Coping with Commuting

My commute is a subject never far from my thoughts. I wake up wondering what public transport calamity will befall me that day. I fall to sleep wondering if I remembered to charge the devices that make my commute bearable and often get up to check.

I have a commuting rhythm and any slight knock can send my entire day out of kilter.

My commute is at the extreme end of things apparently. A quick search shows that the average commute time was around 50ish minutes (round trip) in 2012/13. The top survey was performed by the recruitment agency Randstad and while I see it referenced regularly I can’t find the actual survey anywhere. The figures used by the TUC come from the ONS Labour Market Survey though.

Funnily enough the UK and US have really similar commute times — I came across the figure of 25.4 minutes for a single leg of the commute according to the U.S. Census Bureau!

My own (main) commute comes in at about 180 minutes per day. That is made up of a 20 minute walk, 25 minute train journey, 20 minute bus ride and about 25 minutes of waiting around twiddling my thumbs (on a touchscreen).

One day a week however my commutes extends somewhat and I head down to our other office on the south coast near Fareham. This journey is 150 minutes each way. I refer to this train as the ‘Titchfield Thunderbolt’ in honour of the classic movie from the 50’s ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’. The carriages often feel like relics from that era as well.

My colleagues in Newport recently released some new data that analysed how the length of your commute effected your ‘personal well-being’. Again I did not come out of this well.

The worst effects of commuting on personal well-being were associated with journey times lasting between 61 and 90 minutes. On average, all four aspects of personal well-being were negatively affected by commutes of this duration when compared to those travelling only 15 minutes or less to work.

also that;

people who take the train to work recorded higher anxiety levels on average than those who travelled in a private vehicle.

Now I’d like to see an anxiety figure for those who travel by train AND bus. That would be a sight to behold.

Now I can hear you asking “why not just drive?”.

This was me behind the wheel..

..on a good day. Five failed tests (including a ‘small’ crash on one of them) means I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in 23 years!

So how do I cope?

First up let me just say I am not sure I cope that well. I moan pretty constantly and recently even seriously considered moving closer to the office (which if you know me you would no is not something I would consider lightly.)

However I do have some coping strategies.

  • Start my day with data. The most frustrating thing in the world is getting to the station only discover train delays or worse cancelations. I still use live and check it before leaving the house each day.
  • Routine. Sure variety is the spice of life but routine breeds contentment. Pre-warned is pre-armed and the more I know about my commute the better prepared you are if things go wrong.
  • Occupy my mind. This one isn’t always easy but I try to make the journey(s) productive. I spend my morning working through my RSS feeds (I use Reeder/Feedly on iOS). I find myself subscribing to more feeds than I have in years as I have this scheduled reading time. On my journey home I use the Day One ‘journaling’ app to write myself a note about my day. It is like a little personal blogpost that covers what I did but also how I felt about things. On the longer journeys I also try to blog — though that does depend on having enough space!
  • Create a bubble. I am pretty uncommunicative with people until I enter the office and I work hard to project this to other people! I wear oversized (and very comfortable) headphones and I tend to sit/stand in the vestibule area near the doors on the train even if seats are available in the carriage.

To succeed in commuting you need the right tools as well. I couldn’t cope without my iPad Mini (with 3G — no wifi or power on any of my trains), my Anker battery, my aforementioned headphones (I actually keep a spare set of in-ear headphones in my bag in case I forget my main pair!) and my water bottle (also no buffet car on the trains).

I know I am not alone in my commuting travails so how do you cope?

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