No matter how often you’ve hopped on an airplane, driven cross-country, or stayed in a hotel, even the most experienced travelers can experience hiccups along their journey. While taking the upsets in stride can result in a happier experience overall, staying comfortable on the way to and from your destination is something you can control—or at least try to.
A well-designed travel pillow can make the journey almost as pleasant as the destination itself. In this guide, we’re rounding up our picks for the best travel pillows of 2022 and sharing a guide for how to choose a travel pillow, why you should use one, and tips for sleeping on the go.
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Top Travel Pillows
At half the size of a traditional travel pillow, the Trtl has an inner rib that contours to your shoulders, neck, and jawline. It’s made from fleece and feels soft to the touch.
Reason to Buy: U-shaped neck pillows don’t provide some travelers with the support they need, and Trtl created this fleece pillow to address that. It’s our pick for travelers who tend to lean to and stay on one side while sleeping. It’s tiny, packable, and the fleece will help keep you warm in cold airplanes.
J-Pillow Travel Pillow
Best Alternative Design Travel Pillow
This travel pillow is literally j-shaped, designed to cradle your head, neck, and chin. It’s easily compressible, has a snap-loop fastener to attach to luggage, and feels soft to the touch.
Reason to Buy: Originally designed by a flight attendant familiar with the challenges of sleeping during travel, the unique shape fills the awkward gap between your head and shoulders for more comfort and conformity. The pillow can be twisted into many positions and works well for cars, camping, bus rides, and airplanes.
TravelRest Curl Memory Foam Pillow
Best Non-Inflatable Travel Pillow
This highly supportive travel pillow has a memory foam interior and a microfiber cover. While made in a traditional “U” travel pillow shape, the adjustable drawstring provides a customized fit.
Reason to Buy: This looks similar to other non-inflatable models out there, but the difference is in the details. This pillow’s shape recovers with every use and conforms closely to the neck and shoulder areas. The microfiber cover is removable and machine-washable, and the pillow is protected by a two-year warranty. Very few travel pillows come with this level of warranty coverage, if at all.
AirComfy Travel Pillow
Best Inflatable Travel Pillow
This inflatable pillow forms into an hourglass shape when inflated and has a built-in headrest security attachment. The versatile design works well for airplane and auto travel, but you can also use it on your back, knees, and other areas that might experience tension or aching when you’re seated for long periods of time.
Reason to Buy: Inflatable travel pillows are an excellent choice for travelers who want to save as much space as possible. The AirComfy design is affordable, comes with a travel-ready carrying case, and inflation is easy because the pillow is so compact. Keep in mind that this pillow doesn’t come with a cover, but it can be easily spot cleaned.
Best Travel Pillow for Headphones
The Bcozzy comes in an adjustable design that features overlapping ends so that the travel pillows holds your chin in place. While not as compressible as other models, it does have a small loop that can be attached to your luggage.
Reason to Buy: Travelers who use large headphones that fit over-the-ear will find that these fit snuggly with most pairs, holding your chin in place via the overlapping design and leaving space on either side of the neck for headphones. It is available in several colors and sizes.
Cabeau Evolution Classic Pillow
Best Travel Pillow Available at Airports
This memory foam pillow has the traditional u-shape design, includes an adjustable string closure, and works well for small people.
Reason to Buy: The Cabeau is widely available at airport stores nationwide, so if your flight gets delayed or you forget your travel pillow at home, this would be our recommendation. While not the most comfortable travel pillow out there, as the back isn’t contoured and the cover isn’t removable, it’s a reliable option you’ll find beyond security checkpoints.
Why Use a Travel Pillow
Nothing beats sleeping at home in your own bed, but a travel pillow can provide comfort and support when you’re sleeping on the go. They’re most commonly used in cars and on airplanes, but frequent travelers keep them on hand for trains, buses, other forms of public transportation, and even campsites.
Most adults know that sleep is essential to health, and when you’re faced with a red-eye flight, a cross-country road trip, or overseas travel, your ability to rest is seriously impacted. Most seats, whether on airplanes or in vehicles, don’t recline fully and are cramped, making sleeping difficult. Combining your seating situation with the realities of jet lag, time changes, and dehydration is a recipe for losing sleep, getting sick, and arriving at your destination in less-than-stellar health.
Whether you opt for a simple, affordable u-shaped travel pillow or a pricier version with special features, having a travel pillow on hand can make the difference between serious discomfort and a night’s sleep you can function relatively well on.
Types of Travel Pillows
Today, travel pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Read on to learn about the types available.
U-shaped travel pillows are the most well-known, and they’re the kind you’re most likely to see in airports and brick-and-mortar stores. The simple design wraps around your neck, often with an adjustable drawstring or buckle closure. However, some individuals find that u-shaped pillows don’t provide enough neck support, depending on the loft.
J-shaped travel pillows are less common and new to the market, and they provide better chin support by propping the chin up. Hourglass travel pillows are the most versatile shape as they can be used for your neck, back, knees, and legs. Rectangular travel pillows are also available, and they look similar to a pillow you’d use in your bed at home. If your neck supports itself well while sleeping, a rectangular travel pillow could work for you.
Inflatable vs. Non-Inflatable Travel Pillows
Whether inflatable or non-inflatable travel pillows are more effective is up in the air. The best travel pillow for you will depend on your preferences and a few other factors, like space and loft needs.
Non-inflatable pillows tend to be made with memory foam, though latex and other materials have crept their way into the market. Many argue that memory foam and other hard materials are more comfortable to lay on than the air that fills inflatable travel pillows.
The tradeoff, however, is size and portability. Inflatable pillows can be rolled, folded, and easily slipped into a carry-on bag, purse, or even your pocket. Non-inflatable pillows take up more space, but they are more widely available in need-specific designs and shapes, like j-shapes and hourglass shapes.
Considerations for Travel Pillows
If you’re reading this guide, we doubt you’re the type to realize you’ll be sleeping on a flight and grab a travel pillow at the closest airport shop. The travel pillow market is expanding and diversifying, so here’s a brief list of considerations to take into account when you’re looking for the best travel pillow this year.
- Sleeping Position: Pressure points tend to make themselves known when we sleep in an upright position, so understanding how your neck, head, and shoulders react when you’re attempting to sleep without reclining fully is key. Your neck will naturally tilt forward as you drift off. Find a pillow that allows you to lean your head and neck back further to avoid this risk when you fall asleep.
- Loft: Just like normal pillows, travel pillows vary in the loft. Some sleepers require more inches of loft to feel supported, as the higher loft allows you to keep your neck upright. An inflatable pillow is advantageous if you like to adjust pillow loft or if the travel pillow will be used by multiple sleepers.
- Price: Travel pillows tend to range from $10 to $50, with inflatable travel pillows coming in on the lower side of that spectrum.
- Shape: With square, u-shaped, j-shaped, rectangle, hourglass, and more models available, you’ll have options with regard to shape. Most travelers will be satisfied with a classic u-shaped travel pillow, but if you want to explore other shapes, here’s what to take into consideration. If you sleep on your side, you may not do well with a u-shaped, which works best for those who lean their heads directly back to rest. If you travel frequently by train or car or have aches in your knees, legs, and lower back, hourglass or j-shaped pillows, which are adjustable and can work for different areas of the body, could work well.
Tips for Sleeping While Traveling
Keeping sleep disruption to a minimum when traveling can make the difference between an enjoyable time at your destination and a cranky, sleep-deprived one. Our bodies have an optimal sleep window, called the circadian window, and travel can wreak havoc on it. Here’s how to sleep while you travel:
- Prepare for travel by moving your bedtime slightly earlier than normal. Planning ahead can help adjust the transition into a new time zone and make it easier to sleep with your travel pillow on the go
- Adjust your sleep schedule as soon as you begin to travel. For example, if you’re flying to Europe from the United States, try not to drift off if you know it’s morning at the destination. If you happen to be traveling when it’s the middle of the night at your destination, then you should try to catch some zzzs.
- Consider melatonin and magnesium supplements, which can aid in the body’s natural production of melatonin to help lull you off to sleep. Melatonin is available in non-prescription sleep aid doses of up to 10 milligrams.
- Choose your airplane and car seat wisely. Try to get a window seat on the plane or in the car, if possible, so that you can lean on the edge and won’t be disturbed by other travelers waking to use the restroom or move about. You’ll also have control over the window shade.
- Try calming music to relax if you have a streaming subscription of Apple Music. Pre-made sleep playlists are readily available, with instrumental piano, harp, and other calming sounds to help you reach REM sleep.
Sleeping while traveling can be tough. Your routine is disrupted, the distractions are endless, and your body’s clock is usually thrown for a loop. If a travel pillow can, even in a small way, make your journey more comfortable and restful, it’s worth the investment. Use our guide above to help you decide which of 2019’s best travel pillows will work for your lifestyle, budget, and sleeping style, and you’ll be well on your way to a more pleasant travel experience, wherever you’re headed.
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