Commuting: Going to extremes

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No matter what you do for a living, the one aspect of your job that you share with nearly everyone in the workforce is the commute. The process of getting to and from work is as eagerly anticipated as a root canal, and with good reason. According to a recent study, Americans average 51 minutes each way getting to and from their jobs.


But some workers have taken the traditional commute and turned it on its ear. On one end of the spectrum, some workers have chosen homes that are only a few blocks, miles or subway stops from where they work. On the other end of the spectrum, there are “extreme commuters” who travel over 90 minutes to work each way every day!


Until recently, I had an incredibly short commute. From my front door to the office was about 1000 feet, and my commute was a whopping two minutes. (Maybe three minutes if it was icy – or a Monday morning!) Not everyone’s commute can be quite so speedy, but many workers have chosen to be part of a trend towards urban living. Rather than choosing the traditional “bedroom” community, many people are choosing a home based on its close promixity to their work site.


A recent survey of Coldwell Banker realtors cited rising fuel costs and a desire to cut back on commute time as factors that contributed to this trend. Some workers are also walking or biking to work, combining their commute with their wellness goals. Others are reducing or eliminating their use of a car because of environmental concerns.


On the other end of the spectrum, some employees are taking far longer journeys to and from work. These “extreme commuters” as the Census Bureau calls them, have travel times of more than 90 minutes each way to and from work! One in six American workers fall into the “extreme” category.


Several factors influence a worker’s choice to take the long way. Most people are influenced by the fact that the job, no matter how far away, is a lucrative one with a high salary and great benefits. Some workers may take that high-paying gig, but aren’t willing move from an established home. Those homes may be near family and friends and have tangible benefits, like great schools.


Many commuters will read a book or listen to music during their trip. Whether you’re driving or are on public transportation, here are some suggestions on how to make those long journeys more bearable – and useful.


Open your ears.

If you’d rather forego lugging around a book, go paperless and get audio books. They’re available in several formats. If you have an iPod, you can do far more than listen to music – you can watch your favorite television shows and movies. Even if you’re driving, you can still listen to audio podcasts. 


Work out…your brain.

Commuters can use their travel time to enhance their education or simply make their minds stronger. That time could be used to learn a new language. You can learn about the geography and the history of the route you travel to get to work. If you’re a passenger in a carpool or on public transit, you can engage in brain games on Nintendo DS or complete a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. (We don’t recommend these if you’re the driver!)


Find a buddy.

Though some people aren’t very social during their commute, others might crave interaction with their fellow passengers. If you take the same trip and see some of the same people on a daily basis, create a “buddy system.” You can trade books to read, or maybe swap games or music, so that no one gets bored. Depending on space, you may even be able to play cards or travel versions of popular games.



If someone else is doing the driving, try to use some of your travel time to relax. Use the time to practice some modified meditation. One simple relaxation technique (particularly useful on the way home) is to breathe in and out – slowly and deeply – 10 times. If your mind is still racing at the end of the day, take the opportunity to refocus your thoughts.


Have you had an extreme commuting experience? Share it with us!

  1. I sleep. Thats what I do. Thats what I like to do. On a commute of about 50 minutes on a good day, an hour plus on traffic-filled day (in chicago traffic is more common than good), I put my head against the window of the bus and zonk out.

    Often I dream. About work, something I read, someone I’m thinking about, or just letting my mind wander. I do it in the morning to clear my head for work, and at night, to clear my head for home. Having a big gap of time between work and home has helped me keep those two combative zones seperate. I don’t let them intermingle, with neither shoes and clothes at the office or files and projects at home.

    The divide is important, but the sleep is awfully good.

  2. I think commuting can be of great benefit to a person. No matter how long a commute you have it gives you the chance to get yourself going before arriving at your work place and then lets you un-wind before getting home at the end of the day. Whether you have a 5 minute walk or 90 minute journey the gap can make all the differnece. All the examples above are great and I agree that a lot of people will probably prefer to just keep quiet and sleep or listen to music and read.


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