What is a Reasonable Distance to Travel For Work?

Unless you work remotely or your place of employment is your home, you have a commute to your job.  This could be 5 minutes or a couple of hours, and you could walk, drive, or take the subway.  No matter the distance, it’s important to know what’s a reasonable distance to travel for your job.

What is a reasonable distance for work?  While there is no hard and fast rule for commuting, the average distance in the U.S. to commute for a job is 26.1 minutes, according to the U.S Census. You have to decide for yourself what is reasonable, depending on your circumstances.

What Is Considered a Normal Commuting Distance?

When trying to figure out what is a reasonable commute, you will want to consider a few variables. When thinking about what route you will take to work, you need to figure out what the cost would be for you to typically do this five days a week, twice a day.

  • Distance
  • Gas prices
  • Traffic at rush-hour
  • Inclement weather issues
  • Bridges(tolls or not)
  • Alternate routes in case of closures
  • Car maintenance increase

Realistically you have to process what the commute will take financially and what it will take from your time. For example, if you make $50,000 a year but spend $350 a month on gas, car maintenance, and a bridge toll, then you’re automatically spending $4200 a year just to get to work.

In this scenario, $4200 is 8.4% of your salary, which is almost two times the recommended percentage ratio of commuting cost vs. salary. In this scenario, it wouldn’t be recommended to continue to travel for this job. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical cost of transit is 11-16%, coast to coast.

Now, you might be able to cut the costs if you use public transportation or walk to work, but that would add travel time and some more planning.  If you needed to take the bus or subway, the times you would need to be at the pick-up points would be pretty concrete.

You would also have to plan your mornings and evenings around when the transportation gets to your stop to pick you up.  This could make your commute longer in some instances, so you would want to compare that to what you might be saving.

Because, after all, your time also has value. A two-hour commute each day equals more than 500 hours of your life – each year.

What Is a Reasonable Distance to Walk to Work?

There is no definite distance that you should or shouldn’t walk to work for.  You will have to adjust what your definition of “reasonable” is depending on a few factors, sometimes even changing daily.

  • Weather
  • Walking shoes
  • Can you walk to work in your work clothes, or do you need to change when you arrive?
  • How long will it take? 
  • Safety
  • How will you carry your stuff?

If your walk is more than 20 minutes you will need to plan for a cup of water every 10 minutes so you can stay properly hydrated. Backpacks are usually the best option to haul your stuff because they reduce the strain on your back and neck.

The only way to figure out if a walk is too far for you is to know if it is worth it to you or not. While you are gaining some exercise and health benefits, the added time it takes to walk instead of the drive may not be worth taking from your life.

Cycling to Work

You also always have the option of cycling to work.  This would be faster than walking, cost(roughly) the same amount, and allow you to use the “cyclist only” paths if your city has them, which usually means less traffic. 

You would need to find somewhere to store and lock your bike up while you are working, and always have a plan B in case of rain or other inclement weather. In bigger cities, bike racks can be found in front of most buildings, but if you work in a smaller city, you may have to park your bike and walk a distance to your job site.

How Far Can an Employer Make You Travel?

Typically, an employer cannot force you to travel; however, usually, it’s part of the job description when you are hired.  Now, depending on the job, you may or may not get paid for your travel time to and from a location.  In most cases, people do not get paid for travel time because they are simply driving to and from an office or a work site. However, there are some jobs that do pay for travel.  Thanks to the federal laws, usually you get compensated for the following criteria:

  • Traveling to and from a city on the same day
  • Traveling to a work site after hours due to management decision IF they have to travel a long distance
  • Distance to a work site if you go to the office first due to instruction from the manager
  • Any travel that requires you to stay overnight somewhere

State laws related to travel compensation vary from state to state, so it is always good to check before you assume your compensation.

Now, if you don’t want to travel, you may not be the right person for the job, especially if travel is required. These conversations are ones you want to have at the beginning of the interview process or employment.

Making Your Commute Productive

Let’s say you drive 30 minutes to work every day, there and back.  If you work five days a week, that’s 5 hours of time that you may feel is almost wasted.  There are a few ways you can make that time feel more productive, so when you arrive at work, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted 30 minutes or that you have to re-prepare for your day. 

  • Listen to podcasts on a topic you need to grow in
  • Schedule calls with clients or coworkers during these times so your office time can be spent more effectively on office work.
    • Using a Bluetooth also keeps your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road
  • Listen to an audiobook that relates to your profession or to learn something new
  • Use this time to mentally prepare for your day/go over your schedule
  • Use this time to verbally practice any speeches or presentations you may have

Five hours a week doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but when it is spent on learning something or expanding your mind, in a month, you may be able to see a difference in your work.

Alternatives to a Long Commute

If you are traveling a distance that you consider too far for your job, there are only a few ways to fix it.  There might be some alternatives to traveling a long distance for work but it would take some pretty drastic moves.

  • Move to a location closer to your job
  • Make an agreement with your boss about working from home a few days
  • Find a new job
  • Rent a small place closer to your job and only go home on the weekends

If you have your dream job, or if you make a large amount of money, these options may be suitable for you.  Unfortunately, in most cases, these options are out of the question or not worth it to do for the job. This is purely something you have to decide yourself. 

Generally, most commutes are perfectly reasonable in comparison to pay and how much you enjoy your job. At the start of every new year, you are with a company; it’s a good idea to always look at your commute and recalculate if any changes need to be made. This will help you to evaluate your career on a larger scale and keep everything in check.