I am a lucky girl. I don't have to go into the office that much, and when I do, it's a reverse commute. I have to drive from San Francisco to Emeryville in the Bay Area of CA, and while I am driving a steady speed, I see the poor folks who have to sit in traffic on the Bay Bridge, at the toll booths, and all of the arteries that feed into the bridge. It's awful; they barely move and there's nothing they can do about it.
I can't imagine having to do that five days a week. Something inside me would break and I am extremely fortunate to have a job that lends itself to telecommuting. But some folks don't have a choice, and I always wonder what they do to entertain themselves and keep from going crazy, having to do that day in and day out.
So, I thought I would look into it and see if there are some tips on how to survive a long commute. Here's what I found:
Where I live, there are designated places where people can stand and those who have space in their cars can just pick them up. It's like a bus stop for carpoolers. Not only does carpooling save you money in tolls and gas since you can split things, it's also nice to have company. You never know who you might meet—someone in your field, a potential friend or client, someone who has a job that you are interested in, someone you can talk politics with. The possibilities are endless. If your city doesn't have designated spots for carpoolers, talk to someone in your office or one of your neighbors.
Change up your route
I know this isn't always possible, but if it is, do it! We are very visual creatures, so new landscapes are always welcome. Maybe you can learn a little more about where you live, see new roads, and find new restaurants. Drive on a road that is more challenging than the endless highway before you. Sure, it might take a little longer, but time is relevant. If you leave a little earlier, you won't stress about arriving to work late.
Get some books on tape—a good story is priceless. You can learn a new language or improve your vocabulary just by popping in a CD. There are actually self-help books on tape created specifically for commuters, so you can also learn new skills, study for an exam, or learn how to be a better boss or employee. I switch the radio to NPR whenever I am stuck in traffic and always find something intriguing.
Buy a lumbar support pillow to protect your back, or one of those seat massagers that will make your whole body feel happy. Wear comfy shoes. Make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses for sunny days. And buy the nice stuff. If you use something nearly every day, it's worth it.
Avoid it in the first place
If you have a job that can be done from home, bring it up with your employer. Businesses are more likely to be sympathetic right now, especially with the high cost of gas. If you do inquire about telecommuting, have a plan ready. Tell your employer how you will check in, when you will be available, and how they will be able to monitor your progress. Even if you only get the okay to work one or two days from home, that saves a lot of money and a lot of time. If this is simply impossible, see if you can come in earlier or later in order to avoid the worst of the traffic.
Before you take a new job or consider staying at your current one, really make sure it's worth it to you. If you leave at 5am every morning and don't get home until 8pm, you give up time with family and friends and time you could spend on hobbies or household tasks. Maybe you will make more money, but we all know money isn't everything and it certainly doesn't matter if you have gobs of money and no life.
A study done at the University of London found that in order to make up for the loss of not seeing family and friends on a regular basis, you would need to earn $133,000 just to make you even remotely "happy." That's a lot of money. You should also consider how much more money you end up spending when you have a long commute—you'll eat out more, increase your car maintenance and fuel expenses, maybe pay someone else to clean your house or do your laundry, and the really nice vacation you'll need to deal with the stress from commuting. Your health can suffer, too—a long commute can mess with your sleep and if you are always driving during breakfast and dinner time.
Work isn't everything, and for most folks, time—alone, with family, with friends, with your partner—is what makes us happy. We already work too much, so try not to add a long commute on top of that.
Whatever you do, please consider the dangers of talking and texting while driving. Even if you have a hands-free device, it's still unsafe. It only takes a second of distraction for an accident to happen, so be careful.