Every morning and every evening for an average of 230 work days a year, millions of us cram ourselves onto trains to commute to and from work. The UK average journey is 54 minutes, and statistics show that personal happiness decreases with every mile a commuter travels. No surprise then the oft-seen headlines shouting about “Commuter Hell” or “Angry Commuters” – we are angry, it is hell*.
Last week, after a particularly bad day of delays, even my train driver had a tantrum about the awfulness of being compelled to do this day in, day out. He lamented over the tannoy as yet another delay was announced “I used to love trains as a kid, would watch them for hours with my old man and played with my toy railway any chance I got, but nowadays they’re just instruments of torture”.
I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home sometimes, but on days when I do have to face the journey, I’ve got a few strategies for making it just that little bit more bearable, for you, and for your fellow passengers. Here’s my list of top five “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of train commutes:
- DO use the time wisely – plan your day ahead by writing a to-do list, either on paper or on an app on your phone, so when you get to the office you hit the ground running, or go through your emails and delete all junk and respond to the ones which require quick one-liners, leaving only the toughies to deal with at work.
- DO enjoy a leisurely coffee or smoothie – I often make myself a morning cappuccino at home but don’t have time to drink it before I leave for the station, so take it with me in a thermos mug. That way I can luxuriate in it rather than throwing it scaldingly down my throat, and avoid the horrible instant at work too. I also sometimes make my breakfast to have on the train: a banana, raspberry and kale smoothie, or a tupperware of overnight oats. This is only do-able if you’re lucky enough to get a seat. I do not recommend dropping porridge down the back of a strangers’ suit (see DON’Ts). Also not good if your choice of breakfast food is particularly smelly or visually offensive.
- DO be aware of others, and give up your seat or help someone out if they need it. One day you will be that person needing help, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough good karma stored up.
- DO give mindfulness a try. This is the new buzzword in meditation. Nobody is expecting you to sit cross-legged or chant mantras, but just sit quietly, focus on your breathing, and see what your mind and body show you. You don’t have to clear your head of every single thought, just recognise what thoughts you are having, and how you feel about them. This works on the way in – setting yourself up calmly for the day’s challenges, or on the way home – stopping you from making sarcastic comments about the amount of sweat your neighbour is transferring onto you/the person who will not move down the carriage and let others in/the person listening to their horrendous music far too loudly/insert other commuter rage instance here.
- DO #trainwine. Preferably only on the way home.
And now for the DON’Ts:
- DON’T imagine that everyone else on the train is interested in hearing about how little Jimmy got on at school today, or whatever inane chat it is that you feel is necessary in a carriage of a hundred people, all of whom are quietly respecting everyone else’s right to travel in silence and also quietly hating you. Save all but essential phone calls (“I’m delayed, will be ten minutes late at the station”, “I’m on the wrong train, I’m going to Swansea instead of Bristol, I’ll call you when I have figured out how to rectify this horrendous eff-up”) for when you get home and nobody but the person at the other end can hear you.
- Closely related to number 1, DON’T think that your fellow commuters are happy to watch you grimace and gurn into your mirror as you do a full face of makeup in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, once or twice I’ve been running really late and have had to do lipstick and blusher on the move, but I don’t do my entire beauty routine in front of half the town every morning. Just get up five minutes earlier. Please.
- DON’T buy a large carpet on eBay and have it delivered to your office and expect to make friends on your train home. Okay, so that is a little specific, but the same goes for large suitcases, bikes, rucksacks, pushchairs, big dogs (small ones that don’t take up too much space but still look cute just make the whole thing better for everyone #campaignfordogsatwork), anything which takes up valuable space which could otherwise be occupied by a commuter or four.
- DON’T be afraid to make your journey into a little “Me” time. Fill up your Kindle with those books you’ve been meaning to read, download your favourite comedy series to iPlayer, catch up on reading your favourite blogs, or even write your own. You’ve got a defined period of time with not a lot else to do, so treat it as extra time for you.
- DON’T fall asleep. This one is particularly tricky if you’re heading home late after a few cheeky after-work drinks. Not only is snoring and dribbling unbecoming, and particularly unpleasant for whoever’s shoulder you’ve chosen to do it on, but the ramifications of sleeping through your stop become particularly serious if you’re on the last train of the night.
But maybe The Poke says it better than me in their parody of the Transport for London tube etiquette posters:
So, there you have it. My foolproof ways to turn commuting from misery to magnificent, or at the very least not soul-destroyingly awful. Feel free to share your own tales of woe and tips for survival in the comments.
*I appreciate the First-World-Problem-nature of this statement – evidently there are worse things one could endure, but cramming onto a hot, sweaty train filled with hot, angry, sweaty fellow office-monkeys at the end of a shitty day can feel pretty hellish at the time.