“Commute” used to mean getting from your dorm to the frat parties in heels and an LBD, or walking three blocks back from the library alone (#firstworldproblems). Now we spend hours on buses and trains, or sitting in rush hour traffic, and suddenly that walk to the library doesn’t look so bad (cue the nostalgic tears). Day after day, we stare out the window and think of all the things we could be doing if it weren’t for the commute, like manicures, workouts, movies, or dinner with friends.
But the trek to work doesn’t have to be a huge waste of time. With the right attitude, activities, and resources, you can make your daily trips productive, and even enjoyable.
1. Implement the buddy system
If we’ve learned anything from the never-ending lines for the women’s bathroom, it’s that girls like to travel in groups. Find a colleague who lives nearby, or a friend who works near your office, and sync up travel schedules. The ride will fly by when you’re chatting with a friend and catching up on all the latest gossip. If you don’t know anyone with a similar commute, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone who you notice on your train every morning. If you drive to work, forming a carpool will conserve fuel, and give you someone to commiserate with when traffic comes to a stand still.
2. Create the ultimate playlists
Finding the right playlist is key when it comes to surviving the commute to and from work. The music you listen to in the morning sets the mood for the whole day, so it better be upbeat. Emory graduette Molly Lenowitz recommends pump-up songs (in other words, anything Beyoncé) in the mornings, and calming, relaxing songs, like the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, and Of Monsters and Men on the way home. You can also get a few friends together for a music exchange, or ask your besties to make you a playlist. That way you can listen to different tracks each day of the week! Try Pandora or Spotify if you’re looking to really change things up.
3. Make shopping lists for the week
Use your phone or iPad to search for recipes and plan your meals for the next few days. This will save you time at the grocery store, and reduce the risk of forgetting a key ingredient (or buying more of what you don’t need). Surf Instagram or Pinterest for #eats ideas, and be sure to bring a snack so you don’t get too hungry in the process! Whether you’re learning how to make Fry-Free French Fries for Friday night dinner, or finding a new green smoothie for tomorrow morning’s drive to work, you’ll be happy you took the time to do some research and make a shopping list.
4. Listen to podcasts or books on tape
If you’re already sick of every song on the radio, or craving something a bit more educational, subscribe to podcasts! Explore the iTunes store to find one that you like, whether it focuses on news, sports or even quirky stories.
University of Michigan graduette Sarah Hecht listens to TED Talks on her subway ride to work. “You’ll feel inspired and expand your knowledge by listening to innovative mavericks, icons, entrepreneurs, inventors, teachers, political figures and entertainers. Plus, you'll have something interesting to talk about at work besides the weather,” she says.
University of Iowa graduette Colie Lumbreras subscribes to six different podcasts that she listens to during her 45 minute drive to work. A few of her favorites are “Serial” and “The MIX – Eric and Kathy” (Chicago area radio DJs). “I'll also rent audiobooks from the library. I listened to the whole Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series that way,” she says.
If you drive to work, or get nauseous reading on trains/buses, audiobooks and podcasts are awesome alternatives to reading. They can also be pretty soothing and relaxing—anyone who has ever listened to Sarah Koenig’s voice on Serial knows what we mean.
5. Catch up with friends and family
Keeping in touch with family and friends can be surprisingly challenging when you work all day. Take advantage of your time on the road by calling your parents, grandparents, sibs, or long-distance friends. Just know that your mom may accuse you of only calling when you’re bored on the commute (sorry, Mom).
Boston College graduette Meghan Gibbons uses a Bluetooth headset to make calls while she drives from Charlestown to New Hampshire every day. Graduettes who take the train may want to stick to emails, texts and Snapchats, especially in the quiet cars. People can get pretty feisty if you’re talking on the phone (read: yapping to your BFF about last night’s Scandal episode).
6. Stay up to date on current events
Who has time to read the newspaper or watch the news when you’re rolling out of bed to catch the bus? Use your time on the way to work to catch up on the latest headlines. Email blasts like the Skimmand Need2Know are great ways to learn all the important news in just a few minutes. The College of New Jersey graduette Rebecca Gilman uses her CNN app to read the “5 Things You Need to Know for the Day” story in the mornings.
You can also follow your favorite news outlets on Twitter or Facebook for condensed versions of developing stories. Create a news-themed Twitter list to separate news accounts from the hundreds of others you may be following, and find the hottest stories that much quicker.
7. Get work done
You may be wondering how this makes your commute more enjoyable, but the fun comes later when you’re less stressed at your desk, or get to leave the office thirty minutes earlier. Using the time to review a presentation you have to give or catch up on emails can really start your day off right—there’s nothing like heading into the office feeling completely prepared to take on the next eight hours!
So there you have it—seven foolproof ways to improve your commute. Of course you’ll still find yourself bored or frustrated from time to time, but just think of commuting as a right of passage into adulthood. You’re conquering the real world, one delayed train ride at a time. As long as you don’t fall asleep and end up at the end of the line, you’re doing great.