5 apps to make your commute more worthwhile

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5 mobile apps to make your commute more worthwhile(Credit: Tawng/Depositphotos (background), Emily Ferron/New Atlas (arrangement))

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Sometimes, the daily commute feels like a black hole where too much of your time and energy disappears. It's no secret that smartphones help pass the time, but you may be able to get more out of those moments. These handy apps can help convert mind-numbing to-and-fro travel into anything you want it to be, from educational to entertaining.

Headspace

Despite being a thousands-of-years old practice, meditation is receiving a new moment in the spotlight. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed cognitive and psychological benefits of meditation; one Harvard study even suggests that it leads to changes in brain structure that boost well-being over the long term.

To invite these benefits into your daily life, try using the Headspace app during your commute. Through simple audio instructions, Headspace teaches you how to meditate anytime, anywhere. The app and the starter series are free; if you like it, you can opt for a monthly subscription (starting at US$12.95 per month) with unlimited access to hundreds of hours of guided meditations catered to different mental goals, from creativity to clarity. Headspace also has programs designed specifically for commuters.

Meditation is a great way to transition the mind before and after work, especially if you take public transit and a mental departure from your surroundings would be particularly welcome! Rush hour drivers are better off with their full attention on the road, though a short stress-reduction meditation might be the perfect companion for a gridlocked traffic jam.

The app is compatible across platforms and devices, with a simple, bright, encouraging interface appealing to heady spiritual types and straight-laced skeptics alike.

App download is free for iOS, Android and desktop. Full access requires a monthly subscription starting at $12.95 per month; monthly fee drops with longer subscriptions.

Any.do

Losing hours each week to a daily commute is frustrating on its own. It's even more galling to zombie through the drive home, only to realize that you went right by the dry cleaners without picking up your clothes or completely forgot to stop at the store for dinner ingredients.

Any.do is an award-winning task management app. Not only does it create, sync and share to-do lists across devices, it also helps you avoid the aforementioned "I was just there!" despair. It issues location-based reminders, so if you're in the vicinity of an item on your task list, you'll get an alert.

Location notifications are probably most useful for folks who drive to and from work, but transit commuters can still take advantage of Any.do's other task management features, such as list making and delegating. Plan your day on the train, make a grocery list on the bus, or assign tasks to family members while you wait for an Uber.

Free with in-app purchases for iOS, Android or desktop.

Audible

Listening to the right audiobook can help you meet your personal or professional goals without taking any additional time out of your day. The Audible app and accompanying store is an excellent resource for finding the right title.

If you're already listening to books from Google Play or iTunes, then you're overdue to try Audible. It's an industry leader in audiobook sales and listening for several good reasons.

One, it saves money. Audible requires a $14.95 monthly subscription, which gets you one book download per month. Since many bestselling audiobooks cost upwards of $20, that's a discount right out of the gate. Two, as an Amazon company, they have excellent customer service: If you're unsatisfied for any reason, you can exchange the book within a year of purchase for full credit. Three, Audible makes it easy to download and re-download your books for listening on all your different devices.

If one book per month doesn't cut it, you can purchase additional credits from the Audible store. One credit equals one book. Book prices vary, but purchasing credits still saves about 30-percent over what you'd spend buying one book at a time from iTunes.

Subscription for content is $14.95 monthly. App download is free; compatible with iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Amazon devices and more. Complete app list and download links here.

Waze

You can expect to see indications of heavy traffic on Google Maps or Apple Maps, but that's about it in terms of real-time reporting. It takes time for traffic to show up, and smaller problems like road closures or construction may not appear at all.

Enter Google-owned Waze. It's a community-based GPS app with all the navigational maps and prompts you'd expect, with the addition of real-time route feedback from other Waze community members. The app works by passively collecting route information while you're using it; you can also follow a few prompts to actively report additional conditions. Meanwhile, you can plan your own route like you have eyes and ears all over town.

Due to its crowd-sourced nature, the quality of the Waze experience relies on the number of active users in the area. Unfortunately, the app's utility drops in areas where it's less popular.

Free, for iOS and Android.

Triplog

If your job requires you to do a lot of driving, Triplog could eliminate some of your administrative duties. Use the app to automatically create driving logs and generate mileage reports, which can then be used for tax purposes or expense reports.

While it won't necessarily make your commute more rewarding (unless you're a die-hard numbers geek), it will cut down on the overall amount of time spent on travel requirements, and that's a major plus.

Free with in-app purchases for most individual users. Subscription plans for companies and fleets are also available; iOS and Android compatible.

Without a doubt, there are plenty of reasons to snuggle up to a smartphone during your daily commute. But what if you prefer less productivity, and more recreation? If the above apps strike you as a little too productive, check out the latest in mobile gaming.

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