appropriate folder. (If you don’t have separate folders, create some now.) There are also tools to maximize your email enjoyment and productivity. You can also choose to expand this virtual decluttering to your contacts list, digital photos, documents, music, social media, or anything online that makes you feel overwhelmed.
This last day also can serve as inspiration to declutter your physical environment further, or to move on to the next level of decluttering and revamp your schedule, the activities you participate in, and the people you choose to make time for. Once you start the decluttering process, it will become easier to manage the daily inflow of stuff—helping prevent the accumulation of new clutter and making your life run more smoothly overall.
And now, 30 days later, you’re done! Or, even if you’re not done, you’ve made a tremendous start. If you’re living in a home where you’ve stayed for more than 20 years, you may find that this 30-day declutter challenge equals round one, rather than the end game. Take a break if you need to, and then pick a new month and begin again.
Which types of household clutter do you find the most challenging to deal with? Have you created your own great strategies for managing the stuff that collects across our lives? Please share with us and other readers—both your successes and your ongoing clutter challenges—in the comments below.
America’s national parks are beloved by travelers from all over the world; in 2017, they welcomed 330,882,751 visitors. The 59 national parks (plus hundreds of national historic sites, national monuments, national recreation areas, and parkways) overseen by the National Park Service (NPS) range from world-famous destinations to hidden gems.
In 2017, we published a list of some of the best national parks to visit, highlighting 10 parks chosen for their unique features. We received so much great input in response to that article that we have updated the list to include 10 more parks, based mostly on your recommendations. The following list has something for everyone who’s eager to experience the natural beauty of the United States.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Where it is: North Carolina and Tennessee
Why you should go: With over 10 million visitors a year, Great Smoky Mountains is the country’s most popular national park. This scenic swath of the Appalachians receives almost double the number of visitors as the second most popular park, the Grand Canyon. You can get around Great Smoky Mountains in your car, on your bicycle, on foot, or on horseback. Keep an eye out for waterfalls, historic cemeteries, and a large collection of restored buildings. Wildflowers bloom year-round here, and, if you time it right, you can catch spectacular fall foliage.
When to visit: The park’s primary roads are open all year, weather permitting, but secondary roads are closed seasonally.
2. Isle Royale National Park
Where it is: Michigan
Why you should go: Isle Royale National Park, situated on an isolated island in Lake Superior, is one of the least visited national parks in the country, and the least visited in the lower 48 states. This is partly because you can’t just drive or hike up to these trail-heads—visitors must take a ferry to the island, and a camping permit is required to stay overnight. Along with solitude, this park offers a plethora of water-based adventures like fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and scuba diving.
When to visit: The park is open from April 16 through October 31.
3. Glacier National Park
Where it is: Montana
Why you should go: Nicknamed the “crown of the continent,” Glacier is often called the most beautiful of the national parks. Beyond snow-capped mountains, reflective lakes, and dramatic vistas, Glacier offers an array of relaxing activities. You can observe the flora and fauna, drive the evocatively named Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park on the Canadian border, and, in the summer, learn about the region’s culture and history from members of local Native American tribes.
When to visit: The park is open throughout the year, although portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road may be closed due to seasonal weather conditions.
4. Pinnacles National Park
Where it is: California
Why you should go: If you’re a fan of emerging destinations, take note: Pinnacles is America’s newest national park, designated in January 2013. Ancient volcanic eruptions and seismic shifts created this diverse natural environment. Pinnacles features towering rock formations, caves, and numerous species of plants and animals. You’ll experience some magnificent views here, and you might even spot an endangered California condor.
When to visit: The park is open year-round, but it’s most popular for hiking in the spring. The NPS advises visitors to check the weather if hiking between late May and early September, as temperatures can reach dangerous highs.
5. Virgin Islands National Park
Where it is: U.S. Virgin Islands
Why you should go: A national park that’s not located in one of the 50 states? Yes! This Caribbean park covers most of the island of St. John, plus thousands of acres of the surrounding ocean. This tropical landscape is home to several acclaimed beaches and offers boating, camping, and snorkeling. Hiking trails lead visitors past ruins of the island’s historic plantations.
When to visit: The park is open year-round.
6. Yosemite National Park
Where it is: California
Why you should go: Most visitors drive into this popular park, but travelers who can’t or don’t wish to drive can simply catch an Amtrak train to the park. You can even take the train between Yosemite and Yellowstone to experience two of America’s best-known tourist destinations without relying on that other American favorite: the car. There’s a lot to see in Yosemite but, if you arrive by train, why not continue exploring with public transportation and take a Valley Floor Tour on an open-air tram? On the tour, park rangers cover history, nature, and other park highlights.
When to visit: The park is open year-round, but some roads may be closed due to snow from fall through early summer. In colder weather, a heated bus is used instead of a tram for tours.
7. Yellowstone National Park
Where it is: Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Why you should go: This geothermal landscape is not only one of the most famous national parks in America, it was also the first national park in the world, preserved as parkland in 1872. Yellowstone is famous for its geysers, hot springs, and bison. But there’s also snowshoeing, fishing, and guided backcountry trips with horses or llamas. Just beware of the bears.
When to visit: Yellowstone is open year-round, but some roads and areas of the park are closed seasonally, so double check your route before you go.
8. Everglades National Park
Where it is: Florida
Why you should go: As the largest subtropical wilderness area in the country, Everglades National Park is one of the top picks for travelers wanting to see diverse forms of wildlife. As you explore the park by foot, boat, or canoe, you might see alligators, crocodiles, greater flamingos, ibises, and maybe even a Florida panther or manatee.
When to visit: Everglades is open year-round.
9. Denali National Park
Where it is: Alaska
Why you should go: If you like extremes, you’ll appreciate the fact that Denali—North America’s tallest peak—has been called the windiest national park in the country and the coldest mountain in the world. Climbing Denali, the NPS warns, is a serious undertaking meant for experienced climbers only. But this park offers other challenging, snowy activities for visitors of varying skill levels, such as cross-country skiing, dog-sledding, and snowboarding.
When to visit: Denali is open year-round, but the park’s single road closes in winter. When in doubt, contact the park before visiting.
10. Arches National Park
Where it is: Utah
Why you should go: If you’ve ever seen a vehicle with a Utah license plate, you’ve seen Delicate Arch, the most famous natural attraction at Arches. But there are over 2,000 arches to be found in this 76,679-acre park, as well as countless other surreal red-rock formations. These fanciful structures make this park a jaw-dropping place to spend hours – or days – hiking, driving, rock climbing, horseback riding, and taking in the sights of this awe-inspiring natural environment.
When to visit: Arches is open year-round, and is busiest between March and October.
Have you chosen the National Park you plan on venturing to next? If not, maybe the next ten will win you over. Whichever park you decide on venturing to, keep reading for five tips to help you prepare for your visit.
11. Zion National Park
Where it is: Utah
Why you should go: For active travelers, Zion is a vast playground of slot canyons, towering multi-colored cliffs, and natural features with intriguing names like the Narrows, the Emerald Pools, and Angels Landing. This park offers multiple opportunities for challenging activities like canyoneering, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, and strenuous hikes through dramatic landscapes. That said, Zion’s not solely reserved for hard-core adventurers; there are easier day hikes, scenic drives, an impressive variety of plant and animal life to watch out for, and a lodge with dining options.
When to visit: Zion is open year-round, but some services and facilities may be closed or their hours limited at some times of year.
12. Grand Teton National Park
Where it is: Wyoming
Why you should go: The NPS calls Grand Teton “the mountains of the imagination.” And this park lives up to two very different fantasies about the ideal high-elevation vacation. On the one hand, there’s the rugged terrain; the Teton Range, Jackson Hole, the Snake River, and numerous lakes make for challenging conditions for hiking, mountain climbing, rafting, snowshoeing, and other activities. On the other hand, there are rustic-yet-luxurious accommodations (with options like a resort hotel, dude ranch, and private cabins) and opportunities to experience the park’s stunning scenery without the workout, like a 42-mile scenic loop drive and a tram that climbs over 4,000 feet, stopping at a restaurant known for gourmet waffles.
When to visit: Grand Teton is open all year, but some roads may close in the winter, limiting access by car to some areas of the park.
13. Grand Canyon National Park
Where it is: Arizona
Why you should go: The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, an average of 10 miles wide, and one mile deep – so immense it has to be seen to be believed, which is why tourists have been drawn to it for centuries. Today, most visit the relatively easy to access South Rim, but there’s more to this park than the dizzying view from the canyon’s edge. From mule trips into the canyon, to backcountry hiking and camping, to rafting on the Colorado River, there are numerous ways to navigate these 1,904 square miles of wilderness that many visit but few take the time to get to know.
When to visit: The South Rim is open year-round, though some facilities may close in winter. The North Rim is fully open from May 15 through October 15, and open for limited use at other times. Check with the NPS for information about seasonal closures and reservations, which may be recommended or required.
14. Rocky Mountain National Park
Where it is: Colorado
Why you should go: As its name implies, Rocky Mountain National Park lets visitors get close to the natural wonders of the Rockies. The park’s scenic drives include Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in America, which climbs to above 12,000 feet. If alpine peaks make you think of snow, this park has plenty, and the corresponding opportunities for winter sports. For wildlife watchers, the colder months are also a good time to spot elk and moose. But the busiest season is summer, when visitors flock here to camp, fish, picnic, and hike on hundreds of miles of trails of varying difficulty.
When to visit: Rocky Mountain is open year-round, weather permitting; some roads close seasonally.
15. Big Bend National Park
Where it is: Texas
Why you should go: Not every park lets you gaze up at picturesque canyons while floating down the Wild and Scenic River that doubles as an international border, but Big Bend, named for a bend in the Rio Grande, does just that. And that’s not the only cool feature of this 801,163-acre park. It’s also home to the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the United States that’s contained within a national park. It boasts an impressive collection of fossil discoveries covering a period of 130 million years. And it’s full of historic sites, scenic drives (on paved or “primitive” roads), hikes (choose desert, mountain, or river), and many other activities.
When to visit: Big Bend is open – and popular – all year. You’ll need to plan ahead if you want to visit on a long weekend or another especially busy time.
16. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Where it is: Hawaii
Why you should go: In May 2018, a series of earthquakes and lava flows forced much of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to close. The park has since reopened, and while some restrictions remain in effect, there’s still plenty to see and do. Visitors can follow two main driving routes, the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive loop or the longer Chain of Craters Road leading to the coast. Both pass scenic overlooks and noteworthy natural features. A range of day hikes and backcountry camping take you further into the park. Visitors to this ever-changing place will not see the same sights others have seen here months or years before. But for those who wish to understand the geology and wildlife of this unique region, that in itself is a reason to go.
When to visit: Hawaii Volcanoes is open year-round, but some areas have reduced hours. Check with the NPS before you go to ensure the area you are vising isn’t closed due to volcanic activity.
17. Saguaro National Park
Where it is: Arizona
Why you should go: Saguaro, which is split into two sections located at the eastern and western edges of Tucson, makes the Sonoran Desert easily accessible from the city. Visitors can observe a wide variety of desert plant life, including, of course, a seemingly endless array of iconic Saguaro cacti; you might also spot a prehistoric petroglyph, a roadrunner or javelina, and a stunning sunset. Explore the park by car or bike (each section has a loop drive that takes you past some prime spots for cactus viewing and photography), or on foot (there are more than 165 miles of hiking trails here, with options ranging from short walks to challenging treks), or venture into the backcountry to camp overnight.
When to visit: Saguaro is open year-round. Both sections are open to pedestrians and cyclists 24 hours a day; drivers can enter the Tucson Mountain District (west) from sunrise to sunset and the Rincon Mountain District (east) from 7:00 a.m. to sunset.
18. White Sands National Monument
Where it is: New Mexico
Why you should go: Though it’s technically a national monument and not a national park, White Sands is as spectacular as any place in America, and one of the most unusual landscapes you’ll encounter anywhere. This remote, 275-square-mile area looks like a cross between a snowy mountain range and a wind-swept beach, but is in fact the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Rent a sled to slide down the dunes, stroll along a boardwalk, hike, camp out, or simply drive the 16-mile road through the monument to appreciate its otherworldly beauty.
When to visit: White Sands is open year-round. The monument may close temporarily for extreme weather conditions or missile tests at the adjacent White Sands Missile Range, so check for up-to-date information before you visit.
19. Acadia National Park
Where it is: Maine
Why you should go: The only national park in New England, Acadia is 47,000 acres of quintessential Maine, with vast swaths of forest, rugged rocky coastlines, and unspoiled natural beauty in every season. At Acadia, you can do nearly everything you might imagine at a place the NPS calls the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast”: take scenic drives with lighthouse views, go leaf-peeping, catch a ferry to a campsite on a remote island, ski, dog-sled, watch for wildlife, hike mountains and valleys, stroll beside the ocean, bike, swim, go boating, enjoy a picnic, and the list goes on.
When to visit: Acadia is open throughout the year, but roads may be closed and facilities may reduce their hours during the winter.
20. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Where it is: Alaska
Why you should go: You may have seen news coverage over the past few years about growing issues of overcrowding at America’s best-known national parks. One way to experience the splendor of these protected lands without becoming part of the crowd is to visit during the off-season; but to seriously get away from it all, there’s nothing like a trip to the least-visited national park in the country: Gates of the Arctic. To be clear, this park is not for everyone. In fact, it’s only for the few who are determined enough to fly or hike to its remote location; experienced enough to be fully self-sufficient in a region with no facilities, no services, no roads, and no marked trails; and intrigued enough by this truly unspoiled environment to risk it alone or hire an outfitter to guide you.
When to visit: The park itself is always open, but hours at visitor centers (in the nearest towns) vary by location and season.
Preparing for Your National Parks Visit
Before you head to any of America’s national parks:
- Inform yourself about the local climate and terrain, as well as what the park offers in terms of food, water, and shelter.
- Make sure the dates you’re planning on visiting are optimal ones; some parks are closed on Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Day, and the best-known parks can get extremely crowded at certain times of year.
- Remember that many national parks are wild places with the potential for extreme conditions, and that roads or sections of any park may close for various reasons. To avoid a disappointing experience, check the NPS website for park closures and alerts.
- If you’re driving your own vehicle or a rental car, keep up to date with local weather and traffic conditions and make sure your car insurance is up to date.
- Be careful to pack proper clothing, footwear, and equipment.
When you’re well prepared, a trip to one of America’s national parks can be the trip of a lifetime. To learn more about your options within the national park system, you can search the complete list of U.S. national parks by state, by activity, and by topic. If you are eager to visit any state parks along the way, check out our list of the 25 best state parks in America.
Calling road trip readers:
Have you had a memorable experience at any of the national parks listed above, or one that we haven’t mentioned? Share in comments.
For many of us, a car is an essential part of daily life. We invest thousands of dollars in our cars, and some of us see them as extensions of ourselves and can’t make it through the day without them. We value our cars—but we’re not the only ones who do. Our cars are valued by thieves, too.
In 2016, there were 765,484 thefts on cars nationwide. This increased 7.4% since 2015. That’s a statistic no car owner wants to be a part of.
Modern security systems help deter car theft, but you can further minimize your risk by understanding what thieves look for and how they think, and by taking proactive steps to keep your car safe. It also helps to know what to do should you become an unwitting contributor to the FBI’s statistic.
Preferred Makes and Models for Car Thieves
Car thieves are opportunists. They’ll steal any car that’s an easy target, but certain makes and models rank high on their hit list.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NCIB) 2017 Hot Wheels Report, the Honda Civic was the number-one stolen car in 2017 and the Honda Accord a close second, a distinction both cars have held since 2007. A number of other imports, as well as American-made pickups, are also named on the NICB’s top-10 list of most stolen cars:
- 1998 Honda Civic
- 1997 Honda Accord
- 2006 Ford Pickup
- 2004 Chevrolet Pickup
- 2017 Toyota Camry
- 2016 Nissan Altima
- 2016 Toyota Corolla
- 2001 Dodge Pickup
- 2017 GMC Pickup
- 2008 Chevrolet Impala
What makes older cars such a popular target? Hondas, in particular, hold their resale value. Plus, thieves can profit by stripping them down and selling the parts to repair shops and scrap yards. Older cars are also easier to steal because they usually lack the advanced anti-theft protection that newer cars have.
Car Thieves’ Favorite Colors
The color of your car may increase its desirability among thieves. According to a survey by CCC Information Services, the top five colors of stolen vehicles are:
- Dark green
These same colors are also among the most popular in new car sales. They’re not only in demand, they’re also ubiquitous, and therefore preferable to thieves who don’t want to draw attention to their crimes.
Most Susceptible Locations for Car Theft
The National Insurance Crime Bureau found that car thefts in 2017 were most prevalent in the West, particularly California. The top ten cities for car theft included:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Pueblo, Colorado
- Redding, California
- St. Joseph, Missouri
- Bakersfield, California
- Modesto, California
- Stockton-Lodi, California
- Yuba City, California
- Springfield, Missouri
No matter what area of the country you live in, the odds of having your car stolen are highest in urban areas. Dark, secluded places are also prime sites favored by thieves because they can work undisturbed.
These include parking garages, shopping centers, large apartment complexes and anywhere large groups of cars are parked together for extended periods of time. Areas like these offer choice and also make it easier for thieves to see and hear when people are coming.
8 Ways to Prevent Car Theft
Now that you know what car thieves look for and where they prefer to do their work, what can you do to protect your car? Common sense tips can help:
- Lock your car, even when at home or stopping for quick errands. Double check that the doors are locked before walking away.
- Never leave your car running and unattended. It’s an open invitation for thieves.
- Never leave valuables in plain sight where they might tempt a passerby. Even bags and blankets on the car seat or floor may tempt thieves because those items could be concealing something of value. It’s best to move them out of view and to keep the interior of your car tidy.
- Close all windows and the sunroof when you’re not in the car. A window left open, even just a crack, may provide the entry point a thief needs to break in.
- Park in well-lit areas.
- Don’t keep a spare key in or around your car. Thieves know exactly where to look for them.
- Invest in an anti-theft system if you don’t already have one installed in your car. Options range from steering wheel locks and car alarms to electronic immobilizers and kill switches that prevent the car from being hot-wired.
- You can also have an electronic tracking system installed that will be activated if your car is stolen, allowing law enforcement to trace its location for a faster recovery.
Certain anti-theft systems can be easy to acquire. For instance, you can get a steering wheel lock at your local Walmart or auto parts store. These can fit old and new cars. For other anti-theft systems such as kill switches, you may want to hire an auto professional. Installing them yourself is an option, but can be tricky. Auto mechanics or other professionals can answer any questions you have regarding anti-theft devices for your specific vehicle.
What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen
If your car goes missing there are steps you should take immediately. They include:
- Verifying that your car has actually been stolen and not towed.
- Checking with area businesses or the parking lot attendant for more information, if your car was parked on private property.
- Checking websites that allow you to quickly locate towed vehicles by entering a license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN). One website to consider for towed cars includes FindMyTowedCar.com.
If your car wasn’t towed or was on public property, contact the police immediately. They’ll ask you to complete a stolen vehicle report with details such as:
- The car’s VIN
- License plate number
- Any distinguishing characteristics
If your car has Onstar installed, you may be able to GPS track it’s location. In addition to this, your Onstar services can actually remote block your ignition from starting or reduce the speed of your engine. This can help police catch up to thieves that have stolen your car. It can also prevent thieves from driving it too far. If your car is stolen, be sure to mention your Onstar services to police. It may help you locate your car faster.
Once you’ve filed the police report, contact your insurance company. To expedite the claim, be ready with all essential information, including:
- The vehicle’s title
- The location of all keys
- The names of everyone who had access to the car
- A list of personal property that was in the car at the time it was stolen
If you are leasing or financing the car, you’ll also need to report your loss to the lender.
Insurance Coverage for Car Theft
Most auto insurance policies cover car theft under comprehensive coverage and will reimburse you for the appraised value of your car, assuming it is not returned, or for damage that was done to the car as a result of the theft. Any parts that were stolen, such as your car stereo, may also be covered—provided they were permanently installed or attached to the vehicle. However, if you owe more on your car than it’s worth, you may want to consider gap insurance. This can help cover the difference between what your vehicle was worth when it was damaged and what you still owe on it. Essentially, it fills in the payment gap for you.
Other items that are stolen from the car, such as a cell phone or purse, would likely be covered under your homeowners insurance or rental insurance policy.
Statistically, vehicle thefts have been trending downward since their peak in 1991, which NICB credits to technology, law enforcement efforts and the creation of anti-theft organizations whose mission is to combat auto theft
But thieves are always finding new ways to adapt and hone their craft. Your preventive efforts can deter them and help ensure that your car remains safely in your possession.
Looking for more amazing car tips, tricks and trips? Find them in our monthly newsletter.
- The causes of distracted driving and how to prevent them
- The best national park road trips
- The pros and cons of using your own car for a road trip
All this and more to help you enjoy the view from your trusted vehicle. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.
Grandparenting is a wonderful reprisal of parenting — without all the worries and sleepless nights. As a new grandparent, you may find your life utterly transformed by joy, unconditional love, and a renewed sense of purpose. In return, your grandchild can find in you the unique companionship, acceptance, and connection that only a grandparent can give.
Some aspects of grandparenting will never change. Babies need to be fed, changed, nurtured, protected, and spoiled with love. But childrearing methods are always evolving, and those you used to raise your children a generation or two ago may no longer apply. We’ve compiled a compendium of the latest birth and baby-related norms and tips so you can begin your grandparenting journey without a hitch.
What Grandparents Should Know About the Birth of Their Grandchild
Child-birthing practices have changed over recent decades, thanks to new approaches that have helped to make delivery a safer and more comfortable experience for the mother and to give the baby a healthier start in life. Even if you won’t be present in the delivery room when your grandchild is born, it helps to understand the parents’ choices, and what to expect and why.
Childbirth classes teach parents about labor, delivery and postpartum care, usually over a series of weeks in the company of other expectant couples. You may be familiar with the Lamaze approach which was popularized in the 1960s and teaches breathing and other techniques to ease labor and delivery. Many other options are available today depending on the parents’ wishes, and include:
- The Bradley Method teaches labor and delivery with the father serving as the coach. Classroom topics also include prenatal nutrition and exercise, techniques for managing pain, how to avoid a cesarean birth, and postpartum care.
- The Alexander Technique teaches weekly lessons on posture and movement to help improve the mother’s freedom of movement, balance, flexibility and coordination during pregnancy and to aid in delivery and recovery.
- Birthing from Within prepares mothers to give birth with awareness, whether it’s done naturally or with medical intervention. Classes provide holistic education and support from pregnancy through birth and postpartum care
- HypnoBirthing and Hypnobabies teach self-hypnosis to help ease delivery. HypnoBirthing focuses on labor; Hypnobabies is more comprehensive, using medical-grade hypnosis to create a more comfortable pregnancy and birth process for both the expectant mother and her partner.
Birthing Suites, Birthing Centers, and Home Births
Hospitals are the most common place to give birth, and many now have home-like birthing suites where mother can labor, deliver and recover without having to be moved — and her newborn can stay in the room with her, too. Amenities usually include a private bathroom with shower, comfortable chairs, soft décor and a television.
But hospitals aren’t an expectant couple’s only option. Home births and birthing centers are increasingly popular with women who have low-risk pregnancies and want a more comfortable, personalized, natural delivery. Such births are attended to by a professional midwife who is certified to deliver babies independently, whether in a hospital, clinic, birthing center, or home.
The Caring Support of a Doula
In ancient Greece, a doula referred to a handmaiden or servant; in Western countries today, it refers to a nursing professional who offers education and caring support to women and their families during pregnancy, childbirth and post-delivery. Doulas help mothers make informed decisions about their child’s birth and facilitate communication with their medical providers. They are typically present for the entire labor, offering encouragement and helping to ease discomfort. After birth, a doula will offer hands-on guidance with the baby, help with breastfeeding, and emotional and practical support to help the family ease into life at home.
Doulas don’t perform any medical or clinical tasks, but their knowledge and caring presence can help a mother-to-be feel less anxious, and that can lead to a safer labor and birth and an easier transition into mothering, childcare, and family life.
As an experienced parent, you know the signs of labor, and you’re probably anticipating their onset as much as the parents-to-be. But what is the right time to head for the hospital?
Women who are giving birth in a hospital or birthing center are now advised to stay home in early labor. If they show up too soon — before active labor when contractions are less than 5 minutes apart, they’ll likely be sent back home. Plus, being in the comforting environment of home in labor’s early stages allows the hormones of birth to flow more naturally, which can help labor progress more efficiently later on.
Once active labor is underway, it’s common practice now to have one or more birthing partners present, whether a spouse, parent, best friend, or doula. In contrast to 50 years ago when most moms labored in the delivery room alone, birthing partner provide much-needed support, offering reassurance, back rubs and distractions, and cheerleading for mom through contractions.
Immediately After Delivery
Whenever possible, experts recommend skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby for at least 1 to 2 hours immediately after birth; dad can stand in if mom can’t be there for medical or other reasons. Skin-to-skin contact helps ease babies’ transition from the security of the womb to the outside world. They cry less, and their body temperature, breathing, and heart rate stabilize more quickly, indications that they feel less pain and stress. They can find the breast more easily, which they instinctively know to do, helping to initiate breast-feeding.
Touch is also one of the strongest stimulators of oxytocin, the love hormone. In the hours immediately after birth, mother and baby experience their highest-ever levels of oxytocin, triggering an intense surge of love and presenting a once-in-a-lifetime bonding opportunity for baby and parents. To safeguard this sacred time, experts recommend that parents be alone with their baby for the first few hours. Even grandparents should be prepared for a waiting period before meeting their grandchild.
Regarding the all-important question of when to “cut the cord,” it was routine in the mid-20th century to clamp the cord immediately upon birth. However, in 2017, the World Health Organization recommended that clamping be delayed at least one minute after birth or better yet, until after the cord has ceased pulsating. This provides the baby with transition time from womb to world, and allows more blood to flow from the placenta to the baby. It may also increase the level of iron in the baby’s blood for up to six months, helping with healthy brain development.
When it comes to feeding the baby, breastfeeding is recommended exclusively for the baby’s first six months of life whenever possible. You may have raised your own babies on formula, and it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative, but breastfeeding is best for many reasons:
- Has hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help the baby grow and develop
- Has antibodies that fight off infection
- Has fatty acids that may help the baby’s brain and eyes develop
- Helps prevent the onset of allergies
- Keeps mother and baby close
- May help mother return to pre-pregnancy weight more quickly
- Is free and always available — no bottles or cleanup required
The mother may also breastfeed in front of you. Don’t be alarmed! It’s the natural thing to do.
What Grandparents Should Know About the Basic Routine of Their Grandchild
Life with a baby is filled with routines you’re familiar with—from bathing and feeding to burping and putting baby to sleep—but research and new technologies have led to changes in how many of them are done. This doesn’t mean your routines were wrong — each generation of parents does the best they can with the information that’s available to them. However, it does provide an opportunity to learn about the latest conventional wisdom.
Daily baby baths were once the rule, but no longer. Daily baths can dry out baby’s sensitive skin and cause irritation. Bathing one to three times per week is usually sufficient, in just one inch of lukewarm water (check the temperature with your elbow to make sure it’s warm enough but not too hot). Otherwise keep your grandbaby clean by washing his face and neck with a washcloth after each feeding and wiping the diaper area at each diaper change.
Tradition says that babies need to be burped after each feeding, but this isn’t always the case. Some babies need to burp a lot while others rarely do. If you hold the baby in a vertical position against a shoulder or in a carrier after feeding, a burp or gentle release of air will often happen naturally.
But if your grandchild seems uncomfortable after a feeding and a burp would help, the trick is to hold the baby upright in a way that puts pressure on his tummy. The two most common positions are high on your shoulder or sitting upright on your lap while bending the baby gently forward. Softly rub or pat his back with a burp cloth in position to catch any spit-up.
Only a few decades ago, parents were advised to put their babies to sleep on their tummies. But research in the 1990s suggested that the belly-down position could lead to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and parents were instead advised to put babies to sleep on their backs.
Today, babies are put to sleep on their backs — no exceptions. When the baby becomes strong enough to roll onto his stomach by himself, tummy-down sleeping is okay, but you should still put him to sleep on his back.
Other recommendations for safe sleep include:
- Using a crib or playpen with a snug fitting sheet
- No pillows, quilts, bumper pads, or stuffed animals
- No soft surfaces, such as an adult mattress, couch or chair
- No soft or loose bedding. Use swaddle blankets, then sleep sacks rather than blankets.
Here’s more information on a safe sleep environment.
Swaddling is an age-old tradition that is coming back into favor. Meant only for the first few months of life, swaddling involves wrapping a baby snuggly in a swaddle blanket or special sleep sack that mimics the warmth and comfort of the womb. This helps the baby feel more calm and secure which can lead to longer stretches of sleep. Swaddling also binds the baby’s arms, which can prevent the startle reflex from waking the baby up.
Swaddling isn’t appropriate for every baby, though, including those who can roll over (which can start at about 2 months of age), are at a high risk of SIDS, or who are in hot environments where swaddling could cause them to become overheated.
Babies may need to sleep on their backs, but in their waking hours, tummy time is essential to help them build their neck and shoulder muscles so they can begin to lift their head, turn over, and master later skills like sitting, crawling, and walking. Tummy time also helps prevent flat spots from forming on the back of baby’s skull.
Tummy time can begin on the baby’s first day of life, two or three times daily for three to five minutes, with longer, more frequent sessions as the baby gets older. Start by placing the baby belly-down on your chest or lap, or spread out a blanket on the floor with a few toys within reach.
While some mothers may choose to use cloth diapers, disposable diapers are the norm, and they’ve come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1960s. Most now have an indicator strip that lets you know when they’re wet — and those little ruffles around the leg holes serve to prevent the diaper from leaking. Run your fingers along the edges of the ruffles to make them functional.
Also be sure to dilute baby wipes in the beginning. The solution can be caustic to a newborn’s delicate skin.
Dressing Appropriately for Weather
Whether the temperature outside is warm or cold, always dress your grandbaby in layers – as many as you require for yourself, plus one. Start with a sleeper onesie and then add as needed. Thin cotton clothes are preferred over flannel, even in winter, to prevent overheating and the risk of SIDS.
If you’re indoors, set the room temperature in a comfortable range for a lightly clothed adult. If you’re going outdoors in winter, make sure your baby is covered from head to toe, but remove winter clothes as soon as you come inside so baby doesn’t get too hot. In hot weather, a single layer of thin cotton clothing should be sufficient.
Car seats have been around for a long time, starting in the mid-20th century as a way to elevate youngsters so they could see out of car windows. Now they’re the law for safety reasons.
Infants must be in a rear-facing car seat until they are both one year old and weigh at least 20 pounds. After that, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises the use of a front-facing car seat or booster for all children until they are 4-feet, 9-inches tall, regardless of age and weight.
Breast milk or formula is all infant babies need for nourishment and hydration. They shouldn’t drink water until they’re at least six months old, and even then, they should only get sips of water if they’re thirsty. Water can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in breast milk or formula, and can also make the baby feel full and not want to feed.
Juice is also a no-no until the baby is one year old, and even then quantities should be limited. Like water, juice fills up the baby’s tummy, and its high sugar content can cause stomach cramping and diarrhea.
By age 4 to 6 months, most babies are ready to begin eating cereal and solid food as a complement to breast milk or formula. Signs of readiness include weighing at least 13 pounds, and the baby’s ability to hold her head up, sit upright in a chair, and close her mouth around a spoon.
To minimize allergies, common food allergens — which include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, seafood, wheat, sesame, and fish — should be introduced on a schedule. A varied diet that includes these foods one at a time and about two times weekly can help the baby maintain tolerance. Even with the greatest care, though, the baby may still develop a food allergy. Wheat, milk, and egg allergies are common, but often abandoned as the child gets older. Shellfish, fish and peanut allergies tend to be lifelong.
What Grandparents Should Know, Have, Get, or Take to Prepare for Their Grandchild
As a grandparent, you know the importance of being prepared for an emergency and of protecting your grandchild from the risk of illness. Take these steps to make sure you’re prepared:
- Know the location of nearest hospital with a pediatric emergency room.
- Get a flu shot. Many employers offer flu shots fee of charge or you can get them from your doctor or local pharmacy for $30–$40. Your insurance may pay for all or a portion of the cost.
- A Tdap shot is recommended to protect you (and your grandchild) against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough. You should get a Tdap booster at 10-year intervals if you will be in close contact with an infant younger than 12 months. Costs range from $25–$50, and may be covered by your insurance.
- Arrange with your grandbaby’s parents to get a notarized authorization for medical consent, which allows you to order medical services if the parents are away and you are in charge.
- Take a baby CPR class so you can respond if your grandchild has a cardiac or breathing emergency. Adult CPR classes are priced around $25, slightly more if you want to get certified.
Will You Be Babysitting in Your Home? Have These Things.
As you look forward to baby visits and babysitting opportunities, you’re going to need some gear. These are some of the top products you’ll want and need when your grandchild comes to call:
- Portable crib/play pen where your grandbaby can safely sleep and play
- Gym mat with activities attached that baby can look at and play with as she gets older
- Mini bath tub to hold the baby in place during bath time
- Changing table pad that attaches to the top of a dresser
- Approved car seat if you’ll be driving the baby around a lot
- Feeding set (with bowl, utensils), spoons, a sippy cup, and toys, books and games for when the child gets older
8 Items Not Needed as a Grandparent
Baby care and clothing comprises a huge commercial industry in the United States and include a dizzying array of products. Some are required, others helpful and convenient, and still others unnecessary and even a little indulgent. When contemplating what you should buy, you can cross these items off your new grandbaby list:
- Bedding for the baby’s crib. Bumper pads, baby blankets, pillows and dust ruffle are a risk factor for SIDS. Use only sheet that fits snugly over the mattress. Babies should be put in a wearable blanket or footed pajamas if they become cold.
- Bassinet. The baby will quickly outgrow it.
- Changing table. They take up room and can be costly. A changing area on a dresser or the floor can be safer while optimizing physical space.
- Special diaper pail that requires special bags and cartridges. A small trashcan with a lid will serve you well and cost a lot less.
- Infant shoes and socks. They rarely stay on, and infant shoes can be uncomfortable for the baby. Footed pajamas are a better way to keep baby’s feet covered and warm.
- Expensive clothing for newborns. Your grandbaby will quickly outgrow clothing sized for 0 to 3 months. Inexpensive onesies and sleepers are all that’s needed for the first few months.
- Skin care products. A baby’s skin is sensitive; avoid products that contain dyes, fragrances, and chemicals that can irritate the baby’s skin. Phthalates and parabens can be especially harmful to babies.
- Baby powder. Talc or cornstarch powders can cause the baby breathing problems.
Approaching Your Role as a Grandparent
Becoming a grandparent can both enrich your life and present new relationship challenges with your children. Whatever your level of involvement as grandparent, these basic guidelines can help you cultivate strong relationships that have lasting positive effects with all members of the family:
- Respect your children’s parenting styles and methods. Offer advice without dictating and or undermining the parents’ authority in front of their children. Your children will appreciate your support and value your sound counsel more if they don’t feel like you are interfering.
- Help out in the caregiving of your grandchildren, depending on your comfort level and your children’s needs. Have a discussion with your children beforehand if you’re unsure of your role or their expectations.
- Share your legacy by passing on family stories, imparting values, and teaching your grandchildren the traditional principles of hard work, honesty and integrity.
- Take time off for yourself. An active lifestyle of your own will put you in a better position to be there for your children and grandchildren.
- Support your children in their parenting journey. If asked, help the parents sort through all the advice and tips that can overwhelm them as they try to do their best.
Understanding the intricacies of modern-day infant care will give you a good start in your new relationship with your adult child and new grandbaby. Be open, give lots of hugs and kisses, and most of all, enjoy this new time in your life.
Whether it’s to chuckle over the various versions of grandparent names, from traditional to the more exotic or learn about how to shine as a custodial grandparent, the Extra Mile has it!
Looking for more amazing grandparenting tips? Find them in our monthly newsletter.
Accountants can have a tough job. Not only do they need to keep up on all the changes to the tax code (which is not exactly a beach read), but they also are helping their clients deal with the one-two punch of money management coupled with a hard, IRS-enforced deadline.
This is why it’s a great idea to make yourself into a client that your accountant loves to see. Not only will you help lower your accountant’s stress levels by being a model client, but also you’ll make your own tax season easier and less personally stressful, as well.
So what can you do to make sure your accountant is always happy to see you? Here are four simple steps you can take to become your accountant’s favorite client:
1. Make Sure You Have the Right Accountant
First things first, make sure that your accountant is someone who can help you with the specific tax issues you face.
Start with an understanding of the certifications you may encounter.
A Certified Public Accountant or CPA must have met the educational requirements, passed the Uniform CPA Examination, and met your state’s licensing requirements.
An Enrolled Agent, or EA is a tax practitioner who is federally licensed to represent taxpayers before the IRS.
CPAs, EAs, and tax attorneys all are authorized to practice in front of the IRS, meaning they can help you handle audits or negotiate with tax collectors on your behalf.
Even with the right training and licensing, not every CPA or EA will be the right accountant for you. Ask if your accountant is familiar with the specific tax issues that apply to your situation. For instance, if you’re a snowbird who spends the winter in another state, you will want to make sure your accountant is comfortable handling the tax requirements for both of your states of residence.
2. Get Organized
We all know the cliché of the taxpayer who shows up to their accountant’s office on April 14 with a shoebox full of crumpled receipts and tax documents. Being that client is sure to send your accountant heading for the hills.
Luckily, the same thing that will make your tax preparation easier is also what will lower your accountant’s blood pressure.
A Simple Organizational System
For most taxpayers, a three-folder system will suffice. Create one folder for each of these categories:
- Income folder. Whether you are still working and drawing a paycheck, or retired and living off of your investments, you will have income statements that you will need to bring to your accountant when it’s time to prepare your taxes. Having a folder to collect this information will help you keep track of every penny. In addition, adding a cover sheet where you manually record what you earn as it comes in can help you check the accuracy of official documents, such as Social Security and pension statements, as they arrive.
- Expenses and deductions folder. This will replace your shoebox of disorganized receipts. Start by creating separate files within this folder to represent each category of expenses or deductions, such as business, charitable donations, childcare, and medical expenses. Doing this kind of organization of your receipts will help ensure that you don’t miss any necessary receipts, and also will help you avoid those head-scratchers when you can’t remember why you saved a specific receipt.
- Investments folder. This will be where you save annual statements from your investments, distribution records, notices of dividends and capital gains and losses, and records proving tax-deductible contributions to retirement accounts.
3. Come Prepared
If you’re not already organized when tax season rolls around—and even the most methodical among us has found papers that aren’t in their proper home—then do not expect your accountant to do your organizing for you. Make sure you come to your meeting with your information as well organized as you can get it.
Remember that your accountant is required to be an expert in the tax code, not an organizational guru.
As you review the three folders described above, you’ll want to identify the taxes you’ve paid throughout the year, this could be:
- Regular deductions
- Quarterly or estimated payments
- Real estate and property tax payments
Bring copies of last year’s federal and state tax returns for reference.
4. Know What Tax Issues May Affect You
Your accountant does not expect you to know every deduction and tax strategy that could apply to you. However, if you are unaware of how your overall life circumstances may affect your tax liability, it’s tough for your accountant to help you find the best strategies for your situation.
Let’s say you are raising your grandchildren, which could potentially affect your taxes. Your accountant may first assume that you are an empty nester and neglect to check for childcare deductions. If you don’t know going into your accountant’s office that you may be eligible for deductions or credits as a custodial grandparent, then you also can’t assume that your accountant will know to ask you about it.
Doing a little bit of research before you meet with your accountant—or, alternatively, asking your accountant to chat with you about your life circumstances long before tax season so you can know which receipts and paperwork to hold onto—can save you both quite a bit of time and potential tax headaches come April 15.
You and Your Accountant: A Love Story
Treating your accountant like a partner in your tax preparation, rather than as the person you hire to “deal with it,” will go a long way toward making you a favorite client and reducing your own tax season stress.
By doing your homework before you meet, you’ll be better prepared to answer questions and fill in any information gaps that your accountant needs to complete your taxes accurately. And remember: The right accounting and tax professional can be a personal and financial resource to you all through the year, not only at tax time.
Learn more about staying on top of your finances at tax season and year-round when you sign up for the Extra Mile Newsletter.