Piercing or Sublime

How to manage sound on the road.

By Rose Ernst

Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Have your upstairs neighbors ever dismembered a corpse?

Or set up a bowling alley in their apartment?

Or hosted a rave?

Whether you’ve been on the road or lived in one place, we’ve all experienced dreaded neighbor noise.

And that’s not all. If you’re autistic, these experiences may be intensified a thousand times for better and for worse.

From the sublime purring kitten on your lap and ocean waves behind you to the piercing dog bark or the toaster humming like a jet engine, managing sound while traveling is challenging.

I’ll leave the sublime challenge to you. That’s the fun part.

I’ll help with the piercing: the unexpected staccato sounds to the slow drip of increasingly unbearable background noise.

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

I’ve tried everything, from white noise generators to gel earplugs.

You may be noise-seeking, noise-avoidant, or both.

I’m both. I love to crank up the music on my headphones past any officially sanctioned decibel level. But I also experience a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard reaction to other sounds.

It’s much easier to seek your preferred sound than it is to avoid the intrusive ones that drive you to distraction.

Let’s review the options.

Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

White noise generator: Travel Fan

Upsides: A USB travel fan is a great option if it’s hot or you have breathing issues while sleeping. They can also cover distracting noises while you’re working.

Downsides: Unless you have a mini travel fan, you might not always have one handy. They also don’t cover up louder noises well. If it’s not that hot and you’re using it while sleeping, you might get cold, or your sleeping partner might object.

Verdict: Okay in a pinch, but still not ideal.

Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash

Digital white noise

Upsides: This includes things like ocean waves, babbling brooks, cafe sounds, or whatever background white noise you prefer. Put on headphones and one of these noise generators while you work, and it can definitely help you focus.

My favorite sound generator is mynoise.net (free). It has everything from the Irish Coast to a Japanese Garden to the laundromat.

Downsides: Like the fan, white noise generators can only cover up some noise. There’s also the issue of disturbing your partner’s sleep, as well as your own. Beyond that, white noise actually grates on me at some point — as if my auditory nerves have said, “enough!”

Verdict: Good for work, and okay if you’re sleeping on your own.

Photo by Franco Antonio Giovanella on Unsplash

Old-Fashioned Earplugs

Upsides: If you buy the right ones, they can definitely block out sound!

Downsides: It’s hard to find ones that fit your ears. I also find them uncomfortable, and this discomfort can actually be more problematic than the noise itself — or they both team up together to create an even bigger sensory problem.

The last issue is that they can actually block out too much, to where you cannot hear anything at all. I don’t like that sensation, particularly when I’m traveling.

I tried particular earplugs recommended for musicians because they muffle sound without blocking it completely. Like other earplugs I’ve tried, I’m sure they work well for some, but I can’t get over the discomfort of having them in my ears.

Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Earbuds

Upsides: Other than Bose over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones (impossible to sleep with), I’ve never used noise-canceling Bluetooth earbuds. But they work well for some.

Downsides: I’m highly sensitive to Wi-Fi/EMF (electric and magnetic fields) signals. If I hold my phone to my ear for over 10 minutes, my ear becomes warm and red, so I don’t want to sleep with Wi-Fi signals bouncing around my head.

Verdict: Fine if you’re not sensitive to EMF waves.

That’s where QuietOn earbuds have saved the day!

Rose Ernst

QuietOn Earbuds

Desperate to get better sleep and block out sounds that led to sensory overload, I researched non-EMF noise-canceling options.

After reading many positive reviews, I bought the admittedly pricey QuietOn 3 earbuds produced in Finland.

I loved them so much that I contacted this small company about becoming an affiliate for my blog. They not only said yes, but also sent me a new version of their earbuds, QuietOn 3.1.

Please note that QuietOn has not asked me to write this story. I approached them after using their earbuds for five months. Read on for the discount if you want to purchase them.

These earbuds are amazing because they (1) do not transmit EMF waves, and (2) they target low-frequency sound:

Some of the most common noises that interrupt sleep are low-frequency sounds from home appliances, traffic or street noise, snoring partners and noisy neighbors. QuietOn 3.1’s ANC technology eliminates ambient sounds by automatically generating opposite waveforms to nullify the low frequencies, resulting in a much quieter and more peaceful environment for sleep.” — QuietOn

This is exactly what I wanted: I can still hear what I need to hear, but they eliminated all the sounds that lead to sleepless nights or overload.


Unlike other earplugs, I can actually sleep with these. I’m a side sleeper, however, so if I’m using them against snoring or other background low-frequency noise while sleeping, I usually just pop one in one ear and sleep on the other.

Sometimes that’s enough to lead to deep sleep, so when I roll over, I simply remove them. If the background noise is persistent, then I just put it in the other ear. If you sleep on your back or front, you won’t have this issue. Even if you’re a side sleeper, these earbuds are so comfortable that you might find it doesn’t bother you to sleep with both of them in your ears.

Noisy Environments

I also tried QuietOn in the airport and on the airplane. While waiting for my flight — you know that hectic 30 minutes when people are lining up and milling about — I popped in these earbuds and felt immediate relief. I could still hear the announcements, but it felt like the volume on the airport had been turned down to a whisper.

The same was true on the airplane, where the noise comes less from humans and more from the background hum of the plane. It helped enormously.

I now use these earbuds as a preventative measure against sensory overload. If I’m in a noisy environment, I put them in so I can avoid getting to a tipping point.

Rose Ernst

How to Use Them

Like other earbuds, QuietOn has a charging case and different size ear-tips that mold to the inside of your ear. My ears are quite small, and I’ve had trouble in the past finding earplugs that stay put. These are perfect and also very comfortable.

I’ve tried two versions and the newest earbuds transition to active noise-canceling mode within 25 seconds. This is fantastic because it was difficult to tell if they were “turned on” in the previous versions. Now you know they’re working because you can actually hear the volume turn down.

Are They Worth It?

Few of us have a spare $289 to spend on noise-canceling earbuds. Depending on where you live and whether health insurance covers it, you can offset the cost. You can also use this 10% discount coupon — quietontraveler — if you decide to buy them (if you use my coupon code, I earn a small commission, which helps me run the Autistic Traveler website. Thank you!).

Would I buy them again? Absolutely. I treated the expense as an unavoidable doctor’s appointment or filling a prescription. If you’re sensitive to noise and have tried everything else, you won’t regret it, in my humble opinion.

Bottom Line

Managing sound at home and on the road is difficult, but can actually stop you from traveling if you’re autistic. In my experience, sound is often an invisible contributor to a slow, accumulative process leading to meltdowns and burnout.

That’s why I’ve taken a more active, preventive approach to managing sound overload. Then I can enjoy the serendipity of the sublime when I come upon it.

Happy Traveling!

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