Things I've Learned From Commuting

There was once a ten month period of my life when I put myself in a work/live situation that involved commuting a long distance in my car in order to save money. I spent a minimum of two hours in my car every day, or ten hours per week. The shortest drive I ever had was about forty minutes, and the longest drive I ever had lasted a whopping two hours. Every day, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. utterly exhausted and didn't get home until 7 p.m. I saved a large amount of money by moving in with a roommate and moving to a cheaper part of town, and I'm glad I saved the money, but I'm not entirely sure it was worth it and I definitely wouldn't do it again. Here's why:

-Getting up an hour earlier every day combined with the stress of all that extra driving really took its toll on my energy level. I found myself only having about two hours of free time each evening, much of which was occupied by things like making dinner and other household tasks, before I became too tired to actually enjoy the rest of my free time.

-I was so tired from the work week that I quit spending time with friends, or even calling them on the phone, because I didn't have the energy.

-I stopped going out and doing things in the evenings or on the weekends because I couldn't stand the thought of spending another minute on the road.

-I was dead tired by Wednesday or Thursday every week.

-The extra stress and lack of sleep meant that I was generally on a short fuse and found myself having a bad temper for the first time in my life.

I also picked up a few valuable lessons about driving in the process:

-Driving during rush hour is stressful not so much because of the ridiculous amount of time it takes, but because you have to spend so much energy trying not to get into an accident due to the ridiculous number of cars on the road.

-The stereotypes about people who drive luxury cars exist for a reason.

-I got tailgated and refused the right of way much more often while driving an old car than in a newer car.

There were a couple of upsides to commuting, but they didn't really make up for the downsides:

-Learning foreign languages in my car

-Never getting behind on all of my favorite podcasts

-The occasional day of light traffic (because I do actually enjoy driving under peaceful conditions--I actually find it to be a great form of stress relief!)

-The money I saved by living where the rent was low and working where the pay was high

-The joy I experienced from knowing exactly which lane was the fastest on any given stretch of road and exactly which route to take on which day to make the best time. I always knew where a lane would back up from people turning left, where a lane would back up from people turning right, and which freeway entrance had the shortest line. It sounds strange to write that this made me happy, but it did.

-The joy I experienced from finding a little-traveled shortcut that saved me both time and stress on part of my commute

-The extra time I had to myself before work every morning.

Interestingly, while searching for an appropriate photo for this post on Flickr, I realized that for many people, rush hour means enduring crushing mobs on public transportation. I haven't dealt with that myself on more than a couple occasions, but it was one consideration when I chose to stick it out in my car instead of taking the bus. I figured that whatever stress was alleviated by not worrying about car accidents would be replaced by the stress of being crushed, pickpocketed, standing up for two hours, or having to sit next to someone scary or smelly. I didn't think I would be able to use the time very effectively, because I have very poor concentration in the absence of complete quiet. There was also the issue of changing buses twice, waiting for the bus in the dark, and spending even more time commuting than I was already.

Perhaps the worst thing about the commute was that it conflicted with my values. In the past, I had always actively pursued situations that involved living no further than one mile from my job so that I could walk to work. I reasoned that any extra money I might make from a job that was further away would be quickly eaten up by the financial and emotional expense of buying a car, maintaining a car, insuring a car, losing sleep, and dealing with stressful traffic. Well, I was right! The self-loathing I felt every day as I did something that completely conflicted with my beliefs was probably the hardest thing about commuting.

Needless to say, I don't commute anymore, and my upper limit on drive time to work for the rest of my life is going to be twenty minutes each way (if that). I think it's worth it to spend more money on housing to live close to a high-paying job, or spend less on housing and take a pay cut to work in a lower-paying area. I don't think there is any job out there that would be so appealing to me that I would be willing to commute to it (i.e., be exhausted and cranky all the time). Some people don't mind commuting, or are so used to it that they think they don't mind, but for me and thousands of other people, commuting may make cents, but it doesn't make sense.

Photo by vgm8383

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1 comment:

Joel McDonald said...

Great post! For the environment's sake, hopefully more people come to your realization before they decide to buy a cheaper home that involves such a long commute.