Hosteling when you hate noise
Years ago I started hearing things that, to me, was nightmarish and repulsive. These noises are infinitely worse than nails on a chalkboard. Mouth noises, like chewing, teeth-sucking, tongue rolling, and even swallowing, turned me into a panicky, anxious mess. Whenever I heard cutlery clatter, felt the reverberation of slamming doors, or even heard certain pitches of voice, I would get either nervous, irate, or both. The only way I could counteract this hatred of sounds, which I know now is misophonia, was to put in my noise-reducing earbuds and block everything else out.
Or listen to Death Metal and Dir En Grey.
It’s been over 10 years now that I’ve lived and traveled with misophonia. Some days, I can tolerate noises better; but most of the time, I am perturbed to the point of barricading myself–either by withdrawing mentally or physically shutting myself in a quiet space.
But, now that I have gone from hostel to guesthouse and back to hosteling over the course of 3 months, I have come to realize just how bad my misophonia can be.
Traveling with misophonia is undoubtedly difficult. It is also a learning experience. You get really creative with blocking out the irritating noises people inadvertently make. You also realize when your brain is just being absolutely ridiculous.
Though I can’t tell you how to get through your ticks when misophonia strikes, I can only offer a perspective for those experiencing this issue as well enlighten fellow hostelers about how much your actions actually affect those around you.
What is Misophonia?
So, obviously, this post isn’t going to make any sense to you if you don’t know what misophonia is.
Misophonia roughly translates into “hatred of sounds.” However, this isn’t the hatred of all sounds, just a select spectrum of noise that causes a negative reaction within the sufferer. It is a “neuro-psychological disorder in which auditory stimuli–and sometimes visual stimuli–sets off a fight-flight reaction, which then has an accompanying negativity” (Willis and Malcolm, 2016). When this reaction happens, it is automatic, meaning how I behave when I hear something I cannot stand, I can rarely control the response.
Common trigger sounds: (Gah, even writing this makes me feel sick…)
- Mouth and eating: Chewing, crunching, gulping, gum chewing, kissing, silverware scraping teeth, licking, lip smacking, tooth sucking, wet mouth sounds, slurping, sucking
- Nasal: grunting, groaning, soft breathing, sniffing, snoring, nose whistling, wheezing
- Vocal: humming, nasally voices, overused words, sibilant sounds, bad singing, soft whispers, high-pitched or keening voices; babies babbling, crying, and baby talk
- Environmental: TV remote, clicking from texting, keyboard, pen clicking, ticking clocks (thankfully, none of the listed affect me); the passing of people, such as foot shuffling, heel dragging, fidgeting, clothing swishing, and the like;
- Animal noises: dogs barking, bird sounds, crickets, frogs, cats licking, dogs drinking, whining, scratching/itching, claw tapping
- Impact sounds: voices, muffled bass from music, TV through walls, doors and windows being slammed, thumping, hammering, foot-tapping
- Utensils/Metals: dishes clattering, utensil scraping, rattling of change, clanging and clanking
- Plastic: crinkling or squeezing plastic, crinkling food packages
- Cars: long periods of idling, beeping, slamming doors, keys banging against steering column, keys rattling or jingling
- Mechanical Equipment: lawn mowers, tractors, leaf blowers, weed whackers, chainsaws
Oddly, the one thing that does not drive me up a wall is fingernails on a chalkboard. Go figure.
Common reactions include:
- Mimicking the person or object making the sound
- Increased heart rate
- Panic attacks
- Yelling or mumbling in an attempt to block out the sound
Sometimes, I may even start gagging or retching. This usually happens when I hear someone chewing or doing other things with their mouth. Vibrations, like when someone slams their hand against the counter top or when doors slam, give me mini-heart attacks. And you know that sound of a brush going through long, knotted hair? Yeah…there’s a reason a cut all my hair off.
Obviously, all of these happens in a hostel. People eat where they aren’t supposed to, Snort, snore, breathing heavily while watching porn, and gulp down their drinks from cheap plastic bottles that crackle and creak. Faucets leak. Doors slam. Floorboards groan. Don’t even get me started on the cheap mattresses that squeak, whine, and protest every single little movement you make.
Being in a hostel is enough to drive me crazy.
So, why the hell do I put up with it? Well, it is certainly not to try to overcome my glaringly obvious hated of noises, because that would have happened by now.
Rather, in my own sadistic way, it is teaching me how to figure out coping mechanisms that actually work. I now carry my iPod with me everywhere and will pop in the earbuds rather than going into a conniption every time the person eating their lunch next to me opens their mouth.
Music and earplugs are two things that help me cope. Furthermore, I find environments that keep my own senses engaged or are quiet. If I can’t have silence, give me a dynamic environment like a bar or dance studio, where I have too many things to focus on. When I cannot pick out a specific frequency or noise, I can ignore it. Other things that help me is writing, movement therapy (dancing), working out, and talking to myself.
Unfortunately, if I cannot escape the noise or have the peace of mind that I need to fully dismiss the attack, it only gets worse. There is a point where the anxiety peaks, causing me to hyperventilate, cry, and shake. I’ll run to the bathroom or go outside, where I can find sounds that are soothing.
Recommendations for Traveling with Misophonia
First, be real with yourself. You have a neuro-psychological condition that is neither understood nor treatable. Not many people are also going to accept that you want to stab them whenever they swallow noisily, so unless you are with a very accepting group or traveling with your best friend, go it alone.
It will be easier for you to isolate yourself if an attack happens.
Second, be picky about your accommodations. I’ve made mistakes with mine and chose “party hostels” over ones rated “quiet and tranquil” simply because the price was right. Of course, one of the quietest hostels I stayed in also had the loudest slamming doors I have ever encountered. The entire building also had a tendency to shake when people walked around, causing pots and pans to rattle…and I would feel it.
So, if you know you hate those kind of noises and would be anguishing over it instead of enjoying your vacation, be smart and opt for an Airbnb, hotel room, or guest house where you have a private, “noise-free” zone. Trust me, the extra expense is going to be worth it.
Third, invest in state-of-the-art headphones, earbuds, or earplugs. One of the things that has consistently worked for me is a decent pair of headphones. I listen to music constantly when around other people or on public transport. Don’t go for cheap, because these will usually short out after 3 uses or have poor noise-isolating properties. Otherwise, you are going to be buffeted by all the noises you loathe…and that is hell on Earth.
I recommend Rovking In-Ear Noise Isolating Earbuds. They come at a decent price and durability for all your adventures.
In the end, you really cannot escape the sounds that irritate your misophonia unless you find yourself a nice deserted island. Everywhere you go there is going to be the clangor of dinnerware, the clinking of bangles, languages that use fricatives and sibilants, closing doors, footfalls, and other vocal, nasal, and environmental triggers. Sound is everywhere. However, you can learn ways to easily cope with the hatred of sounds and mitigate the effects.
Good luck, fellow misophonic travelers. If you have any other helpful advice, feel free to share in the comments.