By Alex Van Buren
March 03, 2016
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AVB White noise machine
Credit: Amazon

We talk a lot about traveling light. And sure, it matters: It’s the difference between a bag you pay to bring on a plane and one you don’t; throwing that bad back out while lugging a carry-on up stairs or not. You know the drill.

But let’s be honest. Travel can be an exhausting, cacophonous experience. And having stayed in nine different places over the last 30 days—bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, nice hotels, and friends’ homes in New Orleans, Savannah, and Atlanta—I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to travel with a white noise machine forever.

I’m one of the lightest sleepers I know. A smidge of light streaming into a hotel room can wake me up, as could a footstep in the room upstairs. And I’m not the only one who has the issue: In New York City, where I’ve lived for 16 noisy years, a 2015 study revealed that New Yorkers have called 311 to report noise more often than anything else—including a lack of heat and hot water. We have made, in total, 3.4 million calls over the last decade-plus. We do not like noise.

I own a SoundScreen from Marpac, for which I paid $50. It has (mostly) blocked out the New Orleans street car a half block away, traffic on the street, and even my friend’s two lively children, aged 3 and 6.

I’m on the road traveling around the South for a full seven weeks. In that time, nothing is a constant: I am sometimes on bike and other times in a rental car, on foot, or using public transportation. I know heavier sleepers probably relish the sound of frogs croaking in the woods of Tennessee (how lovely!) or the oceanic sounds of cars outside their homes. I don’t. I need at least one thing to stay the same no matter where I am—which is a common sentiment among travelers. The white noise machine makes a whir that I’d classify as a mix of ocean waves and a big fan, and has some sort of secret soma that just knocks me out.

It’s clunky, yes: 6 inches by 6 inches by 3 inches, and 1.5 pounds. And I’ll be keeping an eye on sites I trust (such as the excellent gadget-testing site The Sweethome) to rank the various machines on the market to see if there’s a better, lighter one I should try (and yes, I need to test the various apps available, too.) But I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got now. Marpac has since updated the gadget—which I’ve also bought—and it’s just as good.

For those of us who can’t sleep with earplugs, this is worth the real estate in my carry-on, and the weight. Because on vacation, or a work trip, sleep is everything: It’s the difference between enjoying your stay in Bali and being irritated all night long by the construction six blocks away.

And are you really going to wear that extra pair of shoes more than once?