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Who loves commuting? Commuters' top eight things about daily travel

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On average, at least 10,000 hours - or 416 days - of our lives are spent just commuting. (Assume: we work between the ages of 20 and 60 for 5 days a week, about 47 weeks in the year and we commute just over an hour every day, to work and back. I know many people travel more.) If there's a way to enjoy commuting, then we all need to work it out now

I'm Sarah. I read the feedback from the Riut urban travel survey to make better backpacks based on real city travel. In this survey, over 1000 commuters and travellers took part and here's what their favourite things about commuting are.

Top eight things commuters like about commuting 

1) Time to yourself - thinking 

2) Time to yourself - listening to music, podcasts, radio and audio books

3) Time to yourself - reading

Yup, time to yourselves is our favourite thing about commuting. Since 85% of us commute alone, for many people it's one of the rare times that you really get a stretch of time to yourself. In the age of the smartphone, where we carry constant entertainment with us, it's interesting that just "thinking" beats consuming information via audio or visual. Maybe commuters aren't zombies; perhaps they're all in a deep meditative state every morning.

Just freely thinking is often the birthplace of creativity. Having ideas, thinking about what you want to do and how you want to do it. Without the commute to think about ideas every day, there's no way I would have come up with the concept of the RiutBag. Riut stands for Revolution in user thinking. So I'm a big fan of using the commute to let the mind wander.

If these are our favourite things about commuting, it's important for backpack design - backpacks are the commuting bag of choice by 65% of commuters - that supports clarity of mind, so you can think, dream and enjoy that time to yourself with no extra concerns.

4) People watching

Especially in big cities, we are surrounded by people. Millions of them. Unless you have some serious social super powers, it's unlikely we know all the people around us in a city. That means, when we're on the train, bus, tram and plane, we can observe others. See what they're doing. How people react to different situations. It's no wonder office conversations often start with "you'll never guess what I heard this morning...". 

The people around us are what make a city. Next time you get in the train, try to imagine what it is all these people do. You might be sitting next to a doctor, a writer, foot model, opera singer, the voice over artist from a recent film or your favourite blogger without even realising it.

Whilst people can seem annoying on your way to work - too many, too close, too ill, too fast, too slow - without them the city you're in simply couldn't function. Cities are, by definition, places where many people live and work. So enjoy seeing the people around you. They're off to do something today, just like you. 

Again, when I build RiutBags, that means I know my RiutBag users want to be able to think about something other than their zips and whether their wallet is still there. By putting all the RiutBag zips against your back, you need not be suspicious of the people around you; instead, you can be curious about what they do and where they do it.

5) Exercise

Yes, 65% of us still use cars to get to work for part of our journey. However, for those of us who are able to rely on other methods of transport to get around, we can walk, cycle and run (sometimes just because we're late) for at least part of our journey. The commute becomes an opportunity to build regular exercise into our day.

If you're walking or cycling, that means you need a comfortable backpack that can stand up to the changing demands of the weather. I build the RiutBag out of waterproof Cordura and and waterproof/anti-abrasive TPU so the contents of your RiutBag can handle rain. If you're waiting at a bus stop, you can put your RiutBag on the floor even in the snow or a puddle, knowing that the contents is safe. 

When you're cycling, or walking along, you're more likely to need to get something, like a phone, out of your RiutBag. For that reason, I've built a D-pocket into the back/base of the RiutBag so you can access and stow important smaller items on the go.  

6) Seeing the town or city you live in

When you make a journey every day, it's easy to forget your surroundings. Yet, to a new pair of eyes, your town or city is fascinating. People travel from the other side of the world just to experience what you get to see every day. 

It can be difficult to look at something you've seen every day anew, but have a go. Try and imagine who built all this, when, how, why. I grew up in commuter town Reading, in England. It's often the butt of jokes for being a pretty dull place, being the home town of Ricky Gervais, inspiration for The Office and his film Cemetery Junction. Yet, Reading has a rich history as a transport hub, the site of battles, canalisation of rivers, biscuit factory Huntley & Palmer which employed so many people that the factory owners built an entire new part of the town to support them. Every building, whether it was built in the 1800s, 1900s or the 1980s has a story. So does every train, bus and tram. 

Admiring the town or city you're in is a great way to turn the commuting slog into a interesting journey where you get to pose questions about how all this got to be here. How many hours did it take to build your town or city? Who owns it all? Who are the people around us?  

7) Time to catch up on personal stuff - emails, social media

I'm really surprised that this didn't come higher up on the list, actually. When we look into trains of commuters, it feels like everyone is staring at their phone. It could be social media, an ebook, blogging and publishing right there. 

The fact that we carry a block of metal and plastic that plays music, lets us communicate with people and gives us access to almost all written knowledge in existence is surely a reason that we enjoy the commute more these days than we used to, say in the 1970s.

What does this mean for backpack design? Your smartphone is difficult to be without. It's awful when you lose it/drop it/break it. So I have to think about how smartphones can be securely kept in your RiutBag, but still be accessible on the go when you need it. My solution for this is the D-pocket. You shut the double zips against your back when you're travelling alone. When you need something from the D-pocket, you reach back, unzip one half, reach in to grab your phone, zip it back up and keep going.

I design for the reality of commuting, doing the things we have to and want to do today. 

8) Chance to meet new people 

This is the surprise of the bunch for me. 10% of commuters see the commute as a chance to meet new people. Commuting - especially in busy cities like New York and London - can seem like quite a hostile environment. So next time you're on the commute, remember at least 10% of the people around you think you're in a social situation waiting to happen!

I remember when I first created the RiutBag. I tried to think about the downsides of the design as well as the positives, so I really understood what the consequences were of what I was trying to create. I had this thought: one of the things that happens when you're commuting with a conventional backpack is that you leave your zips open and someone says "excuse me, you've left your zips open". This is one of the rare social interactions between commuters. Am I taking this chance to interact away from commuters, by removing the zips from the outside of the RiutBag? I kept this in mind, but decided the good - being safe, feeling calm and confident on your commute - outweighed the possible good of this social interactions when pointing out zips.

Then, when the first RiutBags made their way into the world after the Kickstarter campaign, a few RiutBag Kickstarter backpackers contacted me to let me know something. 1) Someone had been standing in Sydney Airport when someone came over and said "nice bag". These two business people both had RiutBags, they didn't know each other, struck up conversation and were able to pass the time talking about Kickstarter projects they'd supported and other stuff they do. 2) Two people were sitting in a train in London. They both reached up for their backpacks to get off at the next stop and realised they both had RiutBags. They had a brief laugh, talked about the design, shook hands and went on their way smiling.

Yes, it's possible that you won't be making friends based on the fact that your zips are undone. But, by being a RiutBag user, you belong to a select population of people who know about this design, tried a new idea and supported this startup. So, thankfully, other new social connections grow in different ways :)


I'm Sarah Giblin, commuter and RiutBag designer. I survey city travellers to find our what it's really like to commute, to travel, in a city every day or even on holiday because I design secure backpacks to let people enjoy city travel more by given them peace of mind. RiutBags only have zips against your back so you can travel as though you have no valuables with you.

When I build RiutBags, I aim to give you - the user - as much time to do the things you want with your journey: think about the things you want to think about - your next big idea, how you want things to be today, tomorrow and next year, how you're going to tackle that problem, who that interesting person is opposite you or that favourite day dream. By removing all the zips from outside of the RiutBag, there's no need to consider the security of your belongings because you know your belongings are safe.

Travelling this way - confident, calm and secure - makes a big difference over the years we will commute. And, don't forget - when you're not commuting, you could be enjoying a break away to a totally different space. When you're travelling abroad, your commuter backpack RiutBag is about to come into its own. RiutBag is built for international travel, letting you go to the world's busiest cities without a single worry. Explore, experience new things and don't spend a moment of your holiday thinking about where your wallet, your camera or your passport is. It's totally safe, in your RiutBag.