The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Travel 2021

Alison Rombough

It doesn’t matter if you pregame at the airport bar, pick up a $30 neck pillow at the Hudson News, and dress up in a wearable blanket. On a flight, sleep can still be as elusive as Bigfoot.

Sure, there’s hardly ever enough legroom, the seats are stiff, and there’s the underlying fear of accidentally nodding off on a stranger’s shoulder, but if everyone’s being honest, we know you’ve made do with far more uncomfortable sleeping situations before. (The floor of a ferry boat in Greece? Been there.) The real problem is the noise: We’re talking the well-meaning but seemingly endless speech about emergency exits coming over the PA; the family reunion taking place in rows 12, 13, and 14; the friendly aunt in your row trying to keep a polite conversation going. Babies. Toddlers. Rogue adults acting like babies. It’s enough to haunt you and ruin your sleep for the rest of your trip. 

What is one to do besides disavow air travel and commit to a life of landlocked traffic? Get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Now, instead of just pretending to ignore the chatty passenger next to you, you will actually be able to without any conscious effort. It’s the headphone equivalent of wearing a Do Not Disturb sign around your neck. Slip these babies over your ears and the world slips away, giving way to your lullaby of choice and the best non-medicated sleep you’ll ever get on an airplane.

Most wanted

Apple’s instantly iconic AirPods Pro have set a high standard when it comes to tiny earbuds that pack big sound. With their wireless charging case, powerful noise cancellation that reduces even cacophonous surroundings to whisper-quiet, and a transparency feature for easily flipping in and out of the world around you, they’re, simply put, the bomb—and right now, they’re at the lowest price we’ve seen in a looong time.


AirPods Pro with Wireless Charging Case

Business class approved

Sure, you might be only one seat ahead of the bathroom, but these Bose earbuds tell a different story. Each earbud is built with microphones that listen to your surroundings—so you don’t have to—and produce the opposite signal to cancel the noise. You won’t even notice when you’ve landed until the flight attendant shakes you awake.


QuietComfort® Earbuds

No missed signals

Your gate A connecting flight switched to gate F? Baggage pickup is where? Turns out, when you’re traveling, there are some things that you still need to hear. These top-of-the-line, smart, over-the-ear headphones pair with the Headphones Connect App so that you can control your ambient sound settings to let you hear important travel announcements. It’s almost as good as having your mom there to listen for you. (They’ve got a solid 4.5/5 star rating comprised of more than 20,000 reviews.)


WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Overhead Headphones

Tuning out on a budget

You’ve already sprung for a vacation. The thought of dropping a few hundred bucks on headphones makes you ask yourself if a few hours of being unable to escape from crying babies is really that bad. The answer? Yes, yes it is. You need these affordable Soundcore headphones. They don’t skimp on noise cancellation or battery life, either. They have a 40-hour playing time in noise cancellation mode. Hello, ten-hour layover. 


Soundcore by Anker Life Q30 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Sleep like a (much better) baby

That is to say, not like the screaming babies on your plane—like all the peaceful cherubs somewhere else. These Sleepbuds are designed with two things in mind: keeping annoying noises out (snoring, noisy upstairs neighbors, the garbagemen banging around outside at 5 AM) and pumping good noises in (white noise, relaxing music) if you so wish.  

Eyewear, don’t care

You’re not dressed to impress and you’re proud of it. Chunky neck pillow, Berks and socks, maybe you’ve even got a snuggie. We feel you. Be bold in your claim on comfort with these headband-eye-mask headphones. Nothing says “let me be” more clearly. 


Wireless Sleep Mask Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Give your ears a little love

There’s not much you can do to make your seat more comfortable, but at least your ears don’t have to be subject to the same lowly circumstances. These COWIN E8s have super plushy, over-the-ear cushions that are designed on a rotating axis so that you can find your perfect sleeping position. 


E8 Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones

If you’ve got to be that person…

Taking one last call as you board the plane? Or are you incapable of navigating without Amazon Alexa or your Google Assistant? If you’re going to be that person, at least carry out your conversations (with real people or AI) with top-notch Bose noise-cancelling headphones… and hope that your fellow travelers have them, too. 


QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

You’ve only got 50 bucks to spend

If you’re on a budget, try these ergonomic earbuds. They’re comfortable, waterproof, and get the job done when it comes to putting the noise of the world on hold. All for the price of a second checked bag.


IPX7 Wireless Waterproof Sport Bluetooth Earbuds

Even you—yes you—can’t break these headphones

Lost your AirPods? Spilled your beer on the nice headphones your mom got you for Christmas? Just can’t help the frequency with which you bump into things? You need something durable, a ride-or-die for all your misadventures: Jabra Elite headphones. They’re water-resistant and ruggedly built. 


Jabra Elite 85h Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones

If you’re stuck in the early aughts

Contrary to popular belief, Bluetooth hasn’t caused ye old wire, in-ear headphones to go extinct. In fact, modern noise-cancelling technology gets applied to them, too. These headphones from Sony have a powerful bass sound and are also compatible with the Android Smart Key app that lets you control headphone functionality from your phone.  


Premium Lightweight Noise-Cancelling Earbud Headphones

If you still board your next flight without one of these picks, don’t say we didn’t try to warn you.

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