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How to make your commute less awful, from someone stuck in traffic 326 hours a year

In 2016, I spent the equivalent of 13 whole days, or 326 hours, in transit to and from work. Over that time, I learned that even a lengthy commute doesn't have to be wretched.

Whether you travel by train, bus, car or subway, here are the best tricks I learned to make a trip efficient and even enjoyable.

If you drive

The bad news is that your options for doing work behind the wheel are limited. Sending emails, messaging your colleagues or reading a report while driving is illegal and could get you or someone else killed. That work call you'd like to make might also be illegal since hand-held phone use, even if the call is on speaker, is banned in 14 states.

The good news is that your driving commute is a great opportunity to learn new skills from a podcast, catch up on news or de-stress with music.

Here's how to use your maximize your driving time, even if you can't work:

Cycle between music, news, podcasts and audio books. I've learned about "dark money," improved my French speaking skills and listened to industry-related books all while driving.

What are you interested in? A famous entrepreneur, inspirational advice, how stuff works, strange moments in history? There's a podcast for that.

Avoid "fidgeting." Make sure everything is good to go before you start driving. It's safer for you and for everyone else, and it's less stressful, too.

That means download your audio in advance: get your favorite podcast ready, and enable your Spotify or Pandora playlist to be played offline, so that you won't be bothered by WiFi outages. And pre-set your favorite radio stations like NPR or your favorite music channels.

Always check traffic before you start driving. It will save you time in the long haul.
Medioimages/Photodisc | Getty Images
Always check traffic before you start driving. It will save you time in the long haul.

Stock up on essentials. Keep extras of important items in your car, including portable food and water, a snow scraper, an umbrella, breath mints, safety pins, a lint roller and brush, and a change of clothes.

I've spilled coffee on myself while commuting, so I learned that last lesson the hard way.

If you take public transportation

Before you hop on the train, subway or bus:

Get into what I call the "early but relaxed" mindset.

If you think the the 8:15 train or bus will just get you to work just on time, resist the urge to take it. Instead, take one that gives you 15-20 minutes of wiggle room. Worst case scenario, you have some quiet time to enjoy in the morning or go for a short walk.

There's nothing worse than seeing the train or bus doors close as you wait for your ticket to print.

Have your work gear ready to go. If you want to check off some items off of your to-do list, make sure your laptop, iPad or phone battery is charged. If you need WiFi access, bring your own WiFi hot spot. It uses data from your cellular plan and converts it into Internet access. I have been able to file stories will on my way to and from work because of mine.

If you need to read a company report, print it out or download it to your computer before heading out.


Once you're on the train, bus or subway:

Don't be afraid to ask for (and take) the empty seat. Sure, you might be squished between two people or by the window, but you'll be relieving the congestion in the car and the stress on your legs.

Get that outlet. Is there a place to plug in your computer charger by the window seat? Try to sit near it or politely ask the person near the outlet if you could plug your charger in.

Seek out peace and quiet. Some trains have quiet cars, for example. I always avoid sitting directly in front of or next to a person chatting loudly on the phone.

(If you're in a quiet car on a train, don't be afraid to ask a conductor to politely ask loud passengers to keep it down. It's part of their job.)

If you need to catch up on sleep or relaxation, bring earplugs or sunglasses to block out distractions. But set an alarm to wake you up so you don't miss your stop, and make sure your phone's volume is on.

Download your favorite podcast, audiobook or playlist so it can be played in offline mode for those spotty trips.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Download your favorite podcast, audiobook or playlist so it can be played in offline mode for those spotty trips.

Make use of all available space, including coat hooks and overhead compartments. Then check to make sure you haven't left anything behind when you leave, and always keep your purse or wallet close.

Avoid high heels and other impractical footwear choices for commuting, because sometimes you might have to stand for, literally, hours. You could pack another pair of shoes with you or opt for comfortable professional shoes. Or you could leave a nice pair of shoes at the office and change into them once you get in.

Once you're settled, enjoy your music playlist, podcast, book, newspaper or magazine. If you're hungry, remember you have that granola bar you packed in your bag.

Video by Zack Guzman.