How I Turned My Life-Draining Commute into Quality Time

I was talking to my wife last night about a lunch she had earlier that day. She told me something her lunch companion had said. Something that made me sit up with shock strewn across me face.

Her lunch companion had said he enjoyed commuting.

As I slid back down on the sofa, I realized myself that commuting—gasp—isn’t really that terrible. Yet we all complain about it. Studies are constantly churned out that show the negative impact our car culture has on health, happiness, the environment, and productivity.

Given I live in Northern Virginia, my commute probably meets all of those negative marks. But my commute is necessary for my livelihood, and it’s something I’ve learned to accept—and it’s an opportunity I’ve undertaken to improve myself.

Entertainment through podcasts

I’ve been an avid consumer of podcasts since they started gaining traction in 2007. Podcasts are a wonderful way to stay entertained during commutes, relieving the tension of rubbernecking madness. I’ve also used podcasts for self-improvement and learning, listening to everything from history to financial management.

Here are a few categories to get you started:

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m always on the hunt for new podcasts to enhance my commute, and with companies like Gimlet Media, the production value of these shows have skyrocketed. If you haven’t gotten into the podcast mania, now’s the time!

Education through audio books

I’ve never found the concept of audio books appealing. I told myself my attention span couldn’t handle the listening commitment.

But I was wrong.

Audio books are the perfect commute companion. With my daily car time averaging somewhere around an hour to an hour and a half, I can knock out almost 10% of a book a day just by sitting in my car.

My goal for the new year has been to read more, but it’s a goal that’s been passed over from prior years. Finally embracing audio books during my commute has given me the environment I need to actually chip away at that goal. Further, my attention span hasn’t waned during my listening time. I actually find my attention consumed by the material, and my commute seems shorter than ever.

The obvious place to get audio books is Audible—but being the frugal deal-finder, I’ve discovered my local library as an excellent source. With my library system hosting a huge collection of popular works, I can match a good portion of Audible’s content. And even better, the library’s partnership with Overdrive has led to a great UI experience, with Overdrive’s Libby being the most surprising discovery of my audio book adventure. The biggest drawback, however, to using the library is that, like physical books, audio books are capped to a certain quantity, so not every book is available right away.

With my excuses against audio books removed, I’m excited that I’ve been able to turn my commutes into dedicated learning sessions through a great selection of non-fiction material.

Carpool with a loved one

One of the greatest benefits of my commute is the opportunity I have to shuttle my wife to and from the train station. With the station being on my way to work, it was only natural that we combine parts of our commute.

Being confined to a car with family and friends is a great way to enhance relationships (or destroy, I suppose!). During our commutes, my wife and I talk about work, plans, life—everything. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the day, where we can converse one-on-one, with few distractions.

If you aren’t lucky enough to commute with a significant other or loved one, see if there are friends or coworkers along your route that could use a lift. The time you’ll spend talking will melt away the commute and improve your relationships.

Combine coffee with driving

When I know I’m in for a long drive, I love brewing a strong cup of coffee to take with me in a travel mug. Regardless of the situation, being able to sit and sip on coffee always brings me joy. Maybe it’s tea or a donut or something else—find a consumable that you know makes you happy and incorporate it into your commute.

More ways to get more out of your commute

Commuting is unfortunately a big part of my day. But learning to accept that and to actively improve my commute has had a big impact on my life. I’m “reading” new books, getting in quality time with my wife, and keeping on top of culture through podcasts.

Here are some other ideas to enhance your commute:

  • Investigate alternative ways of travel: biking, bus, running, and so on. It’s my goal (probably far off in the future) to figure out a safe bicycle route to my office.
  • Optimize your route by trying new secondary roads and shortcuts. Worse case, it changes up the scenery.
  • Don’t commute. See if you can get your employer to offer up a telework day or two.
  • Build in your errands along your route. I always try to plan grocery, bank, and haircut visits along my way home.
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