For interesting cleared work with enough salary to support yourself and your family, the D.C Metro area, including Maryland and Virginia, is a safe bet. This is the land of opportunity, particularly when it comes to Intelligence Community work.  There are opportunities in other places such as Denver, Colorado Springs, Huntsville, San Diego, Tampa, and so on.  However, D.C. and surrounding areas are unmatched in terms of positions that support the Department of Defense, Intelligence, and Federal and state governments. The jobs in this area cast a wide net, with people living as far away as the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

This is nothing new. I remember a friend telling me in 1991 that he was not at all concerned about losing his job.  “I’d have 3 job offers in a day,” he said.  The same holds true today. Job-wise, the DC-MD-VA area is outstanding. However, there is one area that is not so good, and that is the commute.

I have had ten-minute commutes as well as the 2+hour drive to work. Thirty minutes or less in a commute is very good. If your commute is 30 minutes or less in this area, then you need to count your blessings. For the rest of us – with one, two, or three-hour drives each way -we need to get some of that time back. Here is how.

How to Have Fun on your commute

The commute is mandatory. Having fun on the commute is optional. I choose to have fun. Six-speed, 8-cylinder sports car fun. Get a car that you need to drive and take the back roads. You don’t have to get a Corvette, Porsche, or Mustang, although I would recommend them if your budget allows. These cars can generate over 400 horsepower. Admittedly, this does nothing for you if you are stuck in traffic, but when you do move, you do so with a smile. Sporty cars with 4-cylinder engines and a turbo can now get over 300 horsepower. Cars that handle well and have a little power make the commute more fun. There are several small, sporty car options available. Check them out and bring a smile to your commute.

If torque and sports handling are not your thing, what about comfort and luxury? Smooth comfort and a quiet ride can take some of the stress out of your daily commute. Now, if funds don’t allow you to purchase a late-model sports or luxury car, you can still pick up a used car for a decent price. There are a lot of options around here because a lot of us commute. High mileage in this commute zone could mean that the car is still relatively new. A high-mileage luxury or sports car that has been maintained will still provide enjoyment during your long commute. Make the best of it.

Vary Your Commute Time

It used to be that the only option here was to leave earlier and earlier to beat at least some of the traffic. I used to go in real early, then work out in a nearby gym, then drive the last little bit to work. Even this is now getting to be too difficult. More and more people are moving into the area and congestion gets worse all of the time. Employers have taken note of the situation and many offer varied schedules to allow you to commute during non-traditional time periods. This may or may not help your situation, but it is worth looking into to see if it could help. Getting up extra early still helps, but not as much as in years past. It seems that many have caught on to this trick.

Here is one for you…if the forecast says it will be raining for your morning commute, leave 30 minutes or even an hour earlier than normal. Trust me.

Car Pool

I am not a fan, since I like to keep to my own schedule without factoring in other people’s schedule. Sometimes I may stay later than planned and then what? Carpooling does save on gas cost, as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. It can also reduce your insurance cost, since you put less miles on your vehicle. Some government agencies and employers sponsor a ride-sharing program. See if it is an option for you. There are websites and even apps that help you to find a car or van pool situation that could fit your needs. Your commute will take just as long or longer, but you can recoup some of that lost time and make it your time to catch up on sleep, surf the web, read, or even do some work.

Audiobooks

There are a number of apps out there that will read a book to you. With services like Audible, you can let someone else read a book or an entire series to you while you drive. Everyone is different though…make sure that you can still pay attention to the road as you listen to a book. With books on CD or downloaded, you can be entertained or even educated while you drive, thus recouping some of that time. If you are studying for a certification, read your notes and study material into an audio file and play it back while you commute. Make use of that time!

Public Transportation

Still crowded and maybe not even time-saving, public transportation does have some good points. The primary benefit is that you are not driving and are therefore free to work, read a book, or watch a show on your phone. You may also save money and you will certainly save mileage on your vehicle. Look at bus, train, and metro options.

Telework

The ultimate commute is walking from the bedroom to the computer desk. Telework used to be a pipe dream, but has been gaining in popularity as well as opportunity over the last five years or so. The government is also serious about telework where it makes sense. The federal government has an official website for the federal government’s telework program. Of course, chances are that you do not have a SCIF at home, so if your job requires access to classified information, telework is not likely to be an option for you, unfortunately.

Technology for your commute

There are some great apps for your phone that will assist you with your commute. There have been several times where my app has warned me of a traffic accident in enough time for me to change to an alternate route. Some of the most popular apps are Waze, Google Drive, Transit, and Moovit. Waze has a feature where if you tell it where you want to go, you can try out different departure times so that you can avoid the worst traffic. Moovit calls itself the “The #1 Urban Mobility App Worldwide.”  If you tell it where you are starting from and where you want to go, Moovit will give you options for your trip including total time, and step by step instructions including what metroline to take, exits, and so on.  If you spend time in D.C. and need to get from place to place, check it out.

Keep moving

The one thing about the commute that drives me crazy is standstill traffic. I will go out of my way and add minutes as well as miles to my trip as long as I can keep moving. The tip here is to learn your alternate routes. Take a drive through the beautiful countryside rather than stare at the car in front of you. For those of us who do not live in D.C. and have to travel to the surrounding states, I get to see some of the most beautiful countryside in the U.S., and I know several different routes to do it.

Have Dinner

You know, some days it is just not worth it. You have got to know when you are beat.  Stay at work longer or have dinner in the city and head home once traffic dies down. Sometimes that is all you can do. It does not take much…a rainstorm during rush-hour(s), a wreck or two, a little snow or ice. You know what I’m talking about. Stay at work. Go see a Caps game. Watch the Nationals or DC United play. You know what will happen if you try and leave.

In Conclusion

Every area has its positives and negatives. The jobs here in the DC-MD-VA area are plentiful, and that creates benefits as well as problems. There is no question that the Federal, IC, DoD, State and local governments are the reason why there are so many jobs in this area. It is the price we pay for the life we live.  Sure, we have to put up with it, but let’s be smart about it and recoup some of that lost time.

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Todd Keys is a Program Manager at Cantada, Inc. He has been in the intelligence Community for 30 years, as a member of the military (USAF), and as a contractor for top 100, top 10, and small business federal defense contractors. He has held multiple roles, CONUS and OCONUS, ranging from technician to executive, providing site O&M, system administration, engineering, supervision, contract management, and Capture/BD for the DoD and multiple intelligence agencies.
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