After a break, I’m back commuting locally and internationally. My travel involves commuting into heavily populated cities, with public transportation that is less than optimal and outdated (here in the US), very confusing (in Tokyo for example), or very effective but overpopulated (in Western Europe). Each different country I visit and commute to taught me something, and I think it would be good to write these things down.
One of the things that the commute to New York City has taught me over the years is patience. Trains are often delayed, or right out canceled for no apparent reason (well, the reason being the old and unkept infrastructure… but I didn’t say that), these delays usually culminate in Grand Central or Penn Station being filled with people, angry people, trying to get home in the evening. It’s not a pleasant place to be, and it sends my naturally occurring paranoia to a whole different level. But, the positive thing of this experience is that I have developed a way to wait, and go with the flow. I learned the difficult art of patience.
It’s not easy, mind you, but if you grab patience and build upon it, you can get pretty resilient. You can “learn to suffer” in a positive way, acquiring a unique way of problem solving. You begin to understand the chess pieces in the urban commuting game, and you begin to plan contingencies for pretty much everything.
It‘s still annoying and frustrating to deal with delays, and the people around you, but you now have a reserve of patience you can pull from when needed.
The more you commute to the same place, the more you understand its timing. And this provides also a good base to understand what to look for when commuting to new places. Yes, the more you commute to a hard place, like NYC, the more you begin to research the places you are going to go (outside your normal commute). You understand what to look for, the pattern to watch out for, the do’s and don’ts, and how to approach problems. Again resiliency.
In my personal case, once I know I’ll be going somewhere, whether it’s a business trip or a personal one, I spend several days beforehand researching the place, understanding the culture, how is the commuting there, what is the driving like in that place, how do people move around, and what times are best. I also try to understand how often things go wrong there, and try to have a plan for it.
I was taught during my time in the military to read the weather. The same when I was climbing hard in the mountains. But for a city, well, weather can have a whole different meaning. Snow can stop a city, and you are now stuck trying to get home, for example, rain can flood places, and extreme heat can make commuting miserable. Learning what to look for in the weather report, and how to translate that to what it would be like in the urban environment is an art. Again, the more you commute, the more data you have, and the better you become. Commuting can teach you to be prepared for this.
I always carry a lightweight soft shell with me. Good for light rain, wind and snow. I learned the hard way that it was worth adding this thin layer to my carry. I have also mapped the best places to stop if there is a heavy and hard thunderstorm as I walk to the station or to my office. This has saved me countless times.
Try to do a little research about weather patterns for you commute, both local and while traveling. It will save you a headache later.
These are some things I learned while commuting. How about you? What can you learn from your commute? Can you list the things that were made better because of that? Things you have applied to everything?
Take a moment and think. Look around, make a mental note of what's going on, and apply the lessons learned.