Earlier this month, I completed my first bicycle tour -- a nine-day ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway, which roughly follows the 450-mile historical Natchez Trace between Nashville, Tenn. and Natchez, Miss.
I don't recommend doing that ride in mid-July, especially when the temperatures were 10-12 degrees hotter than usual for mid-summer in a part of the country known for its heat and humidity. But when we plan vacations -- often months in advance -- no one can predict the weather accurately. It's kind of like predicting what the Fed might do at a meeting five or six months from now. You can call it a prediction if you like, but everyone knows it's just a wild guess.
Zen and bicycle riding
Bicycle tours take on a different character than the same journey made in a car, or even on a motorcycle. One's pace is so much slower that the landscape, and the atmosphere of the region become much more familiar. I found that I began paying a lot of attention to details that I wouldn't have noticed on a quicker journey. Yes, the accumulating aches from hours in the saddle and the numbness in my hands dominated many hours of thought, but those hours also provided me with time to contemplate my attitudes toward different aspects of my work and of my life. And most importantly, they took me away from my daily routine and the constant bombardment from media sources.
One of the surprising aspects of the tour was that I didn't think about my portfolio or the overall market one single time for several days. Even though I had television in the hotel and wireless Internet access each night, my "media time" was spent looking at the weather forecasts and maps rather than watching what the Dow or the S&P did that day. Five successive days of triple-digit temperatures have a way of getting your attention.
In fact, it wasn't until halfway through my trip that the stock market popped into my head at all, and that was by pure chance. I was in the parkway's visitor center in Tupelo, Mississippi, enjoying the air conditioning and taking the chance to fill up my water bottles (and mapping out where my next chance to refill would be), when a gentleman parked his land yacht RV, strolled into the building with his cigar, and asked in a loud voice whether anyone knew what the market was doing.
It took me a second before I could even recall what day of the week it was, and I realized that I had no idea what the market had done all week, let alone that day. And you know what? It felt good.
Tips for the obsessive checkers
I think it's vital that we're able to step away and take a genuine vacation -- not just from our jobs, but from our daily routines as well. It's the only way to revitalize ourselves and come back to those routines with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
For investors, that requires a little bit of planning and a whole lot of self-discipline. First, most Foolish investors don't make daily -- or even weekly -- changes to their portfolios, so not watching the ticker tape while on vacation is more an emotional commitment than a strategic one. It's OK not to watch if you're not going to be trading anyway.
But even for more active traders, there are steps you can take to allow yourself to enjoy a vacation thoroughly. For the day trader (gasp), it's simple. Just don't participate in the market while you're gone. For a short-term investor, one who's invested while on vacation but has some tight controls in mind, you can always place sell-stops on your positions if you're worried the sky might fall while you're not watching. Sell-stops aren't perfect protection, of course, but they can give you some peace of mind while you're not attending daily to your holdings.
Or you can do what I did and simply forget about the market altogether. In my case, it was for two full weeks, and not once did I check my portfolio or the cable stock market wrap-up shows. And my inattention didn't make much difference to my portfolio, to be honest. A couple of my holdings did well, and a couple slipped. But nothing happened that would have made me react had I been watching every tick of the daily trading, so what did I actually miss?
La dolce vita
The point, Foolish reader, is that it's OK to take a break and step away from all things financial while you're on vacation. You may even find that not watching your investments every day will make you less emotional about short-term movements and allow you to take a better perspective on your investment decisions.
For me, I can't wait to start planning my next bike tour. The foothills of the Smoky Mountains gave me a workout. I hear there are some hills out west that would be fun and challenging, too. I think they're called the Rockies?
You can be sure that when I go, I'll be more concerned with grinding to the top of the next pass than I will be about how my shares of Apple Computer
Robert Sheard, author of The Unemotional Investor and Money for Life, believes the Europeans have the right attitude about vacation time. More of them, please! He holds a position in Apple Computers and has his eye on that sweet new MacBook.