There may be plenty of paths to success, but there is one trip that most workers share—and that’s the commute. According to the US Census Bureau, travel time to work takes about 26.1 minutes. Even when we’re not held up in traffic, we’re spending almost an hour round trip to get to and from our desks.
Here are six science-backed ways to make this unavoidable trip better.
1. Take Longer
Instead of settling on the quickest route from Point A to Point B (which you and everyone around you plans to use at the same time), extending your trip to take the road less traveled actually lessens the stress of rush hour. Research shows that removing the feelings of unpredictability that come from delays common during peak travel times reduces stress. So mix up the path you take and you just may love your travels—even if adding 10% more travel time is the key to feeling happier.
2. Pick a Happier Mode of Transport
Speaking of happy commutes, are you a car commuter? A bus taker? A walker? McGill University researchers discovered that not all modes are alike: Some make us feel good, and others we straight-up hate. In surveying commuters across six kinds of transport, researchers discovered that the walkers, train travelers, and cyclists rated their trips way higher than car drivers and bus users. The researchers aren’t exactly sure why a train, for example, is more enjoyable than a bus. But it’s a conclusion worth testing for yourself.
3. Turn the Trip Into “Me Time”
In the Mind-Over-Matter Department: Changing your attitude about travel time can actually make you look forward to it. The key? Turn that commute into uninterrupted personal time and do leisure activities that you like, from listening to books on tape or podcasts if you’re driving to knitting a scarf if you’re taking the train, say UC Irvine researchers. When you don’t treat your commute as a chance to “catch up” on work (or think about it as Top 40 DJs ramble in the background), you’ll feel refreshed when you reach your destination.
4. Add Exercise
Active forms of transportation, like walking and cycling, improve both your mental and physical health, says a University of Vermont report. If you have the means to approach your commute as the exercise portion of your day, you’ll actually free up time that you’d usually block off for the gym. (Yes, now you can make it to happy hour without the guilt of missing a workout.) Thanks to many urban bike share programs and companies that offer bike storage, it’s increasingly easy to fit more activity into your day as you save money on tolls, gas, and even gym memberships.
5. Prep the Night Before
Improve your commute before you even leave the house. Make sure you’ve streamlined your early-morning prep so you’re not breaking into a sweat just to get out the door. This means packing your purse, tote, or briefcase, choosing an outfit, setting up the coffee, and putting together your work lunch the night before. Then make sure you turn in early enough to get your eight to nine hours of recommended zzz’s. Turns out commuters are particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation.
6. Plan Your Route
If you’re looking for another foolproof way to reduce travel-related headaches, just glance down at your phone (not when you’re manning a vehicle, of course, because that’s akin to driving drunk). Waze, a free app on iTunes, is part GPS, part map, and part social media source for all things traffic-related. As the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, it harnesses crowdsourcing to help you avoid crowds. If you don’t drive, download Transit, another free app that displays myriad travel options with time estimates that include every mode from walking to Uber.
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Photo of traffic light courtesy of Shutterstock.