How to Survive Your Train Commute: Top Five Do’s and Don’ts

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”.

Top Five Dos and Donts of Commuting | Anna International

© GETTY

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. DO #trainwine. Preferably only on the way home.

And now for the DON’Ts:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

The Poke Parody

Borrowed from The Poke

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.

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*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. 

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11 thoughts on “How to Survive Your Train Commute: Top Five Do’s and Don’ts

  1. As a daily train commuter, I completely agree with your points on commuting! My particular pet peeve related to your list is when someone leaves their huge bags on the seat next to them, eliminating one, possibly two, seats for other commuters. This is why trains have luggage racks and overhead storage! And those people who don’t give up seats for the elderly — oh, I get so mad! I’m not perfect, but those things are just commonsense. Well, enough griping, hope you have a happy commute today.

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    1. Thanks Ngan! Tonight I am supplementing my train commute with a three hour drive north to Manchester as well, just in case I haven’t suffered enough today!
      I have a huge handbag and will happily take up two seats if the train is empty, but whenever people are getting on I put it on my lap in case they are too intimidated to ask if they can sit there. I once asked someone if she minded if I sat where her handbag was, and her reply was “I’d prefer you didn’t, it’s an expensive handbag!”. Happily the guy opposite immediately said something like “Well this young lady is priceless” indicating me, otherwise I might have been very rude to her! She huffed all the way home! 🙂

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      1. Oh my goodness, what a comment from the gentleman! I would have been laughing my butt off. My friend once asked to sit in a seat by the door of the train by a woman taking up space with her bag. The woman actually called her a bad name under her breath when she went to sit down. Oh, and my friend was heavily pregnant. Some people are just terribly rude. If they’re that rude on a train, to a pregnant woman no less, I can’t imagine what they are like in their daily life.

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      2. That’s awful! I really hate when people are not considerate of others’ needs, especially elderly people or pregnant ladies. Transport for London (who run the London underground and buses) have started making badges which say ‘Baby on Board’ which pregnant women can ask for. I do realise there is a period of pregnancy where it is not obvious and there is a (terrible) margin for error in case the lady is not in fact pregnant (!) so this is a really great initiative to remove all doubt (and excuses!). I’m not sure a badge would have made that lady any less unpleasant though 😦

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  2. Great post! I have such a love-hate relationship with commuting. I love the excuse to catch up on my reading, but hate how there’s always some idiot ready to annoy me with their crappy music blaring from their phone speakers.

    I don’t know if this would be as relevant in England, but for Spain you could definitely add no noisy, near x-rated PDA to the list.

    Trainwine, whatever it is, sounds divine!

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    1. Ha, yes, had forgotten about that! In Italy it was definitely an annoyance on every train journey. Not so much in the UK, if ever really – teenagers would be the only offenders and they simply don’t travel on trains at the same time as commuters (because it is more expensive).
      Trainwine is a thing – search it on Twitter or Instagram! People drinking wine on trains, simple as that! 🙂

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  3. Oh my gosh this is perfect! I’m an American living in London for the past five years, and the commute is absolutely soul destroying – that’s the exact term I’ve always used. In fact, I hate the commute so much that it’s one of the reasons I’m finally leaving London. I just can’t take it anymore! I used to love London so much. So much to discover, so many fun people to meet! But over the years all the people everywhere all the time has worn me down so much that I don’t even like to go out on the weekends 😦
    Too bad I didn’t discover your blog sooner! I used to write about London all the time!

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    1. I just took a look at your blog to see where you’re moving – I’m sorry your London experience has driven you home to the US, but I fully understand the desire to go “home” – it brought me back from Italy a few years before it should have done!
      I hope you’ll keep blogging in Ohio, I’ll be reading! 🙂

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