Are you sensitive to certain sounds/noise in general–and more specifically, when you travel? What do you do if/when it really gets to you? How do you handle it?
a) block it out with earplugs?
b) drown it out with your iPod?
c) let it into your aural space (ie, your unprotected eardrum)?
e) a combination of 2-3 techniques
f) all of the above
(Or are you someone who could sleep through a nuclear armageddon? If so, I hate you/want you to tell me your secret.)
I happen to be sensitive to all kinds of sounds/noises–especially intermittent ones. I can deal with the sound of continuous traffic, but not with quiet that’s interrupted from time to time and unpredictably. As you can imagine, that makes me a light sleeper. And of course, I’m a magnet for snorers wherever I am.
Sleep aside, being sound/noise-sensitive is not a good thing since I’m a low-budget traveler. I always travel coach, usually sleep in low-budget rooms with thin walls (and hostel dorms on occasion), sometimes ride on chicken buses with blaring music and frequently travel to developing countries where there’s constantly some sort of construction happening not far from where I’m staying. It doesn’t stop me from traveling, of course. I just have to make sure I’m prepared.
5 Noise Pollution Solutions
Here are some situations I’ve found myself in and my “noise pollution solutions.” I’d love to hear what yours are, too, by the way.
PROBLEM #1: Bawling Babies
Ever been on an overnight flight to Europe or beyond–the kind where you really need to get some sleep or you’ll feel like a train wreck for a week? And there you are, on the verge of falling asleep. Someone’s baby, a few rows away, begins to bawl for no apparent reason. This, of course, triggers a blood-curdling scream from a toddler who’s two seats away. Suddenly, there’s a symphony of (off-key) sounds–the kind that rip right through you and push even the Armageddon sleepers over the edge. Been there, done that…and can now tell you the story with no PTSD whatsoever.
My Solution: Heavy Metal
Heavy metal music (not death metal as it could be a bit too much) played on my iPod + antihistamine or Xanax. I opt for this type of music because it sometimes contains its own screams, which can mask the sound of the bawling baby/babies. The antihistamine (generic benadryl) helps with sleep–by knocking you out. Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t work. That’s when you bring out the big guns–Xanax. I usually get a bottle of 10 before I travel for those “just in case” moments. And most of the time, it works great.
PROBLEM #2:BADLY BEHAVIN’ BEDFELLOWS
You’ve just crawled into bed, in a hostel dorm room. The person who’s a few beds away begins to snore…like a longshoreman after a night of drinking. Or someone in the room has to reorganize their Ziplock bags just as you’re drifting off. Or they’re speaking loudly to someone else at 2 am. Or maybe someone in the room has a…special friend they’re hanging out with–I mean, hooking up with. Then what?
My Solution: Relocation (usually)
If someone’s being noisy, I politely ask them to be quiet or lower their voice or stop making the offending noise. But if someone is snoring, I try to change rooms. In the case of dorm-room sex, I may let the involved parties know that I’m awake–or I may just move elsewhere. It’s annoying, but…once I’ve relocated, I usually sleep fine. Once, however, I couldn’t change rooms, so I went into the lobby with my pillow and blanked and crashed out on a sofa. Sure I felt a bit…homeless…but I was that desperate for quiet.
3. WEE HOUR WORKERS
This was also in Mexico City (perhaps I won’t go back there?). It was about 5:30 am–a time when I’m still in REM, enjoying the Rapid Eye Movement cycle, thank you very much. Well, sure enough, I was awakened by the sound of a jackhammer being used down on the street. It was so loud, I thought the building was going to cave in. I still needed another hour of sleep.
My Solution: Earplugs + iPod
How this worked was quite simple. I still had the headphones from the flight I’d been on–you know, the kind…the ones that have the pad that covers your ear. So I first put my industrial (orange) earplugs in to block the semi-distant sound, but then doubled up, so to speak, with the layer of sound from the iPod via the headphones. It created a sound barrier that worked incredibly well. OK, truth be told–at times, due to this unique set-up–and the cabin pressure–I felt like my head was in a mini vice. A little Xanax took care of that, luckily.
PROBLEM #4: PESTY/PESKY PASSENGERS
I was on my way from Prague to Krakow, by train, and had the perfect seat. There were just a few other passengers and they were quietly reading or looking out the window, just as I was. I remember how I began to unwind and let go, thinking the Sound/Noise Gods had blessed me.
But then, the wind changed direction and so did my luck. The Sound/Noise Gods changed their minds, turning cruel in an instant. A couple boarded the train with their dog. Yes, a dog. It was small and had a shiny coat and wasn’t bad to look at. The problem? It was barking…a lot. So was the couple. At each other.
And then, someone else–a teenager yapping on a cellphone–joined our group of passengers. She was using a cheap headset, which meant…she was even louder than she needed to be. Our lovely cabin, idyllic initially, had devolved into the Train Compartment from Hell.
My Solution: Anthrax
No, not the poison (although the thought did, briefly, enter my mind). The group. There’s something about that music that can drown out almost anything. In that case, I traded in damage to my ear drum for mental peace. It was worth it–really. Wait–what did you say? Huh?
PROBLEM #5: Maddening Merengue
I love merengue. I really do. Especially if I’m hanging out with some Latino friends I can dance with and we’re somewhere that has…a dance floor. I don’t mind if it’s loud and fast, either. But when I’m on a bus, trying to relax or read my travel guide, I don’t want to hear it as much. I certain don’t want to hear it blaring from the speakers.
My Solution: Surrender
I give in…I surrender…I actually listen to it. I prefer salsa, but hey–the driver is driver, not a DJ. You can’t “request” songs, unless you’re on really good terms with him. I listen and try to make out what they hell they’re saying. They’re in love, angry, etc. Whatever. I figure it’s a free Spanish class–maintenance in my case since I already speak the language.
There is one exception to this, however. If the music has static in it–then, I’m in trouble. I find that almost as bad as nails on a chalkboard. If that is the case, then I go for the earplugs MINUS the iPod. I can still make out the music, but I don’t hear the static. A real win-win if you think about it.
How about you? What coping techniques do you use?
What sort of noises/sounds do you find irritating when you travel? And what do you do to deal? Do you use an iPod or earplugs? Do you simply expose your eardrum to it, unprotected? Or do you have “noise-canceling headphones?” Or perhaps you self-medicate? Whatever you do to cope, I’d love to know!
“Noise” photo was taken by Kevin Dooley and obtained through flickr.