I’m an extreme commuter—here’s what I’ve learned

When I accepted my first “real” entry-level, post-college job at a New York City publishing house this summer, one of the last things on my mind was the amount of time I would spend commuting there from central Jersey. I wasn’t too excited about the fact that my decision to major in English was now totally validated. No, but seriously, the opportunity to work with books and get paid for it made saying “yes” to the job a no-brainer. And I absolutely still feel like the hours long trek each way is worth it. I am extremely grateful for my job; why else would I make the daily journey despite the occasional woes of NJ Transit and the fact that my rides to and from the train station are not always, shall we say, set in stone?

To elaborate: I carpool with my mother every morning, who works down the street from the train station in Jersey. From there, I take an hour train to my job in midtown Manhattan, then walk to my building. In total, it takes about an hour and forty minutes to get to work every morning — but this is when everything goes flawlessly (i.e., no cancelled trains, normal amount of A.M. traffic, and so on). It wasn’t until a friend sent this study to me one day when we were discussing my daily commute that I realized I was part of a large population considered “extreme commuters,” i.e., people who spend at least 50 minutes getting to work each day. (FYI,  one who travels more than 50 miles and more than 90 minutes to work each day would be considered a mega-commuter. So, that’s a thing, too.)

And sure, my morning commute to work (and certainly my evening commute home) takes longer than the U.S. average of about 25 minutes, but in many ways, I am happy to have this “problem.” Having a job in an industry I am so excited to learn more about is worth the train ride, the bus ride, the car ride (hey, I do like being driven around — my mom calls me Miss Daisy). Here are some of the things I have learned so far as an extreme commuter:

Patience is really important

Sure, trains can be late, but they can also be completely, um, cancelled. So, even if you rely on that same 7:45 train to take you into Manhattan every day, there could be times when it’s just not… there that day. This hasn’t happened often thankfully, but now that I know it’s a possibility, I make sure to account for it maybe happening. I aim for a train that comes slightly earlier now, and that has seemed to be working better for me. So, yeah — in a way, I have my new commute to thank for helping me be more proactive!

Having a budget is crucial

The hefty monthly train pass is forcing me to budget even more deliberately, and it’s an awesome thing! I guard that piece of paper with my life (no app — yeah, I’m old school like that). Compared to my college days, where any leftover money from my paid internship at my university’s press would go to bubble tea dates with friends or new clothes, I make sure to be more careful now with my spending. I honestly feel like I needed this reality check, as I am also saving to move out within the year. I have learned to budget in order to account for my new commuting expenses, and it’s been an amazing and enlightening learning experience (yes, really! I’m a reformed shopaholic — well, okay, it’s still a process.) And as privileged as this (definitely) sounds, I now understand and differentiate between my needs from wants. 

Commuting is a great time to soak in some good music

Like I mentioned previously, I quite enjoy getting driven around, especially because it gives me time to close my eyes and listen to music. After an hour or more of a good shoegaze-y mix or old school hip-hop —whatever it may be that morning—I open my eyes and suddenly I’m at work! Magic!

I have been having so much fun creating playlists for the ride to work and back. I make upbeat playlists for the ride in to get me going for the day, and on the way back, I have prepared more mellow mixes. Honestly, though, Pandora has also been a reliable, trusty travel companion, too, and I’ve learned a lot of new artists within just these first few months! One of my favorite things is discovering new music, and my long commute makes it so I’m effortlessly finding out about new bands and artists every week.

Appreciating your time makes everything better

Finally, spending almost 20 hours commuting each week has taught me to appreciate every hours, whether I am working, not working, or, well, commuting! I make sure to use the time on the train or getting to and/or from the train station in productive ways. For example, I take a book or magazine everyday, and have finished quite a few already within these first few months. I’m even practicing my French and Italian during my journeys!

“Investing” my time in productive tasks like reading, writing, and/or learning in some way during my train ride has helped me adopt a great attitude toward commuting. I feel much more grounded and goal-oriented when I’m attempting to read a Dostoevsky novel as opposed to mindlessly surfing seas of vacation and food photos from old high school classmates I no longer talk to (but actually, long live food pics).

Of course, when I am not on the way to or from work, I’ve learned to value that time, too. I could not be more thankful for my new job, as well as weekends with family and friends. Being a newly-inducted, contributing member of society has helped me see there are only so many hours, whether on or off the train.

And while I have learned so much already from my new daily routine, it has helped me want to realize my goal of eventually moving to the city even more. So yes, it will definitely be nice to have a shorter commute eventually, but for now, I am certainly enjoying the ride.

[Image via NBC]