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Commutes That Don’t Wreck Careers — or Marriages

The average travel time to work in the United States right now is 25.4 minutes, according to the Census Bureau — but many Americans log far than that on planes, trains, and automobiles.

“My commute from my home in Columbia, Maryland, to Washington, D.C., could be as long as two-and-a-half hours,” a retired State Department employee told LifeZette about her one-way trip to work. “I had a very high-stress, fast-moving career, but I would often say, ‘It’s not the job that’s killing me, it’s the commute.’ From car to bus to subway, topped off by a 20-minute walk — all before the day began.”

Thank God my husband has the sense to pull over when he’s drowsy.

It’s not easy having to travel long miles to a job, work all day, then commute back home. It’s no wonder commuters are desperate for even a few minutes shaved off their travel time. After nearly 100 years of planning, the Second Avenue subway line opened this past weekend in Manhattan. For many people on the Upper East Side, this will mean shorter commutes to work, and residents told The New York Times Monday they could save anywhere from five minutes to more than an hour each day. They’re celebrating those extra minutes of snooze-time.

While commuting can be overwhelmingly mundane, it can also be — with planning — a productive time. Here are some options to make your commute into the office far less painful and much more useful than you ever thought.

If you're driving a long way, make some stops during the commute. Anything you can take off the to-do list while you’re already out saves you a trip later. Hit the hardware store, mail letters and bills, do a quick grocery-store shop. Supermarkets have caught on to commuters’ lack of time, and most now offer prepared meals. The stop saves time on the other end because you don’t have to cook.

Do something enjoyable if you're riding mass transit. Listen to a good book on tape or a great music from your collection. Sirius radio also has a book channel — they will read to you. Or, catch up with your parents, friends, and spouse via a phone call if you're on a train or bus.

Or, try turning the miles into unique alone-time to relax and reconnect with yourself before or after your day.

“I listen to books on tape, and am such a voracious ‘reader’ that I will sit in my driveway after I’m home for a half-hour finishing a chapter,” said a mom of two teens from Hollis, New Hampshire. “My kids make fun of me, but I am thoroughly enjoying myself!”

I like to listen to talk radio. It gives me updates on what happened while I was sleeping or at work. Depending on my mood, I’ll throw in some Guns-n-Roses or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. A sing-along always puts me in a good mood and serves as a 30-minute stress-free buffer between work and home.

Related: Best and Worst Family Car Updates [3]

When my husband works a double shift, we know the extra money will help with bills, but it comes with commuting worries — namely drowsy driving. I have woken up hours after he was due home in a panic, only to see a silenced text message; he pulled over to take a nap in his car because he realized he was falling asleep at the wheel. Is it really worth the money?

We struggle with that. But as a family, we do what we have to do to pay our bills. Thank God he has the sense to pull over.

Remember commuting safety — seatbelts on, always. Also, everything is hands-free in today’s vehicles, so no texting or holding your phone to your ear. Too many people are driving distracted because they can’t resist checking their phones.

Common sense and a little planning can turn that commute from driving you crazy — to driving productivity that benefits both you and your family.

Lisa Ferrari is a freelance writer from Nottingham, New Hampshire.