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January 24, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

People make my commute unpleasant. Please help me make it better.

I don't mind my long commute per se, because I'm someone who usually just sits and reads anyway, but two things have been bothering me.

1) People yelling at each other or into their phones. I have tried noise-isolating headphones and am still experimenting to find the best fit, but I have found that music masks a lot of voices. Unfortunately, I need a very long piece of music that doesn't have any quiet parts throughout, which Google doesn't really help with. Does anyone know something like that? Rain sounds don't seem enough, it needs to be a blend of instruments. Voice works, too, of course. Almost all songs of my favourite bands, whether they're ballads or faster songs, have quiet-ish introductions, which mean breaks in noise-masking. (Example of a song that has the right rhythm to get me sleepy, but too many quiet parts in between.) Does anyone know where I could find a good sound file for this purpose?

2) Smell. Switzerland has a high smoking rate, and it's not forbidden to smoke anywhere outside of buildings (even marihuana!), so a lot of people smoke on the platform before boarding the train and then stink up the compartment. I have had days where I thought I'd escaped the smoke, and then someone got on last minute and sat next to me and I almost gagged. Some try to mask their smell with perfume, which only makes it worse, and some only over-apply perfume. I have also had people apply perfume or deodorant ON the train, and usually have someone doing their nails about once a week. The windows on the express train don't open, and I usually notice the offender too late to ask them not to stink up the train... Is there anything that can make this better for me? I even briefly considered masks or a personal bubble suit, but those might not be super realistic.

(Number three was fellow passengers getting into my personal space, but I have gotten a lot better at asking people to move over when they try to make themselves more comfortable by expanding into my seat, even though I sometimes get nasty stares by the "offended" party. Now if everyone could take care when they take off their coats or backpacks and not hit me with them, and stop resting their crossed legs with their feet almost on my knees...)

The obvious solution to stop commuting on the train is out of the question for the moment, unfortunately, We're working on it, but two people working in different cities means two people commuting. I want to move sometime in the future because all this second- and third-hand smoke cannot be good for us, but for now, I can only try to make it more bearable, so I would really appreciate any ideas you have. Thank you in advance!
posted by LoonyLovegood to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have had good luck using the noise generators at mynoise.net (and in fact support the site in a small way financially as a subscriber, though it's optional, because it's been so helpful to me). The noise generators are fully configurable so you can increase the volume of frequencies that most match your current sound environment. It's great with my noise-cancelling earbuds.

As far as the physical proximity of your fellow humans, I feel your pain. People can be disgusting. The smoke in particular sounds wretched; I sympathize. You might consider commuting outside of regular business hours. Assuming you work a 40-hour workweek, can you switch to a 4x10 schedule? You'd commute early and late on four days, and then avoid the train entirely for three days a week.
posted by Atrahasis at 12:42 PM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Not threadsitting, I promise! Schedule is fixed; I have to take the same trains every day. Usually even the same compartment, because everything too far on the end means a longer way to the bus stop and possibly missing my bus, thus being late for work.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:45 PM on January 24, 2016

Have you tried foam earplugs to block out the noise?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:49 PM on January 24, 2016

I take public transport daily and keep a scarf on hand that has been spritzed with my favorite perfume. I like to wear it on the train and breathe into it discreetly should a stinky secondhand smoker sit next to me.

Also try switching up the location that you board on the platform if you can. Getting on a different car or even on the opposite end of the same car sometimes is just enough of a people scenery change to help.
posted by floweredfish at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The only suggestion I have for space is to throw money at the problem - big 1st class seats fix this. As work pays for me to travel 1st class I spend a lot of time in 1st class compartments and I can't say I've ever seen anybody do their nails nor do people regularly bash into me with their bags/coats etc. Cigarette smell is another thing however although slightly less pervasive perhaps than on the platforms. So overall I'm inclined to think the extra bit of space would go a long way to helping with some of your other complaints. If you're not able/willing to do that the only thing I can suggest is to find a nice smell that soothes you and be sure to have it with you at all times. Spray into a handkerchief for example and hold this. Something you can place near your nose and smell to help you maintain your zen bubble.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:57 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I used to have an over-developed tendency to react to things like this (smells, sounds, the wrong sort of lighting).

I think the more you let yourself get upset over things, the bigger they seem. And the bigger they seem, the more upset you get; it's a cycle. I can remember kicking up all kinds of fuss in my first job because they wanted me to work in a lighted room, rather than the dim lighting I preferred. I'd never do that now.

I learned to desensitise myself to all of that stuff over a number of years, because I came to realise that I had two options: become a hermit and isolate myself from other people, or just try not to react. So now I can walk past a coffee shop without having to cross the road (I don't like the smell of coffee at all). I can just roll my eyes and have a chuckle to myself when someone's being a loud talker on the train. The smell of smoke on people's clothes is never nice, but it's just a smell; it's not a health risk (at least compared to all of the air pollution you're exposed to as a commuter). The annoying sounds - they're just sounds, and they're not damaging your hearing - so just work on not getting annoyed by them, because it's your sensitivity, and your frustration that the rest of the world isn't attuned to your sensitivity, that's the problem here.
posted by pipeski at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2016 [36 favorites]

Best answer: If you did wear a mask, it might have the added benefit of encouraging people to avoid sitting next to you (if they assume you're sick)...
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:00 PM on January 24, 2016 [11 favorites]

For nos. 2 and 3, I've found aisle seats the most practical. If people encroach into your space, it's easier to move outward than when you're in a window seat, wedged against a wall. If someone stinks, you simply get up and leave. In some scenarios, standing is better than sitting close to jerks/perfumees/cigarette stinkees.
As to no. 1, consider Classical music, seriously. A typical Romantic piano concerto takes around 20 minutes, and there's always some stuff going on that catches one's attention (if one listens with some basic level of concentration)-->it's much easier to forget noisy people.
posted by Namlit at 1:30 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A couple of small suggestions for your points I and 2. I have found that "IEM" headphones - ones that fit in your ear like earplugs - are much better for keeping unwanted noise out than any other headphones. They come at pretty much any price point you can imagine.

I have found that cough drops (I am partial to Fisherman's Friends because they are very strong) are a great way for dealing with odors. Attack it from the inside
posted by rtimmel at 1:41 PM on January 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're listening to music on your phone, I think maybe something like the app (for iPhone) Relax Melodies might help: you can pick a white noise and then play music on top of that (from the app), which means that when the music is quiet you'll still have white noise in the background. It might help the quiet moments in music be less jarring. There's a lot of white noise apps that will play in the background over music, this one just happens to have a lot of options, and you don't have to run two apps at once so it's easier to pause everything all at once if needed.

There are also scarfs with built in charcoal filters, they're supposedly to help shield you from germs, but reading Amazon reviews of this scarf it appears to do a good job of masking odors, and this more fashionable option ships internationally. Of course, just spraying a scarf with some essential oils or perfume works, as suggested, if you don't mind scents, or even just an unscented scarf will help block the scents. (I call this my "fart scarf" for planes where everyone is stinky, I have joked to friends that I'm going to patent the idea of scented scarves and sell it in airports.) I used to ride the bus to/from work and dealt with everything from the mentally ill to the drunk and rowdy crowds, and as a highly sensitive person/extreme introvert it really helped me to have a jacket with a hood—the scarf may help with that but combining it with a hood it could be really helpful.

Just retreating a bit into my own personal space takes the edge off the noises and smells that are unavoidable. It sounds like you might be a highly sensitive person, too, which is unfortunately not something a highly sensitive person can change into just caring less, as suggested above. Though there's no way for me to "diagnose" you as such, and if I'm off base about you, yes, definitely try not to let the frustration multiply on itself! I'm just speaking as a person who gets panicky with a lot of stimulation and while highly sensitive people can mitigate this with meditation and other self soothing techniques the only real way to deal with it is to avoid situations that are Too Much because we're wired differently. You're already working on getting rid of the commute and I hope knowing there will be an end to it at some point is helpful!

Is there any chance you can take just one day a month and commute another way? I completely understand if that's not an option practically or financially and believe you that you can't alter your commuting times, but having a break from the daily grind however infrequent can really help you tolerate it for the long haul. Not sure what that would look like in your case, like if a car share/taxi or work from home day would be possible and apologize if I'm suggesting something not at all possible.

Best of luck!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:24 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For smells, you could rub a tiny bit of lavender oil or Vicks Vaporub on your upper lip, and you'll not be able to smell anything else. The nose tires quickly, so after a short while, you won't smell whatever it is you're using anymore, either, and offending smells will still be masked.

I've used this method successfully while travelling in a car in which someone had just been sick. OH MY DOG it made all the difference.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:30 PM on January 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

If other suggestions don't do the trick, meditation might make it all less annoying. You'll notice the irritation and let it go, over and over again, and with practice you'll likely find it less irritating. (I am very sensitive to sounds and smells too, so am not pretending that this is solely a mind over matter thing, but if other methods don't work this might help.)
posted by metasarah at 2:33 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh my goodness, I feel for you. I don't think smokers, or people continually around smokers, realise just how hideously stinky having someone sit near you who has just been smoking. I want to turn to them and demand they sit the fuck elsewhere, but I don't because I feel like it would be rude and hurtful.

Wearing a mask probably would get you a seat to yourself but I would feel too self concsious.

Aisle seats are good - you get more space and more air flow.

About the feeling annoyed making it worse; I have to say I have found this to be true. We have quiet carriages on my commute and one person making noise drives me insane (especially after they've gently been reminded they are in a quiet carriage) because it's just so rude and arrogant when people have purposely chosen a quiet carriage (which btw, are always more full than the 'regular' carriages). Sometimes I sit in the regular carriage instead and the chatter there doesn't bother me at all because it's not against the rules there and I don't feel like people are puposely antagonising me. So I think pipeski's advise is really good, even if it might be hard to get to that stage (it is for me)
posted by kitten magic at 2:44 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who carries a 'travel orange' which he peels when he has to take a particularly smelly train journey! Might work for the moments you are stuck with a smoker.
posted by veids at 4:31 PM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Longtime commuter here. I think these may be things you need to live with. (I feel you on the smells. I don't know how people can stand to wear perfume/cologne so strong that someone sitting a foot away from them can easily smell it. It drives me nuts.) Two ideas, however:

I think you could consider taking an earlier train and getting to work early to avoid the rush hour. Later is an option too, but your boss would need to be ok with that. I have memories of being so packed into a train at rush hour, my body was literally pressed against four other people in every direction. I hated that.

I got tired of the crowded morning trains and being packed like a sardine, so I started taking the bus. I didn't get to stand in a nice train station while I waited, and the clientele riding the bus was usually quite a bit grosser than the average train rider, but the bus was much less crowded and I could almost always get a pair of seats to myself, which I loved. I think buses tend to attract older people too, presumably because there is less walking involved, so kids yelling into their phones was never an issue.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Noisli white noise generator (pretty sure it's available for iOS and Android) has a "coffee shop" option that does a really good job of masking voices.
posted by lakeroon at 7:06 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For #1, my savior in highschool was a pair of nicer IEM-style earbuds, shures to be specific. I've had some ever since. Some of the ones i've had actually blocked out more sound than typical cheap earplugs, and you really don't have to turn them up much of at all to completely wash out background noise.

Unfortunately, I need a very long piece of music that doesn't have any quiet parts throughout, which Google doesn't really help with.

DJ mixes from soundcloud/mixcloud/etc. Some are also posted as podcasts. Doesn't have to be super upbeat dance music, people make them for basically any genre.

Whenever i've had a public transit commute, i'd listen to a different mix almost every day.

I can't help with #2, but for #3 i made a point of choosing a corner seat or odd one-off/sideways/etc seat whenever i could, so that people would fill in the more "desirable" seats first and i'd avoid someone sitting next to me for as long as possible. Ideally it would be a seat where someone couldn't really sit directly next to you, but if it's airplane style 2x2(or 3x3, or 2x3, or whatever) grid seating that's identical all the way down then yea, i get that's not an option.
posted by emptythought at 7:06 PM on January 24, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers! I will try some things like the smell under the nose. Unfortunately, other solutions, though I am grateful for them, are not possible right now.

I know I am pretty sensitive. I also know that some things cannot be changed. Unfortunately, right now I have to spend 200 minutes every day on the train. I try to make the best out of the situation by reading good books or watching something on my tablet, but I feel like I'm wasting a lot of time when I could study or translate etc. on the train. (No aisle seats, unfortunately, because they don't offer tables.) That's why I asked for "hacks", and I have to say I am slightly puzzled and hurt that the most popular answer is "get over it, hypersensitive person".
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:44 AM on January 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

No one I know is considering buying one of these cell phone jammers.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2016

I find my noise cancelling headphones (audiotechnica) cancel out voices pretty well. I have to take them off to here people when in a plane. I'd recommend trying them on before buying, if possible.
posted by kjs4 at 3:08 PM on January 26, 2016

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