8 Screen-Free Traffic Activities for the Lone Commuter

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8 Screen-Free Traffic Activities for the Lone Commuter

Put that phone away

| March 16, 2015

Just like every other person trying to make a buck in the city, I’m regularly commuting and getting squashed between equally pissed off people or losing my mind in traffic. Now, the former, I can’t really do so much about; I grit my teeth, plant my feet firmly and hope the train/bus doesn’t break down. The traffic, on the other hand, I’ve become adept at. By my estimation I’ve spent 50 years of my life stuck in traffic, which I concede, is made bearable by endless apps and scrolling through Facebook. The only thing is that as I’m looking at a screen 90 percent of the day, I loathe looking my phone after work. If you’re the same way, here are some mostly screen-free ways to distract yourself from the Mordor that is Manila traffic.


I try to make these in the morning on my way to work. Making lists are a no brainer, just make bullet points and write down tasks. But I like to break mine down into “do this” and “f*ck this” categories; the former for immediate tasks, the latter for less important tasks. Sometimes I also like to put how to accomplish tasks, step by step. This makes my list fool-proof (which I am, I am but a fool) and by the time I finish it, I feel ready to start my day.


Meditation gets a bad rap for being too difficult but like any skill, you really just need to build the necessary aptitude for it. You can try a variation of my bus meditation routine: set an alarm for 15 minutes. Sit still and deny yourself every other impulse. You want to check your phone to see how long it’s been? Don’t. Want to eavesdrop on the titas one seat over? Don’t. Want to watch The Transporter on bus TV instead? Don’t (and also, why??) Soon you can train yourself to be immune to these distractions and can practice mindfulness even in rush hour traffic.


I don’t recommend making friends with people in buses because everyone should respect others’ space and urban solitude, so just play by yourself. No, it’s not weird. Anyway, a game I like to play is called “Narration”—simply narrate to yourself everything that happens as if it’s the last day of your life. For example: “Hannah cringed at the man’s Axe body spray smell, not knowing that it would be the last annoyance of her life.” It’s hilarious, existential and I highly recommend it when you’re getting really pissed off by either the person next to you or the bus music.


Who says people watching is only for coffee shops and malls? Nothing is more interesting to me than people I see outside the window in the early morning. Favorites include: lovers fighting still wearing the previous night’s clothes, a gang of grandpas dressed to the nines, any person trying to commute with a talkative baby and being in between a conductor and a lady bickering for a whole hour. It was like an Olympic event in passive aggression.


Admittedly, this activity has a high risk factor on the list. I’m no stranger to my bag being slashed, missing my stop, a man lying to me about stealing my phone and waking up alone in a bus with just the driver and two other guys. I wish I could say I never do this now but I can’t help it. The bus is cold and I’m tired like everyone else. Things I learned from napping in buses:
• Be aware of your surroundings: being surrounded by chatty students, probably fine. Being surrounded by people constantly looking at you/your stuff, move anywhere else.
• Have a friend call you at a certain time to make sure you wake up.
That’s it. I only learned two things.


I read somewhere that the food you eat in public should not be smelled by the person next to you. I say that’s debatable. Although of course I agree that some food can be cloying inside an air conditioned vehicle so use discretion. Siomai isn’t so bad. Siopao is always good and filling. Banana cue is a classic. Literally every street corner has a bit of culinary surprise, we can thank our rigorous merienda culture for that. Anthony Bourdain says that the body is not a temple but a carnival; so go ahead and disregard everything you ever learned about street food as a child. Dig in.


Okay, you can cheat a little bit here and use your phone, but only because reading an actual book in a bus is nauseating if you do it for a long time. I recommend reading only when there are long stops. Otherwise, audiobooks are also great, especially funny ones. David Sedaris remains my favorite essayist to listen to. I’ve laughed out loud and embarrassed myself many times listening to his books. No shame, no regrets.


As a person who has been accused many times of having grandma bones and sensibilities, I love the resurgence of knitting, cross stitch and embroidery. As a youth without internet, I spent many days teaching myself how to sew and modify clothes and embroider without patterns. Suffice it to say that I’m 10 years into the beginner stage. These days, my main crafting problem is trying to learn basic stitches; because I’m an adult now and I want to learn to do it right. Traffic gives me plenty of time to work on my lola steeze.

Got weird alternative activities for when stuck in traffic? Teach us! Post them on the comments section.