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Ask HN: How to bear through a long commute (2h one way)?
24 points by user-extended 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments
I commute to work 3 days a week for 2.5h more or less each way, and I WFH 2 days a week.

I do not work in IT (Logistics), and this is my first job ever, shy of right about 6 months into it. I'm a 23 year old college dropout.

I used to live in the city I currently work as, but my landlord just became impossible to live with, which left me with a very bad experience of what sharing a house is like.

At the same time, I experienced some work problems which led me to become very anxious when I'm lonely, and so, I decided to go back to live with my parents, which has helped me become more mentally stable.

However, my 2.5h commute, which consists of Driving to a Train a Station (30 min) --> Taking a train (1h) --> Taking the subway (25 min) --> Taking a tram (5 Mon) --> Walk to work (5 Mon) (in the best case scenario), is making me very mentally exhausted. I wake up to go to work at 6PM and I get back home at 7.45PM. I go to sleep at 9.45PM.

I've tried listening to podcasts, but I've found they do not quite work for me. Maybe I need better headphones, but in the train, people just talk too loudly for them to work.

I cannot leave this job because it's my sole source of income, and I'm financially stretched (salary is rather low), as well as I'm 6 months into it. Dad tells me every day how proud it is of my job and how I should never leave it.

Looking for a new place to rent is hell, absolute hell. Landlords want to know your work history + income history + shady landlords which do not want you to sign contracts leaving you with no rights + it would be a huge expense for me. Right now, I ride the aforementioned train for free thanks to a government program, so commuting costs me 1/7th vs. renting.

I also have a friend who makes as much money as I do, in IT, WFH fully, and is doing so much better than I do. I'm a CS dropout, and I'm thinking of getting back to it... But I have my doubts.

Has anyone experienced a commute like this? How did you bear through it? How long did you last at it?

I would spend every minute of that train ride studying and looking for new work or housing. Get earplugs (cheap) or noise cancelling headphones(not cheap), maybe both, and drop the excuses why you can't do those things. 5 hours a day is a lot of time, you need to find a way to make it productive until you can improve your situation.

I never had a commute like that, however I did used to have 1.5 hours a day of bus rides. I studied, it was effective.

I worked for intel and had to fly somewhat frequently. Those flights were where I got all of my reading done for my courses!

how to bear your commute is the wrong question. You cannot bear a 2h one way commute for an extended amount of time. It's a recipe for depression and ruining your health. It's not sustainable.

The correct question is how to escape this long commute. You either need a different job, or live in a different place, or both.

Make a plan how to escape now. Every day longer you wait, you will one day look back and wish you had escaped earlier.

I did a similar commute for a few years. The trick, I found, is to do something which leaves you mentally relaxed.

In no particular order - sleep, podcasts, reading a book, playing games, writing blog posts, knitting, Duolingo, Sudoku, chatting with friends, and - finally - work.

I asked my boss if I could leave slightly early as long as I was working on my commute. That's possible if your job is mostly answering emails and you have a laptop and a stable data connection.

Ultimately, the real solution is to move somewhere with a simpler or shorter commute. In a few months you'll have more work history and more savings. That'll make it easier to rent, or house share. See if anyone from work has a spare room.

How do you fall asleep in a train? Did you train for it? I've tried, but I've mostly always instantly woken up after someone inevitably enters the train and screams while talking.

The getting out/in of work earlier... I've asked for it, my boss told me that getting 2 days WFH is already a stretch when my coworkers get just 1. And I'm not giving out free labor, that's for sure.

I put in earbuds, turned on a "white noise" app (Chromadoze or Binaural Beats), leant against the window and closed my eyes.

Silicone earplugs also work well. Or, if your train has one, go in the quiet carriage.

Imagine you had a 30 minute commute. What would you do with the extra 90 minutes? Watch Netflix? Play Zelda? Meditate? You can do all those things on a train.

Quiet carriages are sadly not a thing where I live.

Yeah... I am not sure if the investment is worth it into the headphones. I'll think it through.

Honestly, that's a really question. I'd probably watch YouTube, think about the state of my life and do some other similar... Stuff. So I guess really not much different, but my mind cannot relax in a train. Plus I have to drive at the end of my commute through very rural roads, and it's absolutely the worst part of it all.

Definitely try some earplugs, I personally like the foam ones that you roll up and then expand in your ear. If that’s not enough get a pair of over-the-ear hearing protection and use both together. Just be sure to have a vibrating alarm on your phone to alert you when your getting close to your stop. Then be sure to print a pillow and maybe a small blanket. Also put a lock around whatever bag your bringing and sling it around your arm or leg to prevent thefts if you have things of value with you.

Honestly aiming for sleep is probably the best thing for the short term. Trying to learn new skills or look for a new job/apartment while exhausted and stressed just compounds it.

Best of luck. It will get better.

One way out of the landlord trap is shared housing.

Early relatively entry-level work is often more effort than challenge. It doesn't grow your skills, but saps your energy, so it's easy to stall. But you need the validation that you're reliable before you get jobs that matter more.

So it's best in early years to focus on personal development, and frankly living closely with strangers is a great way to learn how to deal with people. It's especially helpful when you don't really like each other, but you learn to live together with kindness and openness.

Whether you stay at home or live with strangers, absolutely positively do not accept your current situation. Learn to live with your doubts and get back to school. It only gets harder the longer you wait, and the burden of proving yourself after stalling only grows. Spend more time studying than you would in school, so school becomes a cakewalk when you get back to it. It's not a function of ability so much as diligence.

Nice post!

Two 2-year stints with a 74-mile one way commute into Silicon Valley, CA.

a) The first was 1989-1991 (before highway 85 was built and 3/4-lane sections of Hwy 101 were 2/3 lanes. (heavy traffic, slow commute) b) The second was 1997-1999 just going into the dot com boom/bust.

So, no real internet nor telework options at the time.

I drove every day, and had to fill up my pickup every other day. So, I got 1.5 full commutes (74 miles * 3) before I felt I needed to gas up. (When you need to drive a lot, little things like taking care of your car do consume much of that precious time out have remaining). And when your car breaks, you need to fix it quickly.

Part of my long distance was driven by buying a house.

I was not a book-on-tape person. I found it too distracting with interruptions to stay focused. I found foreign language tapes/CDs worked really well, they kind where simple vocabulary is played (e.g. English/Russian). This helped me build up a surprisingly large vocabulary. I also liked the time to think, but it did get boring after the 2-hr commute on a 5 day basis.

My social life was challenged, as my friends were in the Bay Area, and I needed to get home on a regular basis.

Things i would have done differently (given the constraints of the 1980s and 1990s:

I would have gone up early on Mondays, slept in my car that night, worked Tuesday, and drove home. That night, I’d have worked out at a gym (expensive back then, so maybe just personal exercise). I’d try to repeat that Thurs/Friday. This would return me about 5 hrs of commute time, two full rounds (gas and wear and tear). My social life would be a little better back then.

In my last role, as a Supervisor, I had a few people sleeping in their offices, and as long as they were discrete, it worked well and one guy, 75 yrs old, still working, was living in his office. But you have to be discrete, and can’t be walking in your underwear to the bathroom at 3 AM and have a security guard see you. No. No. No.

I regret the amount of drive time, as your health slowly suffers simply from the lack of exercise, and the poor diet items due to lack of time and driving. You gain weight. There are difficulties with the social factors also, it is harder to meet people. Also, the wear and tear on the vehicle is high, 348,000 miles on my vehicle when i needed to get rid of it for safety issues.

Positives, I saved money, bought nice property, and was able to stay out of Silicon Valley.

Your dad may be wrong about “never leaving your job”, but if you have a nice position, do not be caviler about it and see about making it work until something better comes along.

One other idea, may not be good, get a part time care giver role where you get highly discounted space to just be present in an older person’s home at night. One of my former co-workers has this set up. He is a geo-bachelor at this time, but he stays in a room, close to work, basically checking on the older person who lives there.

You can use the time to study for an area that will allow you better opportunities down the road. IT jobs are really coming now-a-days. I don’t like to study for “work” on my spare time as I feel I am giving a little too much to the employeer. But, if I study something that helps me at work, but better yet gives me more opportunity to leave work for a better job, that suits me well.

Good Luck!

work two consecutive days from home. Then spend one or two nights in your car or fine a cheap room/deal in a house where you work (or sleep in your office - "I was working late..."). If you can work two ten hr days the day you pull an overnighter, maybe you can work three days from home?

Thank you for your reply!

For about 18 months, I commuted from Southern NJ to Wall St, NY. My reason was that I was not going to get another job and start my own business anyway so I just stuck with it till then. On a good day, it was 2.5 hours one way door to door and bad day, 3 hours (drive->bus->walk). You cannot do it for too long for sure. It WILL burn you out no matter how good your commute may be.

Your best bet: If you think you can get into Tech and get a fully remote job, start working on that plan on weekends (week days will be tough due to the nature of your job). Then once u are able to find something, quit. One bright side of your commute is that it is 3 days not all 5 days.

I am indeed lucky to have only 3 days instead of the regular 5 of commuting.

I don't know if I can get into tech, I don't know how to code, and... I don't think I could learn in a normal time frame. I said that mostly put of desperation at this point, as I am very jealous of my friend's life choices.

If two of those commute days are in a row, try to crash in town that night. Save yourself a few hours of commute, hang out in town, whatever. El cheapo Airbnb (for example) - all you need is a bed and a place to make coffee & a bite of breakfast.

One advice from my side, you can slightly shift hours of your commute to avoid rush hours. When I was commuting to my work I usually started my work somehow between 11:00 - 12:00 AM. For some people this means your evenings are screwed but it worked for myself. Since there is little traffic at later hours and trains are usually quieter you will have more chances to relax/read a book/listen to audiobooks etc.

Also my friend has a long train drive to work (about 1h in each direction) and he... sleeps in the train. He OTOH is going to work very early, he starts at around 7:00 - 8:00. So I guess it all depends how flexible your company is when it comes to working hours.

Disclaimer: I am from central europe, not US so my advice may not apply to your situation well. Public transport is quite good in my country (and cheap).

You have the luxury of sitting on a train instead of in traffic. Don't listen to podcasts, watch a movie or something. Make your commute a bit more fun.

I've been through something like that. I was quite young at the time but even so it took an enormous toll on my health. Sounds like you have an OK sleep schedule though so do keep that up.

Would it be possible for your employer (or friend in IT even) to loan you a little money to get a place closer to work?

Would it be possible for your parents or someone else from your family to move with you (so everyone is sharing the cost)?

>Would it be possible for your employer (or friend in IT even) to loan you a little money to get a place closer to work?

Though I am stretched in money, I can afford to pay for the average rent price where I live. That's luckily not the issue for me, my biggest issue is that I'd lose a significant part of my income.

>Would it be possible for your parents or someone else from your family to move with you (so everyone is sharing the cost)?

Sadly, no. My parents are renting too.

Thank you for your reply... I'm glad you made it out of it!

The train is the longest part of the journey, and seemingly one of the calmest (compared to subway and that short tram ride). Are you able to do any deep work (reading, learning, brushing up on CS, etc.) during this commute on laptop or phone?

I don't think anyone can bear through that commute for extended periods of time, and trying to bear through it is a fool's errand. The quickest way out of your current situation for the medium- and long-term is to get a job in tech that allows full WFH/remote. In the short-term, it would be looking for new work or new accomodation, but I think that's pretty hard given what you said.

So, I would look for reasonably low-hanging fruits in tech such as webdev, specifically front-end - it's a great starting point and you can make some very tangible side projects for your portfolio to showcase. If you want any advice on getting started or some mentorship/code reviews/resource recommendations, I'm more than happy to help (for free of course) - feel free to shoot me an e-mail (in profile) anytime!

It definitely seems this is simply, not sustainable long-term, and I fooled myself into thinking it was. I guess it is what it is, I tried saving up money, I really tried!

Anyhow, I probably should've specified that I dropped out of CS during my freshman year of college some years ago. I'm not like most people in HN who dropped out of CS to work/start a company. I'm a "true" dropout, if you will... Thanks for your offer for help, but I have no skills nor experience to show for it, and I have a 2 year technical degree and work in a whole other industry (Logistics). I don't know if to try to picking it up again after failing so bad it.

As you can imagine, my life choices have been so far very bad, and I've been dealing with a lot of regret. To each their own, I guess.

Is CS/programming something you're interested in or passionate about?

> but I have no skills nor experience to show for it

Skills and experience can be acquired. My inbox is always open :-)

Sent you an email

> I cannot leave this job because it's my sole source of income, and I'm financially stretched (salary is rather low)

If you are saving up 90% of your income, as you say elsewhere, then in what meaningful sense are you financially stretched? Your salary may be low, but you clearly need almost none of it to live on. That means that you do have options.

Yes, however, I do not see that salary increasing any time soon. If I were to rent, that salary would get stretched a lot more than it is right now, as even that 90% of money I can save currently with my lifestyle (and it's closer to 70-80%, realistically speaking) is kind of peanuts.

Indeed, I have options, but the other option is going from saving a small amount to almost nothing. And the more I think about it, the more I realize I may be just... making a big mistake, and that I should "Carpe Diem".

Let me remind you at my current rate I'd need to work for 20 years to afford a house in my country (with 0 other expenses, so 30, really speaking).

They make nice headphones called in ear monitors that block out sound somewhat better. Maybe something like that for subtle but also noise canceling.

For what to listen to I would suggest audiobooks. Go for nonfiction that's really compelling to you, or that long form fiction you've always wanted to read (lord of the rings perhaps). With 4 hours per days you'll be working through multiple books per week. You might even look back on this time as the delightful period when you got to read all those book you'd always wanted to.

Shorter commute would be preferable but above would be my suggestion till then.

Street photography?

The commute is long enough that you could make some pictures, edit some pictures (maybe the same ones, maybe not, maybe a mix), and share them online.

OK, street photography might not be your thing, but how about drawing or painting?

Or making music with a portable electronic instrument or even a tablet, laptop or phone?

What I am getting at is spending your time making something and/or developing a skill and/or doing something active rather than consuming. Even a portable gaming device might be a positive experience.

Or perhaps writing? Wallace Stevens wrote poetry while commuting to his day job.


Clarification: most of these should not be done on the driving portion of your commute.

Good luck.

Maybe it's different where you live, but in my experience (norcal/SF bay area) it's been rather trivial to find rooms to rent by the month when needed.

Especially if you're willing to take a room at least a bit outside of the hip downtown spots.

Maybe find a room somewhere on the commute route that's substantially closer to work, but in an affordable neighborhood? Is there a college town on the route where spare rooms in homes are often rented to people your age for some extra income?

Not all shared housing situations are awful. I wouldn't let some pathologically bad experience eliminate the option altogether. Just don't get locked into a long-term lease and you can always just roll the dice again next month. Try be more flexible.

Yep, rather different where I live. Possible for sure, but landlords charge out of wazoo for short term stays. If I were to rent again, I'd mostly be looking at 6 month contracts. Thank you!

I did this when I was in IT with a kids on its way - just because I was desperate. It was 2.5h one way and I did it 4x a week.

In retrospect I should not have accepted to be treated like that. In short: I stayed 6months and applied every day for jobs in my area and after 1 year I was out with 40% salary jump, 10min bike ride.

My suggestion: Take a notebook: 15min everyday for applications, 45min some work (ask to leave early as you worked in the train). Do the less concentration-heavy stuff on the shorter commute (subway) like mindfulnessapp,prayers,music … whatgets tou grounded and thankful.

Keep going and know it’s temporary - there are plenty of places once you have your 1-2years experience. Maybe think of completing your CS degree or at least some certifications.

I dropped out during my freshmen year of CS, so... That's a 4 year project at best... I said that out of desperation, honestly. It also spirited into a lot of other... Issues, mostly related with confidence.

Glad you were able to make it out of it all!

When I was 24 and living in the Bay Area I had a ~2 hour commute (15 min walk + ~1.5 hour or so bus, so simpler than yours) for 6 months. My schedule was almost the same as yours - wake at 6am, bus at 6:45am, work, bus at 5:15pm, home at 7:30pm, sleep at 10pm, regret life at time of my choosing.

My life suffered for it. Highly recommend changing jobs or housing if possible, or talking to your manager and asking to be remote several days a week. Mention the commute.

To get through it, I brought a pillow and slept on it while setting alarms that would reliably wake me before my stop. I wore disposable ear plugs. I tried to do work on the bus but I could never find the energy, so might as well make up for lost sleep.

I had a similar commute. 45min to the train, 1h20m on the train, 20min shuttle, 5min walk. On the reverse, the drive could be 45min or 90min.

I left the house at 4am to get to the gym near the train station by 5am, grab the 6:30 train, get to the office around 9am, leave at 4:30, be home around 7 or 8. Have dinner and repeat 5 days a week for 6 years. Then started two days remote for a couple years. Eventually shifted to an earlier train and counted my hours on the train for work when I could. Would get home by 5 or 6. Then went full remote.

On the train, worked, studied, or listened to audible.

Find a few friends who couches you can crash on or get exception to sleep at the office. Sleep with deep sleep music + active noise cancelling headphones(spend money on them) + Meditate when awake. Why are your working so hard if your parents can support you atleast temporarily? Do not deal with landlords, find someone who has all the above but wants to save money by having someone crash on the couch 3days a week.

There are so many options better than commuting 5hrs/day.Hell for some people(parents) that their sleep time.

Focus on these things in a round robin, based on how important they are to you.

Catchup with family, send texts/emails. Plan your day/week/year/vacation. Self development (communication skills, new skills, reading, meditation) Self entertainment (watch movies/shows or read books, anything that makes you happy without bothering others)

Time will eventually become the most scarce commodity in your life, make good use of it while you have plenty of it.

Depending on where you live, see if motorcycling is an option. With your packed schedule you would have scant time for any leisure. This is one way to incorporate a hobby into the commute. They are insanely fun to ride and can give you something to look forward to each day. It's definitely not for everyone, but if you take to it, it can be quite the meditative experience to ride for long periods of time.

I'm trying to save money with this commute, so getting a motorcycle license + buying up a motorcycle... I'd just rent something. But that's some creative thinking for sure!

One thing I'd recommend is bone conduction headphones paired with earplugs; it should work a bit better than normal noise canceling headphones because those depend on relatively time-invariant noise to cancel. Trekz is the brand I use, and they tend to cost about $100: I guess that's about $1.50/hr after one month of use on your commute.

In your case I'll probably drop the 5 mins tram ride and use the opportunity to jog to work. Exercise time can be saved from spending during night.

I'll also use the train+subway right for some serious study or relaxing depending on the day.

However have you considered borrowing a few hundred bucks from parents and find a rent closer? I'd be happy to do that for my kid.

I used to rent, and I could take up renting again, but right now I'm saving up 90% of my income. Renting would make me drop that percent to the low 30%. And I don't work in IT + lower incom country salary wise, so I don't expect my salary to substantially go up any time soon. Why do I want to save money? To buy a house. Eventually. In 20 years. Done the math :(

Saving 90% of your income is great, but it's costing you a terrible commute. If you can use that train time for things you'd otherwise do in free time, maybe it's ok. Get your reading in, or your video games or some of your social needs (I made train friends and ferry friends when riding those regularly)...

Do you have any friends or coworkers in a similar situation? If so, maybe you can rent a small apartment together as a crash pad.

Otherwise, is your dad able to co-sign a lease with you? If he has a good rent history, you can probably get around those sorts of requirements.

Assuming that's not a M-W-F schedule you could look for someone who wants a part time roommate or house/pet sitter. As long as you are able to resume commuting and stick to living somewhere else 4 days of the week, stability of a lease/etc cuts both ways.

In a developed country being a no contract tenant is a good thing. Any landlord dumb enough to have a no contract tenant is going to get absolutely wrecked by the legal system

Not in my country, you, as a tenant, can be kicked out of their property without notice at any moment. As you can guess, getting back your deposit in this kind of situation is always tricky at best.

They do that where I live so that the Government doesn't make them pay taxes for putting up a place for rent.

In the US it depends on the state you are in. In New York the laws are very much in favor of tenants but since justice doesn't come free, sometimes landlords screw over tenants and tenants don't take effective recourse.

Same in Connecticut. Why in the world should someone have to sue to stay somewhere they are legally entitled to but not wanted? It's a weird proposition.

I was lucky to never experience something like that while renting. On the flip side, I never felt "housing secure" despite always paying on time. I didn't realize how much that perception of security was impacting my mental health until I purchased a home.

I wish I had a solution for this problem.

I worked on my photographs on my laptop during my train rides. It was a relaxing part of my day, as it was back before persistent internet everywhere.

Have you asked if you can WFH say 4 days, doing the commute once a week?

What would driving the whole way look like time wise?

Buckle up and start taking control of your life kiddo.

Let me guess... Barcelona?

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