Lydia Strohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When was the last time you felt better after the morning's commute?
More likely, you're stewing about that fender bender you passed, the roadwork that slowed you down, or the driver applying mascara who cut you off.
Even on days everything works, the volume of area traffic can make the drive slow going. In an online poll, Washingtonian readers voted overwhelmingly for commuting as their biggest waste of time.
With gas prices rising, commuting is taking a bigger financial toll. (Not sure what commuting costs you? Find out at mwcog.org.)
Public transit isn't the answer for everyone. If you have to commute by car, here are ways to make it quicker, cheaper, or just plain more bearable.
1. Don't drive into a jam. Track your trip virtually to find out where congestion and construction is before you hit the road. Both WTOP.com and Washingtonpost.com offer timely incident reports, as does Virginiadot.org. At TrafficLand.com, you can create a personalized traffic report ($5.95 a month) that taps more than 240 traffic cameras metrowide. Still stuck? Virtual venting at 495sucks.com is healthier than road rage.
2. Pick up a slug. Unique to the DC area is the practice of "slugging"–a driver filling his or her car with strangers to qualify for less-congested HOV, or high-occupancy, lanes. For designated pickup and drop-off spots as well as slugging etiquette (no talking, no snacking, no fees), check out slug-lines.com.
3. Stretch your mind. Use the time to learn a language or take a university course on CD, MP3, or iPod. Courses are available at the Teaching Company (800-TEACH-12; teach12.com) as well as Rosetta Stone (rosettastone.com) but are pricey; check your local library for loaners. Remember, headphones are a no-no while driving, so hook your player up to speakers; iPod has a car cassette adapter (apple.com, $19.95).
4. Catch up on classics. Maryland commuter Dennis Podolny says audio books make his one- to two-hour commute from Columbia to Falls Church fly. "Sometimes I even sit in my car at my destination to hear what happens next," he says. Libraries stock good selections; Booksontape.com, Simplyaudiobooks.com, and Audible.com offer thousands of titles to rent or buy. Or swap books with colleagues andneighbors.
5. Get in shape. Commuters who bike to work arrive energized and don't have to make extra time for the gym. Check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association Web site (waba.org) to see if there's a convenient biking route for you. Downtown, the City Center Fitness Club offers a "shower-only" membership for bicycle commuters to clean up before work (1401 H St., NW; $22 a month plus $49 initiation fee). Areawide, the Commuter Connections Guaranteed Ride Home program provides a rental car or taxi in emergencies for people who biked to the office (800-745-RIDE; commuterconnections.org).
6. Skip rush hour. Early birds can score points with the boss, fit in a workout, or write the great American novel before colleagues arrive.
7. Create your own space. Turn off all distractions and use the quiet time to think. Add in aromatherapy scents, made for a lighter plug-in, that claim to make you relaxed and energized–and even to relieve joint pain (whiffs.com). Or never mind tranquility: Crank up the rock 'n' roll your spouse and children won't tolerate at home.
8. Unwind. Shay Lawrence was so tired of arriving home "a tight wreck" after sitting in traffic–her 10- to 12-mile commute from downtown DC to Tysons Corner can take an hour–that she asked her yoga teacher, Kimberly Wilson, for help. Wilson devised a series of moves Lawrence can do behind the wheel. "The exercises help whittle my waist and give me long, lean muscles; the breathing techniques keep me calm so I don't get annoyed at other drivers," says Shay of Wilson's routine, which you can find at tranquilspace.com/office_vinyasa.html. Or try neck rolls, ankle twists, and deep breathing to stay alert and decrease fatigue. For tips, see physicaltherapy.about.com/cs/exercise/a/drive_exercise.html or the video Doin' It in Bed (Amazon, $14.95).
9. Consider a hybrid. Until 2006, Virginia commuters can ignore HOV restrictions if they drive a hybrid car or a motorcycle.
10. Join a group. Take advantage of HOV lanes, save time and money, and have company on the way: Carpool and vanpool Web sites (commuterpage.com; mwcog.org) hook up commuters with like schedules and destinations.