Tips on How to Make Commuting Bearable Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Tips on How to Make Commuting Bearable

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A bus and a train

Commuting schmooting.

Forcing your way onto over-crowded trains and buses is not the most pleasant way to top and tail your day. For this entry, we asked for tips on how to stay cool, how to handle obnoxious fellow commuters (without landing yourself in trouble or danger) and general advice on how best to stay cheery while your face is pressed into the sweaty armpit of the person standing next to you. Here's what you came up with.


If anyone takes public transport, and chooses to listen to music, or read a paper, or even worse, doesn't do anything, we urge you to make use of the time you have. Read a book - there is bound to be something you are interested in, and it often makes the commute a much more pleasurable journey.

Reading while commuting is almost a necessity. When you are surrounded with a large number of people staring blankly, you sometimes wonder whether they are alive or not. Those with books however, you feel drawn to, and wonder what on earth they are reading that is so interesting! You'll find yourself hunting down a number of books, just because the front cover of the book of the woman opposite you on the tube looks so interesting!

Reading draws you into another world, and it can remove you from any unpleasant conditions. In London, you often have to put up with a large number of people around you, but once you open that page, they do seem to melt away from you. It is terribly relaxing.

I first read War and Peace on my train journeys to and from work, and to and from the Midlands to meet up with Richard before we were married. He says I'm the only woman he's ever met who has carried a copy of War and Peace in her handbag. Mind you, it made the handbag a good weapon in the event of an attack.

Newspapers on Trains

Whether it be newspapers on the train from Bournemouth to Waterloo, or newspapers on the Underground from Piccadilly to King's Cross, there will be newspapers. People who previously rode on the train in the morning bought their paper, read it as they travelled, then were kind enough to litter the seats and tables with it.

So what should you do? Leave the litter there? No! You should pick it up, and read it. Read it from beginning to end. It'll take up some time, and you always need something to do on a two-hour train journey. In fact, you may even get lucky enough to find two newspapers on a two-hour train journey. You may find two on the Underground, but you won't have time to read them both totally, and you shouldn't take them with you and deny other people the chance to read them, so in those cases you should read the best bits from each.

Remember, the papers are there for you to read, so don't waste the opportunity. Also, if you are on the Underground, make sure you don't miss your stop!

Tabloids v Broadsheets

If your journey to/from work (or anywhere really) is going to last more than 20 minutes, don't even think that a tabloid is going to last (especially certain red-tops) the whole journey. The great thing about broadsheets is that half the journey time is spent working out how to fold them, so not only do you get a long-lasting paper you also get a puzzle thrown in for free!

Talking Books

I commute by automobile. For the past 20 years I have been listening to recorded books. I can get them from the public library so the cost is zero and the collection is being updated all the time. The library where I live has both tape cassettes and compact disks.
I have found that both fiction and non-fiction are fine. I also notice that I get more out of listening to a book than reading it. When I read I skim over details. While listening I get it all. If listening to a book takes two weeks of commuting versus a few hours reading, that's OK. What else have I got to do with the time? I have particularly enjoyed Paul Theroux's travel books, history books, Connie Willis fiction, and the Hitchhiker's Guide series. There are also college lecture series available.

Ears of a Fox

One favourite way of passing the time is eavesdropping... yes we know it is terrible and that we shouldn't do it or encourage it, but it is simply too irresistible. The following is a conversation from a train which had one Researcher in stitches. It has not been embroidered, and it is transcribed here word for word:

Bloke One: So he rang up and said he and Sheila were going to see the new Harry Potter.

Bloke Two:Oh I really want to see that.

Bloke One:I wouldn't bother if I was you. I am a big fan of the books, I have read all five, but the first film was really, really tame. I can't be bothered, I am going to wait for it to be shown on Channel 5.

Bloke Two:We can't get Channel 5. Can you get Channel 5?

Bloke One:Well we get it through Sky Digital. When we bought the house, the dish was there. Didn't get round to buying a subscription though. Any way I only watch Channel 5 for Fifth Gear.

Bloke Two:What's 'Fifth Gear' like?

Bloke One:Don't know, don't watch it.

Two Games to Play on your Fellow Commuters

The following light-hearted games can lighten up even the worst of commutes. They give you pleasure to see some people squirm, and they are oddly satisfying.

  • Saying strange things around strangers works best with an accomplice, or while on a mobile phone. For example, just as a stranger gets into earshot say 'Shovel or no shovel, beating a pigeon is wrong!'

  • While in Washington DC recently, one of my friends and myself spoke solely French for about an hour, most of that time spent on the Metro in DC. Now, the problem was, there were four of us riding together, the French-speakers and my two other friends, who speak Spanish. This made for some interesting amusement as my friend and I attempted to impart information to my non-Francophone friends in French.

Tips for Car Commutes

The following suggestions to alleviate boredom on a commute require a little bravado but once achieved they leave you with a great feeling of satisfaction. Try them, you know you want to...

  • If you have a passenger, encourage them to hurl themselves forwards into the windshield whenever you come to a stop. If people in other cars are not staring at you, you're not trying hard enough. Sell the drama, darlings, sell the drama.

  • Sing, gustily and loudly, preferably with your windows down. Really get into it. Bonus points are awarded for visible spittle ejection.

  • Scream greetings at pedestrians and/or animals. Cows really enjoy when you yell 'Moo' at them.

Square Root of Five-digit Numbers

If you haven't got a book handy, then a commute is a good time for thinking abstract thoughts. One such abstract thought came to one Researcher who practises doing approximate square roots of five-digit numbers in his head.

Some people have way too much time on their hands...

I invented this method while waiting for the number 9 bus in Southend. If you practise while you're on the tube you can get quite good at it, and then your friends will start calling you 'Rainman'. There is probably a better way of doing this, but I like this way because I thought of it by myself.
  1. Remember the squares of the numbers from 1 (1) to 31 (961)

  2. Think of a five-digit number: 65741

  3. Take the first three digits: 657

  4. What's the largest square number immediately below this? In this instance it's 625 (25 squared). Remember the square root of this number (ie.25) - the square root of 65741 is going to be 10 x this number

  5. So the square root of 65741 is going to be 25n.nnn

  6. To work out what the ns are, take 25, multiply it by 2 and add 1 - ie 51

  7. Subtract 625 from 657 = 32

  8. Divide 32 by 51 - that's got to be a bit more than 0.6 - call it 0.62. Multiply this decimal by 10, and this gives you the ns from above (add them to 250).

  9. So the approximate square root is 256.2

Our calculator tells us the real square root is 256.4

Vancouver's Brain-Train

And to continue the education theme, Vancouver's West Coast Express in association with local educational establishment Capilano College operates as a sort of Brain-Train, providing early morning Spanish lessons for commuters who find insufficient interest in the customary crosswords and passing scenery. The 45-minute lessons take place weekly in a predetermined section of the train, starting (providing the train is running to schedule) at 7:25am at the suburban Pit Meadows stop.

Play Spot the Tourist

This is especially fun on the London Underground and can while away hours of commuting time. Here's a list of how you can spot visitors to any city. Tourists tend to:

  • Not walk straight through ticket barriers

  • Study maps intensely

  • Stand on the wrong side of escalators

  • Stand nowhere near the doors on the platform

  • Have their guide books open at all times and check them at every stop in the wall

  • Try and talk to a passing stranger

In Edinburgh, there is a different class of tourist altogether. These can be more easily spotted using the following guidelines:

  • They wear mismatched tartan and Jimmy hats with ginger hair attached.

  • They come out on a fine summer's day without any rain protection.

  • They say 'What's that awful noise?' when coming close to bagpipe players.

  • They wait and wait for drivers to stop at zebra crossings if they are pedestrians, or drive over zebra crossings (London style) without waiting for pedestrians.

Consideration for Your Fellow Commuters

It's all well and good us preaching to y'all on how to make your journey more bearable, but what can you do to make other people's journey that little bit easier? Here's a few hints for starters:

  • It should go without saying, don't have loud conversations on a mobile phone. While you may find last night's match fascinating, your fellow commuters will find you increasingly irritating the louder/more excited you get.

  • Laptop keyboards clacking are surprisingly annoying - especially the backspace button.

  • Keep yourself and your belongings to your space - including knees, feet, and elbows.

  • If you nod off to sleep, make sure it isn't on your neighbour's shoulder (ideally pick a corner seat and lean on the wall). Try not to snore.

  • Avoid eating or drinking anything very smelly or noisy!

Other anti-social behaviour is usually confined to travellers who are not commuters - noisy children climbing all over the seats, children sitting on an adult's lap opposite you and kicking, friends talking loudly... need we go on?

Plan an Entry

If you're not a great reader and the idea of playing games on your fellow commuters fills you with dread, then take along a notebook and pen and plan your next h2g2 entry. You'd be surprised what you can come up with.

I started writing an entry on my commute, and it provided chewing gum for my brain for nearly two years. It made me take a new interest in the journey, and see it in a new light.

  • If it's a commute journey, chances are lots of people do it, or will do it in the future - good characteristics for a guide entry.

  • If it's something you do every day, then it's something you'll know very well indeed - also good criteria for writing for the Edited Guide.

Once you start writing it in your head, it'll keep you amused for most of the journey, and possibly the rest of the day as well.

Look for Shapes

The following is a very simple pastime that requires no accessories but rather a lot of creativity.

One of the only things that ever got my dad out of bed every day was a tree outside of his office that amused him so. It was distinctly in the shape of a turkey, and earned the name Turkey Tree. My dad sort of looked forward to this. So my advice is to look for shapes in the trees to distract you.

The same is true for clouds, but needs a very active imagination if undertaken on the tube.

Bus Stops

There's nothing worse than having to pile on and pile off a bus. There is, however, a natty little trick that requires a little exertion but rewards you with a little less stress. read on dear Researchers, read on...

Last year, when I lived far enough away to warrant travelling to and from uni on the bus, I found that everyone piled up at the bus stop directly outside uni at the end of the day, as is only natural... I found it was worth wandering five minutes up the road to the stop before the uni one so that I could get on and buy my ticket without the hustle and bustle, and I was pretty much guaranteed a seat.
Also it helps, despite the geeky (though I don't know why) connotations associated with it, to sit near to the front if you know that the bus is likely to be crowded by the time you get to your stop- that way, you won't have to climb over hundreds of sweaty bodies just to fall out of the door into a puddle...

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