How to Survive Commuting

Ah, the city school. There are so many upsides to attending a college in the heart of downtown: the exciting nearby events; the discounted access to museums and fancy cultural stuff; the jaw-dropping number of CVS franchises in a one-block radius. (It is truly mystifying that so many identical retail pharmacies can exist in such close proximity to each other without any threat to business whatsoever.)

However, with all upsides come downsides. Such is the way of the universe. There are two exceptions to this rule: the film Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, which is perfect, and the food known as the buttered popcorn jelly bean, which is one hundred percent downside and so unabashedly evil it is concrete evidence of the existence of the devil.

Going to college in the city has a downside, and it is this: it is expensive to live in a city, so unless you live on campus, you might have to move to the outskirts. And moving to the outskirts means spending a lot of time on transit. Here are some of my hard-won strategies to surviving my time on the train.

1. SIT

This may sound like common sense, and it probably also is common sense. However: commuting is so much less of a struggle when you aren’t being thrown around by the reckless acceleration of a tin box and can instead recline and relax. Sometimes sitting takes strategy.

For example, I am a Green Line B girl (and I struggle every single day). So if I am taking the T home from campus at rush hour, otherwise known as “embarking on a quest through hell,” then I get on at Park Street instead of Boylston because the route begins at Park – so I’m getting on an empty train. Then I wave cruelly at all the losers at Boylston who are unable to board, except actually I don’t wave because the train is so crowded I am unable to move my arms. But at least I’m packed in like a sardine in a seat.

But also, if you are a young, able-bodied college student, GIVE UP YOUR SEAT FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED IT. It’s called basic etiquette, look it up!


This is the “devastatingly on-brand” portion of the post. The number one way I make my commute manageable is by using it for reading time. It’s fun, it makes the time go by quickly, and if you’re pretentious you can gaze around at everyone near you who are scrolling on their phone and feel superior.


However, if you are not always above being a phone-scrolling commuter (and who is?), it’s good to have some time-sucking apps or articles, especially ones that don’t take a lot of battery. Twitter is good for this, as are a lot of news apps.


Never have I ever and never will I ever take the train without earbuds. I think I would combust, or the world would shift on its axis or something equally dire with long-lasting consequences. Keep your earbuds in your backpack or in a dish of things you always pick up before leaving your home, or have an extra pair that will live in your backpack always, or otherwise ensure that you will nevereverever in a million years not bring them.

For the good of humanity.


Once you have earbuds, you’re going to want something to play through them. (The commuting version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.) Also, you should always make sure to download what you’re listening to, in case your phone loses service while you are hurtling through subterranean places. There are three main time-killing things I listen to on the train:

  • Podcasts: You can download podcasts using podcast apps like Stitcher, and even subscribe so it does so for you, automatically, with no work by you. Which is the ideal amount of work. Now a lack of service will never cut off Sarah Koenig mid-revelation again. I mostly listen to these comedy podcasts, but rankings of the top podcasts of the week, like this one, are a great place to find new ones.
  • Playlists: I tend to listen to music “too much.” If I’m on the train for at least ninety minutes a day, and I also do homework for a near-unbelievable number of hours, and I also listen between classes and at other moments I want no one to speak to me – that adds up. I also get tired of music pretty easily, so I make sure that I’m constantly updating and downloading my playlists on Spotify.
  • Audiobooks: Apps like Audible are probably best for this. There are also a bunch of free audiobooks for mostly classic literature on YouTube, but they’re much less commute-friendly. You can subscribe to Audible to access audiobooks, or, if you’re a Prime member, you automatically get Audible credits as a point-rewards type system.


Warning: I am about to say something extremely scary and awful. Here goes…midterms are approaching. (I know. I’m sorry.) But as the busier parts of the semester approach, it becomes almost, dare I say, nice to have a bit of time where there isn’t something pressing you should absolutely be doing. So make the commute into as much of a relaxation as it can be. Load up your phone, bring the means of doing your favorite activity (like a book), and try to enjoy the leisure time.

Even if you’re hurtling through a tunnel in a metal box while doing it.

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