Trial your routes
New to commuting or just changed jobs? Make sure you road test all possible ways of getting to the office in your first few weeks. It’ll help you work out the fastest way of getting from bed to desk and it’s also handy to know shortcuts and transfers should your train be cancelled, delayed or overcrowded. Plus it’ll lower your stress levels if you instinctively know which bus you can grab, or back routes between stations that’ll keep right you on track should National Rail decide that today just isn’t your day. And tomorrow isn’t looking too good either.
Secure a seat
If you get exactly the same train every morning, it’s worth leaving the house five-minutes earlier to get a seat – especially if it’s a long journey. Over time you’ll work out which carriages tend to be the emptiest. I like to grab a window seat so I can stare at the Sussex countryside while I wake up, and as the train fills up and it’s standing-room-only, I don’t have various commuters’ bags, coats, newspapers and bums in my face. Result.
Save some money
Ever heard of Commuter Club? I hadn’t until two years ago. If you travel across Network Rail or use Oyster every day to get to work, but can’t afford to pay for an annual ticket upfront (which is much cheaper than buying 12 monthly tickets, or 52 weekly tickets), the Commuter Club buys it for you, and you pay them back each month via direct debit. The company makes its money by charging you a percentage, but even with that added on top, it still works out cheaper than buying 12 monthly tickets. Last year, I saved £50 per month – or £600 over the year. For me, it’s a no-brainer.
Make your own coffee
Another obvious one, perhaps, but have you ever calculated how much your daily coffee at the train station is costing? Say you pay £2.50 for a flat white at 7:30am each workday morning – that’s £650 per year on top of your season ticket. Put that aside for a holiday, and make your hot drink at home. Yes, it’s a bit of a faff first thing in the morning, but feel virtuous you’re also doing your bit for the environment, as 260 unrecyclable cups won’t be sent to landfill per year. We like to pour ours into a Frank Green SmartCup, £19.
Join a digital book club
If you’re spending hours a day returning home, you’ll have the opportunity to tear through a book, but will be less likely to be back in time to join a book club. Enter the digital club: read the chosen book each month, submit your feedback online and interact with readers around the world, discussing the intricacies of each character and plot line. We’re big fans of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf, a feminist book club that has over 100,000 members and Reading in Heels, which we’ve written all about here.
Or go slimline
If you want to get stuck into a great read, but don’t fancy toting a tome around in your handbag for weeks, then consider opting for short stories. We really love Penguin’s Modern Box Set: a selection of 50 slim reads celebrating the pioneering spirit of the Penguin Modern Classics list, and its iconic authors. The collection includes avant-garde essays, radical polemics, newly translated poetry and great fiction – and you can usually race through them in a couple of journeys.
Learn a language
Duo Lingo is your friend when it comes to learning a new language (or just refreshing your vocabulary before a trip abroad). Using a series of interactive games, memory tests and listening exercises, the easy-to-use app brings you up to speed, at the pace you prefer. A commuter top tip: unless you’re happy to brave death-stares, I’d suggest leaving the spoken-out-loud grammar and language tests to the confines of your home.
Plug into a podcast
An hour-long commute might be complete now you’re able to download films and series from Netflix onto your phones and iPads, but for anyone who also incorporates walking and waiting on platforms into their journeys, a podcast is the best way to stay entertained while keeping your phone firmly in your pocket (please don’t be one of those people slowly navigating the steps of the tube while gluing your eyes to catch whatever’s going on in Riverdale. Everyone behind you hates you right now). We really love Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes’ The High Low Show, and Savage Lovecast, the podcast version of Dan Savage’s Savage Love dating column. Don’t forget, SL has its very own series of podcasts – listen to them all here.
Do your makeup
Yes, it’s a bit of an opinion divider – read SL’s Rosy and Tor doing battle on the very subject here but I’m firmly in the yes camp when it comes to making the most of the hour I’m about to spend sitting on a train. Yes, I could wake up at 5:45am to do it but, frankly, I’d rather have an extra 10 minutes in bed. Plus I have a rule: all the messy stuff, such as applying creams and foundation, I do at home; it’s just my eyeliner, mascara and lipstick that I swipe on en route to work. Make sure you invest in a decent compact mirror and save any cosmetics samples for your commute. Your handbag straps will thank you for it in the long run.
Get some shuteye
If you work late, or have loads of work events to go to in the evening, napping will be your saviour. Only advisory for those who are light sleepers or if your stop is the final destination. Sometimes it’s worth foregoing all of the above activities for an extra hour’s sleep – especially if it’s going to be the difference between getting six or five hour’s kip. It’s probably best to make sure you’re not a drooler or snorer before you attempt this. You don’t want to end up on Twitter.
Take to Twitter
Which leads us nicely onto social media. While I like to use my commute as time away from a screen – given I stare at one for hours at work – plenty of people opt to while away their journey catching up with all the latest online. My one exception is following my rail provider on Twitter (that would be #SouthernFail). Not only is it handy for keeping you updated on any delays and upcoming engineering works, but when the going gets tough, there’s nothing as soothing as reading your fellow commuters’ sarcastic jibes and commentary on whichever fiasco has laid claim to your journey this time.
Whether you’re on a train, the bus or the tube, there are always going to be irritants in the vicinity – whether wild children on a half-term outing, clueless tourists with dozens of suitcases, a manspreader or a riotous pack of stags kicking things off early. Unless you want to end up seething on a daily basis, the best approach is to take everything in your stride, smile at decibel-smashing toddlers and help people with directions. Commuting is stressful enough without engaging in silent warfare with a stranger you’ll likely never see again.