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Mega commutes: painful but (somewhat) avoidable?

heavy traffic highway

Studies have long shown that a long commute is one of the most stressful experiences in a workers’ day. The unpredictability, the lack of control over the situation…it all contributes to deep unhappiness and/or severe road-rage that extreme commuters have all faced at one time or another. Slate just came out with an interactive graph that calculates average commute times by zip-code.

My most recent location is a mere 18 minutes in average commute time. My previous locations all clocked 20-30 minutes in average commute time, but I know from experience that I was – unfortunately – definitely above average in this aspect.

My longest commute was at my last job, where I drove 65 miles (more than 30 miles each way) to work every day. It was one of the most painful aspects of my job, as the commute would stretch from 40 minutes on a “good” traffic day to a mind-numbing hour-plus on a day with a few accidents or weather issues. Eventually I started working from home on Fridays, but the Monday to Thursday commute still took 7-8 hours of my life. (I couldn’t move closer to the office, because CB’s work was all the way at the other end of the county, and he had a 70 mile round-trip commute.)

Some commute, sometimes, is unavoidable, but I am hoping that I can structure my life to avoid the mega-commutes. At my next job, I hope to be able to live within a 15-20 minute drive of the office, maybe even closer. I do not know what kind of opportunity could make me a “megacommuter,” or someone who drives 90 minutes to work on a regular basis, but even if it’s an opportunity I can’t turn down, I would rather move than make a drive like that. A long commute is not just about the money you’d spend on transportation/increased housing prices, it’s about your quality of life.

What is the average commute time in your zip code? Is your own commute longer or shorter than that?

  • Kasey - When I lived in the Chicago suburbs my commute was 20-25 min one way. I worked in the suburbs and everyone who knows Chicago knows this is a great commute time as people who drive downtown each day have an hour plus commute each way. I ended up moving downtown for 8 months and my commute jumped to 30 min in the morning and an hour in the evening even though i was going against traffic, driving out of the city while people were driving into it. This almost double my commute but living downtown was fun. It was never a permanent situation for me so I learned to deal with it. Thanks to my move to Utah, my commute now is 20-25 min and I rarely hit any traffic. I could have lived closer to work but I love the area I am in so the commute is worth it. Plus it puts my boyfriend at only a 10 min commute.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I'd rather drive 20 minutes without traffic than 15 minutes with traffic – all that stop and go raises my blood pressure! ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - My commute right now is 3-5 minutes of driving and 10-15 minutes of walking, which is right at or slightly below the average for my city. My longest commute was 90 minutes each way – 15 minutes of driving, 1 hour on the Metro, and 15 minutes of walking – and it was unbearable. I kept it up for only about 6 months before moving closer to work. Driving would have cut a bit off the time, but I preferred the regularity of the commute time and the ability to do other things while on the train. I love my commute now because it's so short and because I'm with my husband for most of it.

    As for the future, I think I won't have to be a megacommuter again, both because of where we want to live and because I know it doesn't work for me. But with two working spouses and a competitive job market, I can't be sure we won't have to split the difference between our workplaces in terms of where to live, and I doubt we'll be able to have the same short commute we have now unless we work at the same place.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I'm walking and busing to school, or I catch rides with my friends. It's great because my commute is the shortest it's been since, well, EVER. :-) ReplyCancel

  • moneybeagle - I've had some rough commutes. I also had one that was 65 miles each way, that took about an hour in the morning and about 80 minutes in the afternoon. Awful! Now, my commute is only about 6 minutes each way, which I love, but you know what, you can still get stressed. You're going to find rude drivers no matter how short the trip, I find this out all the time! ReplyCancel

  • Anne - Unique Gifter - My coworker has a "megacommute" … it's around 1:35… no idea how he does it! ReplyCancel

  • Newlyweds ona Budget - Rush hour in the LA area sucks. I've been lucky that I've never had much of a commute. My longest was my last jo; it would take me about 45 minutes of driving each way, even though it was only about maybe 10 miles away but there was no direct way to get there except for the toll road, which would cost $5 each way, so I had to go around, it sucked. My shortest is definitely now. I don't even get on the freeway. I live 3.5 miles from where I work and some days I even ride my bike. LOVE it.ReplyCancel

  • Daniel - Average in my area is 25 minutes, but it takes me about 45 minutes. I don't think it's so terrible as long as traffic is moving. I listen to the radio and try not to think that I spend over 7 hours a week driving to and from my job… ReplyCancel

  • MakingSenseofCents - My commute isn't bad, mainly because the traffic here USUALLY isn't too too bad. I maybe spend 40 minutes a day in my car commuting. ReplyCancel

  • @lcl730 - The average for my zip code is apparently 24.3 minutes, and mine is right on par with that. There are 3-4 different routes I could take that all take 20-25 minutes. It's only 6 miles, but city surface streets can take awhile! My husband's "commute" is 0.7 mi, though, and he hates to drive, so I definitely don't mind mine at all. ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Blarrrgh. Had to go to the city fringe for a morning meeting the other week (I live, work and play in the burbs) and seeing all the traffic on the roads, jostling to get on the motorway, and on the motorway, stressed me out so bad, even as a passenger in the taxi. I COULD NOT handle driving through that.

    I walk to work – 20 minutes, calm, peaceful. I used to bus to work in the city – about 30-40 minutes door to door, or 10 by car, and before that when we lived further out, an hour from door to door, although only about 15 minutes by car. PT is cheaper, esp. considering maintenance, parking etc, though takes longer, and for me eliminates the stress of driving and parking. ReplyCancel

  • Johnny Moneyseed - Commuting to work is the trip we take the most frequently. Why more people don't live within 3-5 minutes of work is astounding. You not only waste time in traffic, but you waste gas, your vehicle depreciates and the stress levels increase. I live 45 minutes from work, and I regret buying my house every single day. We're looking to move within a 3 minute commute. That would be a dream come true. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - In my case, we couldn't live closer to either of our work because our work was 70 miles apart from each other. So if we were to shorten our commutes, we would have had to find new jobs (not the best solution at that moment). Even some single-income families or families with a person who works from home may need to live closer to other family members or find the place 3-5 minutes outside of work way too expensive. (What if you worked in the heart of NYC? It'd be hard to be able to afford a 5 minute commute unless you were a hedgie!). ReplyCancel

    • Kasey - I doubt it’s practical for many people these days to be able to live that close especially if it’s a dual income family. When I first started my last job I lived really close to work. I was unaware it was a bad area and moved farther away as soon as I could. Not all neighborhoods near someone’s job are good places to live especially if you work in a big city. ReplyCancel

  • Mr. 1500 - Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be able to work from home. My commute is about 20 seconds (walk downstairs) and on some days, I don't even bother changing into normal clothes. Yeee haaa!ReplyCancel

  • JW_Umbrella Treasury - My husband and I both have fairly long commutes. 80 miles round trip for me, and it takes 2-2.5 hours total. I can take the train, but I still have to drive to the station. 50 miles round trip for my husband, and it takes 2-2.5 hours total. We don't live/work in NYC, but we're in the greater NYC area. Unfortunately, our jobs are in opposite directions so the current living arrangement is about as good of a solution as we could muster. My husband has been searching extensively for a different job. Ideally, it would be either closer to where we live or commutable via public transportation. If we could decrease one – or both! – of our commutes, we would do so in heartbeat.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Wow 80 miles round trip?! That is a bummer. I hope you/your husband will be able to find something soon and cut that commute down! ReplyCancel

  • krantc ents - Years ago (more than 12 years), I used to commute an hour or more (roughly 45 miles each way) each way to work. I now have a easy 10 minute commute. ReplyCancel

  • studentdebtsurvivor - 37.4 minutes according to the calculator. But my actual commute is about 45 minutes door to door including about 10 minutes of walking and 35 minutes on the bus (at midnight it's probably a 15-20 minute ride, it's the traffic that kills the time). I could take the train and get there in about 30 minutes, but the bus pass is cheaper and drops me off closer to work (about 2 blocks away) so I don't have to walk as much in the winter snow and summer heat. ReplyCancel

  • Holly@ClubThrifty - I used to commute about 45 highway minutes….and I hated it. Now I drive about 5 minutes to work on a country road. I'm so glad I don't have to commute anymore. ReplyCancel

  • Sofia R. - I have a 30 minute commute every day to work, 1 hour round trip, in average. Sometimes on the way back home that 30 minute commute turns into 60 to 80 minute commutes. There is a small window of a few minutes from 4:55 and 5:03 pm that you must be on the road before it gets nasty. On top of that, I must agree with your statement about ''not being about the money spent, its more about the quality of your life'', right on. ReplyCancel

  • oilandgarlic - I made the long drive sacrifice for many, many years — partially due to low rent and nice neighborhood. However, once the kids came along, we traded our idyllic suburban neighborhood to move to a denser area, near my job and my family. It isn't our ideal area but I LOVE having the shorter commute. ReplyCancel

  • @SavvyFinLatina - I commute 5 minutes to work. Best commute ever. My husband commutes almost 1 hour to work (2 hours every day). Dallas commutes suck. When we buy a house, my commute will increase, not sure about my husband's time. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Those 2-hour a day commutes just suck the life out of you. I hope your new home will result in a more reasonable commute for both of you. ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - My commute is ten minutes right now. I'm a renter so I don't mind living close to my (very remote) workplace. When I decide to buy though, my commute will probably increase to thirty minutes or so each way. I'm not looking forward to that, but I don't want to live in the rural community that my workplace is located in. If I do this, I'll probably try and arrange to work from home two or more days a week. I think that commuting, especially by car, is an awful way to spend an hour or more each day. ReplyCancel

  • StackingPennies - This is one reason why I'm scared to consider buying property – even if i have a reasonable commute when i start, it could turn into a nightmare if I switch jobs for some reason. My commute is about 20 minutes. it was <10 when i first moved here, but I like my new neighborhood a lot better. When/if we start a family, i'm not sure what we will choose to do. ReplyCancel

  • Budget and the Beach - I'm lucky in that I work from home. I recently had to work at a different site where at best it took me around 38 minutes to get there. I too experienced the anger and frustration of other drivers. I'm really happy that's one thing I don't have to deal with on a regular basis. ReplyCancel

  • Pam - When I first got out of college my job was 45 miles away from my house. The area was HORRIBLE – no way was I going to move to be close to there. But it was during a time when jobs were extremely hard to find. I had to take 4 freeways to work. Took me over an hour and if it rained? Forget it – no telling when I would get home. My boss was horrible – we had an alternate office we could have worked in that would have been closer but he was one of those "if I can't see you – you must not be working!" Did that job for 6 years and then got offered a job that was 17 miles from my house. What a difference!!! Worked that job for 7 years. Now I work a job that is 8 miles from my house (garage to parking spot) and I get to work from home a couple of times a week. The difference has been amazing since I now have 2 children and I can attend all of their school events without taking a full day off from work. ReplyCancel

  • Beatrice - My work commute is about an hour and a half each way (20 minutes driving, 1 hour bus, 15 minutes walking). I hate it! My only saving grace is that I can work from home one day a week. We're not moving any time soon so I will have to just suck it up or find a job closer to my house. ReplyCancel

  • @trar - haha that picture IS my commute! I work at the casino across the street. And since I am not a moron, I leave the freeway (those cars have just gotten off the I-15) to the noobs and stick to the side street (and away from lanes the feed into the taxi lines for all those casinos). ReplyCancel

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