The Dos And Don’ts Of Commuting


I spend approximately four hours a day commuting — two each morning and two every night. My commute includes all forms of transportation: I drive to a train, take a train to a subway, take a subway downtown, and then walk an extra 15 minutes to my office. And determined not to let this waste of time turn me into a waste of life, I have spent these 10 months figuring out the best ways to survive and thrive during my four daily hours of idle time. The following Dos and Don’ts will hopefully help any fellow commuters out there to, if not have a better morning, at least know that someone else out there knows exactly what they’re dealing with.

DO join a book club. I know, #nerdalert, right? But regularly having a book on hand while commuting can be the perfect escape to help time go by faster — and it can’t run out of batteries (I know, crazy). Sure, you can pick out books yourself, but a book club offers up new material that you may not have considered reading before. Don’t have a book club at work? Look in your hometown, or start your own. You’d be surprised how many people would be happy to have a new kind of intellectual stimulation. You won’t be surprised at how many of them are commuters.

DON’T read aloud. I was once seated next to a woman who, halfway through a bus trip, whipped out a book and started reading aloud. Things get a little strange when, on an otherwise-silent bus, someone starts animatedly reciting dialogue. Please try to at least keep it to a whisper?

DO frequently update your iPod or other music device. iPods, iPhones, and basically all Apple products are the unsung heroes of the commuter world. Having any sound in your ears to help distract you from the fact that you’ll be sitting in this seat for the next hour always helps, whether it gets you daydreaming or helps you fall asleep. But listening to the same couple of songs for months on end on the train will slowly drive you insane — update it.

DON’T forget said iPod or other music device. You’ll be kicking yourself if, the second you board a train, or pull onto the highway, you realize your commuter best friend is sitting at home, plugged into your laptop. If (or, in my experience, when) this happens, you hope the car radio plays something good (won’t happen). Or if taking public transit, hopefully you got past the nerd alert and joined that book club. Happy reading!

DO go to happy hours, even if it means getting home later. I’d be the first to admit that with the prospect of a long commute ahead of me, it’s tempting to bolt to the subway as soon as the end of the workday rolls around. But if your colleagues want to meet for a drink after work, or get dinner, or go to Drag Queen Bingo, just do it. You’ll be happy you went, and you can always catch up on sleep during the next morning’s commute. (I don’t recommend this tactic if you commute is primarily by car.)

DON’T take The Drunk Train. If you stay late after work, chances are you’ll encounter some people who got a little too happy during happy hour on your commute home. They can turn an otherwise peaceful non-rush-hour commute into what the How I Met Your Mother cast calls “The Drunk Train.” If you find yourself stuck on The Drunk Train, my advice is to choose your seat carefully based on the already-established locations of the following: drunk sorority girls singing “Call Me Maybe,” that guy taking swigs from something in a large paper bag, and that group of middle-aged men making racist jokes. After a long day at work, it’s best to get a seat far away. That is, unless you got a little too happy during happy hour, too. Then feel free to humiliate yourself.

DO sit in the Quiet Car. Take advantage of this time to catch up on sleep. A few tips on how to pull off the commuter nap: always carry a winter hat with you, even in the summer, to use as a pillow. Sit near a window so you have something to lean against. Try not to drool/snore, as these will increase the likelihood of your seat buddy “accidentally” bumping into you and waking you up. And, most importantly, listen to an audiobook. A lot of people can fall asleep listening to music, but I find that the transitions between songs is jarring enough to wake me up. Audiobooks provide a steady steam of sound that will stay at the same tone and volume, allowing you to drift off easily. I swear by the Harry Potter books; Jim Dale’s British accent has been the soundtrack of some of my most successful naps. Except for that time I woke up to the Basilisk hissing “I SMELL BLOOOOOD, TIME TO KILLLLLLL” and was convinced I was about to get eaten by a giant snake. But hey, most of the time, it works.

DON’T miss your train. They won’t wait for you. Even if you’re running and you can see the conductor and he’s looking right at you and you’re screaming “WAIT, PLEASE WAIT!” and you get closer and you see him looking painfully away because the doors are closed and there’s nothing he can do. Looks like you’ll be driving that day. I hope you remembered your iPod. Although, full disclosure: I forgot mine this morning. Guess I’m not the perfect commuter… yet.

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image – Kotarana