Travel often sounds better than it actually is. Flights can be long, there can be lots of delays, and business trips can end up as a series of all-nighters as you try to get that project finished. In short, travel can be completely exhausting. So how should you deal with it? One way is to sleep through as much of it as you can.
That's easiest to do when you're in transit, whether it be by car, train or plane. We're not talking refreshing, resting sleep, but rather snatched sessions of sleep which you often emerge disoriented, and very often with a sore neck.
What you need is one of the best travel pillows.
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There are now a lot of travel pillows on the market to keep you as comfortable as possible when you’re between beds. Some have memory foam, others are spongy, others inflatable; there’s now something for everyone.
How to choose the best travel pillow for you
Choosing the best travel pillow for you is easy. Start by thinking about what you'll be travelling on; car, bus or plane. It's also worth thinking about what kind of pillows you like to sleep on when you're in your own bed. Lastly, think about how much luggage you're going to be travelling with, and how much extra you’ll want to be taking with you in the form of a pillow.
For plane journeys, go for travel pillows that support your neck, the classic U-shaped pillow being what most people end up buying (usually in the airport). Mind you, it's worth remembering that we don't all have the same size neck, so try it out and choose accordingly. If you're going to be travelling primarily by bus or car, go for a softer travel pillow that's larger in size, and consider fillings like microbeads and foam. You’re likely going to be leaning on something.
For backpackers, it’s always a trade-off between weight and usefulness, so those traveling light should err on the side of a travel pillow that’s compact and easy to stash in luggage, or attach to the front of a backpack. Travel pillows that have their own travel case are better for business travellers for whom luggage restrictions are likely to be less (however, they do keep the pillow cleaner and fresher).
Just don’t forget what you prefer at home. If you use a memory foam pillow in your own bed, consider investing in a travel pillow that also uses memory foam. That way you’ll get a better nap. If you’re less fussed about fabric, go for the better value travel pillows, which can be just as soft.
Either way, finding the best travel pillow for you is about to get easier.
Our pick of the best travel pillows to buy today
If you want to indulge in ultimate comfort, then the Cabeau Evolution Pillow is a plush travel pillow that will make you feel truly relaxed even on the bumpiest of rides. Perfect for in-flight napping, this pillow fully supports the back of your head so you do not need to lean on the window or side of the chair to get comfy. It is ideal for people with pre-existing neck pain as it corrects your posture for a high-quality kip, plus it packs down really small too making it the ideal travel pillow to stash in your hand luggage. Expensive, but worth it if your a frequent traveller.
It may be innovative and popular, but the original trtl pillow is far from the finished article. Cue the next-gen version, trtl Pillow Plus. It’s laser-focused on comfort, with a fully adjustable neck support at is core and a much more breathable fabric layer along the soft microfleece lining. That makes it a lot less hot than the original – critical for long-haul journeys – and that adjustable neck much better for bigger people. If you do get a bit sweaty while wearing it, trtl Pillow Plus is machine washable.
If you want a trusty pillow that you can take on all your adventures, then the Go Travel Ultimate Memory Pillow will allow you to get that much-needed shut eye wherever you are. Its classic U-shape supports the neck and adds a touch of luxury with its memory foam filling.
You’ll be able to instantly find the perfect sleeping position as it remembers your neck shape. With its handy neck clip to hold you in place, this is the perfect travel pillow for long haul flights and equally good for long trips in the car.
We all know the dreaded feeling of boarding a plane only to find you’ve been lumped with a middle seat. If you’re a single traveller, the last thing you want to do is end up falling asleep on the shoulder of the stranger next to you. However, the Trtl Pillow allows you to maintain an upright position, with all the same comfort of a typical U-shape pillow. Simply wrap it around your neck like a scarf and it will support your chin and neck whilst preventing your head from falling forwards. It's super soft too which is great for long journeys.
A travel pillow doesn’t really need to be all that big. It’s only got to support a traveller's head, neck and back, so the BR2 simply fills the gap between a seat's headrest and neck. It’s got a hollowed-out section for easy gripping, which also means it can be easily tied-on to a backpack in the airport. It’s not the best for sleeping for long periods (largely because the memory foam doesn’t have much memory), but it’s perfect for giving some much-needed rest if you’ve got a long day of connecting flights.
This J Pillow is one of the best travel pillows for anyone who suffers with a stiff neck. The J shape supports the back of your head, the neck and your chin simultaneously, preventing your head from dropping and giving you all round support to prevent muscle strain. If you worry about the damage that travelling can do to your neck or have suffered from aches and pains after sleeping during travel, this travel pillow is sure to help you out.
This is probably the closest you will get to a travel pillow that's anything like the pillow on your bed at home, in terms of comfort. This big cosy pillow is designed to allow you to sleep in a range of positions, but is particularly useful for those who like to rest their head on their tray table during a flight or even on a desk. The fabric is anti-bacterial and breathable, so you don’t get too hot, and easily machine washable. Your meant to wrap one side of this pillow around your neck and pop your hands into the other, but to be honest, this ones work just as well when used like a standard pillow. You'll need some spare room in your luggage though as this one is not compact.
Here’s a travel pillow that has much bigger horizons than just long-haul flights. Aimed at outdoor adventurers, campers and backpackers, this inflatable pillow is all about size and weight. When inflated it measures 38x27x11cm, which is big enough to rest a head, and when it’s airless it goes into pocket-sized stuff sack no bigger than a phone.
Its ultralight design does have one drawback; it’s made of tricot polyester, which can be quite cold and crumply, so it’s best to drape a t-shirt or some other softer fabric over it when using it. However, it’s so easy to use, inflating in less than five seconds, with the air easy to squeeze out entirely when packing it away. It’s also got a couple of grommets for attaching it to a sleeping mat.
The BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow is a great travel pillow for anyone who likes the idea of the classic 'U' shaped pillows typically seem on planes, but wants something that will prevent their chin falling forward. Similar to the J shaped travel pillow earlier in our list this BCOZZY option is a slightly more compact version with the same 360degree support. If you find memory foam neck pillows a bit firm and restricting, the micro beads in this one give your head a softer support.
Work, rest. Repeat. That’s what most business trips are about from the airport onwards. So why not make a travel pillow that’s also a workstation? This U-shaped 25x28x9cm pillow gets working right from the off, with straps that keep it attached to the pull-up handle of roll-on luggage.
If that’s convenient, it’s only the start. When supporting a tablet, the Bosign can be positioned either flat for work, or upright for watching video. However, despite being soft and with a washable cover, when used as a pillow it proved itself nicely sized only for kids and small people, and definitely not for large necks and heads.
The trouble with most travel pillows is that they completely fail to do the one thing they’re designed to; support your neck when sitting in an airline seat. Cue the UNO, a U-shaped memory foam pillow with a little extra where it counts.
A pronounced ridge right behind the neck gives valuable support where it counts, but despite its extra bulk the UNO isn’t any more difficult to travel with thanks to it packing away into a stuff sack. Do that and it’s about a third of the size. However, the key advantage of the UNO is its unfurled larger size, and its use of memory foam. It’s also got a washable Spandex pillowcase.
This inflatable across-body style is one of the best travel pillows for side-sleepers as it gives you something to lean into (rather than the stranger sat next to you). If you always twist to your side in the car, on a plane or on a bus, then you are probably a side-sleeper and will need something a bit more comprehensive like this Travelrest pillow as opposed to the standard 'U' shaped pillow in order to get a decent nap. This inflatable pillow can be easily and quickly deflated and rolled up tightly for compact storage too.