Noise-canceling devices

Here is a tip from a long-haul traveler : get yourself a noise-canceling device. I had quite some days, weeks or perhaps months of traveling in trains and buses behind me when I ran into someone who let me hear through her noise-canceling device. The next day I went to the shop, paid a lot of money and improved my future travel experiences in immeasurable amounts.

Noise-canceling devices do what their name suggests. It is quite an ingenious concept. Not only do they prevent sound from coming into you ear through some form of cushioning, they also make anti-sound to the sound and then push the two into your ear so that the anti-sound cancels out the sound. The result is reasonable silence. If you want, you can still feed the device with sound from your phone or computer or mp3 player that then is added to the silence for noise-free listening.

Why is it such a blessing? Well as soon as you leave the relative quiet of your home, and enter people processors like railway stations, trains, airports, airplanes, boats, buses, harbors and bus stations you expose yourself to an unbelievable amount of noise that you really don’t need. Chances are that you’ll arrive in the middle of a city, where peace and quiet is not abundantly available. Your brain has to process all that noise and filter it which is a tiresome process, especially when you travel for more than an hour or two.

Our flight to Costa Rica lasted about eleven hours and airplanes with their engine rumble and airco hiss, in my experience, really do a lot worse in terms of noise than most trains and buses. Even the Dreamliner that brought us, which is a relatively new airplane, was hard to cope with. But a try a 24 hour bus trip and you have a similar effect.

To prevent disappointment, I did write ‘reasonable silence’, not ‘absolute silence’. I bought what was at the time reviewed as the best device (see the picture). It filters out a lot of noise but not all. It does really well with the noise of engines and machines, which makes a lot of difference during a day in machine. It does less well with high pitched sounds. So, voices are dampened quite well, but high voices are not. That is a bummer if you share the space with for example a crying baby: you get silence plus the sound of the crying baby. Also, in all cases, there is slight whisper of a hiss. If there hardly is any noise you notice it, but if you listen to music or so, it disappears. Perhaps you find a better device and perhaps they have improved the model that I bought.

In spite of these imperfections, I can still recommend traveling with an noise-canceling device. To me, it makes the difference between arriving tired and arriving completely wasted after a long-haul trip.


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