In 2019, Americans spent an average of about one hour commuting to and from work each day. That may not have seemed like a big deal before the pandemic, but it has become a hard sell for many who’ve worked from home for more than a year now and learned that the show went on just fine from a distance.
Here’s a calculator to help you measure the time suck of commuting in your life. Let’s get started: Before the pandemic, roughly how long did you spend commuting roundtrip each day?
Adjust the slider to reflect the length of your commute:
If you are an American with average commute time, you would spend about 250 hours in transit each year — that adds up to more than 10 days. By the end of your career, you might spend nearly a year of life commuting.
You spend about 250 hours in transit each year — that adds up to nearly 10 days. By the end of your career, you might spend nearly a year of your life traveling to and from work.
Sorry about that.
If instead of commuting an hour, you used that time learning a language, in one year you would probably be fluent enough to get by in a foreign country. In a lifetime, you could learn multiple languages, become a black belt and a life-of-the-party guitar player.
If instead of commuting 30 minutes, you used the time to sleep in, in one year you would have slept 10 full days. You could also use that time to meditate, stretch or make yourself breakfast.
If you spent the time binge-watching Netflix, one year of commuting would be enough to watch more than 150 films. Or all nine episodes of “Squid Game” back to back 30 times.
You could also spend that time with friends, gardening, getting fit, cooking, knitting, sleeping or doomscrolling. Even people who do something pleasant or useful during their commutes could find a more comfortable place to do those same things.
Or, if you’re like me, you could scatter all those activities throughout your days, because you’re too undisciplined to make anything really useful with the time you just found. What you do doesn’t really matter: The point is that the pandemic gave that time back to us. It makes no sense to lose it again.
And time is just one way to quantify what we lose if we revive the commute. There’s also the pollution we produce and the money we squander and the loss of the unmatchable joy that comes with working in our pajamas.
Transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the United States, mostly from cars, SUVs and small trucks. The average annual cost of commuting is somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on where you live. If you spend even $10 more a day on coffee and lunch at work, that adds up to about $2,500 per year (eating at home costs about half that).
As for the pajamas, they are just a metaphor for the small privileges of working from home that add up to quality of life — from keeping up with the laundry to spending more time with people we love and working with our pets nearby.
It is hard to argue that the benefit of commuting more than once a week or so is worth the toll on the planet, on the purse and on your quality of life. I don’t mean that meeting colleagues in person is not useful, sometimes important or even fun. The first time I saw my boss after a year and a half, I hugged him — and I meant it.
But when we used to meet every day there was no hug. What is the point of going back to a life where you don’t regularly hug your boss?