Unless you’re self-employed and working from home, just visiting the city, or a layabout, chances are you need to be somewhere at 9am on a weekday morning. Us Londoners, like folk in other big cities, share a common bond in our disdain for the dreaded morning commute. Whether you’re traveling from outside the M25 to the centre, or traversing across Greater London from East to West, you’re faced with the unavoidable task of getting yourself from your home to your place of work or school. The true challenge is doing that in the context of 3 million other people trying to do the same, from and towards all directions, and navigating the web of routes and travel options that the great TfL has to offer.
Visualisation of the movement of 3.1 million London Commuters by Jay Gordon
To make your morning journeys slightly more tolerable, here are 8 things you can do.
1. Always research and plan your journey in advance
Knowing that you will get to work on time with no complications is half the battle won, and reduces any potential for stressing out when you do travel. Even if you take the same way to work every single day, it’s always worth checking the night before that your travel plans won’t be disrupted by any number of strikes, road closures, or train lines being shut for maintenance etc. I use the mobile app CityMapper to plan all my journeys in advance. It has a really useful Morning Commute (and Evening Commute) feature as well as that allows you to set when you want to arrive at work, your preferred route, and also gives you a notification just before you leave to confirm that your route is good to go. I also subscribe to TfL’s Journey AlertsÂ to get first-hand updates if any of my usual routes aren’t accessible.
Have a fixed route and stick to it as much as possible. Your morning commute is not something you want to vary too often, and I find that having a set routine in the morning, including a familiar commute,Â can be quite comforting and beneficial in preparing you mentally for the rest of the day.Â When you first move to a new place or get a job at a different location, work out the best way for you to get to the office (CityMapper also does a good job of recommending ways to get to places, along with estimated times). Make sure you factor in what you consider to be important for a journeyÂ – do you want to zip down the Jubilee Line on a crowded tube for 10 minutes, or would you rather take a comparatively longer bus ride knowing that you’ll get a seat and be able to enjoy the sights?
2. Get the earlier train or busÂ
This might seem like a no-brainer, but give yourself some extra buffer time. By leaving the house earlier and getting the train/bus before the one you were meant to get on, you’ve earned yourself a little more breathing space (both figuratively and literally) by making allowance for the long queues and hordes of people at the stations or bus stops. It’s also nice to get a headstart on the day and be earlier than you usually are, and the earlier trains and buses are usually less crowded.
3. Know where the best carriage/section/seats areÂ
Again, CityMapper has a feature which recommends a best section for your journey. This is usually where you might get a free seat. It also helps to orientate yourself with your station and know where to best wait for the train, and where queues tend to build up. This knowledge comes from a bit of experience and trial and error.
4. Get a Travelcard or use contactless to pay for your journey
It’s always annoying when you’ve queued to touch in and then realise your Oyster is out of credit. It’s also annoying for the people queuing behind you. When this happens, you then have to awkwardly shuffle out of the masses of people who are bursting to get through the barriers, and make your way to the self-service ticket machines in a walk of shame, not to mention losing precious minutes in your commute.
To avoid this, I usually get a season ticket on my Oyster (a monthly one) or just use my contactless debit card to pay for all my travel (make sure you touch in and out with the same card!).
5. Carry less stuff and travel light when you can
By minimising the baggage (both physical and emotional) you carry onto the train or bus, you can also make your journey a bit more comfortable for yourself and other passengers. Leave stuff in the office when possible so you don’t have to lug that bulky holdall to work and take up more space than you need on the Tube. If you’re carrying a backpack or rucksack, be considerate and take it off before you board so you’re not taking up excess room and sandbagging people in the face with your worldly possessions.
I would also avoid eating or drinking during the morning rush. You don’t really want to be holding a cup of hot coffee when you’re being squashed from all sides and don’t have a free hand to hold onto something. Have your breakfast before you leave the house, because it’s just a hassle to try to eat on a busy carriage, not to mention no one appreciates the smell of your leftovers. If you’re a girl, you also run the risk of being featured on WWEOT.
6. Prepare your media, and plug inÂ
I like to make good use of the time I spend on public transport, especially if I spend a significant amount of time traveling day to day. Listening to something educational or motivational is a pretty goodÂ way to absorb knowledge without the need to hold up a screen or a book in front of your face. I’m currently listening to a couple of podcasts, namely The Art of Charm by Jordan Harbinger and the Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur Show by Brian Lofrumento, which are both on Spotify. These two in particular cover a range of topics that I’m interested in, including entrepreneurship, networking, and general self-improvement and productivity hacks, and they often have pretty good guests on. Thirty minutes on the Tube everyday can add up over time, so you might as well be using that time to your benefit by learning something.
If you’re not a fan of podcasts, load up on some motivational music to put you in a good mood and drown out the noise of the morning rush hour (remember your headphones!). Have a book on your phone or a movie (the Netflix Mobile app allows you to download movies for offline watching) just in case you don’t want to be listening to something.
7. Move closer to work
If you haven’t got roots down, it might be easier to just relocate to somewhere closer to work. You can then reduce the length of your torturous commute or even remove it from the equation altogether by walking to work (the dream). London is a city where it’s really easy to move around, as there are always flatshares looking for new blood around the Capital (I’ve had good experiences with SpareRoom). Renting also gives you the opportunity to explore new areas of London and move around every so often, which can be nice if you’re looking to get a fresh start and a change of scenery.
I’ve moved to the Isle of Dogs from Old Street to be closer to where I work in Canary Wharf, and I haven’t regretted it. I walk to work everyday (it takes about 30 mins and I get a scenic route), allowing me to get some extra time in the mornings to get a workout in, or to work on stuff. Not having to take the Tube in the mornings has also done wonders for my blood pressure and my bank account (public transport in London is the most expensive in the world).
However, you don’t want to be too close to the office (30 min walk is ideal for me), as it’s good to have some physical distance between where you live and where you work. Mentally, living super close to the office can be a bit suffocating, and it also means you’ll probably end up spending more time in the office because you live just 5 minutes away.