When I first started working in New York City, I passed up the fancy Central Park views and the quaint Village lifestyle in order to live in the farthest borough of NYC, Staten Island. Despite being a one- to three-hour commute (depending on traffic), I had family there and could get a great apartment for about a third of the cost of living in the city. Being all about practicality and my future, I knew that it was the right call for me.
But weeks and months into my decision, I often felt embarrassed and guilty by my commuting lifestyle. My friends would beg me to stay out later, but I just couldn't since it wasn't safe to travel home late at night. In the morning, my bus would get caught in traffic due to an accident on the bridge and I would walk into work two (once, even three!) hours late -- after sending multiple emails all morning to update them on my whereabouts! I even had coworkers tell me to leave client events early because they knew how long it would take me. And in the midst of all this, I had people asking me how I could do it. That life was short, and did I realize how many hours I was wasting commuting. I could never do it, they would tell me.
But two years later, I have moved to Boston and have the option to choose city life or commuter life all over again. And you know what I chose? Commuting. It's certainly not the most glamorous lifestyle (or the lifestyle for everyone!), but it does have long-term rewards for those that find it's the best choice. Here are my tips for making it a worthwhile venture:
- Save Money! This is a very obvious one as it is the reason we all start to do it in the first place. When I was living in Staten Island, I was able to sock away about two-thirds of my paycheck every month. Now that I'm living with my parents, it's almost the entire thing. What motivates me to stop spending is having a goal. I want to buy a home in a year. So I look at Zillow.com about as much as I check Facebook. I dream about features to my new home. I think about the lifestyle this new home will allow me. By having something to look forward to, it makes it much easier. Maybe you're interested in an amazing cross-country traveling experience? Or an education program that will let you transition into another career? Whatever it is, keep your mind on the prize!
- Make Use of Your Commuting Time. On average, I spend about two to three hours per day commuting. The reason so many people find this depressing is because they view it as idle time. Time that you're just sitting there staring out the window, doing nothing. Instead, I made a conscious effort to find something to do and commit to it. (Believe me, it's easier than you think to just zone out to your iPod for two to three hours per day after a long day of work, but what does this get you?) Since I love to read and believe it's important to my career, I make sure that I always have a book on me. Often times, I breeze through a book/week. It keeps me entertained, and I am often known to walk into work with my book still in my hand because I just can't put it down. To be even more productive with my time, I started a blog writing book reviews for all of the books I was reading. Now, I have something to show for my time. If books aren't your thing, focus your time on scanning Industry Newspapers to get ahead in your career, or bring a notebook and jot down business ideas. Whatever you're interested in, the train/bus/subway is a great place to get things accomplished.
- Create a Focus. It's true that by living at home or far from your friends/job, you're likely to miss out on social engagements. You can't stay out late. You have to think about how you're getting home. It's a different lifestyle. So rather than stress over what you're missing out on, focus on that thing you've always wanted to do. Interested in a pilot certification? Start going out for lessons. Always had a knack for taking pictures? Start your own photography blog, collage or small business. Whatever it is, everyone has things they would do if they had a little more free time. Now is the time to explore it and cross it off your bucket list.
There will always be the temptation to throw your hands up and start looking for awesome apartments downtown, where your social life can be your main priority. But commuting takes a different kind of discipline and as a result, its own rewards. Good luck!