In the last two posts, we heard about how being willing to move can help progress one’s career. Not being tied to a single geographical area can make many more jobs available to you. We also heard how moving can be both disruptive and expensive.
I now turn to a third means by which to expand one’s horizons of opportunity without moving house. Commuting is a topic very close to my heart – as I have been doing rather a lot of it in recent years.
I find commuting difficult. It takes me just over two hours to get to Oxford, and the same amount of time again to get back home to Reigate in Surrey. I wake up early (06.10), get in late (19.50) and try to be asleep by 22.30. When I was full-time, I was spending close to 22 hours a week on trains. Throw in the fact that my partner lives near Hastings (a four-hour round-trip from Reigate), then you’ll forgive me for being a little sick of the travel.
That said, it isn’t all bad. My particular brand of train is usually reliable, and I always get a seat. I get a lot of reading done. I try to learn a bit of French. I have amassed a music library of baroque classics to provide blocking noise against my fellow passengers. The stretch from Reigate to Guildford takes in some of the prettiest countryside in England, and it looks its best in the light of the rosy-fingered dawn.
Then again, commuting can adversely impact upon my work and my well-being. I love bed, but I am always at my sharpest and most efficient in the mornings. Two hours in which I could be hyper-productive at work are lost to commuting. I get tired coming back in the evenings, and I can get emotional. I have nearly cried on a number of occasions when I think about how much I miss my girlfriend. I abhor anti-social behaviour, small or large. I encounter it most days, but rarely have the courage to call it out.
I am not alone. A recent poll that I ran on Twitter revealed that 20% of the workforce spends over 10 hours commuting a week. This blog post could just be a litany of everything that I hate about travelling, but I thought it would be the more powerful if I opened up the floor for others to share their peeves and coping strategies. The result of my call for contributions is what follows. So great was the response that I have had to divide them up into two sections.
The next three respondents have in-common the impact their commutes have on their ability to attend post-work drinks. I know this feeling only too well. My last train home from Oxford is as early as 21.30, but it doesn’t get me home until far later than I want to be up if I have work the next morning.
Name and job title: Emma Coleman, Programmes Manager, Art Fund (@EmmaInMuseums)
Commute start-point: Wallington, Surrey
Commute end-point: St Pancras
Average total daily journey time: 3 hours
Method of travel: I have a few options. Usually Southern train then tube, occasionally bus then Thameslink train.
What do you hate most about travel? By the time I get into work I already feel wound up and grumpy, not a good start to my day! It also impacts on social activity – quite often find myself leaving early or bailing on post-work events with colleagues because it’s such a long journey home (they’re all C. London)
What do you like most about travel? It’s a good ‘buffer’ between work and home of an evening – it’s enough time that I feel I can switch off from work and start to relax before I get home.
Survival tips: I would welcome more of these! Crosswords on the way in – helps engage my brain, ready for the day. And I like to listen to birdsong through my headphones on the way home – doesn’t quite cut out commuter noise but helps me imagine I’m somewhere else!
Next, Flora and Louise both raise the very important point about discussing flexible working hours with your line manager. My quality of life improved immeasurably when I shifted my day from 08.30 – 16.30 an hour later to 09.30 – 17.30.
Name and Job Title: Flora, Assistant Registrar, Museum of London (@FloraFyles)
Commute start-point: Northampton
Commute end-point: London
Average total daily journey time: 4 hours
Method of travel: Walk, train, tube.
What do you hate most about travel? It can be so tiring. Particularly if I’m having a busy week already, the thought of a two-hour journey home can make me want to cry. It makes it difficult to commit to socialising, either with colleagues or friends, especially midweek. I can never stay late, and even staying out for a couple of hours means not getting to bed until really late, making me even more tired.
What do you like most about travel? Sometimes having physical distance between home and work can really help. I don’t have access to work emails, so can use it as a chance to switch off on my way home (although this takes practice, and there are some days when it’s two hours to stew about some annoyance) – I get a lot of reading/watching of crap TV done. – I have an excuse to get out of going out after work if I can’t be bothered.
Survival tips: Establish expectations with your employer. I’m lucky that in all my jobs so far, I’ve worked flexible hours, so being late isn’t a huge deal, but make sure you know, e.g. when you need to tell your line manager that you’re going to be late (I start at 9.30, but only have to text if I’m going to be later than 10.00), and whether you’re expected to make up the hours. – Always get the train before the one that gets you there on time if you have a commitment in the morning. It’s just not worth the stress. Avoid remote access to emails like the plague.
Name and job title: Louise McAward-White, Collections Systems Specialist, British Film Institute (@lyricallouise)
Commute start-point: Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire
Commute end-point: Tottenham Court Road, London
Average total daily journey time: 4.5 hours
Method of Travel: 10min walk to bus stop, 20min bus to nearest town, either 15min walk or 7min bus to train station, then EITHER 20min mainline train to central line underground (South Ruislip) and 40min on the central and 5min walk to office OR 35min mainline train to Marylebone, 20min bus to top of Tottenham Court Road and 15min walk to office.
What do you hate most about travel? Probably the awareness that about 25% of my take home pay is spent on travel! The other problem I have is that on at least a couple of occasions a month, the village to town bus might not turn up at all which can add another 60 to 90mins on either leg of the journey. It also puts a bit of a dampener on social life at work – going out for an after-work drink mid-week either means trying to get the last bus home (which is at 8:30pm!) or paying for a taxi home – which impacts the budget!
What do you like most about travel? In the morning I often nap which is nice! I also get to relax on the way home so when I get there, work is out of my system. I like that I can read or do puzzles, which I couldn’t if I was driving.
Survival tips? 1. Work out the commute BEFORE accepting a job and check the costs. In fact, if you’re not able/willing to move, check the commute before even applying!
2. Don’t feel bad if you’re not productive on the commute – a lot of online advice implies you should be using every bit of time practically, but I appreciate not having to do something all the time!
3. Get some good headphones!
4. Talk to work about adjusting your daily starting and finishing times. I work an hour earlier than most people as I’d rather get up earlier to commute than be home later – some organisations are much more flexible than others but it’s always worth asking.
Anything else you want to say: When you apply for jobs, make sure to think about off-site location travel – e.g. BFI has a site at Berkhamsted where I also have to travel – you need to make sure you can get to those if they are part of the job! If you’re happy at work, commuting can be fine – but if you are unhappy, commuting can compound those feelings.
Elizabeth is our only respondent to cycle for a significant portion of her commute. As she outlines, the marriage between cycling and railwaying is not always an easy one.
Name and Job Title: Elizabeth Bruton, Curator of Technology and Engineering, Science Museum (@lizbruton)
Commute start-point: Oxford
Commute end-point: London
Average total daily journey time: 4 hours
Method of travel: A mixture of cycling and getting the train. The journey varies depending on which train I catch – I have a rather expensive season rail ticket, subsidised by a season ticket loan from the Science Museum so I can get on any train that travels between Oxford and London. My commute also varies by time of year – I tend to have longer bicycle rides during the extended daylight hours of spring through autumn with shorter bicycle rides during the darkness of winter.
What do you hate most about travel? Delayed trains; the lack of decent bicycle provision on trains; and the waiting time necessitated by using different modes of transport. I reckon I spend at least an hour or two a week waiting for trains, either because I need to be there a bit early to get my bicycle on the train or because the train has been delayed. This an extra two hours a week on top of sixteen hours a week commuting – I commute four days a week into London and work from home one day a week. The lack of decent bicycle provision on trains and the need to book bicycle spaces in advance is a particular hassle of my commute. Even worse, the Chiltern Railways service between Oxford, Oxford Parkway (my preferred station), and London Marylebone does not have reserveable bicycle spaces for five plus hours a day during peak journey times and very poor in-carriage bicycle spaces which cause stress to passengers, travellers with mobility issues, and cyclists alike!
What do you like most about travel? I listen to podcasts, read fiction, and sometimes do some work. I enjoy the cycling part of my commute the most – observing the world around me and clearing my head on the journey to and from work. I also enjoy getting an hour or so’s exercise in the great outdoors and observing the changing seasons around me before I start my working day and the same in return on the way back.
Survival Tips: I am quite fortunate that most of my bicycle commute, both in Oxford and in London, is on traffic-free routes, either the cycle route that runs around the ringroad in Oxford or the cycle superhighway that runs through Hyde Park. The latter is pleasantly busy with commuters and tourists on hire bikes alike and sometimes even horses from the riding school using the sandy track that runs parallel to the cycle superhighway. I am an experienced cyclist and do not find the roads of London especially stressful or difficult to cycle but I understand that not everyone feels like this and I do find the car-free space to be far more relaxing and pleasant and I look forward to the extension of the London cycle superhighway and perhaps further afield.
In the second part of this post, we will discuss the difficulty of moving around London itself, as well as showcasing two super-long (but fortunately only temporary!) commuted undertaken by two respondents in the North of England.