Spotify’s travel ASMR sounds, ranked

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The sound of waves lapping at the shore? Sure. The sound of a cruise ship engine? No thanks. December 17, 2022 at 8:00 a.m. EST (iStock/Washington Post Illustration) Comment on this story Comment Spotify is a bottomless pit of entertainment — a black-hole of sounds that range from Top 40 […]

The sound of waves lapping at the shore? Sure. The sound of a cruise ship engine? No thanks.

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

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Spotify is a bottomless pit of entertainment — a black-hole of sounds that range from Top 40 hits to the entire audiobook of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” It’s stocked with the kinds of media you’d expect, like the latest Beyoncé́ album (or a Washington Post podcast), but it’s also stocked with sounds that may surprise you, like hotel hair dryers.

A TikTok video alerted me to these incredibly niche travel sounds. In the video, creator Megan Smith jokes that her most-listened-to song of the year on Spotify was “Hotel Air Conditioner (8 Hours) Calming White Noise.” At first I laughed, then I stopped laughing and thought: Is this a really thing?

Yes, this is really a thing. And it goes far beyond hotel noises. There’s a whole ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) world of travel-related “songs” and “podcasts” of flight, cruise and station whirs, rumblings, chatters and whooshes. They’re meant to put you to sleep, calm you down or help you focus. Some sounds feel like they’d do the exact opposite.

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While I get that the sound of rain can help you relax, I’m not so sure about some of the other travel ASMR content I found on Spotify. I listened to several and rated each category. One means “this is torture, turn it off!” while a 10 is the audio equivalent of being snug as a bug in a rug.

Hotel Air Conditioners: 1/10

I started with “Hotel Air Conditioner (8 Hours).” It began with an introduction of what you’re listening to: a podcast designed to help you sleep, focus and everything in between. It then proceeded to blast an awful noise that sounded like being inside of a semi-truck. Nothing nice about listening to a hotel air conditioner running so loud and so cold that you can’t sleep next to it.

Next was “Hotel Room Air Conditioner,” which did sound like a hotel air conditioner, but a very specifically bad one. It was more like a window unit at an Econo Lodge or a very old, very damp Holiday Inn Express — really anywhere with a room with a slippery polyester bedspread that never gets washed.

I thought “Santa Barbara Hotel Room Air Conditioner” would be pleasant and luxurious like Santa Barbara, but no. It was a minute and eight seconds of distress. If you absolutely insist on listening to a hotel air conditioner sounds after all of this, “Hotel Air Conditioner Sound” is less harsh than the others.

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I was expecting exponentially more seagulls from the cruise ship ASMR. Instead, I got a minute and 38 seconds of scratchy white noise from “Cruise Ships Cabin Ocean Sound” and a lower rumble of white noise from “Cruise Ship Engine & Sea Noise.” More appealing? “Large Ship Winch Raising System Starts, Runs & Stops with Heavy Water Wash,” which was surprisingly calming.

It would be deeply unsettling if any travel professional spoke to me like the whispering woman in “Travel Agent ASMR Soft Spoken, Tracing, Page Flipping” or the faster whispering woman in “Fastest Travel Agent, Drawing You, Tattoo Artist, Hotel, Bank, Orthodontist, Tutor and More.” But I will be haunted by the nearly inaudible whispering and sticky mouth sounds of “Luxury Travel Agent Roleplay.”

The most realistic and least bone-chilling option was “A Realistic Travel Agent Roleplay – Booking You A Winter Escape Vacation” — an entire album of a British woman speaking in a normal voice, keyboard clattering, flipping paper and writing. Points for being more relaxing than a hotel air conditioner, but too creepy for me.

There are soothing noises at a hotel, like “Hotel Pillow ASMR” and “Hotel Reception Sounds,” which have all the hygge trappings of a Hallmark holiday movie (excited muffled chatter, fluffing sheets — very cozy). On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Hotel Hair Dryer – Non-Stationary,” the hotel-sound equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. You can tell it’s the cheapest possible hair dryer — one that won’t actually dry your hair and is connected to the wall by a very curly cord. I’ll be reporting anyone who listens to a hotel hair dryer by choice to the authorities.

Hotel Shower Sound Water Running” was somewhere in between good and bad, because showers can be relaxing, but it also triggers the memory of rushing to shower while running late for something when traveling.

Cabin Noise Focus” has more than 168 million plays, which I get. It’s a softer white noise that reminds you of cruising at 36,000 feet. “Airplane Takeoff Sound” had the same effect, and captured the vibrating energy of a plane lifting from the ground, plus some pilot talk. I also enjoyed “Natural Airplane Sound for Babies Sleep. Looped, Loopable.” Don’t let the name fool you; it can definitely put full-grown adults to sleep, too.

For some with ADHD, the low rumble of brown noise quiets the brain

Train Station 3 Hours” starts off with the grating sound of a train coming to a halt. Once the screeching is done, the “podcast” gets more pleasant with announcements in foreign languages and a hushed hustle and bustle. Within a few minutes of listening, my jaw went slack, my eyelids got heavier and I felt like the bear on the Sleepytime Tea box. But then the iron screech would return, ripping me out of my European fantasy.

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Train Cabin Sounds 3 Hours” was mostly realistic: It sounded like you were in a jostling private train car, but it’s missing any noteworthy train cabin noises like people walking by, someone’s phone ringing, passengers snacking on noisy chips. Underwhelming. A better in-cabin option is “Night Train & Snowstorm Sound” with its train-track clattering and “Polar Express” vibe.

I finally got the seagulls I wanted — plus, some swaying masts and ocean noises — with “Pirate Ship Ambience.” Is it a stretch to call a pirate ship sound travel? Maybe, but I don’t care. Once I put on “Pirate Ship: Asmr Rain,” it was over. Between the crackling of a fire, the creaking of the wood and rain tapping the ship, I could have fallen asleep standing up. A highly recommended, deeply soothing good time.

My initial scoff at the genre was unfounded. There’s something for everyone in the weird, wonderful world of travel ASMR. You will never catch me listening to the shrill nightmare that is a hotel hair dryer, but snuggly hotel bedding rustling? Cozy lobbies? Music to my ears.

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