Commuter Noob: A Cry for Help

From first year to third year, I lived beside the CN Tower and had a 20-minute to commute to campus. Life was soo good. But with a recent turn of events in my life, I’ve decided to move back to my parent’s house and commute to school for my fourth year. Drive to the GO station (20 minutes) + GO bus/train to Union 1 Hour and 10 minute TTC ride = 1.5 h. It does not sound so bad in writing, but let me assure you the traffic during my commute, the over-populated buses and the lack of time I can spend with my family is really driving me CRAY. But  mostly because I am a commuter NOOB and I don’t know how/when/where to eat, what to wear, when to leave my house to catch the train  on time, how to spend six hours at school etc. Its just all NEW to me and the transition has been super rough for me. Bouts of anxiety, tearful bus rides home and a WHOLE LOT OF COMMUTER RAGE characterize my commuting experience thus far. Are there any intermediate/expert/guru commuters out there who can help me out in the following departments and make this transition easier? 1)     FOOD: What to eat and how to spend the least amount on it. Recently, I learned that keeping my tummy full helps me control my anxiety by 1,000 percent. Problem is I don’t want to go bankrupt after graduating university by spending $10 everyday on food. I want to keep the money I will be earning from my many jobs and save it for a summer graduation trip.  So I don’t understand how I can maintain my savings and keep my stomach full as a commuter. Homemade lunches are an option but what is a homemade lunch? The concepts are so foreign to me or at least need to be reintroduced. What do you pack to school for lunch? Know of any places on campus which have holistic and cheap menus? Where can I get REAL food instead of the backup poutine or fries? 2)     Massive Schedule Gaps How in the world do you survive six-hour gaps in your schedule? Even with all my courses, extracurriculars and part-time jobs, I still can’t find a way to efficiently occupy these times.Tried going to the library, fell asleep for three hours (on the first day of school). Tried hanging with friends, hyper-social behaviour = exhausting. Tried studying, fell asleep.  How do you spend your six-hour gaps? 3)     Neverending Fatigue How do you stop from being tired and sleepy ALL THE TIME. It's like the Sandman is following me wherever I go. Paradoxically, with no time to sleep, I find myself sleeping all time.  I don’t drink coffee either. So commuters, how do you stay alert and awake on 7am-10pm days? 4)     Lack of family time The main reason I chose to commute this year was that I wanted to spend more quality time with my family. But I don’t even see their faces any more. When I come home from school , I go straight to bed and wake up a mountain of readings. At least when I lived downtown I would be physically away from them and force myself to work hard and go home every weekend homework-free. I feel so terrible about always being in my room and ignoring the existence of my loved ones. Commuters, is there a way to balance family with commuting schedules? If I don't figure out how to solve the issues I above I might just have to move back downtown in January. Please share me with your pieces of commuting wisdom! -Sarah

9 comments on “Commuter Noob: A Cry for Help

  1. Hey Sarah.

    It’s your fellow blogger here. I was a noob last year too. This year commuting is better though. It does get better. 😛

    So, first off, don’t freak out that you aren’t spending 100% of your gap time efficiently. I mean, try to fit in work when you can, but lazying around is fine. Just make sure by the end of the week, you have a handle of things when it comes to the school work.

    Fatigue. Honestly, after my night classes, I just come home and go to sleep. I also drink coffee before my night classes. If it’s the cost that bothers you and not the taste – Diabolos offers one dollar coffee if you bring your own mug/container. Other than trying to catch up on sleep and coffee, students by definition are always tired. 😛

    Food. Bring it, don’t buy on campus. That will cost you a fortune. For dinners on long days I bring premade meals, they aren’t 100% healthy (premade rice out of a box, noodles, etc.) but they are much better than fast food. If you are going to go with fast food, cross the street and go off campus. On campus, Harvest Noon, Hot Yam and Diabolos are all 100% student run, pretty cheap and also pretty healthy.

    – Abdullah

  2. Hey Sarah!

    Im in my second year and about to start my second year of the terrible commute from Milton. I pretty much have the exact same time frame as you and its pretty tough managing all the gaps, stresses, and anxieties of living the commuting lifestyle.

    One thing I learned to do with my gaps was use it to reply to emails, news, gym, portal, and socialize. I use the time to catch up with all the announcements in class, see whats going on in the world, and I’m a big fan of discovering new music, so its what I do in my breaks. My suggestion is ALWAYS have your Mp3 player handy with you because its gonna be critical for commutes.

    In terms of food, I slowly figured out ways to minimize my budget so I was spending close to nothing every day. Mcdonalds breakfest is very cheap, $1.39 for a coffee and muffin is my go to in the morning or sometimes lunch. I usually combine my lunch and dinner and bring two lightly packed nutella sandwiches or get the sub of the day for $3.99. theres also a neat little pizza shop right off spadina and harbod (behing robarts) that has HUGE pizza slices for 3.50 if your in the mood for something a little more tastier.

    Oh and find a commuter buddy, someone you can complain to when your hurrying between busses or just missing your bus! Its good to have someone with you for safety and also so you dont get really bored for those 3 hour round trips to university!

    Best of luck!

  3. Sarah,

    I’m 4th year and have been commuting throughout my entire university career – I share that ~1.5 hour commute with you.

    1. Food: I pack food 90% of the time. I’m a big fan of sandwiches/wraps for my main component. I think also the trick is to eat and snack on nutrient and energy dense foods like nuts and dried fruit, which you can grab a hand full of before/after/during class if you get hungry (you can buy them in bulk and they’re cheap). There’s microwaves in plenty of places, so even a microwave dinner/soups the odd day isn’t going to hurt. Of course, make sure you have a good breakfast before you leave.

    2. Schedule gaps: I personally make it a point not take classes that involve big gaps. But it is indeed inevitable on occasion due to program requirements. I do my best to mix up my environments when reading so I’m not in one place too long, I move around to various libraries and coffee shops. I also take strolls around the city checking out architecture I haven’t seen yet, window shop, occasionally go visit a friend that lives in the city. Perhaps one of my more low energy friends…

    3. Never ending fatigue: Sleeping and eating well (along with a bit of exercise if you can fit it in) does help. Coffee really is fantastic though, for me. Quick cup before a workout or a long reading sesh completely engages me in what I’m doing. While tea and diet sodas don’t have quite as much, they help too. I should note that I didn’t always like coffee – like with wine and beer, I acquired the taste for it by sheer determination. Now I love it.

    I can’t really give much insight when it comes to family. I think it’s somewhat universal that our families are going to be offended when we cannot join them for certain things because we have endless papers and readings. I think it’s useful to remember that despite sometimes negative reactions, they’re proud of you. You know that once you have the time you’ll be around more. But this is time in your life you have to work on you.

    Might I also mention that I actually get a good deal of reading done on the bus/subway. Throw in those headphones and unwind with some soothing tunes, and enter your own little hermeneutic world. That hour will go by in no time. 😉

    Hope that helped a little

    Jennifer x (@transatlantic86)

  4. As someone who’s put up with a 1.5 hr commute for 4 years, I totally understand your pain. The transition into commuting takes a while, and a ‘good’ routine means different things to different people. Having said that, here’s my advice:

    Check out grocery stores off campus (I’d personally recommend the metro in college park) and keep your eye out for student groups that offer free/discounted meals. Like Abdullah said, The Hot Yam does vegan meals on Thursday for $4, I’ve heard the Newman Centre will be doing soup/bagel lunches for $3 soon, and Metro often does snack/lunch packs for $5 full of veggies/fruit to last you a whole day.
    Meals in ‘cafes’ on campus are grossly over-priced, but if you’re unable to get off campus for food, your best option is always soup or pizza. If all else fails, Timmy’s & McD’s are easy on the wallet and offer a better variety than the food trucks :/

    2 +3 + 4)
    The solution to your 3rd and 4th problem lies in your 2nd problem: use your gaps to rest (!)- unless you want to work out/shop/go for a walk, instead.

    Split your gaps between studying, resting, and socializing (maybe try alternate weeks of studying & socializing?) so that you’ll have the energy to spend time with your family when you get home.

    If you are going to nap, make sure it’s earlier on in the day before your night classes, otherwise you’ll feel groggy during lecture or will have trouble sleeping at night.

    And finally, because you don’t drink coffee, staying hydrated and nourished will definitely help you remain alert. Try not to eat immediately before a lecture (or any time you need to be fully attentive) because your body will be focused on digestion and it’ll be all the more difficult to pay attention. However, if you are feeling a little hungry and are willing to put off a meal until lecture is over, try and keep gum/candy with you (I’d recommend Campinos!) to maintain your glucose levels and keep your brain happy:)

    Commuting is definitely a trial, but you’re not alone in your struggles, Sarah.

    Best of luck!!

    – Flora

  5. Gaps: you don’t have to do one the for the whole six hours. Try maybe studying for two hours, lunch and break for one hour, start off assignemnts or just whatever u need to do etc. I also include sleep in my gaps. It helps me a lot.

    Regarding the food, I suggest checking your college’s meal plans since you said you want REAL food. The cafeteria system in colleges is amazing for commuters from my experience. Food will be one less thing to worry about.

    That’s all the advice I can think of at the moment. Good luck!

    P.s. I read somewhere that a drop in blood glucose levels contributes to anxiety. Good thing you’ve already discovered that 😀

  6. I had a 1.5 hour commute last year and tried to pack healthy food a lot (sandwiches, fruits/veg etc… get little tupperware containers that you can fill with grapes, carrots or whatever) but sometimes it was too much of a hassle. So I got a “flexible” meal plan that can be used at various cafs/coffee shops etc. on campus. You just give them your Tcard to swipe so it’s pretty convenient, and it carries over from year to year. They send you coupons too 😀 (haha sounds like I’m advertising for them but I’m really not)

    some good places to eat with the meal plan (or just cash or whatnot) include the Robarts caf, Sid Smith cafe, Med Sci cafe which all have various hot and cold options (sushi, shawarma, wraps, pizza, Subway…) plus all the Timmies, Starbucks etc. Also Reznikoff’s at UC has nice salads, pasta, cake… and try Veda in Sanford Fleming if you like Indian food. All these places you can either eat there or grab something to eat in class or on the bus. Hope this helps!

  7. Hi! I’m not a blogger, but I understand what you mean. I fell asleep on the GO Train today and I almost missed my stop. I wanted to die!

    I just have a question though, how do you make friends if you’re a commuter? There’s only so many people you can meet in your lectures, I need to find other ways because not gonna lie, it gets pretty lonely when you commute to school and back only to find out that there are other commuters ON THE SAME TRAIN AS YOU.


    1. First and Foremost, I LOVE YOU ALL! Your tips and advice have helped make my life SO much easier! I bought tons of tupperware, a massive jar of nutella, updated my music playlists, discovered cheap eats like Veda, Harvest Noon and Innis Cafe, split up my gaps with coffee dates with friends, studying and meetings, got a Presto card, keep an extra reading on me at all times for idle moments and I’ve also normalized my eating and sleeping schedule. All while keeping my anxiety in check! 😀

      It still is pretty tough to commute both physically and mentally and Im not going to lie I shed a tear on my commute to school this morning. Accidentally going southbound instead of northbound, always catching the bus by a minute, feeling like you are always at the last grain of sand in the the hourglass—yes it sucks. But somehow I am okay with it now. Your advice has helped me gain a new outlook on commuting and student life itself. I feel like the first two weeks of commuting were a kind of initiation into commuter life. Not going to ever choose to commute in my post-grad life but for the time being I think I can do it!

      We are in this thing called UofT together as commuters! So know that you can always vent to me your frustrations and maybe we can get through them together!


    2. It is SO possible to make friends as a commuter! I’ve met at least 5 new amazing friend-potential people in the last 2 weeks. How? Getting involved and taking initiative to talk to people! Cliche I know. But sometimes we are our own worst enemies as commuters. Not wanting to go to campus events because we are “tired and dont have time” or not wanting to break the ice because you don’t live on residence or think the person won’t like you…its the student condition. I remember commuting in the first two weeks of my first year before I moved downtown—I went a whole week without talking to anyone other than my family. Such a miserable time.

      Dropping by events on campus that interest you, joining a club, saying hi to someone outside of lecture…all are some great ways to meet new people and make friends! 😀 Check out some of my other posts on the blog about making friends and dissolving otherness on campus for more insight.

      But trust me, getting involved is a MAJOR way to make friends because somehow you find your friend-soulmates who share similar interests and may even share some of your commuter pains or joys!


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