How To Survive A Long Commute

Train Passing Through The Mountains

The secret to surviving a long commute, whether for work or college, is to prepare in advance and embrace the time, rather than waste it. Commuting can be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be stressful or bad for your health.

View your commute as an extension of managing your day. If you wake up tired from lack of sleep, or you’re unprepared and rushing out the door, your commute will only add to your woes.

However, if you can find time to exercise, have everything ready the night before, and get a good nights sleep, commuting isn’t so bad. Here’s how I have learned to survive.

My Commute

Three years ago, my wife and I bought our dream house in the Blue Mountains, which is located just outside Sydney, Australia. It ticked all the boxes. A big backyard for our two energetic dogs and space for my wife’s succulent business, which she operates from home. It’s the perfect city escape, surrounded by trees, nature and fresh air.

The downside of this move away was the significant increase in my commute. I travel 45 miles (72 kilometers) door to door. It takes an hour and 45 minutes each way. It’s a twenty-minute walk to the station, an hour and fifteen on the train, followed by another ten-minute walk to the office.

I could drive the whole way, but I prefer the train.  The ticket is also considerably cheaper than the cost of petrol and parking. All up, I spend three and a half hours a day commuting. It would be less if I drove to the station, but I enjoy the exercise I get from the walk.

Before we moved, my wife and I used to rent in Sydney. One place was only five minutes walk from my work. While at another place, I cycled the sixteen-mile round trip.

The reality, however, was that we could never afford to buy so close to work, and our priorities changed.  We opted to swap the hustle and bustle for fresh air and space. We wanted a house on a decent sized block.

The Negative Effects of Commuting

Initially, things were great. I have a scenic train route and, living so far out, I’m guaranteed a seat. But it didn’t take long for the initial excitement to wear off.

The first thing I noticed was how little time I had in the evenings. No sooner had I got home, had a shower and finished dinner, I was having to prepare for the next day.  I had no time to wind down. I also noticed the increase in my weight. I’ve always been fit and healthy but, the commute coupled with a desk job meant I was spending the whole day sat in a chair.

My social life also suffered (although that was probably a good thing). I’m no socialite, but I did enjoy a drink after work with colleagues. The later you leave a long commute, the more it feels like the final hour spent on a long-haul flight. It’s not much fun.

Within six months, the hours I spent commuting began to seriously affect my mood and my general wellbeing. I was increasingly grumpy and frustrated.  Something had to give, so I talked it through with my wife and my boss and made changes.

Three years on, I honestly don’t mind my commute. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Mindset – Preparation and Routine are Essential

You can’t control train delays or traffic jams, but you can control your ability to prepare for the events that may unfold. You want your journey to be as stress-free as possible. You want to feel fresh, relaxed, and comfortable. Safe in the knowledge that you have plenty of time. Prepare well in advance, so you’re not rushing out the door of a morning.

The secret is to develop a routine. For example, the first thing I do in the morning is to check for travel delays. It gives me time to adjust my morning routine and compensate for any disruptions. Get plenty of sleep. Alcohol and sleep don’t mix. If, like me, you enjoy a drink, try abstaining until the weekend or at least try and cut back.

I have a table in the hall where I keep the things I need to grab before walking out the door. Upon arriving home, I habitually put my keys, wallet, and phone on the table and my bag underneath.  If there something special I’ll need for the next day, I’ll set a reminder to pack it the night before.

All this may seem obvious, but small things make a big difference when you have limited time. Making the most of my time is also why I get my work clothes laundered in the city. It’s inexpensive and one less chore I need to think about at home.  It also means I get to travel in comfort rather than in a suit!

Have a Kit Bag

I have a list of essentials that stay in my backpack, such as tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a small umbrella, and a pair of sunglasses. There’s nothing worse than being caught short without a tissue or a means to wipe your hands. And, the sunglasses are handy since I usually catch sunrise or sunset on my journey. I also keep an assortment of charging cables and a small portable charger. To maintain my fluids, I have a small bottle of water, and I never leave home without my thermos of fresh coffee.

It’s worth buying a good quality bag, especially if you are considering carrying a laptop, as I do.

For drivers, having a kit bag might not be as important but, I recommend having a spare set of essentials that live in the car and are within arm’s reach when needed.

Stock up on Entertainment

It’s highly likely that the time you are sacrificing on your journey, you would otherwise be enjoying, so try to make the best of it.  Arm yourself to the hilt with whatever entertainment you enjoy, whether it be books, audiobooks, podcasts, tv series or games.

I appreciate the options are limited for drivers, but audiobooks are a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass the time, even if you’re not much of a reader. Similarly, there are plenty of audio courses available, if you’d prefer to use your time to learn something new. For all these things, I subscribe to Amazon Prime.

Regardless of whether you drive or use public transit, embrace technology. Everything is far more bearable when you have access to the internet and a good set of noise-canceling headphones.

When all else fails, install a good meditation app on your phone – I use Calm, which is free. Just be wary of using it whilst driving!

Creating a Cocoon

Let’s face it, if you use public transportation, you’re going to be squashed in with others. It’s important to establish your personal space and feel some level of comfort, even if you’re forced to stand and be hemmed in like a battery chicken.  Noise-canceling headphones do a great job of blocking out everyone else and creating that feeling of being cocooned. Then it’s a matter of immersing yourself in your choice of entertainment.

In addition to the other things listed in my backpack, I also keep a light cotton/linen scarf which I spray with lavender. The faintest whiff of something unpleasant, I pull out the scarf. The lavender does an excellent job as an odor blocker, and the scarf is thin enough that it’s suitable for summer or winter.

Find Time to Exercise

Sitting down is terrible for the body. From poor posture to burning calories, it’s the opposite of what your body needs. If like me, you have a desk job, it’s doubly important to spend some time on your feet and moving around.

One of the first things I gave up when I started commuting was my gym membership. I just didn’t have the time for both. Almost immediately I noticed the adverse effects on my mind and body. I piled on the weight and sorely missed the hit of endorphins that come from a good workout session.

If there is a part of your journey you can substitute with walking or jogging, it really helps. Not just for the burnt calories but your state of mind.

I walk to and from my station rather than drive. It’s worth the sacrifice. During the summer, when the days are longer, I go one better and get off a few stops early to jog home. I get changed into my running gear before leaving the office, and I’m ready to go.

Even if you drive, parking the car a little way from the office and walking will help immeasurably. The detrimental effect of a long commute on your health cannot be understated. Exercise has made a massive difference in my ability to cope with the commute. Where I used to arrive at the office and home feeling grumpy and tense, I now feel calm and relaxed.

Aim to Thrive not just Survive

With the added demands of on your time, you’ll want to make the most of being at home with your family, which leaves even less time for yourself. Try using the journey to get mundane, administrative tasks out the way, such as paying bills or organizing appointments. If you drive maybe use the time to call friends and extended family and make plans to catch up.

I decided to start this blog. I now have two and a half hours a day on the train which I can dedicate to writing. It provides me with a sense of purpose, and it’s a fun way to pass the time.

Most people on my journey watch TV series or scan their Facebook feed, but there’s a lady that spends her time knitting. Another guy is learning a language, and there are plenty of people who log into work and catch up on emails, which brings me nicely on to work arrangements.

Ask your employer for flexibility

With more people moving further away from their workplace, it is prompting employers to consider flexible working arrangements.  The perfect option is to work from home and not have to commute at all, but even negotiating your start or finish time can be beneficial to your wellbeing and reduce your journey time.

In my experience, people are either early birds or night owls. I prefer to start early. My employer is happy with this arrangement, which means I’m out of the office at 4 pm. This small change allows me to avoid the worst of the heavy peak hour commuter traffic. Consequently, I’m less likely to be affected by delays, more likely to get a seat on the train, and I get home at a reasonable hour.

In contrast, a colleague of mine usually walks into the office at 10 am. The late start allows him to spend his mornings with his young children. He figures he typically arrives home after the kids are in bed, so by starting later he gets an hour or two with them each morning. He’s happier for it, and I’m sure it’s reflected in his work.

If you’re able to work during your commute, you can use this to sweeten the deal with your boss. Knowing that you can answer the phone or answer an email, may be enough to sway your boss’ decision.

Super Commuters

Having been a “super commuter” for three years now, I’ve found ways to make the most of the time. I’d much rather be doing something else but I love where I live, and I’m happy with the sacrifice.

The strategies laid out above really helped me get over a period where I was struggling to cope with the commute. If you are deciding on becoming a “super commuter”, or you currently are one, I’d love to hear your thoughts and any ideas you have for surviving the long commute!


James Gleeson is a Super Commuter, commuting over 3 hours a day from his home in the Blue Mountains, Australia to the office in Sydney.

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