Electronic media turned our world into a global village, so today there are more and more passionate travelers who are eager to explore all of its corners and reach out its hidden gems. Whether you are visiting your family in another country, going for a weekend city break, business trip, or on the way to explore remote, exotic destinations, traveling is always exciting and uplifting. No matter how you travel, with a plane, train, bus or car, your trip can sometimes last for hours and be a very exhausting but inevitable part of the journey. Trying to fall asleep while being in some kind of transportation can be a real struggle, there is no comfort, not enough space, loud surroundings, and all of those annoying factors are keeping you frustrated and awake. Long trips can leave consequences on your mental and psychical condition such as tiredness, headache, neck pain, the pressure in shoulders, lower back pain, etc. Sometimes it takes a day or two for your body to feel fully recovered, but when you are away only for ten days or less, you do not want to waste your time sleeping in a hotel room, or wandering around a new city being all grumpy and feeling sore, right?
To prevent those painful symptoms on the day after your journey, think on time and equip yourself with a proper pillow for travelers. As traveling is nowadays a huge trend and for some even a lifestyle, travelers have become a particular target group of shoppers, enabling growth of the market that produces products, accessories, and gadgets just for their needs. Frequent fliers and experienced road trippers are probably familiar with travel pillows and all the benefits that come from them.
Travel pillows are not like your average sleeping pillows; they are much smaller, lighter, easy to fold and scrunch to fit in your backpack or carry-on. Usually, they are made out of different types of foam, plushy fabrics, or they can be air filled and then easily pumped out, designed primarily to fit a small amount of space. They come in various shapes and designs, but the most common one is U-shaped form that suits your neck like a glove. The two main types are inflatable, and memory foam travel pillows, and their average retail price is between 10$ and 40$.
To help you prepare for your next journey, we are going to introduce you to some of the best travel pillows that are out there on the market, and provide you with every information you may want to know about these special neck pillows.
Purefly Travel Pillow
- Automatic valve for inflation
- Raised back design
Among inflatable travel pillows that are U-shaped, we seclude Purefly travel pillow as our top pick. While traveling, we are often not in an opportunity to lay down and sleep, so whether you are trying to rest while sitting in an airplane, bus or car, this pillow secures contour support for sleepers sleeping in the upright position, which is often the only possible sleeping posture.
The main innovative feature of this pillow is its raised back that has a dent on the top, which keeps the head secure from bending forward, while sides of the pad around the neck are gently stabilizing it. Make sure to not inflate it to its fullest, because then its extensive back section can push your head forward.
Automatic vent with a push-button controls the inflation and deflation, so there is no need for you to blow the air into the pillow, and then later to manually push it out. This pillow has a topper made out of cozy micro-velvet fabric cover which is easy to remove and wash in the machine. It weighs less than 150 grams, so you will not even feel its weight in your bag, and when folded it takes only a small amount of space. With each pillow, you will receive a matching fabric disposal sack. The affordable price below 20$ is another reason why Purefly pillow should be your number one travel companion.
- Travelers with neck pain
- Value seekers
- Travelers who pack light
TravelRest Curl Memory Foam Pillow
- Warranty period – 2 years
This U-shaped pillow is padded with soft memory foam to provide comfortable adjusting to your shoulders and neck while supporting it gently. Initially developed by NASA, memory foam conforms and suits each head, soothing the pressure in your shoulders, neck, and back, without any indentations left behind because its shape recovers quickly. It is an ideal solution for chronic neck pain sufferers or anyone looking for maximum support.
The TravelRest pillow comes with an adaptive drawstring that allows you to personalize your experience by losing it up or tightening it around your neck. Its removable micro-fiber cover can be machine washed, while the memory foam itself needs no cleaning. Although this pillow takes more space than the inflatable ones, if you prefer the contouring memory foam feel, the TravelRest pillow is a great choice. It comes with an affordable price and a two-year warranty period, which is rare among these types of pads.
- Travelers who are not into inflatable pillows
- Everyone with pain in their neck, back or shoulders
- Value seekers
AirComfy Travel Pillow
- Can be tied to the seat
This travel pillow can be multifunctional, due to its contouring hourglass shape it is not only suitable to support your neck, but it can also be used as a supplemental support cushion for your knees, back, or any other area that is under pressure. It comes with a flexible band which secures the pillow stabile to the seat, so it can not slip away if you move while sleeping. It can be used not just while traveling, but while working in the office as well.
The AirComfy pillow is inflatable, but you have to inhale and then exhale the air into the vent. It does not take much to inflate it, and this way you can control the level of firmness that suits you best. It does not have a cover material and it is not meant to be machine washed, but it can get easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
While some people find U-shaped travel pillows a bit claustrophobic with their bulky design around the neck, AirComfy will help with relaxing the neck without going around it. The center of this pillow cradles and supports your neck right where you need it the most and helps with keeping your head upright.
The AirComfy pillow comes with matching disposal sack, when deflated it can easily be rolled or folded to compact size. Its average price point is below 20$, so make sure to check it out.
- Those who do not like U-shaped pillows
- Those who spend a lot of time in the office
- Value seekers
- Innovative design
- Neck support brace
When it comes to the design of travel pillows, the Trtl pads really took a step forward, leaving behind all those U-shaped and inflatable pillows that we were all used to. The Trtl pillow is made out of cozy hypoallergenic fleece with a built-in flexible neck brace, designed to get wrapped around your neck like a scarf. The brace is mobile, easy to reposition and it is firm enough to assure proper ergonomic support to the head in the upright sleeping position, especially for those travelers whose head tends to tilt right or left during their sleep. It snuggles between your shoulders and face, prevents the stiffness in the neck, and it is claimed that it holds the head in a more ergonomic position than the other, regular neck travel pillows.
This pillow is very lightweight (148 grams), and it can be stored in every bag or luggage as it does not claim a significant amount of space, it is half the size of an average U-shaped cushion, and it can be machine washed. It is a little bit pricier in comparison to other travel pillows, but if you are bored of your old travel pillow, need a change, want to try something new and invest in your comfort, then the Trtl Pillow should be your next purchase.
- Travelers who are not satisfied with „traditional“ travel pillow shapes and forms
- Travelers who seek high neck support
- Sleepers who tend to lean their head
Cabeau Evolution Pillow
- High neck support
- Memory foam
Among memory foam cushions, we seclude another top pick, The Cabeau Evolution. This pad is a memory foam neck pillow with raised back and a thick frame, designed so that it supports your head in every seat or sleeping position, no matter if your head leans to the right, left, or forward. When tightening its drawstrings, it secures a total 360-degree comfort, while cradling your head and neck, and taking the pressure off.
This pillow has a flat backside, so it is not going to push you away from the seat or to push your head to fall forward. It has high sides, which are great for people who are taller or have a longer neck, but for kids or adults with a short neck, it is not the best solution.
The coziness of the dense memory foam really works well for all travelers who need to stay well rested and start their journey fresh on day one. Responsive memory foam base is covered with soft velour fabric which is easy to remove, and convenient for machine washing. Although it seems a little bulky, this pillow can be condensed to around ¼ of its actual size, and stored into a sack that comes along with it. But, we recommend that you keep it uncompressed when you are not traveling or do not plan to use it any time soon. The company guarantees to give you your money back if you are not pleased with the Cabeau Evolution pillow.
- Travelers sleeping upright
- Travelers who are not into inflatable pillows
- Everyone with pain in their neck, back or shoulders
Do I Need a Travel Pillow?
Whether you are on a long flight or just a short bus drive away from your destination, travel pillows are often a handy solution for an increased fell of comfort in transportation, with them you can take a nap everywhere. But, these pillows are not meant to be used just for sleeping, they can provide you more comfort while even reading a book in a train because all those seats can be so uncomfortable and without proper support for your neck and head, especially if you are tall. Will they make you look funny with them on? Probably. But when you arrive at your destination well rested and pain-free, you will be the one who laughs the last.
If you have kids, you know how restless and grumpy then can be while traveling, and especially when they are sleep deprived. That is why travel pillows for kids are very convenient for your little ones; they will help them to fall asleep and feel comfortable in transportation.
Travel pillows for airplanes are a must but do not rely too much on the pads you may get on the plane; they are usually thinner and probably would not suit you the best. Pillows provided by airlines are in large cases less than 3” thick, meaning that they have low-loft, that kind of pads is excellent for those people who have a smaller head and narrow shoulders, others may not find it so convenient. That is why it is better to go on a journey prepared and equipped with your own travel cushion. For people who have an average head size and shoulder width, medium-loft thickness from 3” to 5” works the best, while those with more broad shoulders and large head size should go for high-loft, above 5”. In contrast to airplane pillows, pillows for travelers are in most cases medium-loft but they can also be high-loft, so they are at least 3” thick.
Traveling sometimes requires sleeping in a sitting position, which is not our natural sleeping posture, travel cushions help our body to adjust better to the seat and to recline a bit more. When being in a reclining sleeping position, our neck and head tend to lean forward once we fall asleep, after that, we usually wake up suddenly and with instant neck pain. Some people may reach for sleeping pills, they will put you to rest, but they would not prevent aches. Travel pillows stabilize your neck and head and support them whether you lean to the left or right while avoiding the head from fall forward.
If you are a camper or backpacker, sleeping in a horizontal posture, you still need a pillow beneath your head, and a small travel pillow will better fit your backpack than the regular one.
Although they are widely known as travel pillows, that does not mean that you have to use them only while you travel. They are great to be used in the office or even at home while you are relaxing, these small pads are sometimes more convenient than our bedroom pillows and can be very helpful.
Different Shapes and Features of Travel Pillows
Although quite simple, these pillows can vary in design, color, shape, and material, so there is something for everyone. They are inexpensive so you can easily afford to try out more than one, and find the best travel pillow for yourself. As we all have different preferences, we are now going to introduce you to their main features and ease your decision.
The vast majority of portable pillows that are produced and sold nowadays are made U-shaped, they rest on your shoulders, and some of them have raised back for more optimal neck support. Most of them come with a drawstring attached to its both sides so that you can adjust it correctly, and some others can be long enough to get wrapped around your neck for proper 360° support. Beside U-shaped ones, some pads are designed so that they imitate our bedroom pillows and their rectangular shape. Some models are long and slender, and they can be simply wrapped around your body so that they can provide comfort for your spine and back as well. As the design developed, new forms appeared and produced fabric wraps with braces like built-in structures that give the best ergonomic support.
No matter what shape they are, travel pads can be split into two main categories, the inflatable ones, and the non-inflatable ones.
Inflatable travel pillows:
- The way of inflation – for some inflatable models to fill up, you are going to have to do it in an old-fashioned way, using your oxygen. There is usually a small air vent into which you need to exhale a few times. It is not that hard, and it does not take long to reach the preferred level of firmness, which you can optimize better this way. Newer models come with an automatic valve and a push-button, it is easy, quick, and it would not leave you breathless. Both methods allow the adjustment of the loft height. However, in any case, you should not overinflate it because it can damage its structure or force the pillow to pop. There is probably only one „flaw“ of inflatable travel pads, and that is the fact that in most cases after several hours of use and constant pressure on the pillow, they will deflate to a certain extent, especially if you are in the airplane due to high altitude.
- Materials and composition – inflatable cushions usually have a base made from materials like, for example polyvinyl, which is cold and slick on touch. To achieve warmer feel they are often covered with fabric materials like velour or velvet that are removable and machine washable. These covers provide hygienic divider of sleepers face from the pillow base. Also, polyurethane based shells should not be laundered. Average loft height is 3”.
- Compactness – all travel pads are somewhat compact, but when deflated these inflatable models can take quite less space than the other non-inflatable cushions because they cannot shrink that much. So if you pack light, or want to keep your pad in your bag or backpack, this is how you can save a significant amount of space. Their weight does not go above 10 ounces, which is almost nothing.
- Price – these travel pillows are cheaper than non-inflatable models. Their average retail price-point is from 10$ and 20$.
Non-inflatable travel pillows:
- Adjustment – the most significant advantage of these pads, can also be considered as their biggest flaw, depending on what are your demands. In contrast to inflatable pads, the height of the loft is not adaptable due to the construction of the non-inflatable pad. We suggest trying out the pillow in store and placing it around your neck to check if the loft height suits you, and then purchasing it or not. Average loft height is from 3” to 5”.
- Materials and composition – memory foam is the most common material among non-inflatable cushions, it is also called viscoelastic polyurethane foam. This dense foam becomes softer and adaptive when it gets in touch with the heat of the body, and acts as a mold. But as it cools down, it quickly recovers its shape. Dense and firm memory foam is mostly used for travel pillows because the softer foam is easily deformed and tends to fall in, which can cause neck pain. Memory foam base is mainly covered with fabric materials as velour, and they are easy to remove and wash. Other non-inflatable pads that are not made with memory foam are made from fleece or polyester materials that can be stuffed with puffballs or beads, but they are not the most comfortable models.
- Thickness – this depends on the design, but in most cases, they are bulkier and take more space than inflatable pillows, since they cannot be downsized that much. They can be a little bit molded and adjustable, but if you pack light, you can not easily fit them in your bag or carry-on.
- Price – non-inflatable pillows are more expensive than the inflatable ones, but they can be found for around 10$ if you want better quality the price goes up to 40-50$.
Shopping Tips for Travel Pillow Shoppers
The offer of travel pillows is enormous, and you can easily get indecisive and confused. How to settle and choose just one? Well, the only worse thing from sitting in transportation for a long time without travel pad is probably being stuck with a wrong one. They are inexpensive, so yes, you can buy more types and try them out to find the best one, but that process can last and turn into real torture. Maybe the loft is too high for your neck, or it deflates quickly, or it gets you anxious to have some bulky pad wrapped around your neck, etc. Those negative experiences can develop animosity towards travel pads, and the idea that traveling without them is somehow better. But, that is hardly possible. That is why we are going to summarize all the main factors that you should take into consideration when shopping for the best travel pillow for yourself.
- Loft – it should always be medium or high, so pay attention to your neck length, longer neck requires more upper loft and vice versa. Inflatable pillows are adjustable, but in most cases even when they are fully inflated, they are medium high, while the non-inflatable ones can have an even more upper loft. When pillow shopping for your kids, go with inflatable pillows first, because the size of the loft can be adjusted to them and their needs for better conform and neck support.
- Inflation – there are two methods of inflation, via built-in automatic vent with push-buttons, or manually with oxygen. It is up to your personal preference. Keep in mind that placing your mouth on a plastic valve is unhygienic, so make sure to clean the vent if you decide for this option, and do not share your pillow.
- Space – if you travel with your partner, or with small kids, that just raises the number of pads that need to be stored somewhere. You can attach the cushion to your bag or backpack if it can not fit inside, but in this category, inflatable pillows are absolute winners. After deflation, they can be folded to a size of a small notepad, so if every inch of the space is precious for your packing organization, you should not have a doubt.
- Support – proper neck support and contour will prevent aches and neck stiffness during long flights or rides, so consider choosing a pillow that provides 360° degree support or has high sides. Inflatable cushions can deflate a bit after some time and constant pressure on them.
- Cover – covers are removable and convenient for machine washing. It is essential to wash it on a regular basis because it gets in touch with our face, and different bacterias, oils, etc. can be piled upon them.
- Sleep position – people who tend to sleep preferably on their back mainly pick U-shaped pillows as most comfortable type. On the other hand, side sleepers are not used to lean their head back while resting, so they prefer different designs of pillows and find them more supportive.
- Warranty – you may be surprised, but some travel pillows actually come with a warranty period that lasts up to 2 years. They are rare, most ones do not offer a warranty, but some provide a refund if the customer is not satisfied with their product.
- Price – Inflatable pads are generally less expensive than the non-inflatable ones. Most models cost around from 10$ to 40$.
Sleep & Travel – Useful Accessories
Beside travel pillows, some other useful accessories can help you fall asleep and isolate yourself from your surroundings. You can be condemned to sit for hours next to some guy who snores or an annoying sibling, both options are awful, so do not forget to bring some of these things to make your time fly.
- Headphones – if you enjoy peace and privacy, they are number one accessories that will keep you safe from all unwanted questions and small talk that your fellow travelers may want to start. They will block unnecessary noise, and listening to sleep music will help you fall asleep and relax. Music alleviates stress and affects our mood, but you can also listen to some popular audio books or learn a few new words on the language of your travel destination. Headphones price varies upon their quality, brand, and features; small earbuds can be found for less than 20$, while the rate for some more popular brands goes up to 300$ and more.
- Earplugs – if you are not into listening music via headphones, but still want to enjoy the silence, earplugs are your thing. Earplugs can be made from flexible materials such as silicone, wax or foam, that can snuggle into contours of the ear canal. Earplug models differ by NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) that can be found from around 20 to 34. Higher rate provides better noise-blocking. It is important to point out that the usage of earplugs can be connected to some health issues like ear infections, hearing loss, and earwax impaction.
- Sleep masks – this popular accessory is handy for traveling and sleeping in environments with lights on. They act like blindfolds by blocking the light and simulating darkness, encouraging the stimulation of a hormone called melatonin that controls sleep cycle. Sleep masks come in all shapes and designs and are made from fabric materials like silk, polyester, and cotton; some can even get stuffed with foam for better comfort. It is essential to wash them orderly or replace them because they are in contact with your facial skin, they absorb oils, creams, and makeup leftovers and can become very unhygienic.
- E-Reader – if you are a reader, or like to read before you fall asleep, then gadgets like Kindle are your inevitable travel companions. For reading in transportation, especially if the lighting conditions are poor, use E-Readers instead of tablets, your eyes will be thankful. Tablet screens are very lit in comparison to Kindle for example. E-Readers are lightweight but can contain a tone of books, and their natural screen brightness is their best feature.
- White Noise – if you are familiar with White Noise Machine and enjoy it, now you do not have to carry it around with yourself because there are smartphone apps that do the same thing. Listening to random noises like wind, fan or waterfall can be soothing and sleepy, acting as a lullaby.
We hope we made your choice of travel pillow easier and that you would not regret it. Enjoy your travel time, make it memorable.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic