Sleep Guide is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. In addition, we occasionally receive free product in exchange for our honest opinion. Learn more

You love to travel. The sights and sounds. The food. One thing you don’t enjoy is getting from one place to the next and wondering if your pillow will be supportive along the way.

You have many choices for a travel pillow, and depending on your situation, they may solve a particular problem. Neck pain? There’s a travel pillow for that. Sweaty head on a standard hotel pillow? There’s a travel pillow for that. Got a 23-hour total airline trip and you can’t sleep unless you’re on your stomach? There’s a travel pillow for that.

Quit letting the journey get in the way of a proper amount of sleep. You can’t enjoy where you’re headed if you’re too sleepy to see straight. A bit of preparation and you’ll be snoozing in no time whether in a plane, a hotel, or on a park bench. (Maybe don’t do that).

We’ve put together a list of our picks for the best travel pillow. We’ve got two all-around picks, plus a few for specific situations. We’ve also answered some questions you may have about how to choose. Let’s take a look.`

How Do I Choose A Travel Pillow?

Travel pillows solve different kinds of problems you may have when you travel. Some are intended to come with you to sleep on at night in your new location while others are for the journey itself.

Neck Pillows And 360 Pillows

Neck pillows are U-shaped, firm pillows that wrap around your neck to support your head. They allow you to sleep easier while sitting up. Many people use these when they need to take quick naps during a train or plane ride. They’re also good when you’re the passenger in a car, but you don’t have space to stretch out.

360 pillows are similar, but they wrap completely around your neck and fasten. If you need complete support for your neck (for example, you suffer from neck pain), this might be a better option. If they feel restrictive, you may be more comfortable with the open shape of the U-shaped pillow.

Fastening Pillows

Some pillows are longish rectangles that fasten upright. It has a strap or a small pole that can fasten to your seat, a surface in front of you, or sometimes your seat belt. It keeps you upright but supported in a slightly tilted position. These are good if you know you’re going to have to sleep for longer periods and have some space. They’ll support your core and head.

Mini Pillows

Mini pillows are just like regular pillows but with smaller dimensions. They’re easily packable. You pick one that has the same type of support as your regular pillow, but you take this one with you, so you know you’ll have one when you arrive.

Some mini pillows are very moldable, so you can tuck them into your neck and shoulder while you sleep upright. They don’t have consistent support in this position, so they’re best for using at your destination.

An excellent example of this is if you sleep hot. Standard pillows can be very warm. If you’ve gotten used to your gel infused pillow, having a smaller version to take with you might help you sleep better in a new place.

Wedge Pillows

Smaller wedge pillows are good for putting at the small of your back to help ease pressure on your spine. Sitting for longer periods of time in a seat you can’t adjust can be a painful experience. Small wedge pillows relieve pressure in your spine and lower lumbar region, making the trip more comfortable.

Larger wedge pillows help stomach sleepers sleep better on the ride as well. If you need the feeling of cuddling with something or being on your stomach, it’s tough when you’re stuck in a seat. These large wedges sit in your lap and allow you to lean forward to sleep.

What Types Of Filling Do Pillows Have?

Different fillings are good for different things.

Styrofoam Balls And Microbeads

Styrofoam balls make the inside of the pillow very moldable. It’s lightweight and easy to move into a comfortable position. Styrofoam is also cheap, so if you need a temporary fix, styrofoam balls may be the way to go. The downside is that it’s a bit loud.

Microbeads work the same way. They aren’t quite as light, but they do mold well. They can be more expensive as well, but they don’t make noise the way styrofoam balls do.

Memory Foam

Memory foam molds to your body and helps relieve pressure points. Putting memory foam at the small of your back, for example, can mold to your back and spine, allowing you to settle back without losing the support of the pillow. Memory foam is more expensive, and it isn’t as malleable. However, if you’re used to sleeping on a memory foam pillow on your own bed, a mini memory foam pillow may be a good idea to take with you.

Poly-Fill

Poly-fill pillows are standard. These feel the most like a regular pillow you find anywhere. They’re really common. If you just want a good old-fashioned pillow that you know one thousand other people haven’t slept on, this may be the way to go. The downside? Poly-fill is warm, so you may end up turning your pillow looking for a cool spot.

Down And Down Alternative

Down is your grandmother’s pillow. These are highly malleable and don’t offer a lot of loft, but they do fit into the crevice of your neck and shoulder well. For U-shaped pillows, they aren’t quite as fluffy and offer a little bit more support. The downside is that down is expensive and sometimes hot. Down alternative feels like down, but is less costly and more breathable.

Inflatable

Inflatable pillows are air filled. They fit just about anywhere when they aren’t inflated, so you can stuff one practically in your jeans pocket. They’re adjustable for support. Just adjust how much air you put inside, so it’s less or more supportive. They can be a bit cold because there’s only air in the core.

Cover Materials

There are all sorts of materials for a cover, but we recommend something organic or at least something certified as low emissions. Covers that are breathable help keep air flowing and reduce heat and moisture. If it has a removable cover for washing, that’s even better.

2 In 1 Styles

Some styles convert from a pillow into something else. For example, there’s a travel pillow that transforms to a puffy jacket when you aren’t sleeping (for a price!), and other pillows unfold to a full-length blanket allowing you to choose what sleep accessory you need most. These are great for travelers who don’t always want or need a travel pillow but like to keep all their options open. If you don’t always sleep on planes, but you want to be prepared if the moment strikes, a convertible travel-pillow-slash-something-else may be just the thing.

The List

And now a for a few of our favorites. Let’s get your sleep back on track even if you’ve got a 23-hour trip ahead of you.

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Neck Pillow – Best Mini Pillow

If you’re a memory foam fan, this one is a cute, mini version of Tempur-Pedic’s memory foam pillow. It offers firm support and measures just 10 inches long by 12 inches wide by 4 inches high.

The shape mimics the classic Tempur-Pedic shape developed by doctors. It promotes alignment of your spine and neck while cradling your head. It’s excellent for side and back sleepers, though stomach sleepers may find it too thick.

It has a removable cover that’s machine washable. The cover is a polyester blend, so it’s soft enough to sleep on by itself or to fit well underneath a pillowcase. It’s made to be just like your trusty full-sized Tempurpedic.

The shape is excellent for sleeping in your usual sleep position, but you can also use it for lumbar support on long trips where you’ll be sitting. The shape fits well into the small of your back to allow your spine to decompress.

Tempur-Pedic offers a five-year warranty against mattress defects. You should check with your seller for a return policy. Memory foam can sometimes have a faint odor because of the way it’s manufactured and shipped. It doesn’t come compressed, but you’ll need to unwrap it from the plastic. It may need to air out a bit before you’re comfortable using it.

Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow – Best U-Shaped Pillow

For traveling on the way, the Cabeau pillow supports your head and neck while you’re sleeping upright. It uses memory foam for dense support, and it can change from a U-shape to 360-degree support by tightening the string.

The rear cushion is flat, so it lays better against a seat back. The cover is a velour type of material. It’s removable and machine-washable. It comes with a small bag that helps reduce the size of the pillow to about 1/4 of its original size. It’s lightweight and packs but bounces back quickly when you need it.

It has a small media pouch on the side to store your phone or other devices when you’re listening to music. Most people shouldn’t have any trouble wearing headphones, but if you have a shorter neck, the pillow may interfere with larger headphones (such as the noise canceling kind).

The Cabeau is best for someone who frequently travels long distances in a sitting position and needs more support for sleep. This one will give you much better support for, say, a multi-layover, day-long plane excursion where you don’t want to stay awake for 23 hours straight. Since you can cinch the straps pretty tight, it works even if you tend to fall forward while sleeping upright.

Check with your seller for warranty and return information. That information will vary depending on where you decide to purchase your pillow.

Trtl Pillow – Best For Ultra-Light Packers

The Trtle Pillow has to be one of the most unusual travel pillows we’ve seen. It looks like an infinity scarf, and one side is a plastic spine that creates a place to lay your head. It may not work if you frequently change your head position, but if you’re pretty still, it’s wonderful.

The scarf goes over your head and wraps softly around your neck. It’s made of soft fleece material (added bonus on a cold plane!) and you position the spine on the side you want to lay your head.

The biggest draw for this one is it packs down to about the size of a sandwich. There’s no stuffing or maneuvering to get it to fit into a pack the way you do with fluffy pillows. It’s great for a traveler who wants to throw it into a purse or briefcase. You don’t need a carry bag to cinch it down. It’s machine washable.

It might take some getting used to, and you don’t have full support all the way around. It’s best if you plan to lean against something (like a window seat or if you’re in the car) and you don’t change positions often once you fall asleep.

The company offers a 60-day return policy. Contact the company directly to check for warranty information and product guarantees.

Daydreamer Inflatable Neck Pillow – Best Inflatable

You like the packing weight of an inflatable pillow, but it’s a pain to sit and blow it up when you’re traveling. The Daydreamer inflates using a push button mechanism instead of your mouth, so if you’re weirded out blowing into your pillow in front of a bunch of strangers, this one is a lot more discrete.

It’s soft too. It has a micro velvet style cover that’s removable and machine washable. It inflates to a U-shape with a ridge along the back to help support the back of your neck. The air filled interior stays a little cooler than memory foam, and you can adjust the firmness by pumping less air or more.

It deflates and fits into a small carry bag with an attached carabiner. It’s a lot more sanitary than a mouth blown valve and is best for those who do a lot of plane travel (germs!) or who can’t blow up a travel pillow on their own lung power. It deflates and packs down to just 3.75 inches by 6 inches.

Check with your seller for return information and warranty or product guarantees. The company itself doesn’t offer a warranty, but your individual seller may have a policy in place.

Malouf Z Gel Travel Pillow – Best Cooling Pillow

You can’t stand the thought of going back to regular pillows in your hotel room. Malouf’s cooling travel pillow is an alternative to your own large cooling pillow that packs a little easier in your carry-on.

It uses a combination of memory foam (or dough as they call it) and gel to wick heat and moisture away from your head and face. The gel draws heat away from you and disperses it throughout the pillow, so it returns to ambient room temperature more quickly. Open cell foam structure helps breathability.

It uses a rayon blend cover that doesn’t impede airflow. It’s removable and machine washable. It packs down easily into your luggage or carry-on bag. It won’t offer the full upright support of a U-shaped pillow, but if you plan to sit near a window seat, you should be able to wedge it well into your neck and shoulder.

It measures just 16 inches by 12 inches by 4 inches. You don’t lose too much sleep space but should still be able to carry it easily. You can also roll it up for lumbar support while you’re awake during the trip.

The company doesn’t allow for returns except in the case of a defective product. The pillow is covered by a five-year warranty against pillow defects, so make sure you save your receipt. You could also check with your individual seller to see if there’s a return policy different than the manufacturer’s policy.

It ships wrapped in plastic, but it shouldn’t have too much of a smell. Allow it to air out a little once you unpack it if there is a “memory foam” odor. It should be fine after a day or two.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking specifically for a pillow to use en route or a pillow to use at your destination, investing in a travel pillow can help you with the sleep issues associated with travel. The last thing you want is to be too tired to enjoy your destination because you couldn’t sleep.

A travel pillow may not seem like a necessity, but how long are you going to keep rolling up your sweater to support your head? How many times have you struggled with hot, poorly supportive hotel pillows? You may get lucky here and there, but when you bring your own pillow, you know it won’t sabotage your sleep.

Tim

Remember how your parents told you that you were going to sleep your life away? Well that would be perfectly fine with Tim. He's been in search of the most comfortable nights sleep for years and shares his findings with any willing ear.

View all posts

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sleep Like a Baby

Get tips, tricks and product recommendations to help you sleep through the night.

You're in! As a thank you enjoy $25 Off Our Favorite Pillow.

Pin It on Pinterest