Coping with "extreme commuting"?
October 1, 2008 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Anybody have tips for how a recently graduated college student who is used to rolling out of bed and stumbling to class can cope with a many-hours-long commute?

Through a sort of comedy of errors, it looks like what I thought would have been a temporary commuting problem ('problem' here being a commute that averages 2 hours each way, sometimes stretching over 4 when there are traffic or public transportation problems) will be with me for the next year or so.

Does anyone who has survived having an obscene commute in the past have any advice for how to cope? Even simple things, like how to get used to leaving before dawn and getting back after dark, to podcasts, to how to eat marginally healthy meals with so few hours in the day to do things like cook would be appreciated. I drive to a subway and take that the rest of the way, for what it's worth.

(N.B.: I've tried nearly every avenue I can think of to remove myself from the situation, but the commute's not changing for the next several months, at least. So, while I'd understand reactions of "you dumbass! stop doing that!", it really wouldn't be constructive)
posted by oostevo to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Audiobooks, in vast quantity, will save your sanity.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:11 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is moving closer to work an option? For me, the hassle and cost of moving would greatly outweigh a life involving 4+ hours of commuting every day for over a year.
posted by gnutron at 5:14 PM on October 1, 2008

Learn to sleep while seated. Audiobooks, yes, will help. If you don't want to go the sleeping route, a cup of black coffee and a good twenty minute powerwalk or jog will kick-start your metabolism and get you all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Apples are good for a morning boost as well. There are a range of soaps, lotions, body gels, face washes etc. that are designed to give you a bit of a "zing", so maybe try those.

You'll find yourself eating a lot of takeaway, probably, because the last thing I'd be arsed doing is cooking for myself after 2-4 hours on public transport. So try and be smart about that.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:17 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read. Learn handicrafts (knitting, crochet, make friendship bracelets). Get great at soduko or crosswords. Study you fellow commuters and write stories about them or draw them.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 5:18 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster:
Is moving closer to work an option?
I wish. That's one of the things I meant by "I've tried nearly every avenue ... to remove myself from the situation". Sadly, not going to happen for a while.
posted by oostevo at 5:19 PM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: As for the cooking aspect - get a crockpot and a crockpot cookbook. You dump things in your crockpot in the morning and when you get home - TA-DA a delicious hot meal awaits you. There are TONS of crockpot recipes out there, so don't assume you're only limited to stew or pot roast.

Get yourself a Kindle or equally cool device and read read read! Read the hell outta everything.

I think leaving before dawn and coming home after dark would be just sad. So, make sure you take a walk at lunchtime to get some sun and fresh air. Take a few other outside breaks as well. Don't turn into a vampire or a mole person.

This sounds really difficult. I wish you the very best and I hope this doesn't last long!
posted by Sassyfras at 5:22 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason you can't stay in your commuting city 4 nights a week? You have to be spending $650+ on gas alone for that commute. That should be enough for a studio apt in many cities..

I used to do a similar commute (90 min+) and I sincerely regret the lost time I could have spent doing other things.
posted by pencroft at 5:32 PM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: It may not be a terrible idea to consider having two apartments. Check your local craigslist for roommate/sublet opportunities. Who knows, you might be spending more on gas than you would on a sublet. Alternately, find a pushover at your job who will let you crash at his place two or three nights a week. Even more alternately, look into sleeping over at work. Somewhat less alternately, see what you can do about arranging longer hours and fewer days per week.
posted by The White Hat at 5:35 PM on October 1, 2008

Jinx, pencroft.
posted by The White Hat at 5:37 PM on October 1, 2008

When I take the bus to work a simple 8 mile trip turns into 1hour+ And since I get motion sickeness from trying to read while moving stuff like books and stuff are a no go for me.

I listen to music, podcasts and audio books on my ipod, as well as people watch. If I wasn't prone to motion sickness i would probably invest in a mini dvd player and work on whittling down my movies-to-watch list or a game boy (or whatever they are called now).
posted by silkygreenbelly at 5:43 PM on October 1, 2008

You have my sympathies. If you don't have an Ipod, get one. Also get an membership and load up on books. I also rip seasons of TV shows from DVD to watch on my Ipod.

I'd also suggest making yourself as comfortable as possible. You could wear sweats on your commute and bring your work clothes separately.

Nintendo DS might not be a bad idea either.
posted by mattholomew at 5:54 PM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: I just got rid of almost the exact commute you describe. Like you, I was just out of school, and the cost of living in the city I commuted to was such that even with rising gas prices it was still cheaper to commute. (Plus a whole host of other factors - and still people would ask "why don't you just move to [City]" as though it really had not occurred to me before. Argh.)

My solutions:

- Podcasts and audiobooks, like others have mentioned - I tried to go for the more fluffy and easy-to-follow things that will hold my attention and keep me alert

- Along those lines, I would occasionally ask friends to make me mix CDs to listen to: it's a good way to check out some new music

- Get lots of sleep. Set a bedtime for yourself and be strict about enforcing it. Especially while you're still adjusting.

- Cook food that makes leftovers. Chili, stews, lasagna, that sort of thing. Make a bunch of food on Sunday and freeze it for the week. Learn how to make really tasty sandwiches (hardly takes more time than regular old sandwiches, way less depressing at lunch time).

- Plan your meals ahead of time so you're not stuck staring into the fridge night after night. (this also helped save money, because I could go to the grocery store with a shopping list once per week, rather than going whenever and buying a bunch of stuff that didn't necessarily add up to seven meals)

- Make sure you get outside and get some sunlight on the weekends. If you can fit it into your schedule, get exercise - even getting off one subway stop early and walking the rest of the way to work or something.

- Carve out some sanity time for yourself at least once a day, even if it's not a lot.

Having an expiry date on something like this helps your sanity a lot too.

Good luck!
posted by AV at 6:10 PM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Pick your clothes for the morning the night before. I mean socks, underwear, all of it - and line them out so you can jump right into them when you're ready. (I have a 15 minute commute and I still do this everyday or I'd never make it to work in time.) Sadly, I'm in my 30's.
posted by Kloryne at 6:44 PM on October 1, 2008

It's probably rare for a company or job to allow this, but one of my coworkers had a 2+ hour commute and she convinced the boss to let her leave an hour early every day, with the understanding that she would do her work on the train. Might work for you too, but I wouldn't even ask if your boss seems like a dick.
posted by naju at 6:51 PM on October 1, 2008

As for the cooking aspect - get a crockpot and a crockpot cookbook. You dump things in your crockpot in the morning and when you get home - TA-DA a delicious hot meal awaits you.

This really won't work if you're gone for 12 hours-plus a day. Most meals aren't supposed to sit in there that long.
posted by Airhen at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2008

When my commute was 35 minutes, I found reading the best solution. When I got a new job and my commute doubled to 70 minutes recently (and waking up 2 hours earlier) I found it much harder to read that whole time. So I picked up a DS and my time on the subway now FLIES. I love it and it's something to look forward to when I get out of work.
posted by yeti at 6:54 PM on October 1, 2008

Automatic coffee maker set to start when you should be getting out of bed. Make sure it automatically turns it off in case you forget when rushing out.

As mentioned above, audiobooks are awesome for long car rides.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 7:52 PM on October 1, 2008

Dittoing the picking clothes out, but I used to do it on weekends - that way, I just go to the closet and just take everything off of a hanger: that's monday's hangar, right there.

Also on weekends I'd cook something big and yummy, and put it in individual round plastic containers - I like soups and chili in the morning, so I just pop both the breakfast in the mircowave and have lunch in the fridge.

I still take showers the night before.

I also decided that I wanted to learn how to do two things. One was Spanish, so since I was going to this for about a year, I figured that I could buy a big 'learn spanish- with grammar" book, and started on chapter one. I studied at least three-five times a week, either way of the commute (usually the morning). I imagine audio books could help as well, but I worry about my eardrums. The other was to meditate. I never have time to sit at home on a zafu for 30 minutes and practice quieting my mind - but on the train - 30 minutes of pure bliss. It helps even more than sleep at times.

Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 8:03 PM on October 1, 2008

Is Telecommuting not a viable option? Four 10 hour work days? What is preventing every other "normal" solution to your problem?

We're talking about between 1/3th and 1/6th of your life here. Money and "experience" can't buy your youth back.
posted by mhuckaba at 9:54 PM on October 1, 2008

For the love of god, to save your sanity, make a plan.

By that, I mean figure out what it'll take to change your situation, commute-wise, to something more bearable, break it down into milestones, and then start taking explicit action towards those milestones. If you're making progress -- even if it's small or irregular -- that you can measure and see over a span of time, you'll hold onto your sanity much longer.

It's both a question of making yourself feel better, and keeping you motivated to work towards the milestones even though you're exhausted each day from the commute.

(and yes, you're stuck with this for now, but as someone who went from a 2-hours-per-day commute to a 20-minutes-per-day commute after five years, I can honestly say that such a slicing of travel time positively impacts everything in your life, so it's a very good goal to work constantly towards.)
posted by davejay at 10:36 PM on October 1, 2008

I have a 90+ minute commute, which is bus, two trains (which never connect) and a bit of walking. Here's what I do:

- language books and tapes. Although I'm not organised enough to really put together a structured program for this. I just do chapters here and there.
- DS. I love crossword puzzles and sudoku
- Read. Mostly stuff for work. I do a lot of research/writing and this saves me some time at home
- iPod. 'Nuff said.

Cooking - I force myself to cook because I take the leftovers for lunch everyday. I cook the second I get home or I lose motivation.

I do change my work hours a little bit depending on the season. In Winter I leave home at 8am, in Summer I push this back towards 7am so I can leave earlier. The idea is to try and avoid going to work in the dark as much as I can. However it is always dark when I go home except in Summer which I hate.

I've had this commute for my entire adult life except for a few months where I was living overseas and was a blissful 10 minutes walk to work. I miss that very much.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:05 PM on October 1, 2008

If this job is 100% definitely for you and your managers know this and want you there too, be upfront with offers of working different hours, or doing something like four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. I imagine they'll be flexible if there's any possibility of being so, and I doubt there's any harm in asking.
posted by mdonley at 11:56 PM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

You may well be too sleepy in the morning/too worn out in the evening to consider this, but I'd feel a lot better if I was using that time productively. Not for working on your office job, but for working towards something else - a writing project, reading up on a subject you're curious about, making plans.

I don't know if the job at the end of your 2 hour journey is already your ideal job (minus the commute, obviously) but if you have any goals as to where you're going to end up in the future (career-related or otherwise), I'd use the commute as a time to 'work' on that, if it's something that could in fact be worked on.

I had a 4 hour round commute for about the first month of my current job. That was only a month, and I didn't enjoy it, but it does give you a sense of isolation from the rest of your world that can be pleasant. I don't read many books at home anymore (not when there's so many shiny Internets to distract me) but there's a strange pleasure in being stuck on a long train journey and being forced to read the only book you have.
posted by Kirn at 2:10 AM on October 2, 2008

Make sure to get some fresh air during the work day: walk at lunch, for example. Also, it's a perfect time to do all those things you Always Meant To Do: read the classics, start a journal, learn card tricks.

I had a two-hours-each-way commute for over a year, and it sucked. I listened to a *lot* of CDs, read a stack of books a week, and got really good at Seat Management. I've since switched, like davejay, to a 20-minute car commute, and while I enjoy spending time with my family, I do miss all the reading.

One more mote: don't bother giving Audible or whoever your money for a mountain of audiobooks you'll likely listen to just once. Instead, go to the public library and borrow their audiobooks, CDs, and DVDs. After all, those monthy transit passes are probably costing you a fortune.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 AM on October 2, 2008

Ebook readers are super expensive. What I used to do is download pdfs of books I want to read and just use a plain old laptop with acrobat reader. There's a setting in there that will make it remember the last page you were on. No need to spend 500 dollars for a reader.

I also would torrent TV shows I liked and watch them on the train. You dont need to buy these at the itunes store, just find the torrents. You may need to transcode these if you want to watch them on your mp3 player instead of you laptop. Its also worth spending some money on a second battery, perhaps even an EVDO card for your laptop if you want to surf the internet (assuming your subway trip is above ground for a lot of your trip).

Also you can download comics via torrents and read them.

Play games like Civilization on your laptop.

If youre not much of a reader you can teach yourself things. A new language or a new programming language perhaps? Heck, you could probably teach yourself some basic scripting and develop a site or even do some freelance work while youre sitting on the train.

Lastly, some websites make their entire site available for offsite download. You can download the entire wikipedia or an entire site about buddhism and read it offline.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:16 AM on October 2, 2008

On the two apartments/sublet crash space idea, consider that you could pick up a part time job or do some consulting with the time you now spend commuting. If you can sublet from someone who has custody of kids or a bf/gf who is only around on the weekend, particularly if you leave minimal or no stuff at their apartment, you might save money over a ¨full time¨ sublet. You will have too seek this out, as people in this situation might not have considered that they have space available during the week.

Your cost of commuting is gas+insurance+car depreciation+maintenance+subway+cost of things to entertain you on commute+extra cost of convince products you buy because of the commute+value of your time. If it´s finances keeping you from moving, take all this into account.
posted by yohko at 8:22 AM on October 2, 2008

While all the advice about cooking is awesome, I know that when I was facing this kind of commute, I could be motivated for one meal, but rarely both. I knew that I could get cheap food at the company cafeteria so I made sure I had dinner at home and was religious about it. Other times, I did it the other way - I got religious about bringing lunches and let myself get dinner on the way home.

A good way to get exercise, if you can, is at the end of the day, don't get on the bus at your usual stop - walk to a stop further away if you can. That also can allow you the ability to do errands on the way home, instead of having to try to do them when you get home. I don't know where you live or if this works out at all, but it solved the problem of me feeling so much like a prisoner.

Make sure you always have an extra layer (buy a light fleece thing), a sturdy umbrella, and weather appropriate shoes. Keep your good shoes at work so you don't ruin them and change when you get there. If you're too hot you can always take something off but nothing is worse than being cold on public transportation. The extra layer goes for the summer, too - think air conditioning.
posted by micawber at 8:54 AM on October 2, 2008

Let me add my voice to the 'podcast' choir. As long as you can find ones that take your fancy, the train / walking commute I manage is so much better than looking into the middle-distance.

I could list all the ones I subscribe to, but they're a bit uk-centric, so I dunno whether that would be interesting for you.

Secondly, could you stagger your journey? For me, the worst thing about the commute is not the time it takes but rather the fact that I'm squashed up against others on the tube. If I had more flexible working hours I could avoid this.
posted by flameproof at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2008

You all seem to think that he works in an office. He very well may have a job "out in the field".

and, to all of you who blast leaving before dawn and getting home after dusk, I deal with it, and I only have a 20 minute commute. It sucks, but such is life.
posted by warriorengineer at 11:39 AM on October 2, 2008

If you're listening to music & podcasts, invest in noise-canceling headphones for the subway portion of the commute would.

I found, especially in the evenings, that I wanted to listen to super mellow music to kind of lower my heart rate during the commute. Iron and Wine and Gillian Welch were two favorites.

Everyone's talking about e-books, but there's a case to be made for reading actual books - decreasing the amount of screen time in your day might be pleasant.
posted by yarrow at 2:04 PM on October 2, 2008

I take the train about 20 minutes each way every day and I do the following:

- Bring my iPod for days when I don't necessarily want to do something visual or when I need to drown out noise. On that note, invest in some good noise cancellation headphones if your train is noisy. Audiobooks rock.

- I <3>Archos 704 wifi. It reads DivX and Xvid codecs natively and can read others like h264 with an overpriced pluggin (they don't include it so they can keep the initial price of the player lower since they have to pay licensing fees). Web browsing sucks on it but if you don't have a laptop that you lug with you each way, it is a blessing. Also has a nice little kickstand so it stands upright. Mine is 80gb and I frequently download torrents of movies and tv shows off Mininova and upload them. It can also read PDFs for ebooks and such. You may want to bring the charger with you though and charge at work before the return trip as battery life isn't fantastic.

-Bring a book (duh)

I do like the suggestion though of taking a laptop and learning a programming language or working on a side business or something. If you're disciplined, you could get a LOT of extra work done and maybe even negate your need to keep your current job.

Plus, there are lots of great single-player games out there.

In terms of food, if you have the patience, try to dedicate one day a month to making a lot of easy, quick to make food that you can store in the freezer. Like lasagna and things of that nature that you can just microwave. Or you could just look for local restaurants that serve healthy food and are on your way and just call them when you're on your way so you can grab it and go.

I hope those suggestions help. I know you weren't looking for advice on the cause of the issue but its a shame you didn't share those details with us. You may think you've exhausted all your options but I guarantee we could think of several more for you. Maybe reconsider that...
posted by Elminster24 at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2008

Comfortable coat that lets you sleep while seated. For me, this was a thick, soft skiing jacket that had a hood I could pull over my eyes and with wide sleeves that allowed me to put my hands into the opposite sleeve. Being warm helps sleeping a lot.

A cell phone with an alarm will help you wake up before you've missed your train stop if you aren't getting off at the end of the line.

Sound-isolating headphones with bassy ambient music also helped me sleep. Try this thread, which I've also replied to.

If you're single and open to casual sex, meeting people who live close to your office may provide a place for you to crash when working late, etc.
posted by qvtqht at 4:22 PM on October 2, 2008

Sirius Satellite Radio makes long road trips actually enjoyable-you have tons of options for your listening pleasure, from tons of music to news to politics to sports as well as traffic reports for many cities. It's ~14 bucks a month which includes the ability to listen live online, which is nice if you spend a lot of time at a computer when you're not in your car. I agree with the folks who suggest a temporary living condition closer to your work, either sleeping at a coworker's place or subletting.
posted by whiskey point at 11:43 PM on October 5, 2008

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