‘I made curtains on the train’: the commuters livening up their journeys

<span>One commuter recommends inline skating, which can be combined with jumping on the train or bus. </span><span>Photograph: VK Studio/Alamy</span>
One commuter recommends inline skating, which can be combined with jumping on the train or bus. Photograph: VK Studio/Alamy

The pandemic opened the eyes of many to the benefits of running or cycling to work – or “active commutes” – and some have kept up the habit.

No longer content with long drives or boring train rides, commuters have been seeking ways to make their journeys more productive and enjoyable.

Six people share how they make the most of their journey to work.

‘I never take the same route two days in a row’

William Macdonald, 51, makes a point of varying his commute. The web developer from Scotland, who has lived in Sweden for 17 years, keeps his trip to his office in Stockholm fresh by “never taking the same method or route two days in a row”.

Whether it is cycling before hopping on a boat, running, or even fitting in a swim on the way, switching up his journey into work allows Macdonald to feel he is making the most of his day. “In the summer, sometimes I cycle there and swim in a heated pool that’s on the way to work. I cycle all year round, as long as there’s not huge snowdrifts,” he says.

“I just do it for a bit of variety – sometimes taking the same train every morning, seeing the same people can be a bit depressing. You can make some sort of adventure, some other focus of the day … It adds a feature to the day. Otherwise the commute is just a little step to spending the whole day in the office.”

Macdonald’s job allows him the option of working from home some days, on which he often mountain bikes in a nearby forest. “Sometimes, I do cross-country skiing on my lunch break!”

‘Inline skating is a full-body workout’

In New York, Miguel Ramirez, 35, a personal trainer and inline skate instructor, has been skating to work on the city’s streets for the past 12 years.

“Inline skating is a full-body workout. It also requires lots of balance, coordination and flexibility. It’s great for short-to-medium distances. And hybrid commuting is very easy. You can jump on the train or bus with ease,” he says.

Ramirez says skating is a more practical option than you might think. “Many places allow you to inline skate inside, so errands like grocery shopping or grabbing something from the deli are much faster.”

He would not recommend that everybody commutes on skates, though. “You have to be closer to the intermediate level, because we don’t have mechanical brakes like a bike. But it’s manageable.”

So far he has avoided any collisions. “I’m pretty defensive when I skate. I’m always looking out. I assume that everyone’s going to run me over, so I just keep my distance.”

‘We had a sewing, knitting and needlepoint commute’

Until she retired in 2020, Angela, 58, used to spend her commute to her engineering job working on crafts projects with a colleague.

It began one day when her co-worker got on the train with a crochet project. “That spurred a sewing, knitting and needlepoint commute,” said Angela, who lives in Belgium. They kept it up for eight years, until her colleague retrained and Angela retired soon after.

“The highlight of our days was making things on the train. We used to crack up laughing – people would come and join us and have a chat. It was a really nice commute – before that, I spent my commute looking at reports, which was not as much fun.

“Once I was making curtains, which I dragged on to the train piece by piece to hand sew; another time she changed in the train toilet to a half-finished dress so I could pin it to fit. The whole adventure made commuting something we both looked forward to.”

Since leaving their workplace, the pair have kept in touch. “We just met on the train but we really became friends. The culmination, the big crescendo of our creations together, was making her wedding dress together – not on the train though!”

‘I get about an hour and a half of Italian practice in’

Kevin Donnelly, 40, a geneticist in Edinburgh, uses his daily walks to work on his Italian skills – and can be heard repeating key phrases from language learning audiobooks.

“It’s awesome,” he says. “People just assume I’m on the phone. I pretend to chat in Italian while pushing through the bustle. Of course, any Italians will realise I am repeatedly asking for directions to the station.

“Cycling in Edinburgh is a painful experience, sometimes literally. Walking clears my head and improves my mood.

“I get about an hour and a half of practice in, and there’s no way I’d get that otherwise. In a little over a month I can now speak more than I can in French – which I ostensibly studied at school for four years.”

‘So much more efficient than a road bike’

In 2015, Heinrich Neumann from Nordhorn, Germany, ditched his electric bicycle in favour of a velomobile (human-powered vehicle). The 63-year-old has been riding up to 38km (24 miles) to the hospitals where he works as a doctor ever since.

“With just your own power and this aerodynamic fairing, it is so much more efficient than a road bike. It’s unbelievable.” Once Neumann took the car to work because he was running late – but it took him even longer.

What do his co-workers make of the velomobile? “It’s mixed. They are a bit envious, because they don’t get the fitness training that I do. But I haven’t convinced my colleagues [to do it].

“It’s very good fun. It has optimum weather protection, as long as the roads are not completely covered in ice or snow. And even if you crash, you’ve got a structure around you which absorbs much of the impact.”

‘Audiobooks mellowed out my stress’

Roberta Jones, 70, has found that for years listening to books makes her commute more enjoyable. She has listened to almost 1,000 audiobooks after starting with cassette tapes, then CDs, before moving on to Audible in 2005.

“I have listened to nearly 1,000 books on audio that I would otherwise never have had time to read,” says Jones, a self-employed consultant in Sacramento, California. “I have soared to other planets, expanded my awareness, learned a great deal, and explored the classics – all while driving a car to and from work.”

While she now works from home, she has kept up her routine of listening to audiobooks. She remembers it helping her de-stress in the car: “It’s a great way to wind down after a high-stress day at work – by the time you’re home, you’re calm enough for it to not ruin your evening.”

Her commutes changed over the years but were always over an hour. “Originally, commuting was quite brutal with nothing to focus on but the traffic around you. [Audiobooks] mellowed out my stress quite remarkably, and were also very entertaining and informative. It was a win-win.”