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If there’s one little thing that can make long journeys more comfortable, it’s a travel pillow. A good night’s sleep can make or break your trip. Window seats on a flight, airport floors, and just about any other space can become a place to sleep with the right tools.
Travelers with neck and back issues are that much more susceptible to pain when it comes to traveling so we’re breaking down the best pillows for travel that will help you rest easy without taking up too much space.
Why You Need a Travel Pillow
So why bother packing a travel pillow in the first place? You’ll find pros and cons, depending on what type of traveler you are.
Benefits include making you more comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. Having traveled on bumpy bus rides through Asia, slept on airport floors, and sat in the middle seat on long-haul flights, I can attest to the benefits of bringing a travel pillow on your next trip.
It’s one of the things I pack to sleep on planes. It makes it easier to fall asleep without a surface, especially if you travel with a U-shaped pillow that allows your head to tilt rather than lean straight back.
But with the benefits, there are also costs.
Minimalist travelers might not appreciate the valuable space it takes up in your bag. While many are inflatable or able to be folded into a smaller container, some might argue that you can easily do without them, instead using a sweatshirt or towel balled up to do the same thing.
Types of Travel Pillows
There are a handful of types of travel pillows, each with its own purposes and benefits and made from different materials. Some are best for long trips while others can make you comfortable on a camping trip.
U-Shaped vs. Rectangular Pillows
The best airplane travel pillow is arguably the U-shaped pillow as it has the benefit of supporting your neck either around the back or the front. It allows your head to bob comfortably instead of craning rigidly.
They’re great for long journeys, no matter if you have a window, middle, or aisle seat. The only downside is that they’re not as good for sleeping flat on, whether that’s in your hostel dorm or camping.
The perk of bringing a rectangular pillow is that once you arrive at your destination, whether that be a camping trip or a hostel with a grimy pillow, you can use your rectangular travel pillow and get a good night’s sleep.
It’s also great for some extra lumbar support if you suffer from back pain after a long day of traveling.
Foam vs. Inflatable
The materials are also important when it comes to the best airplane or travel pillows. Inflatables don’t have to be big, unlike the famous SkyMall SkyRest pillow, but can provide almost the same level of comfort while folding completely flat. You don’t have to worry about the extra space they take up.
Foam pillows, however, are the most supportive to your neck and back, whether they’re U-shaped or rectangular. Memory foam adapts to the position of your head and they also don’t deflate.
After losing my pillow at the airport in transit, I spent $2 USD on an inflatable U-shaped neck pillow in Cambodia and was so glad I did, especially after the bumpy bus rides.
Best Airplane Travel Pillows
Finding the right travel pillow for airplanes, or buses or trains or cars for that matter, is important. Choose from different shapes and materials.
We’ve rounded up some of the best travel pillows for long flights so instead of spending your time researching the best neck pillow, you can rather spend it researching your next travel destination.
Brands to Check Out
Trtl Travel Pillow $59.99 USD
The trtl travel pillow is one of the latest technologies on the market. Although this neck pillow may look a bit futuristic, it has scientifically proven neck support and stops your head from bobbing forward.
When you’re not using it, it folds up into a small rectangle which is lightweight, easy to carry, and fits into your hand luggage. You can also fold it around a bag strap to save space in your carry-on.
An added bonus, it’s machine washable! You know that a long day of traveling is going to end up being sweaty. When you come back from your trip you can simply put the trtl travel pillow in the washing machine and it will be as good as new.
- Check out the trtl Travel Pillow on Amazon
Lewis N Clark Adjustable Neck Pillow, $13.47 USD
The Lewis N Clark adjustable neck pillow is one of the best ultralight pillows available. Amanda, of Ticket & Travel Blog, had this to say about it:
“My Lewis N Clark neck pillow is hands down one of my favorite travel items that I am constantly recommending to others. It weighs just a few ounces, deflates with the push of a button, and packs flat in my backpack taking up next to no room at all.
Unlike other neck pillows that are either bulky or leave you gasping for air as you blow them up, this one inflates with as little as two breaths, and the button allows you to adjust the amount of air easily until it feels just right. Another feature that I love with this pillow is that the back of it is flat, which allows you to still use your headrest wherever you may be.
The Lewis N Clark neck pillow is great for any type of travel. I have used it on road trips overseas, and car rides back home, and have used it as a makeshift pillow while I slept across seats on a budget night train in Germany.
It is ALWAYS in my carry-on, and I have never once regretted packing it. My husband has jealously watched me use this neck pillow so many times that he just ordered another one for himself for our next adventure.”
- Check out the Lewis N Clark Adjustable Neck Pillow on Amazon
Cabeau Evolution Pillow, $29.99 USD
My personal flight pillow favorite is the Cabeau Evolution pillow, which I traded my cheap, Cambodian inflatable pillow for this past year. Made of memory foam, the U-shaped neck pillow comes in a bag about the size of a large smartphone at 4.5 inches by 5.5 inches. It also comes with a pocket to put your phone or eye mask in while on the go.
Tassels on each end can connect to further support your neck. Wear it with the nook facing the back of your neck or the front. Once you’ve folded it up, it easily goes back to its original shape in a few minutes.
I took this pillow on the worst flight ever from London to Atlanta and also when I injured my neck. It supported my aching neck and kept me from hurting myself further. I wouldn’t bring this pillow on just any trip because of its size but was certainly glad to have it on such a long travel day.
- Check out the Cabeau Evolution Pillow on Amazon
Tempur-Pedic NeckPillow Travel Size, $99 USD
The Tempur-Pedic Travel Pillow is basically a smaller version of the memory foam pillows you might have at home. It’s the same scale and is curved for added comfort. This product is recommended by chiropractors and is best for people who have neck and back issues and need additional support on the go.
Benefits of the Tempur- Pedic pillow include uses in both travel and “real life.” The dimensions are 12″ by 10″ by 4″. While it might not be the best backpacking pillow because of its size, if you battle getting a good night’s sleep without a proper pillow, it’s worth it. The firm pillow can be used for your neck or even for your back.
The Tempur-Pedic travel pillow has a five-year warranty and the polyester-knit cover can be removed and machine washed.
- Check out the Tempur-Pedic NeckPillow on Amazon
Tube Travel Pillow, $49.95 USD
If you travel super light but still want the comfort of a travel pillow, then this is the product for you. What looks like a normal travel pillow, can actually carry 2 to 3 days worth of clothes! You can also keep your valuables close to you and save on excess luggage fees.
When it’s not stuffed with clothes, it folds up and zips into its own pocket. Just make sure you stuff it with clothes made of fabrics that wrinkle less, like merino wool and rayon, so that you don’t have to stress about wrinkled clothes at your destination.
It’s possible to travel for over a week with just a personal-sized-item bag and this fillable travel pillow. If you don’t believe me, check out the Handbag Packing Masterclass and learn to pack confidently and light.
- Check out the Tube Travel Pillow on Amazon
Best Travel Pillows for Camping and Sleeping
Camping pillows can make your nights outdoors that much more comfortable. U-shaped pillows don’t work as well for camping trips.
After going on a camping trip without a pillow and having a crick in my neck the rest of the day, I can attest to the need for travel pillows for camping. These pillows are also suitable for hostel dorms that don’t have pillows, airport floors, or for added support on long transit days.
Brands to Check Out
Nemo Fillo, $44.95 USD
Kathleen told us about her Nemo Fillo pillow, which is sold as a camping pillow. She’s found it to be very useful for long-term travel, helping her feel more comfortable on camping trips, hotel rooms, and long plane, train, and bus rides. It’s especially helpful for her TMJ.
It fits into her day bag and weighs only 11 ounces. It’s made of both memory foam and an inflatable bladder, helping it to provide support even when not fully inflated.
- Check out the Nemo Fillo Pillow on Amazon
Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core Pillow, $29.95 USD
I borrowed this pillow from my sister, who uses it for camping trips, when packing for my trip to Malaysia a few years ago. I knew I’d be spending a lot of time in transit, but wanted a pillow that would fold up small as well. The Cocoon Ultralight fits the bill in every way. I would say it’s one of the best inflatable camping pillows available.
The high-quality nozzle allows you to inflate to the perfect level of comfort. One side is made of microfiber, which feels soft against your face. Fully inflated, it’s 15 inches by 19 inches and folds up into a stuff sack the size of your smartphone.
She’s been using the same pillow for many years, so I can attest to its quality!
- Check out the Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core Pillow on Amazon
Comfy Down Goose Down Travel Pillow, $50.99 USD
For something a little different, the Comfy Down travel pillow is one of the few travel and camping pillows made of down feathers. It’s a higher price tag, but if a good night’s sleep for you depends on a down feather pillow then it may be worth the investment.
It’s hypoallergenic and machine washable.
The Goose Down Travel Pillow is 12” by 16” but it can be compressed down to take up less space. The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a compression bag like other pillows. Instead, you may want to purchase your own or place it in a packing cube.
- Check out the Comfy Down Goose Down Travel Pillow on Amazon
Making Hotel or Hostel Pillows More Comfortable
So you’ve decided not to pack a travel pillow but you still want the best sleep possible on your trip so you can be ready for all your adventures in the morning? We’ve got you covered with tips for making your hotel or hostel pillow more comfortable.
If you’re about to go to sleep and you realize that your pillow is flat, you can use a dry bath towel to add a bit of extra cushion. Simply fold the bath towel up and slip it into the pillowcase.
If you get to your camping destination and realize that you’ve left your pillow at home, you can use a folded up towel to prevent a crick in your neck the next day like I had. You can also fold some of your clothes or your jacket in a towel to make a makeshift pillow.
Another great tip is to travel with your own pillowcase. This will take up almost no space in your bag and will add some extra comfort to your sleeping experience.
Here are some options worth checking out:
- Silk Pillow Sleeve
- Satin Pillow Case with Elastic
- Mulberry Park 100% Silk Pillowcase with a Hidden Zipper Closure
This is especially useful if you are staying at hostels that provide pillows but you’re a bit worried about how clean they might be. Or if you’re used to sleeping with a silk pillowcase for your hair and skin. No one wants a breakout on holiday.
Do you travel with a pillow? What’s the best travel pillow you’ve found?