Make my daily commute suck less
April 12, 2021 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Other than the obvious (music, podcasts, news, audio books), what are some hands-free, audio-only ways to make a daily commute more enjoyable and productive?

I expect to resume my 30-minute highway commute to and from the office soon. I'm kind of dreading it. Are there mobile apps, etc. that I should consider to make the time feel like less of a waste? Hands-free games? Educational apps? Other kinds of audio media that I'm overlooking? Etc.?

posted by escape from the potato planet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total)
If you are DRIVING, are you SURE you should be distracting yourself?

But let's say you're really set on this. Maybe this can be your daily gratitude and reflection time... Thankful of who you are and what you will become, while reflect on what will you do better today, which will go into a sort of audio diary where you give yourself a grade at night, before going to bed, on how and what you did during the day.
posted by kschang at 5:43 AM on April 12 [5 favorites]

If you’ve ever wanted to learn another language (or strengthen learning you’ve already done) you can listen to news programs, podcasts, or radio in that language. You can also pick up some language learning audio media, like language repetition CDs, which say something and then ask you to repeat it aloud.
posted by Night_owl at 5:48 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]

Listen to recordings of bird songs. You can learn to identify different birds by their songs if you want to really get into it.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:10 AM on April 12 [5 favorites]

So I've tried the language-learning idea. It's a hobby of mine, I've done like six Duolingo courses, but yeah, no. It just didn't work for me in the car. I think partially it's a function of what your commute is like. Mine was in Massachusetts, where other drivers are, uh, not particularly attentive. I was constantly having to slam on my brakes, swerve to avoid someone else who slammed on their brakes, keep an eye on my mirror because there's a guy behind me driving 90 even though traffic is stopped a quarter mile ahead, etc. Like kschang said, a lot of times, you just can't afford much distraction. This is a problem with podcasts and audiobooks, too, but not as big. If you focus on something else and miss 20 seconds of a podcast, it's no big deal. It probably wasn't anything important, and if it was, you can skip back 30 seconds to hear it again. You can do that with language learning too, but it's harder, because you don't really know what's important and what's not. Until you achieve a baseline fluency, it's hard to tell which parts are important and which parts are fluff. If you have a calmer commute, maybe it'll work, but it didn't for me.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:17 AM on April 12

my before-times commute hasn’t resumed yet, but here are the things that worked for me:
  • the obvious (as you said), podcasts and audiobooks. i had a mix on rotation for mornings: the one news podcast i liked, some professional ones, and a few chatty podcasts that felt a bit like AM radio. drive-home was for more entertainment type audio content. i really feel like this took the place of zoning in front of a show after a long day.
  • so many snacks. being hungry on the commute feels terrible, and stopping for food just added time to my commute (and was usually not good food). i stock my car with snack bars i like, fizzy water (i prefer it room temp), bag of nuts. and of course, a good coffee for the morning drive.
  • bluetooth hands-free for calls. this was a time i used for calls to a couple friends that it also worked for, and we can rarely find time to talk otherwise. one of the few things i actually miss— morning calls to my girlfriend as she dropped her son off at school.
  • the vehicle matters. it sounds like you’re driving (not transit), so i’ll suggest that whatever makes the car more comfortable and is within your means— do it! heated seat covers for the winter? good sunglasses? just a really deep clean? it really makes a difference to enjoying the ride.

i really did not mind the commute, just the time it took out of my day. so, the more i could make that feel like transition time, the less i felt like it was wasted.
good luck with your commute.
posted by tamarack at 6:25 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]

I tried to resurrect my German language skills during my morning highway stop-and-go commute in New England. After a few days I could only conclude that the language had changed sharply in the past 20 years, and now was composed of about 20% English curses.

So I can't recommend it, unless you have a very peaceful drive. :7)

What made my commute pass quickly is listening to stand-up comedians. Also, I cultivated a very big podcast subscription, so I had one or two per day that was the full length of the drive.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:31 AM on April 12

Seconding tamarack’s suggestion of phone calls. I picked one day a week to call my mother and it was a nice way to keep in touch regularly.
posted by cali59 at 6:52 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

One thing that worked for me when podcasts were too boring was listing to dungeons and dragons podcasts. It's a great blend of social interaction, amazing acting, and a slow and steady plot.

I recommend Critical Role, which is a group of voice actors with their own characters. You could start at the beginning or at "campaign 2"!
posted by bbqturtle at 7:30 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

Depending on your level of language comprehension, you might get a little bit more out of the Duolingo podcasts. They're geared towards intermediate students and are roughly split in half between a native speaker of the language (speaking fairly slowly, without a lot of slang) and the host explaining things and occasionally moving the narrative along in English. I've been listening to the Spanish podcast on my morning runs and if I do lose track of where I am in the story, the English narration catches you up pretty quickly.
posted by thecaddy at 7:42 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

Foreign language podcasts might be worth a try if you've any interest in a specific language. I also found allowing myself to listen to much sillier, genre audio books instead of "serious" books make me a happier person when arriving at work. I'm not sure it's productive.

On the list of weird ideas, perhaps perfecting a singing technique? Throat singing takes a long time and a lot of practice. If you're like me, you don't want to get started around other people.

There's also ham radio. It takes a bit of effort to get a license and some cash for equipment. But, it's kept many commuters busy making friends for decades. (I'm guessing you could probably even skip the equipment and use echolink on your phone, if your commute has good phone coverage. I've never tried it.)
posted by eotvos at 8:58 AM on April 12

(I will admit that I listened to a German-language podcast that read the news, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as an aid to language learners -- and it was really great. Called "Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten" from DW, the German news platform.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

Throat singing takes a long time and a lot of practice

and the interior of a car is quite surprisingly conducive to making it work; something about the way sound bounces off the windscreen. Plus, engine drone to harmonize with.
posted by flabdablet at 9:11 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]

Any chance of car pooling?
posted by SemiSalt at 5:08 AM on April 13

I would practice singing, doing vocal warm ups and working up to a full, solo, car concert of my favorites. I had about an hour long commute, and burned through podcasts like no other. I also did accent work (to strengthen my D&D games) and other weird voice stuff, like mimicking birdsong and stuff. Weird tongue twisters, acting warm ups, etc.

Did I get good? No. Did I enjoy myself? Very much.
posted by Torosaurus at 10:18 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]

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