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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
Pirate Ships: 9/10
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.