The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
If you haven’t been listening to the digital screams of New Yorkers wronged on Twitter, you might yet be unaware that New York City is in the middle of what its Governor Andrew Cuomo called a transit “Summer of Hell.”
The trains are sweaty, packed, and often running with disruptions and delays, and many New Yorkers have felt their already grumble-inducing morning commutes get a whole lot less enjoyable.
But while New Yorkers might feel a certain validation in airing their transit complaints right now, the fact of the matter is that all across the country, many of us feel a similar, almost unreasonable ire toward our commutes.
For all things disproportionately frustrating, there is a similarly disproportionate gratitude for the things that chip away at that frustration. Book apps, compact bags, flexible pants, etc. Perhaps of all my possessions, the ones that make my commutes easier, despite their lower cost, are highest on the list of things I most appreciate and least want to lose.
So, I decided to ask my coworkers to divulge their most-loved things that make commuting easier.
We’re in the business of optimization — whether that be getting the most value for money or the most value out of limited time — so when it comes to our personal commutes, you’d better believe we’ve put a good amount of thought into it.
Here are the products that make New York City’s “Summer of Hell” — and really any commute — a little easier.
Ellen Hoffman, commerce editor: Incipio Stowaway Credit Card Case
In my capacity as an editor, I’ve had the opportunity to test out countless phone cases, ranging from the protective to the stylish to the battery-saving to the card-holding. No case has served me better than Incipio’s Stowaway Case.
It protects my phone and also houses convenient storage for up to three credit cards. I use it to stow my MetroCard for easy access on my commute to and from work. It’s one less thing I have to remember to bring with me — if I have my phone on me, I have my MetroCard, too.
Incipio Stowaway Wallet Case for iPhone 7, $12.61 – $14.40
Dagne Dover Classic Tote
The more pockets my work bag has, the better. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Dagne Dover’s Classic Tote, which is big enough to hold my 13” MacBook and a lot of other everyday essentials, has made my commute to and from the office a lot more convenient.
My favorite feature is the tote’s included key leash that makes locating my house keys a total breeze — I no longer have to fumble outside my apartment building and dig them out of the depths of my bag.
This tote is pretty much the MVP of work bags.
Dagne Dover Classic Tote, $245
I have a morning subway routine: I read theSkimm’s daily newsletter, and after I’m done with it, I pick up my book or play 2048 depending on my mood.
TheSkimm’s newsletter breaks down all of the previous day’s most important news in a way that’s super quick and easy to digest. It won’t replace reading news sites like Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal, but I can access and read it in full when I’m underground and without cell service, which is key.
theSkimm app, free to download (with in-app purchases)
Malarie Gokey, guides editor: Transit App
Subway apps can save you from being stuck on a crowded platform or ending up on a delayed line. I religiously check Transit and NextStop before — and during — every commute. Both of these apps send you alerts when your favorite trains are delayed, rerouted, or otherwise inoperable. The apps also have maps and time clocks for trains.
Without these apps, I’d probably still be stranded in Queens. They are lifesavers!
Transit app, free to download
NextStop app, $2.99
Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Wireless Headphones
Another subway essential is a good pair of headphones. I’ve used a variety of different ones on my commutes over the years, but the best ones for avoiding tangled wires and for blocking out the noisy people on the train are the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Wireless Headphones.
These headphones are our top noise-cancelling wireless headphone pick for a reason — they block out everything. You can listen to music in peace and avoid human interaction with strangers like a proper New Yorker when you’re wearing these headphones.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones, $349
Mara Leighton, commerce reporter: Scribd App
My commute, when it’s all said and done, ends up being about 15 hours of my life every week. That doesn’t have to sound as grim when that time is used in a way that makes me happier, calmer, and feel like I’m growing.
Scribd is an app that gives me access to hundreds of thousands of books (which you can download onto your phone for offline reading) for $8.99 a month. I’ve been using it for the last few years, and not only did it get me into audiobooks, but I am much, much happier to sit on a train for an hour and a half when I’m listening to a mystery. Plus, it means less for me to hold while traveling.
Scribd app, free to download ($8.99/month subscription)
Anker PowerCore External Battery
My commute home is over an hour and occasionally the day is too busy/I forget to charge my phone at the office. On the very likely instance that our train gets delayed once or more, that can mean a dead phone in my pocket and a dead span of time where I have to come up with thought experiments/mental to-do lists to make so that I don’t waste 40 minutes of my life bored out of my mind. On another note, it also means I don’t need to worry about heading out of the house last-minute to catch friends or worry about taking the train somewhere new at night.
A portable charger means I have access to my digital library of books, emergency phone calls, emails, music, and more at all times during the day, so I don’t waste even a little bit of free time.
Anker PowerCore External Battery, $25.99
Patagonia Women’s Refugio Backpack
This backpack might not seem like anything special just from looking at it, but it has quickly become an indispensable help on my morning commute. The material is durable but not overly thick or heavy (the entire thing is really lightweight), there’s a vertical front pocket to easily slip one hand into and out of for a wallet or keys, the side pockets are the only ones I’ve found big enough to securely fit my 1L Camelbak (even whilst jogging to grab a train), and the sternum strap on this one is specially designed to be more comfortable and ergonomic for women — and it shows.
Patagonia Women’s Refugio Backpack 26L, $89 (also available at REI and Backcountry)
Moleskine Classic Notebook
If you like to unwind on your way home or you’ve forgotten both your paperback and your external charger and your phone is dead, a nice, go-everywhere notebook is clutch to have.
I keep a notebook full of my favorite book passages/adages/quotes and interesting theories in my backpack or purse so that I never have to feel like I’m wasting time. If I’m waiting for a train or have a lot of elbow room, I use the time to transfer down new things. By the next time I’m stuck in a tunnel without battery, a lot of the content isn’t fresh in my mind, and I find myself happy to re-read; it feels like a natural, no-pressure way to keep learning.
Moleskine Large Classic Notebook, $17.28
Amir Ismael, commerce reporter: Rhone Commuter Pants
I commute from Central New Jersey to New York City five days a week, so I do everything I can to make the trip a bit easier — the Rhone Commuter Pant is among those things. The pants are made out of FlexKnit, a Japanese stretch fabric, so they’re super comfortable. In addition to comfort, the Rhone Commuter Pants have added security features to protect your belongings when traveling.
Hidden inside the back pocket is another pocket that zips, that way your wallet stays in your pocket until you’re ready to take it out. The front pocket also has a media pocket that can fit any smartphone securely. These added features will allow you to maneuver through a busy city without thinking about losing your belongings or getting pickpocketed for them.
Rhone Commuter Pant, $129
Breton Fischetti, senior director of commerce: Kryptonite Bicycle U-Lock
I commute by bike in New York City, so the most obvious accessory that makes my commute easier is a high-quality lock. It’s a must-have if you leave your bike outside, as I do. I’m a big fan of Kryptonite locks. I have an older model at this point, the Series 4. I’d replace that, but it’s held up so well over time that I don’t have to.
If you’re in the market for a new lock, Kryptonite released the New York Fahgettaboudit, which I recently purchased as a gift for someone else. This lock really means business and would be a great lock for anyone who wants to make it very difficult for their bike to go wandering off without them. You can also register your locks with the manufacturer so that if they do get broken into (no lock will stop a truly determined thief), and they’ll reimburse you some money for your loss as a way to stand behind their product.
Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 Standard Bicycle U-Lock, $55.10
Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini Bicycle U-Lock, $76.11
Connie Chen, commerce intern: “Big Little Lies”
“Big Little Lies” didn’t only make my commute more bearable, it made me look forward to it, which is saying a lot considering the state of the MTA. It’s 500 pages long but very easy to get into and finish in no time. The characters are well-defined and Moriarty is great at building the suspense of the big “who did it?” question. It also makes for a nice primer to a binge of HBO’s TV series.
Kelsey Mulvey, commerce reporter: Airmail App
This app has made sending e-mails on the go significantly easier. Instead of typing out the same response five times in a row, I keep a list of pre-written responses on my computer. Sending back responses on my laptop is as easy as copying the memo from my notes and pasting it in an email draft. But it gets tricky when I’m on the go and answering emails from my phone.
Airmail lets you create personal actions, like adding an email to your to-do list or turning an email into a PDF. I created personal actions for all my pre-written responses, so I can easily RSVP to an event on my way to work.
Airmail app, $4.99
Knomo Maddox Tote
I’m always running from the office, to a work event, to dinner with my friends, so it’s important to have a bag that will hold all my essentials and keep me organized throughout the day. Knomo’s Maddox leather tote has quickly become my go-to work bag. It can fit my gym clothes and sneakers or a 15-inch laptop inside and still have space for all my other essentials.
With several different-sized compartments, everything has its place — even my apartment keys. Plus, there’s a discreet exterior pocket that can fit a phone, so I don’t have to go rifling through my bag to send an email or text.
Knomo Maddox Tote, $174.50 – $299
Spencer Lambert, commerce intern: Audio-Technica QuietPoint Noise-Cancelling Headphones
I take over an hour of trains and subways to and from work each day, and if I couldn’t block out all the noise, I would go crazy.
My pet peeve is people whose headphones have sound leakage, resulting in the whole train hearing their music. Don’t be that person. Get a nice pair of headphones for the sake of your hearing — and for everyone around you.
Audio-Technica QuietPoint Noise-Cancelling Headphones, $139.95
I don’t have a Kindle, but I do have the Kindle app and always read during my commute. I love a good paperback as much as anyone, but the convenience of downloading a new book right from your phone can’t be beat. I love that you can toggle the font size on your phone to make it more readable. Rather than carry just one book to work with me, I have over 100 to choose from in my library right on my phone.