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The Best Over-Ear Headphones for Travelers and Commuters

Three people wearing over-ear headphones

For traveling by bus, train, or plane, a great pair of headphones can be a sanity-saver. Here’s how to pick a good pair and our top picks for your next commute or trip.

One thing you’ll notice right away as you read on is that we’re focused exclusively on over-the-ear headphones. These old-school headphones may be chunkier than your trusty earbuds, but for repeated daily use and traveling you really can’t beat the comfort. Here’s what to know—plus our top recommendations to help improve your commute or trip.

Tips for Choosing Travel Headphones

Whether you’re commuting on public transportation or taking a longer trip, it’s important to find the best headphones for comfort, entertainment, and even safety.

Let’s start with the basics: over-ear headphones versus earbuds. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, over-ear headphones are better for your hearing for several reasons:

  • Unlike earbuds, they don’t deliver sound directly into your ear canal
  • They fit over the ears, so they don’t push earwax deep into the ear canal
  • They offer noise isolation (and sometimes cancellation) which lets you listen comfortably at lower volume levels.
  • They’re simply more comfortable to wear

There’s also the social aspect to choosing headphones instead of earbuds. The high visibility of over-ear headphones (as opposed to subtle earbuds) can work as a clear indicator that you prefer to be left alone and aren’t interested in socializing with your fellow travelers—a helpful nonverbal cue, especially if you happen to have a commute full of chatty regulars!

When considering this, though, it’s important to keep in mind the importance of still being aware of your surroundings, especially when it comes to safety. While it’s tempting to just put on noise-cancellling headphones on your trips, it’s also a good idea to have the capability to tune in to the outside world, even if you still physically have headphones on. For this, look for headphones that offer some kind of “transparency” mode, which essentially feeds the sounds of the outside world through the headphone audio.

In general, some things to keep in mind when shopping for over-ear headphones for travel are:

  • Comfort and adjustability (especially in the earpads and the headband)
  • Audio quality
  • Options for noise cancelling, noise reduction, and/or transparency mode
  • Battery life

With those considerations in mind, let’s take a look at our top picks.

Best Overall: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

A man at a desk and a woman outside on a patio couch, both wearing black headphones

For reliable, comfortable headphones with excellent sound and plenty of options, it’s tough to beat the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. The latest over-ear headphones from Bose pair a soft, well-cushioned design with top-notch noise-cancelling technology for a peaceful trip, whether it’s just from home to work and back or a longer trip.

With a retro-inspired, sleek design and modern wireless tech (Alexa and Bluetooth enabled, plus a Bose app for controls), these headphones have all the features you need for convenience, comfort, and easy use. They offer different levels of noise cancellation, including the ability to pretty much shut out the outside world as well as transparency mode for better environmental awareness.

Most Comfortable Fit: Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

A woman wearing white headphones; a man wearing black headphones

Comfort is a major factor when choosing headphones for commuting and traveling, especially if you’re going to be wearing them for an hour or more! The Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones offer great sound paired with a physical design meant for the ultimate comfort.

The headphones offer up to 30 hours of battery life, with soft, wide, padded earpads and a slim-line headband that reduces the pressure on the top of your head. The actual headphones are top-notch quality, too, with the ability to switch between great noise cancelling (which itself can be manually adjusted) and transparency mode to hear the outside world clearly. Plus, there’s a built-in talk-to-chat feature that can detect when you’re speaking and adjust the audio accordingly so you don’t feel like you’re yelling over your music.

Best Price Point: Philips PH805 Active Noise Canceling Headphones

A woman and a man wearing black headphones

Looking for some of the same benefits, but without spending hundreds of dollars? Try the Philips PH805 Active Noise Canceling Headphones, an affordable but quality pair of headphones for all your travel needs. Combining the benefits of active noise cancelling (with a one-tap option to turn it on or off) with cushy earpads, they’re a great option at a lower price than some of their competitors.

The sound quality is, understandably, not quite as fantastic as the super high-quality models. That being said, however, everyday commuters who aren’t major audiophiles are likely to appreciate these as a straightforward and affordable option to make each trip a little more relaxing.

Finding the right pair is just one of several ways you can make your commute easier and less stressful. And don’t forget: If you take good care of your headphones, they should be able to last you a long time, keeping your travel time peaceful and comfortable!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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