The life of a long-distance commuter

Although the idea of abandoning your demanding, ungrateful family for a single life in the big city during the week might sometimes seem appealing, most of us wouldn't really want to live such a split existence.

Yet in a difficult job market, more people are having to do just that to get the kind of work they want.

There's nothing new in the idea of commuting during the week. Wealthy businesspeople with comfortable country homes and kids in good local schools have long divided up their time this way, living in a pied à terre that's handy for the office midweek and spending long weekends in the bosom of the family.

But the economic downturn and a sluggish property market have pushed a tranche of much less generously paid workers into a tiring, costly and potentially lonely arrangement.

Employment opportunities in many industries have become increasingly concentrated in London as regional firms have struggled, so that's where jobseekers are ending up. The decision to take a non-local job demands some pretty stark compromises.

Leaving aside the question of lifestyle and family, moving to London may simply be financially impossible. It's increasingly difficult to become a homeowner in London: according to Zoopla, the average property value in Bristol is £223,500, while in London it's almost double, at £444,000. "For most people, London house prices are way out of reach," says Matt Hutchinson, director of rooms to rent website spareroom.com.

Even renting in the capital is increasingly a challenge. Tenant reference agency homelet.com reports that the cost of a two-bedroom flat in London rose by 5.8% in the past year to September, and now averages at £1,272. About 30% of London tenants are spending more than half their take-home pay on rent, according to property website rightmove.com.

Hutchinson says weekly commuting "can therefore work for people who want to get on the property ladder without compromising their career. It allows them to buy a bigger property than they could in London". But the flip side of a decent job and an affordable home is that they must either commute daily, spending hours on the train and thousands of pounds on a season ticket, or look for cheap London lodgings for three or four nights a week.

That choice may be purely financial or depend on other factors such as the need to be at home every evening. Either way, it's a pricey business just to stay in work.

John Emms, Lecturer John Emms, 55, ran a model airplane business in Bristol with his wife but they were forced to take drastic action when the financial crisis hit in 2008. John wanted a change anyway and, with his technical background and a qualification in further education, he found temporary work lecturing on motor vehicle technology at City of Bristol College.

The college was laying offlecturers, so John started looking for something more permanent. He hoped to stay in the Bristol area but, after applications to Leicester and Sheffield, the job he finally landed was in Bromley, south-east London.

He pays £400 a month for a room in a shared house in Bromley, taking the coach back home as early as he can each Friday afternoon: "It costs less than £20 return by coach, compared with about £55 return by train, and Victoria is only 20 minutes on the train from Bromley," he explains. "I looked at buying a one-bed flat but I just didn't want the extra responsibility of a mortgage, repairs and other bills." But how does the arrangement stack up? "I have a job teaching a fantastic course at a great college and with a great team. I get a London weighting, so I'm about £5,000 better offthan I would be working outside London, and that helps boost my pension. It's a secure job. If I left, I'd have to do agency work with no security, lower pay and no pension contributions, so I'm not going anywhere before retirement." Certainly, there are problems: it's stressful for the family, unsettling and very expensive in terms of living costs, says John. "But I know what money's coming in and still have my home, family and friends in a nice part of Gloucestershire." Chris Baldwin, graphic designer When he was made redundant from his job in Cardiffin March 2011, Chris Baldwin, 42, knew he'd be heading east. "The economic climate and the kind of job I do, managing a team of designers, means opportunities here in Cardiffare like hen's teeth. Most of the openings are in London." Luckily, he was hired by betting firm Ladbrokes to run its design studio. Ladbrokes is based in Rayners Lane, north-west London, so Chris found a room in nearby Harrow. He's able to work from home on Fridays, which means he drives up on Monday and back to his wife and two children on Thursday evening. "Driving is cheaper than the train," he says.

Would he consider moving permanently to London? "I wouldn't say no, but my kids are at school and my wife works in Cardiffso it would be a big move." Chris's split existence has both pros and cons, he says. "You sometimes think you'd really like to be at home reading the kids a story, but I keep pretty busy in London with long hours at work, friends, the gym and football." It helps that many of his colleagues have a similarly nomadic existence. Several commute daily from North Yorkshire and his boss travels from Bury St Edmunds. "It's something people increasingly have to do if they want a job." Anne Ware, head of marketing Until she took a redundancy package earlier this year, 50-something Anne Ware lived in the country near Newbury, where she moved with her husband in order to raise their family, but she spent at least a night or two each week in London.

The large IT services firm where she worked did a lot of public sector and central government work, so she knew from the outset she would be London-based. But it was manageable because her husband, a teacher, could be home for the children after school.

Anne mixed and matched her options, travelling up to London and back one or two days a week, working from home on Fridays, and staying over the other nights. She was fortunate that her employer contributed to the cost of a hotel room for those nights. "I often thought of renting a room but the economics didn't work for only a couple of nights a week. Also, it would have been too easy to stay in town - I'd never have seen the girls or my husband." Anne is now looking for another job, though she is hoping to find something nearer to home. "But if I did come across the right job in London I would be tempted," she adds.

Lawrence Baker, Aeronautical engineer Sometimes people agree to challenging commutes for non-financial reasons. Lawrence Baker, 30, works in Derby for Rolls-Royce, and used to live there pretty comfortably, sharing a two-bedroom house with a friend for £350 a month. But when that rental arrangement ended late last year he took the plunge and moved to London to set up home with his partner Ruth, a journalist based in the City.

While there are clear personal benefits for Lawrence, it's a choice that involves five hours of train travel a day. However, he is fortunate that his employer takes a flexible view and allows him to work on the train, which means he can leave Derby at 3.30pm and is home by 6pm. "I'm financially worse offbecause I'm paying London rent and prices but I'm on a non-London salary - as well as paying around £800 a month for a season ticket," he says.

Will he stick with the arrangement? "I'm certainly not going to up sticks and leave Rolls-Royce. I wouldn't find it easy to get such an interesting job anyway, especially as there's not much engineering work in London," he says. "There's no end date to this arrangement but I wouldn't want to do it indefinitely." Weekly commuting expenses compared Average weekly rents: London one-bedroom flat: £365 (londonpropertywatch.com) London two-bedroom flat: £526 (londonpropertywatch.com) London room rent, full-time: £165 (spareroom.com) London room rent, Mon-Fri: £120 (spareroom.com) Rail travel - annual season tickets York to London: £12,300 (£256 per week over 48 weeks) Bristol to London: £7,028 (£146 per week over 48 weeks) NB train fares will rise by an average 6% from January 2013 Coach travel - annual season tickets Reading to London: £2,688 (£56 per week over 48 weeks); train £3,800 Bristol to London: £3,200 (£67 per week over 48 weeks); train £6,964 Get a FREE copy of Moneywise, exclusive offer for Yahoo!