Give me suggestions about how to entertain myself during my long commute!
April 21, 2010 12:48 AM   Subscribe

Pretty soon I will have a pretty long commute. What can I do to not make it seem like a giant waste of time/gas/energy/etc?

Anything that will optimize my comfort level?

I want to be cheap about this. I have a CD player and a cassette player in the car.

Audiobooks? I've heard that this seems like a good idea but driving is more distracting than one would think and by the end of the story you realize you haven't really grasped anything. True or false?

I'm trying to learn German, would listening to all German audio cds help me a lot or would trying to comprehend be too distracting? I'm pretty good at reading German but pretty terrible at understanding what I hear.

How about radio? I've never really listened to talk radio. I like things of substance, not really meaningless drivel about celebrities or whatever. Would Sirius or XM radio be worth the price?

I like humor a lot.

So any suggestions? If you have a long commute what do you do on it besides drive? Thank you!
posted by tweedle to Travel & Transportation (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, National Public Radio all the way.
posted by bardic at 1:14 AM on April 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

Get yourself some Old Time Radio! Lots of funky excellent good times in off-the-air and archival media out there. I've been listening my collection of about 1300 over the last nearly two years and still am only a quarter the way through it at best. That and podcasts == free.

Satellite radio is how I came back to OTR: I've only had them on rentals and other road trips but if you're in an area of radio miasma (I'm looking at you, northern Pacific seaboard and vast tracts of inland on several continents) I could see how it could be a near necessity. Mostly its "more" and "nearly everywhere" which could save your program through a complete trip if that's a concern (around here it could be). The "more" includes a lot of stuff you probably don't want to listen to unless you are a freak omnifile with an equal interest in talk, news and sports.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:17 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Podcasts! Or lectures (e.g. The Teaching Company). You might want to get a hold of an mp3 player and a cassette adapter for your car stereo, though.

I haven't tried audiobooks in a while, but I remember finding it too easy to miss crucial details.
posted by parudox at 1:17 AM on April 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'll bump bardic as well: NPR is a bit prim for my tastes at time but occasionally will have elements of wonderful poetic reporting.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:18 AM on April 21, 2010

My boyfriend used to drive 100kms each way to work and he listened to many many audio books. We've also listened to them sometimes on long trips and I never had a problem taking in the story without being too distracted to drive. I think it works better for open road driving than around the city but you can always skip back a track if you missed some or switch to music if things get complicated. He looked at language lessons and stuff but you need to really hear the nuances of what's being said for that and it was too much concentration, whereas for audio books you can miss a word here and there and still follow what's happening. Also our library at the time had audio books for free, and even now they're not very expensive to hire, much better than buying them. Start with a shortish light book, Terry Pratchett's read by Nigel Planer are one of my favourites, and see how it goes.

Sometimes just having the time to be quiet and listen to good music is also nice too.
posted by shelleycat at 1:36 AM on April 21, 2010

There are thousands of free podcasts out there, on every topic imaginable. I bought a classic iPod with 160 GB of storage for about $230. Right now I've got hundreds of podcasts downloaded onto it as well as my entire music collection. I use it every single day, it's the best thing I ever bought myself.

My husband has one with much smaller storage that he uses to listen to the podcasts of his favorite talk radio shows. His hours are somewhat flexible so he likes to make sure he can listen to what he likes during his long drive. He doesn't mind syncing up his iPod every day to grab the latest podcast and he doesn't keep music on it so he gets by easily with the 8 GB iPod nano which is selling on Amazon for about $125.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:44 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think with audiobooks, it is a question of picking the right ones. For me, it is a little like reading on planes - it can't be too complicated. I most enjoy listening to books that I have read, or classics that I may not have read but understand the basic plot, or somewhat trashy books (eg chic lit).

This may sound pointless to others, but I will reread a good book and enjoy hearing one that I haven't read in a while. This way, it doesn't matter too much if I zone out for a bit and miss some of it. Favourites include Pride and Prejudice, Bill Bryson's books, and the Shopaholic series.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:07 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

On Wikipedia there are quite a few spoken articles. Check out the subjects that interest you!
posted by Harald74 at 2:08 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to drive 70 miles/110 km one way 5 days a week.
Sirius satellite radio was a lifesaver- all sorts of talk radio and also music with less commercials.
I tried learning a new language via CD but it ended up putting me to sleep at times which was not good while you're on the highway.

I don't drive anymore and actually miss it.
posted by peachtree at 2:30 AM on April 21, 2010

For the German bit, you could download a boatload of slowly spoken German news broadcasts. You'd want an MP3 player with a car adapter, though.
posted by cmonkey at 2:32 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, The Teaching Company is definitely worth checking out from a library (they are expensive). Try the lectures by Robert Greenberg - they're good to listen to while driving.
posted by mondaygreens at 3:04 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like other folks, I haven't found audiobooks to be too distracting (although admittedly I've never tried to listen to anything too heavy - mostly classic and some genre novels).

To do audiobooks on the cheap - check your local library for physical CD/tape versions, as well as asking if they subscribe to an electronic library of audiobooks.

I haven't subscribed to audible for many years, so I don't know what they're like now - maybe someone else can comment.

You can also find amateur audiorecordings of books in the public domain at LibriVox
posted by clerestory at 3:13 AM on April 21, 2010

Forgot about podcasts - there are a lot of great ones out there, check some past AskMe questions for recommendations. The only thing I find distracting is that audio quality (especially for shows that have several people skyping in from various locations) can be really variable. This may be exacerbated for me since I'm usually listening over headphones.

I don't know how long your commute is, but a friend of mine with a 1.5 hour one-way commute splits his listening up - in the morning it's NPR plus the local traffic report he likes. In the afternoon, he listens to audiobooks. It usually takes him 1-2 weeks per book depending on length + abridged/unabridged. Now he has a 6 CD changer in his car, but before he would rip the CDs (some purchased, some from the library) to create a playlist of the right length so he didn't have to futz with disc changing.
posted by clerestory at 3:33 AM on April 21, 2010

Download stand-up comedy routines or comedians' CDs and listen to them. You could also record audio from your favorite sitcoms and listen to them as you are driving. It's often just as funny as watching them on TV.
posted by thorny at 3:35 AM on April 21, 2010

Audiobooks all the way. They don't distract you from driving, they distract you from thinking about how far you have to go.

Why audiobooks? Because each month you can think to yourself "Wow! I have read a serious amount of books!"
posted by LudgerLassen at 4:32 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should definitely give radio a try. Most NPR shows, even in the afternoon, are great. Also, there's a lot to be said for radio in general. What kind of music do you like? You should be able to find a list of stations pretty easily. Some places have good classical, jazz, rock, or hiphop stations. Listening to voices (plural) can be quite good for you psychologically, especially in the morning. NPR's Morning Edition is really good because it uses a lot of different voices, so it's quite stimulating.
posted by acidic at 5:56 AM on April 21, 2010

I found that my local library has a lot of The Great Courses available (free!). You can search for "great courses" on your library website and see what comes up - then put what you want on hold. I've only listened to a couple, but have found them to be well done and informative. I liked "Understanding the Fundamentals of Music" especially.
posted by belau at 6:00 AM on April 21, 2010

Also, if you plan on ever using your phone while driving, get a bluetooth! They are not pretty, but it makes a huge difference.
posted by belau at 6:01 AM on April 21, 2010

Seconding the recommendation to listen to something light and funny, especially in the morning. When I do that, I arrive at work in a more cheerful mood, and the idiots on the road don't bother me so much.

Here's a rec for Steve Dahl, a Chicago-area talk radio DJ who is contractually off the air right now, but does almost daily podcasts from his basement. Good stuff, but some local Chicago humor that may not be everybody's thing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:01 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recently discovered audiobooks and now I rue the hours and hours of commuting that I wasted before. Some legit sources for audiobook downloads are Open Culture and Loud Lit , though the selections aren't fantastic. I hope others can add more...
posted by BinGregory at 6:15 AM on April 21, 2010

How about carpooling? You would have some company for the ride, maybe save a buck on fuel and you won't be wasting so much gas, as you say.
posted by Evstar at 6:59 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Load up on some "This American Life". I can't begin to tell you how awesome this is to listen to on my way into work. You could probably fit a couple episodes on to a CD. Well worth it, IMHO.
posted by Kskomsvold at 7:10 AM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Audio books. I drive 117 miles/day and would be mental without them. You can probably get as many as you need from your local public library, and you can find plenty of recommendations here on MeFi.

I was never into them before my commute, but I think you'll be surprised how entertaining they can be.

The only problem is distinguishing which ones you'll enjoy out of the array of options. You say you enjoy humor, so maybe start with David Sedaris or someone like that -- Sedaris reads many of his books himself. Look for unabridged -- invariably better.

Podcasts are fine, but listening to too many episodes all at once can be tedious.
posted by onell at 7:39 AM on April 21, 2010

Seconding Dahl. I drive all day, and I am almost always content listening to newsradio. It is unintrusive, rarely boring, I can keep up on events of the world, and I find out which roads not to go down.
posted by gjc at 8:03 AM on April 21, 2010

Listen to music. You can make a constructive project out of it rather than just play the same favourite things repeatedly. Decide which areas of music you don't know about that you're interested in, research what the significant recordings are, and off you go.
posted by galaksit at 8:10 AM on April 21, 2010

Professional podcasts (of NPR, NY Times, and other public radio-type shows, all free on iTunes if you have an iPod and a cord to plug it into your car stereo) get me through lots of boring drives. RadioLab, WaitWait..., Fresh Air, All Songs Considered, and This American Life are godsends for distracting the brain from tedium. (I would also not be able to endure the tedium of exercise without these.)

Certain audiobooks are great - generally best-seller level of complexity - but I find anything more literary or requiring concentration to follow can be frustrating while driving.
posted by aught at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2010

The Pimsleur language classes are pretty good, and good for listening to in your car on a commute, as long as you don't mind people thinking you're crazy, repeating after the teacher out loud. :)
posted by antifuse at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and yes - I listen to the local news station here whenever I'm in the car, as well as podcasts (I'm currently trying to get caught up on Keith and the Girl... 470 down, only 700+ to go!)
posted by antifuse at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2010

I have a lifetime subscription to XM and love it. The "not-quite-as-mindless-as-FM-morning-drive" stuff I have on the list includes BBC World Service, POTUS (political news, not just yelling talk), XMPR (XM Public Radio), NPR Now, and Public Radio Exchange. They also have Old Time Radio, Book Radio, and Dr. Radio that are XM-produced channels. There's 6 comedy channels on XM. Of course, there's the entire left side of the PDF channel listing that's all music.

Frankly, regular radio sucks in my market, and I don't have the inclination to track down interesting podcasts, keep them up to date, etc. I'm willing to pay to "outsource" that to a pay radio provider, though I paid $399 one time some time ago, so my "effective" monthly cost gets cheaper over time.

Oh, and EVERY BASEBALL GAME! My favorite feature!
posted by fireoyster at 8:45 AM on April 21, 2010

Seconding carpooling, especially if you can find poolmates from your company. With the right group, it can be an excellent way to vent about your boss/project/coworkers and decompress, so that by the time you get home you feel human again.
posted by Quietgal at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2010

Seconding the Pimsleur recommendation. I learned semi-fluent Italian this way, two lessons a day, one on each way to work.
posted by Pazzovizza at 10:04 AM on April 21, 2010

Another vote for Pimsleur language CDs. I recently started a job that has me in the car about one and a half hours each day, and I've used the public library to get audio books and language CDs. I love the Pimsleur courses because you repeat the phrases so many times they become second nature and you don't need to focus too hard to follow it. At least that's been my experience. And it feels SO good to be learning another language!

With any kind of audio books or language CDs, though, there's a risk they'll make you drowsy if you usually don't get enough sleep, so be very careful .

When this happens to me I pop in a favourite album and sing along. Works wonders for keeping me awake.

Loud pumping dance music also helps a lot, if you like that sort of thing. I'm really into Sasha's Invol2ver right now.
posted by Dragonness at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2010

My daily commute is about 60-90 minutes round-trip. Like fireoyster, I have XM and appreciate the stand-up comedy, old time radio shows, public radio programming, and the wide variety of music.

I also listen to audiobooks, which I mostly get from the public library. I prefer contemporary or literary fiction because they're usually plot driven but also feature well-written prose that sounds nice when read by a professional. I find non-fiction, esp. history, can be hard to follow when driving. It's difficult to keep track of new, unusual, or foreign names and places without seeing them in writing. With the best audiobooks, I actually find myself looking forward to my commute home so I can continue listening.

Based on my public library, having both a CD player and tape player may expand the range of audiobooks available to you; some may be on CDs, others on tape.
posted by hhc5 at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2010

A previous job involved driving all over the state of Kansas to check up on various public energy efficiency projects. In addition to my thirty five minute pre-dawn commute, I'd often log several hundred miles a day. In addition to all the excellent suggestions above (NPR, other podcasts, audiobooks), I perfected a number of mix tapes, although I was absolutely sick of each one by the time I finished it and didn't end up listening to them until some time after leaving for grad school. I also spent a lot of time tuning into AM talk radio and local FM stations. As someone who grew up in an extremely liberal, urban family, rural talk/religious radio was very interesting (and sometimes frightening, infuriating, etc...). It kept me entertained on my long drives and gave me respect for the cultural gulf between myself and the clients I was meeting with.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2010

I should add that my memory of audiobooks, my experience with them in retrospect, is more or less identical to my memory of books I have read in print.

It's like my memory of foreign films; I remember the film, not that I had to read the dialog on screen.
posted by hhc5 at 10:14 AM on April 21, 2010

When I was driving a lot and listening to audiobooks, I actually found that it was a great way to get through books I might have bogged down in and given up on if I were reading them silently to myself (Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is one example). Very rarely did I realize I'd stopped listening, and then I'd just rewind a bit, or take it as a sign that I was ready for some music instead.
posted by not that girl at 10:26 AM on April 21, 2010

Another vote for XM radio. I just got a new car with it in January, and I haven't listened to a CD in months. There are two good comedy stations (Canadian Laugh Attack is particularly good), a classic metal station (don't judge me), a Deep Tracks station, a classic funk station, a disco station, two classical stations, 70s on 7, 80s on 8, an old time radio station, plus NPR and BBC. Those are the pre-sets I have set so far, but I still have room for several more if I get sick of these. I am impressed with the variety of music being played; Like someone above, I look forward to my commute. (It's also not that much per month).
posted by wittgenstein at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm going to toss a hat in the ring here for some AM radio. In the afternoons when I take the kids to the library and pick up the late-working husband, we get money tips from Dave Ramsey. He's talking, we all listen, the kids learn about saving and not getting into debt, and it doesn't distract me during rush hour traffic.

See who's on in your timezone and when and if it's something you're interested in.

We also love audiobooks and podcasts on long drives. As said above, if someone misses something, you can always rewind a bit.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:03 AM on April 22, 2010

I have a long commute and it starts early in the morning, so sometimes I am just not into listening to a book (if I know I can't focus, I don't bother). In those cases, I pause the ipod and just listen to some rock music or something to wake up.

However, audiobooks do help most of the time. Some books I can't get "in to" so I just start something else. Others I can't stop reading and want to keep going once I get home.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:25 AM on April 27, 2010

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