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Four tips to stay sane on your public transport commute

We've all read the lists telling us how to behave on public transport: no eating, no loud music, no smelling and so on. Of course this is how we would travel in an ideal world. But we're setting ourselves up for daily frustration if we don't accept the reality: we live in cities. This means, by definition, living with many other humans who we cannot control. When we forget this, our fellow passengers appear to be superfluous, annoying and a cause of stress rather than a necessary condition of urban life and travel. 

Stress is an important bodily reaction to serious situations where our body offers us the flight or fight options - so there's no need eliminate all stress from our lives. But being stressed out by everyday life is not a sustainable way to live in a city. So lower your stress levels every time you get on a packed train with these simple tips.

Rules for surviving public transport without getting angry:

  1. Rather than disliking all other people for being on public transport, just remember: you couldn’t be making this journey without them. The tracks, the trains - none of it would be there without us all using it.
  2. Presume the worst and being kinder will be easier: We have no idea what the people around us did before they got on the train this morning or where they’re going when they get off. They may be completing a 32 hour journey at 7:00am in the morning, someone close to them may have passed away the night before or perhaps they’re on their way to get divorced. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and you'll find yourself feeling instantly calmer.  
  3. Being nice doesn’t mean being late: You can be quick and kind. Have a go at matching your journey time without aiming an inner monologue of rage at the rest of your city.
  4. Yes, you can have a bad day too: Let’s just hope on that day, that the rest of your city has read this blog post. Otherwise your bad day is about to get a lot worse.

How to handle classic causes of stress in cities: Tourists, food, music and BO

Tourists will be tourists: Yes, tourists are slow, they get in the way, they don't know the rules and they make mistakes. Just remember: When you are a tourist in New York, London or Hong Kong, you too walk around in awe in blissful ignorance. Tourists are new, they don’t have meetings to rush to and they don’t know where they’re going. Do your annoyance levels a favour, move around them without huffing and remember the good times you had on your trips to amazing cities. 

We need food to live: On public transport, the person sitting next to us is pretty close. When their sandwich smells, you can smell it. Whether you’re a fully grown adult or a baby, on occasion your schedule means you’ll have to grab your meal on a the train. This is not the end of the world. Try to relax and imagine the packed day this person is having and the reason they are eating on the train. They have a busy schedule today and need to refuel before the next thing.

Teenagers (and some adults) have crap earphones: I know this one is particularly annoying. But you can deal with it without needing a heart bypass. Scenario one: You’re in a quiet zone and someone’s music is audible to everyone. Solution: sooner rather than later - I mean the first 15 seconds - tap them on the shoulder and let them know. No anger, no judgment. You’ll be the hero of the carriage and be able to get back to what you were doing straight away. Scenario two: You’re in a normal non-quiet-zone carriage and someone’s music is too loud. Solution: Either choose to speak to them, again quickly, or focus on something else. Crucially, don’t sit there enraged for 30 minutes. You could even have a laugh and remember what rubbish music you used to listen to at that age :)

Body odour: Whilst it's not pleasant, we cannot ban body odour. Yes, we live in an age and society where there is a spray, medicine and perfume to cover up even the worst body processes, but on some days something’s got to give. You can be judgmental and disgusted by it, but it’s just not within your control to fix it. So let them go home for their shower and get back to your book. It’ll be over in a matter of minutes.


The boring truth is, when we spend our time judging others and getting stressed out by their presence, we're only stressing ourselves out. There is no upside. Unless we learn to be calm, think about more important things or have a laugh about the mix of people on the train every day, the morning commute is a more hostile environment for us all when tensions are high. 

Cities are full of strangers. We all do things differently, we all have bad days and we are all sitting next to each other, thigh by thigh, on the train. That’s how cities work. Ignore them entirely, take an interest and wonder what they’ve been doing that day. Speak to them if there’s a real problem. Do it all without inner commuter rage and you should have a better commute every day of your life.The author is Sarah Giblin, designer of the RiutBag: secure backwards backpack for calm city travel. It's her job to design things that make city life more bearable, to reduce hostility and suspicion between city dwellers. "I can design the RiutBag to help your commute in many ways, but some things we can only control within our minds. That's what Riut is all about. Riut stands for Revolution in user thinking. Sometimes we need a reminder to adapt our mindset and attitude if we're going to enjoy the benefits of city but also have high quality of life."