How to survive your daily commute
A 5 minute read • Simon Q
Part of our career counselling and life hacks series. According to the UK’s National Office of Statistics, the average UK commute is around 57 minutes. But statistics can often hide a multitude of stories. They tell us nothing about how difficult or stressful a 57 minute commute can be.
“Think of your commute as part of your job”
Think of your commute as part of your job. After all, if you choose a job 50 miles from home, you’re making a job-related commitment to travel 100 miles each day to and from your workplace. And if instead you worked at home or nearby, your commute would be minimal and you could use the time saved any way you wanted.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But the number of times I have heard people complain about their commute makes me wonder if they thought it through when they took their job.
To give yourself a better chance of having a manageable commute, you should consider carefully both where you work and live. Can you move to a location closer to your dream job or are you committed to a home for personal reasons? I moved from the north of England to London to take a job and have never regretted a move that opened up lots of opportunities, both professional and personal.
How to make a commute more manageable
So, you’re either bored to tears with your current commute, or you have just accepted a job and are uncertain how the commute will turn out. There’s plenty for our bored commuters later in this article, so let’s help the newbies first.
When you take a new job with an untested commute, it’s a good idea to try a dummy run or two before Day One. I did this when I took the job in London, knowing that I had to rely on busy commuter trains.
Yes, I could have driven to work but after 15 years of commuting by car I was looking forward to disengaging my brain on the train. As it turned out, the trains were overcrowded and ran late, so I tried again and found an alternative route that avoided the problems.
You can also try out a couple of different modes of transport without the stress of worrying about arriving on time during those first few formative days of a new job.
However you commute, there are some choices you can make – and some flexibility you can seek – to make things more manageable, for example:
- Ask to adjust your working hours so you can travel at less busy times. A colleague of mine worked from 07:30 to 16:00 each day to avoid the worst of the rush hour
- Avoid the commute all together and work from home every now and then, if you job allows this
- Choose to walk part of your journey that you would usually cover by bus or train
Commuting by car
I salute those of you who drive to and from work. I prefer not to do it. You need to be alert both in the early morning and after a hard day’s work. But if you do drive, here are some tips to help:
- Carsharing can reduce the monotony and share the load. Yes, it can reduce flexibility, but if you work relatively fixed hours, it can be ideal
- If you can, vary your route every couple of days to break the routine. In the summer I used to drive a mile or so extra to work so that I could pass along a beautiful, leafy road called Artist’s Lane
- Listen to music or the radio, or perhaps an audio book
- Find an alternative route or two that you can use in case of holdups
- Get to know the traffic patterns and which routes are best at certain times of the day
- Use online traffic alerts so you get real-time traffic news and avoid the jams
- Try to avoid a slavish routine that that becomes dull and boring!
Commuting by public transport
Depending where you live, this may not be an option (if you live in the middle of the countryside) or it’s your only sensible choice (if you work in a large city like London). But if you have the choice, then give it a go. Whichever form of transport you use – train, subway, bus, tram – the payoff is the same: there are fewer demands on you but you have to accept less control over your commute.
I spent 10 years commuting around London by train and – despite the crowded carriages and inevitable hold-ups – this is my preferred way of commuting. Here are some tips for commuting by public transport:
Public transport tips
- Listen to music or podcasts, read a book, learn a language, watch TV. My favourite thing about travelling by train is that – as long as you have a seat – you can do many things you cannot do while driving a car
- Like driving, commuting can be a lonely experience despite being surrounded by hundreds of people. If this is a problem, you could find a ‘train-friend’, someone to chat to and help pass the journey. It’s not as weird as it sounds
- Always have a plan B in case of disruption. Although public transport runs to a timetable, things go wrong and it’s usually better to have an alternative up your sleeve than to wait for things to get back to normal
Commuting on foot and by bicycle
Although not the most common form of commuting, walking and cycling to work can be extremely enjoyable – in the right weather, of course. I’m always impressed how serious Danish and Dutch people are about bicycles and how the centres of Copenhagen and Amsterdam are cycle commuting nirvanas. Just take care as a pedestrian.
If you can cycle or walk to work, here are some tips:
Cycling and walking tips
- When cycling choose routes that avoid main roads. Even the busiest cities are building safer routes for cyclists and usually provide free cycling maps to help you choose an appropriate route
- Always use cycle lanes where provided and remember that many drivers are not especially aware of cyclists
- Always wear the best cycle safety gear you can afford
- Walk part of your commute that you would usually make by bus or train. I used to walk a mile along the River Thames to an alternative train station in the morning to help me wake up
- When walking, avoid busy roads, build in a coffee stop or take small diversions to avoid monotony
My own lessons from commuting
I have commuted by car, train, bus, subway and tram in the UK and several other countries. Commuting can be demanding and stressful but you can make some positive changes that make commuting more manageable. For me, the most positive change came from better using the time to read, listen to music, brush up on my Spanish and daydream.
Once your commute becomes a drag, look for ways to change it and reinvigorate your day. You won’t regret it and it may help you avoid quitting that job you love.
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