Long-haul flights, bus trips, or train and car rides can be a real pain in the neck—literally. A good way to maximize your time during travel and leisure is to get some sleep on the go (provided it doesn’t result in jetlag). Unfortunately, cramped windows and not-so-reclinable seats are far from the ideal setting for restorative sleep. In these situations, a travel pillow can make all the difference.
Even if you’ve tried a travel pillow before and were somewhat disappointed, new inventive designs avoid the common pitfalls that once presented problems. To help you find the best travel pillow for your needs, this guide discusses types, key shopping considerations, and showcase some of the most comfortable and high-quality products on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: trtl Pillow Scientifically Proven Super Soft Neck Support
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: TravelSnugs Travel Neck Pillow Sleep Kit
- BEST MEMORY FOAM: MLVOC 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow Travel Kit
- BEST MICROBEAD: Clöudz Microbead Travel Neck Pillow
- BEST INFLATABLE: AirComfy Inflatable Neck Travel Pillow
- BEST FOR HEAD BOBBERS: BCozzy Chin Supporting Travel Neck Pillow
- BEST NO-SLIP: Huzi Infinity Pillow – Home Travel Soft Neck Scarf
- BEST TRAVEL BODY PILLOW: Travelrest All-in-ONE Travel, Neck & Body Pillow
- BEST FOR KIDS: INFANZIA Kids Chin Supporting Travel Neck Pillow
Types of Travel Pillows
Traditional U-shaped pillows have a bad rep—and for good reason. They push your head forward and offer little-to-no chin support. Thankfully, many other options are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs.
Inflatable pillows are typically made of plastic or latex. To inflate one, you squeeze the air valve between your fingers and blow into it. These pillows take a couple of minutes to inflate and deflate, so some designs come with a built-in pump to save you time and energy.
Its ability to save space is the greatest benefit of an inflatable pillow. They’re easy to deflate and won’t take up much space in your bag. Since you control the air content by the amount of air you blow or pump into it, it’s easy to adjust the pillow’s firmness to your comfort level: soft and squishy or taut and firm. Unfortunately, plastic and latex don’t “breathe” well, which can lead to sweating. Some come with a removable cover that helps mitigate the problem.
Microbead pillows are stuffed with small plastic particles that adjust to your position and movements. If you shift a lot as you sleep, this type of pillow may be preferable: The pillow contours to your neck to provide consistent support. It’s softer and more flexible than memory foam. As a result, sleepers who prefer firmer support tend to find it more comfortable.
Microbeads don’t retain heat or moisture, which helps ensure comfort and breathability. They’re hypoallergenic, and, in some cases, even machine washable. On the flip side, they take up more space in your bag and don’t flatten for storage, which means they aren’t the most portable options.
When you first touch it, memory foam feels firm, but your body heat will mold it to the shape of your head and neck. This material provides optimal weight distribution and pressure management. Memory foam travel pillows are ideal for sleepers who suffer from neck pain. However, if you regularly move your head position as you sleep, note that memory foam is slower to adjust than microbeads.
Like microbeads, memory foam is hypoallergenic. Unlike microbeads, memory foam retains heat and moisture, which makes it less suitable for warm environments and sweaty sleepers. On the upside, memory foam is compressible, so it takes up less space in luggage.
Other options completely flip the script; they resemble neck braces more than pillows. In a design very different from the traditional U-shape, a brace wraps around your neck to keep your head from bobbing and your neck from bending. The idea behind this type of travel pillow is to recreate the experience of a neck collar. The pillow should adequately support the head, keeping the chin up like a neck brace.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to personal preference. Some users like the stiff support of neck braces, while others prefer the softer feel of a pillowy design.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Travel Pillow
No two travel pillows are the same. Choosing the right one for your needs can make the difference between a memorable vacation and one you barely remember because you spent your entire stay sleeping at the hotel. Before you make a purchase, consider the following factors.
Some travel pillows are smooth and airy, others are fuzzy and warm, or somewhere in between. It’s a simple question of preference, although hot sleepers may favor breathable materials such as microbeads. If, on the other hand, you prefer plush and warmth, a memory foam pillow with a velvety cover may be ideal. Just make sure your pillow isn’t too slippery to rest securely against windows or backrests.
Softness is also about density. Sleepers who prefer a firm pillow often opt for memory foam and inflatable models. If you prefer soft and malleable, microbeads or fiberfill are likely better suited to your needs.
Comfort and Support
The keys to comfort are proper elevation and spinal alignment. The right travel pillow will support the weight of your chin, neck, and head as you rest, and it will help you maintain the natural curve of your spine. Therefore, a pillow should be neither too soft nor too firm. It should allow for natural movement and accommodate various head angles.
Choose a model that provides adequate support where you need it, accommodating your favorite body position—leaning forward or backwards, to the right or to the left—or all of the above at one time or another.
The human body comes in all shapes and sizes. There are long necks and short necks, flat hair and big, frizzy hair—or no hair at all. Some people have square jaws, while others have a pointy chin. You may have broad shoulders or sloping shoulders, a round head or an oval-shaped face. There is no magic trick in finding the best travel pillow to suit your body. Your best bet is to make sure it fits your unique set of features before you make your choice. If you’re still unsure, check the company’s return policy.
Other than your physique, also consider the environment where you plan to use the pillow. First-class flights and intercity buses are very different in space and adaptability. Avoid bulky travel pillows or one that works only when propped against a window. Aim for versatility.
For obvious reasons, you want a travel pillow that’s portable and lightweight. If the pillow isn’t reasonably sized and/or compressible, you should at least be able to easily strap it to your bag. It also shouldn’t weigh down your bag so much that it makes your bag exceed weight limits or hurt your shoulders.
On the other hand, if your pillow is too thin or small, it may not provide sufficient neck support or protect your head on bumpy roads or flights. Once again, consider where you plan to use it most.
Compression and Decompression
If you intend to pack your pillow, make sure it compresses to a smaller size and quickly regains its original shape when you need it. That way, it also optimizes the support you’ll receive by better contouring to your neck and head shape. Memory foam and inflatable pillows work well for that purpose.
Ease of Cleaning
A travel pillow is like your fridge—you probably don’t clean it as often as you should. And, as you know, planes, buses, and trains are sometimes filthy. You must be able to wash your travel pillow regularly.
Look for pillows that are machine washable. Pillows that aren’t machine-wash friendly usually come with a removable cover. If it doesn’t come with one, you should hand-wash the pillow regularly, depending on how often you use it.
Accessories are sometimes the real selling point for an item. Many pillows come with a complete kit of accessories, including a storage bag or a strap to compress the pillow, so you can squeeze it into your bag. Some travel pillow packages go the extra mile by including sleep masks, earplugs, and even hoods to pull over your head.
When shopping for the best travel pillow, you may want to consider the array of accessories included with each model. You could end up hitting two—or even three—birds with one stone.
Our Top Picks
For a smooth shopping experience, this list of recommendations considers the hallmarks of a quality product, from neck support to ease of cleaning.
The trtl travel pillow resembles a fleece scarf, which holds a hidden support structure that keeps your neck from bending, and helps maintain spinal alignment. The extra cushioning makes the pillow feel cozy and unrestrictive. It’s ideal for sleepers who consistently lean in one direction, although slightly less suited for people who move a great deal in their sleep or who prefer one side over the other.
The trtl pillow is available in several colors, including aqua, grey, coral, red, and black, and it also offers two junior designs for young travelers. Plus, you can just pop it in the washing machine! To pack it, fold the scarf flat around the structure and slide it into your bag, or attach it to the outside of your backpack. Note that the curve of the form isn’t flexible. At a little more than 4 ounces, it’s ultra-lightweight and easy to carry around.
The TravelSnugs Travel Neck Pillow is more than just a pillow. It’s a sleep kit complete with a compact carry bag, noise-cancelling earplugs, and a light-blocking sleep mask—all at one of the most affordable prices on the market.
The memory foam pillow provides 360-degree support. An adjustable buckle at the front prevents it from slipping while you doze off, while the ergonomic design arches behind the neck to contour the head and keep it from drooping forward. The TravelSnugs kit packs small and light in its travel bag, so you can easily fit it inside a backpack or clip it to your bag’s exterior.
MLVOC’s newest memory foam pillow ditches the traditional U-shape design for a pillow that wraps around your neck to provide 360-degree support. Its asymmetrical design is ergonomic, with one side higher than the other to accommodate different neck shapes and sleeping angles. Its adjustable buckle helps you adjust it to fit your neck size. The fabric is breathable, sweat-resistant, and lint-free, and it doesn’t fade.
But wait, there’s more! It comes with a storage travel bag, a contoured eye mask, and memory foam earplugs as well. It compresses to a smaller size but regains its original size in 3 to 5 seconds. It’s even machine washable.
Clöudz’s U-shaped design is conventional, but simplicity is what makes it so versatile. Wear it around your neck to elevate your head as you sleep, place it behind your back for lumbar support, or put it on the tray table to take a nap. Its snap closure ensures chin support at the front and prevents any slippage while you sleep. Weighing less than 4 ounces, it’s incredibly light.
The Clöudz travel pillow contains high-quality microbeads, but it remains affordable. It’s dual-sided, with cozy plush on one side and cool latex on the other. Choose the texture based on the temperature. Since it doesn’t compress, it takes up more space in your luggage, but it easily clips onto the outside of your backpack or your bag.
Save your breath. With AirComfy’s built-in pump, your pillow effortlessly inflates in under 60 seconds. Simply press a button to adjust it to your desired size and firmness, even while you’re wearing it. Its design is ergonomic, with an arched neck support to keep up your head instead of letting it fall forward. If your head repeatedly nods, note that this model doesn’t have a clip or buckle at the front. Fully inflating the pillow ensures that your head stays in place while you sleep.
This pillow comes with a removable cover that’s not only soft and velvety, but machine washable too. Its zipper is hidden unobtrusively at the back. A travel packsack is also included, along with a carabiner clip for attaching it to luggage.
Instead of leaving a gap for your head to fall through, the BCozzy Chin Supporting Travel Pillow extends to wrap around the front of your neck, meaning your chin rests comfortably on the pillow while your head stays up. Wearing it helps with your posture while you work, read, or watch television.
Available in a variety of colors and sizes, it’s machine washable and comes with an easy-carry packing bag. It doesn’t come with clips to attach it to the outside of a backpack, but the bag’s string is long enough to tie around luggage and carrying cases. BCozzy is a great choice for adult travelers, and it also comes in kid-friendly sizes for the whole family to enjoy.
The Huzi Infinity Pillow is one of the most versatile options on the market. You can wrap it in at least six different ways to sleep upright or against a window. Alternatively, use it for extra lumbar support. Its infinity design keeps it from slipping off while you sleep. Made of soft bamboo fabric and layers of microfiber, it stays breathable and fresh.
While the Huzi Infinity Pillow has a strap, you won’t find a clip for your bag or backpack. Purchase a travel bag separately, or buy the pillow in a kit with a travel case and bamboo sleep mask. When it’s time to wash, it’s easy! Pop the pillow in the machine, and you’re good to go.
If you need more than a mere neck pillow, you may want to consider the Travelrest All-in-ONE Body Pillow. Wear it down your side or across your body like a seat belt. As long as you don’t suddenly lean the other way in your sleep, your neck and head will stay in alignment. It comes with a cord to loop around your seat’s headrest or behind your back to prevent shifting and slipping.
You’ll have to inflate it yourself, but it expands and deflates easily and quickly. Once collapsed, you can roll up the body pillow and strap it tightly for easy carrying. It fits into most purses and bags, and you can tie it to a backpack strap. Its removable cover is soft and machine washable.
A travel pillow for young kids should be not only smaller and safe, but able to fit into the narrow confines of a car seat. The INFANZIA Kid’s Chin Supporting Travel Neck Pillow ticks all those boxes, while delivering an ergonomic design with a narrow back and thicker front. The pillow provides support to both sides of the head, and it snaps shut at the front to keep it in place.
The INFANZIA pillow’s cotton material is breathable and machine washable. Your little one can snack and drool aplenty, without your having to bat an eye. Just note that this model may not be suitable for infants below the age of 2.
The Advantages of Owning a Travel Pillow
A travel pillow won’t fool you into thinking you’re lounging on an actual bed, but it sure beats getting no sleep at all. Whether you’re flying, traveling by train or bus, or driving to your destination, a travel pillow can help you get some sleep along the way—as long as you aren’t driving yourself, that is! It’s not ideal to waste your vacation or work trip taking naps at the hotel, and a travel pillow can help you get some rest before you arrive.
Travel pillows are also versatile. You can use them on flights, buses, road trips, camping trips, and long layovers. Even on short flights, it’s good to have a travel pillow just in case. You never know when you’ll run into a delay or an extended layover. Plus, a travel pillow makes the best anti-small talk shield to fend off chatty neighbors!
The greatest advantage of travel pillows, however, is how they prevent neck pain. If you’ve ever fallen asleep with your neck bent at an awkward angle, you probably know what it feels like to wake up with an achy neck. If a travel pillow can help save a nightmare on the road, why not use one? Travel pillows:
- Help you fall asleep on the road or in the air.
- Can be used on camping trips and in airports.
- Prevent neck pain.
FAQs About Travel Pillows
Still have questions? You’re not alone. Some of the most frequent questions that shoppers ask when buying a travel pillow include:
Q. Do travel pillows actually work?
Not all of them work wonders, but travel pillows that adequately support the weight of your chin, neck, and head can prevent neck pain while also helping you sleep.
Q. Do neck pillows help on planes?
Yes, they do! A pillow that provides adequate support and helps align your spine can help you fall asleep on planes, buses, trains, and car rides.
Q. What should I look for in a travel pillow?
The ideal travel pillow is neither too soft nor too firm. It adequately supports the weight of your chin, neck, and head while keeping your spine and neck aligned. It should be comfortable, portable, compressible, and machine washable.