7 ways to improve your commute

Written by Trudie McConnochie for Real Insurance.

They say life is a journey – and for most of us, that applies to working life. According to The Real Commute Report 2022 the average Australian’s commute to work is a 5-minute round trip – which means that over a year, we’re spending a substantial amount of time in transit.

The report found that Sydneysiders have the longest average commute time (62 minutes), closely followed by Brisbane (58 minutes) and Melbourne residents (57 minutes),.

We can expect the commuting landscape to continue to evolve in the years ahead.

Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, Dr John Stone, commented:

“Commuting will change over the next five to ten years. Public transport, bikes and walking will be a more convenient option for many as our governments tackle the twin problems of climate change and suburban isolation. On top of that, many of us won't travel to work every day, so the commute won't be so much of a relentless daily grind. Many might dream of an automatic vehicle carrying them effortlessly along the motorway, but I think this technology is still a way off and will be expensive.”

Until then, there are some positive aspects to commuting, says Dr Stone.

“Many people value their commute as time for themselves away from the demands of home and work. It can be time to think or dream, listen to music or podcasts, or get some exercise on foot or on a bike.

“Not everyone has the option, but it can help to think of ways to do something that makes you feel good. This might be music or a book, or even sharing a ride with a friend.”  

7 ways to improve your commute

If you’re looking for ways to make better use of your commute time, try these tips…

1. Listen up

Those who listen to music while commuting are onto a winner as research has shown there is a link between music and stress relief. According to 2022 research by the Infinite Dial Australia, listening to podcasts while riding public transportation was popular with 29% of Australians aged 12+ who had listened to podcasts recently, this could also be a great idea for those driving (tip: ask your friends for podcast recommendations).

Feel like you don’t have time to read books anymore? Whether you’re driving or riding public transport, audiobooks could be a game-changer. Sign up to one of the many audio book services or visit your local library. Apps such as BorrowBox, Indyreads and Libby are activated with your local library membership, allowing you to download audiobooks or ebooks onto your devices whenever and wherever you like. You can also download books directly from individual library’s digital catalogues.

2. Learn more

From practising Spanish via Duolingo to mastering crochet through YouTube tutorials (not recommended if you’re driving!), your commute time is a valuable opportunity to learn something new. You could even download an online course via Lynda to improve your professional skills. For drivers, there are loads of science podcasts to boost your factual knowledge, or The Squiz has a daily news podcast to keep you updated on current affairs.

3. Be friendly

While 77% of mass transit commuters surveyed prefer not to interact with anyone when using public transport, even if you don’t want in-depth conversations with others, casual interactions could make a big difference to your wellbeing, so start saying ‘hi’ to people you see regularly at the bus stop. Research shows that these ‘weak ties’ – loose relationships with acquaintances, such as your barista or newsagent owner – provide benefits to social and emotional wellbeing. And 62% of mass transit commuters surveyed have had a nice/interesting conversation with a stranger on public transport so it’s worth giving it a go!

If you usually drive to work, being in a carpool could help you form new social connections and save petrol money. Put up a notice on your workplace’s intranet or Facebook community page to find others commuting regularly to your area, so you can take turns driving.

4. Train your brain

A healthy brain is one that gets challenged regularly, experts say. Staying mentally sharp could help to reduce your risk of dementia, the second highest cause of death among Australians in 2021 according to the ABS – by doing brain challenges. Crossword puzzles, online trivia quizzes and word games such as Wordle (and its many variations such as Heardle, Framed and Globle) are all great for public-transport commuters. 

5. Daydream or relax

Alternatively, you could give your brain a break during your public-transport commute and simply enjoy watching the city sights whiz by. While it might seem pointless, , according to research certain types of daydreaming are associated with creativity, and is great for creativity and generating ideas.

Want to relax? Try journalling about your thoughts and feelings, which may improve your mental wellbeing. If you’re driving, a safe way to do this is with voice recordings on your phone, operated hands-free (try your phone’s voice memo option or an audio app such as Evernote).

6. Be active

With more than 4 in 5 (83%) agreeing that commuting has never been as expensive as it is now, it makes sense to integrate free options such as walking and cycling into your journey. That’s a step in the right direction, given the significant benefits of being active for physical and mental health. Experts say that if you do 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day – which you can break up into three 10-minute stints – most days of the week, you’re hitting minimum targets for good health. Why not get off the train a few stops early and walk some of the way, or cycle to the station instead of driving? 

7. Get organised

For those riding public transport, catching up on emails and even completing work tasks are smart ways to pass the journey. You could also use your commuting time to get organised with life admin (think: paying bills and doing online grocery shopping). With the average commuting cost per person per day hitting $20, perhaps you can offset some of that with some savvy buys.

Read more in The Real Australian Commute Report 2022

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