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The Best Headphones for Travel

Bose noise cancelling headphones

*Cover image of Bose noise-cancelling headphones by Victoria as part of her one little thing interview.

A good pair of headphones are up there with your camera when it comes to must-have electronics for your travels. They can make or break a trip, especially on long-haul flights and cross-country train trips, or when needing to block out your hostel dorm mate who snores.

They can help calm you down and distract you from the lengthy wait at baggage claim. (Or, you can bypass that drama completely by traveling carry-on only, wink wink.)

If you forget to bring them, you might have to spend unnecessary money on the plane for a cheap headset. And if you buy a cheap pair that breaks, you might be kicking yourself when you’re half-way into a 12 hour bus trip across Mexico.

But what makes a pair of headphones great for travel? And is cost a factor in quality? We’re breaking down the best headphones for travel.

Types of Headphones

Earbuds – The most common type is earbuds, which actually go inside your ear canal to stream your favorite music, audiobooks, and podcasts. They can be worn with hats and don’t get in the way when you’re trying to lay down (at least not on your back).

Over the Ear – Over the ear headphones tend to be bulkier, but also have better options for noise cancellation. You might also find these styles to be more expensive, but they have great sound quality. My on-ear Beats tend to hurt my ears after a while.

Wireless – Last is wireless, which can come in earbuds or over the ear styles. Operated by using Bluetooth, these connect between your ears without requiring a cord to plug into your phone or other music device. Keep in mind that these are more expensive and need to be charged.

What Qualities to Look For

Portability – You want a pair of headphones that won’t take up too much room in your bag. If they’re over-the-head headphones, they should be able to fold down flat or into a smaller shape. If they’re earbuds, you shouldn’t have to worry too much.

Sturdiness – When constantly traveling, your bags are subject to some bumps and tumbles, so it’s important that your headphones won’t fall apart at the slightest movement.

Noise Canceling – While this isn’t important to everyone, noise canceling headphones are great for airplanes and business travelers swear by them. You can block out that screaming baby or the loud engine noises even if you aren’t playing any music. Keep in mind that they require batteries or their own charge and must be turned off at take off and landing.

Warranty – Every good set of headphones needs a warranty so that if anything happens while you’re on the road, you can get it fixed or replaced as long as it’s under the timeline.

Tangle Free – Be sure to get something to keep your cords from getting tangled, whether it’s a leather cord taco or a simple business card you wrap your cords around. Or, check out Zipbuds, earbuds with a zippered cord that would be really hard to tangle up in your handbag or daypack.

Recommended Headphones

Beats by Dr. Dre Studio, $300

beats by dre, headphones for travel

These headphones are stylish and have been given the stamp of approval by musicians like Lady Gaga, David Guetta and, of course, Dr. Dre. They come in a variety of colors and have different types to fit each budget. I have a pair of the Beats Wireless On-Ear that I love, but for noise canceling, you’ll need the Studio Over-Ear set.

>> Check out prices for the Beats by Dre on Amazon.

Bose Quiet Comfort 3, $270-300

Bose noise cancelling headphones review
Bose noise cancelling headphones, a one little thing Victoria cannot travel without.

The business travel experts have named these headphones as their favorites year after year. Bose is known for their sound quality in speakers and they bring the same level to headphones. They fold down for travel and can also be plugged in to make calls and change songs.

Victoria told us that her Bose noise-cancelling headphones are her one little thing she can’t travel without. They have literally changed her travel experience:

“When I purchased these they literally changed travelling forever… in a good way! You may think expensive headphones are simply a ‘nice to have’ but for me they are an essential item when travelling anywhere. Long haul flights, short haul flights, long car rides, chilling at the beach listening to your fave tunes… these babies go everywhere with me!

“Believe it or not, they make flights so much more enjoyable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sound quality when watching movies on the plane is amazing in comparison to the cheap and cheerful headset you are given by the airlines. Pop them on and you have movie theatre quality sound in your ears.

“That’s awesome, sure, but the absolute best thing about these is the reason I bought them. They cancel out all other noise. Even when you have nothing playing they are the perfect way to create quiet in a noisy airplane.”

>> Check out prices for the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 on Amazon.

Monster Clarity HD In-Ear Bluetooth Headphones, $32

monster clarity had in-ear headphones

If you don’t want to deal with the over-ear bulky headphones, these Monster earbuds are a good alternative. They require a short charge before you can walk around cord-free. The in-ear buds are comfortable and have great sound quality. A cord connects the earbuds behind your neck, making them ideal for athletes and those on the go. Best of all, they’re affordable.

>> Check out prices for Monster Clarity HD In-Ear Bluetooth Headphones on Amazon.

Able Planet Traveler’s Choice, $80

ableplanet headphones

Made by a company that also creates hearing aids, Able Planet knows what they’re doing. Their headphones are significantly cheaper but still have the quality you need from noise canceling headphones. The Traveler’s Choice line folds down to half their size and comes in a variety of colors.

>> Check out prices for Able Planet Traveler’s Choice on Amazon.

Zipbuds JUICED 2.0, $25


Zipbuds feature a zipper for most of the earbud cables, which makes it really difficult to tangle up like other earbuds in the mix. In addition, the in-ear quality of the earbuds is pretty decent. Brooke is a fan, having owned and used a pair for a couple of years before succumbing to wear and tear. For the price, we definitely recommend Zipbuds as a great option.

>> Check out the Zipbuds JUICED 2.0.

And of course, if these are beyond your budget, a simple pair of ear buds will do wonders at keeping you occupied on planes and trains, as well as blocking out some noise in loud hostels and the like!

Tips Before Purchasing

1. Decide which style is best for you. Don’t let the stylish look of these headphones trick you into buying what you don’t need. Instead, compare your needs with the qualities offered. If you don’t need wireless or noise canceling, don’t bother buying something expensive!

2. Shop around and read reviews. Go visit the store and try them on before purchasing there or online. Make sure the fit is right and that they’ll be comfortable for long wear. See what customers have to say about how long they last.

3. Look for deals at certain times of year, namely Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Some deal sites also have offers on headphones.

4. If your headphones are expensive, make sure they’re covered by your travel insurance policy in case of theft. Save the receipt to have in case you need to make a claim.

Do you travel with a high-quality set of headphones, or are you a cheaper is better kind of girl? Let us know which brand/model you love in the comments below!


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Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Katie says

    I got a pair of full metal jacket skull candy headphones (earbuds) about 6 years ago and they are still AMAZING. They have even survived the washing machine at least three times. At the time they cost me $45 on amazon but when i went back a week or so ago to get another pair (always good to have a backup if you can) they were only like $20. I would definitely recommend them as a cheaper option to the above. They are NOT notice cancelling but when the music is playing they might as well be. They have a mic (which i never use, so that may have died in the wash) and come with a nice silk drawstring bag to wrap them in when you pack. I seem to have misplaced mine since coming back from my last trip but I’m sure they’ll turn up- they always do!

    • Nanci-Rose says

      I love Skull Candy.
      I’ve had successive pairs Smokin’ Buds earbuds and so far they only stop working when I break them in some way (Usually by slamming them in a car door).
      But I’ll try those out because unbreakable sounds good.

  2. Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels says

    I have a pair of hot pink Urban Ear Plattan on-ear headphones that I love. They fold down to half their size which makes them good for travel, although they still take up more room than I’d like. For some reason my ears hurt when I try to wear earbuds so on-ear headphones it is! They’re pretty good at muffling sound (although probably not proper noise-cancelling) when you’re not listening to music or the in-flight entertainment.

    • Nanci-Rose says

      I think it’s more the kind of earbuds, Apple earbuds make my ears ache.
      And the shape can hurt, I kept trying till I found the right shape, I even sleep in them with a playlist on to drown out night noises.

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