Combating the Commute – 9 Ways to Fight Back

February 7, 2012

Emily Hunter is a freelance writer at Million Ways to Save, a financial blog devoted to finding a million ways to save on items from appliances to water. She currently lives with her boyfriend, a kitten, and a bin filled with over 1,000 pens. To contact Emily, send an email to

Commutes are hell. When you’re stuck behind the wheel with thousands of ‘close’ grumpy friends, it can seem like that – absolute hell. Not only can the commute cost precious time, but it costs money, sanity, and more. How much is my commute costing me? teaches us that, but here are some sure-fire ways to fight back. In fact, you can make the commute entertaining, educational, and (maybe even) fun.

1. Exercise

While you are keeping both hands on the wheel, you can exercise your stomach. Suck in your tummy muscles, hold it for as long as possible, then release, repeating as necessary. Another exercise option is to sit up very straight and do leg lifts, flexing and moving them as best as possible. Of course, keep an eye on the road and make sure that you’re not overexerting yourself with the exercise. You can also use your one handed driving tactics and lift your arm above your head or to the side. This helps desk workers keep the blood flowing.

2. Books on tape

Audiobooks are awesome. While on the long commute, you can listen to a chapter or three of your favorite novel, political diatribe, and more. There are Librivox and Books Should Be Free, offering public domain audio books. For those who adore college lectures, you can pick up an entire library of great lectures (almost every liberal arts subject under the sun) at The Teaching Company (not for free).

3. NPR

Quick! Name 5 National Public Radio hosts without going to their website. NPR offers classical music for much of the day (in most cities), but during the morning and evening commute there are wonderful shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition. They are thorough about their reporting, and will offer stories that are not generally heard on the standard 30-second-sound-bite mainstream media stations. If you’re commuting at other times, keep an ear out for Fresh Air (with Terry Gross).

4. Podcasts

The commute is the perfect time for firing up your favorite podcasts. They are generally in a short enough format so that you can hear one on your way to work, and one on your way from work. Get a few podcasts from your favorite people and start listening and catching up on all of the news and information that you might have missed during the week (or during your commuting time). The Library of Congress offers informative podcasts about all manner of subjects.

5. Talk Radio

You can get your share of oddity, political commentary, and sports just by tuning in the AM dial. One of the great things about talk radio is the opportunity to yell back at the radio and at the people who don’t sound rational. You can often score great deals on local events by listening to community talk radio. The commentary is usually more inspired and spirited there, and you run a higher chance of hearing someone whom you personally know. (Marissa’s Note: I wonder if talking to my radio counts as the same thing?)

6. Stop at Odd Shops

For those who have long surface-street commutes, it can feel like you’re traveling through different countries on your way to work. There are plenty of shops and restaurants along the way, each of them wanting your hard-earned money. As someone interested in personal finance and saving money, you have probably already mastered the art of window shopping, so break up the drive a little bit to stop in some of the odd shops along the way. You might find a bead shop, delightful multicultural grocery store, or even a mysterious martial arts studio. Splitting up the drive will (of course) add time to the commute, but it will save you in sanity.

7. Dictation

If you have a tiny recorder, take advantage of it by dictating your thoughts, dreams, and ideas. If your muse is anything like mine, it strikes at odd times when you are incredibly underprepared. Set the device on record on the seat next to you and begin talking like you are talking with an old friend. When you get home, you’ll find that you have plenty of blog fodder to use, perhaps snippets of song, and important reminders of your to-do list. You can even make some podcasts for others to listen to on their commutes. (Marissa’s note: I dictate the changes I want to make to my blog, and all my other to-do items)

8. The Poetry Game

Poetry is everywhere, especially when you’re trapped in a car. Play the poetry game by talking about any subject, and see if you are able to make rhymes. Discover how many words end in the ‘tion. Maybe start putting your life’s history in iambic pentameter. This game is best played alone in the car if you want to be completely silly about your rhyme scheme. An alternate to this would be to filk song lyrics – making up new words to already existing tunes (think Weird Al).

9. The Association Game

How is a raven like a writing desk? How is your boss like a three-toed sloth? How is that blue car like the sun? Play the association game by asking yourself how one random object is like another one, then extrapolate. This is a great method for bloggers to get ideas about their writing craft, and it can provide excellent entertainment for your friends once you get home.

Your commute doesn’t have to be hell! Not only can you be productive, but you can learn more about the ways of the world and discover new places. All it takes is a little observation and the willingness to let your brain freely travel with your vehicle.

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  • Newlyweds on a Budget February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I purposely moved closer to my job so my commute would only be 10 minutes. We could have moved farther away, and probably gotten a bigger space because of the difference in rent, but I refused to drive a 45 minute commute in traffic.

  • Rafiki February 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I like the dictation idea. In the car most times you won’t have a chance to jot down any ideas that come to you but keeping a recorder can be quite useful, both in and out of the car. I usually just listen to music though. Where I live, I rarely have what you would call a long commute. Island life has its advantages

  • krantcents February 7, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    When I drove long distances to work, I used to leave earlier because the traffic is lighter. Although I no longer travel far (now it is only 7 miles), I still leave early because the traffic and lights are better before or just after 7 AM.

    • Marissa February 8, 2012 at 4:34 am

      Honestly, I hate walking up an extra half an hour earlier to get to work. I rather odd times of the day. So go in to the office at 10 and stay till 6. I get more done when everyone else goes home.

  • Daisy February 8, 2012 at 1:06 am

    When I had to commute in traffic every day, I’d always play the license plate game – what word or phrase could i make out of everyone’s license plates? But nothing ever made that 75 minute commute better.

    • Emily Hunter February 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

      I’d play that game too! I’d always end up with something like BXZ or something to follow — I hope you had better luck.

  • SB @ One Cent At A Time February 8, 2012 at 1:51 am

    thankfully my commute last only 7 mins. And I just enjoy the same old road everyday with a radio song, it makes my day.

  • Emily Hunter February 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Thank you for posting my guest post! 🙂

    • Marissa February 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      No worries. Thanks for writing!

  • Earn Save Live February 9, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Nice post! Some of these would also apply to those who take buses or trains to get to work.

    I walk 3 miles roundtrip each day to work. For me, it was a conscious decision to live close to where I worked. I get exercise every day, and I often listen to podcasts, call friends, or even have “a ha!” moments about my work projects.

  • Modest Money February 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    These tips sound like a recipe for a car accident lol. Be sure to still pay attention to the road and cars around you with these distractions. I’m one of the people that would move closer to work just to avoid the long commute. I could’ve probably used some of these distractions on the commute to my last job. Instead I’d just spend it listening to music and getting mad at the rude drivers.