11 best travel pillows to shop now

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Between crowded seats, crying babies and limited leg room, traveling on long flights can be…

Between crowded seats, crying babies and limited leg room, traveling on long flights can be exhausting and uncomfortable. A perfect pillow makes the trek slightly easier to bear and can help you get some sleep during those travel periods. To help you narrow down which travel pillow is right for you, we consulted sleep and travel experts about what to know before shopping, plus we compiled highly rated options to consider.

SKIP AHEAD Best travel pillows to consider | What are the benefits of travel pillows? | What to consider when buying a travel pillow

Our top picks

How we picked the best travel pillows

The best travel pillows are ones that are comfortable, supportive and easy to carry around, according to our experts. When shopping for a quality travel pillow, they recommended considering the following factors:

Inflatable vs. non-inflatable: You can adjust inflatable pillows to your desired firmness, and easily store them away when deflated. With non-inflatable pillows, on the other hand, you can fill them with more cushioned materials to promote comfort including memory foam and poly-fiber fill.

Portability: Look for features like straps (that you can attach to your luggage) or an accompanying pouch (that you can pack it down into) for ease while on the go.

Travel pillows to consider

Below, we rounded up these travel pillows based on high ratings and expert advice.

Ostrichpillow Go Neck Pillow

Ostrichpillow offers a variety of unique pillow alternatives, from a napping option to a mini hand pillow. This memory foam one, which has an average 4-star rating from over 1,200 reviews on Amazon, has raised edges for neck support and comes with a velcro strap that allows you to customize its fit. The travel pillow can also compress down to snugly fit inside the included travel bag.

Fill material: Memory foam | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Travel bag

Cabeau Evolution S3 Sleep Pillow

Select editor Christina Colizza says she loves this travel pillow from Cabeau because it prevents slouching by attaching to the plane’s headrest. “As someone who is [very tall], I’ll take all the help I can in getting some sleep while flying, and this pillow makes a huge difference,” she says. “Plus, it compresses down into a small pouch, which makes it convenient enough to schlep around airports.” This travel pillow has a 4.3-star average rating from over 5,300 reviews on Amazon and comes in five colors and patterns including indigo and galaxy.

Fill material: Memory foam | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Travel bag

Calpak Neck Pillow and Eye Mask

This matching travel pillow and sleep mask set from Calpak — which makes some of our favorite weekenders and beach bags — is great for long flights or car rides, especially during the day. It has a removable, machine-washable silk exterior that’s beneficial for acne-prone and sensitive skin since it doesn’t result in too much friction or irritation, experts previously told us in our guide to silk face masks. The set, which has a 4.7-star average rating from 46 reviews on Calpak’s site, also comes with a clear carry bag for traveling.

Fill material: Cotton/polyester blend | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Travel bag

Bcozzy Chin Supporting Travel Pillow

Few things can jolt you awake faster than your head falling forward while you’re seated. This ergonomic neck pillow, which has a 4.2-star average rating from over 25,700 reviews, offers an adjustable front loop for chin support and a flat back to avoid pushing your head forward. It includes a snap strap that you can hook to your luggage or hang up in your car. The pillow comes in multiple colors and you can choose between various sizes ranging from kids small to extra-large.

Fill material: Polyester | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Snap closure

SmartTravel Inflatable Lumbar Travel Pillow

Select managing editor Leah Ginsberg says she likes a lumbar pillow for added back support during long flights. This inflatable pillow, which has a 4.3-star average rating from over 800 reviews on Amazon, serves as both a neck and back pillow, and is designed to fit your body’s natural curves and reduce pressure on the spine and neck, according to the brand.

Fill material: Inflatable | Machine-washable cover: No | Portable features: Travel bag

Sunany Inflatable Neck Pillow

Designed to follow the natural curve of your neck and body, this travel pillow’s ergonomic shape can soothe discomfort and reduce pressure points around your head and neck, according to the brand. You can also place your arms and head inside one of the four holes to support a sleeping position that’s most comfortable for you. It comes with a pouch for storage, a matching eye mask and earplugs, and has a 4.4-star average rating from over 5,500 reviews on Amazon.

Fill material: Inflatable | Machine-washable cover: No | Portable features: Travel bag

Trtl Travel Pillow

For those who don’t find enough support from traditional U-shaped travel pillows, this uniquely-shaped option comes with a hidden inner support that can hold your head and neck at any position that’s comfortable for you. You can adjust the support to contour your neck, shoulder or jaw, while the fleece exterior is soft and machine-washable. It’s also highly rated with a 4-star average rating from over 30,800 reviews on Amazon.

Fill material: Mesh fabric | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Flat design for easy packing

Mlvoc Travel Pillow

With its ergonomic, curved design for neck and head support, this travel pillow comes wrapped in a cover that is both machine-washable and sweat-resistant. The travel pillow has a 4.3-star average rating from over 23,000 reviews on Amazon and can fold down to half its size to fit neatly into the included travel bag. Plus, the built-in snap strap can also latch onto your suitcase for easy portability.

Fill material: Memory foam | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Travel bag

World’s Best Feather Soft Microfiber Neck Pillow

This neck pillow’s fleece cover provides soft, thermal comfort, which is perfect when the plane gets cold. It’s entirely machine-washable (not just the cover) and comes with a snap closure to keep it from sliding off of your neck or to connect it to your luggage. The pillow (which has a 4.5-star average rating from over 12,300 reviews on Amazon) is available in over a dozen colors including burgundy, charcoal and purple.

Fill material: Polyester blend | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Snap closure

Crafty World Travel Neck Pillow

This option comes with a removable and machine-washable cover, so you can easily wash it. It’s made with a memory foam interior and a velour fabric exterior for a soft and comfortable feel, according to the brand. The pillow also has an elastic strap to help you connect it to your suitcase for extra portability. It comes in four colors — black, blue, gray and purple — and has a 4.3-star average rating from over 5,400 reviews on Amazon.

Fill material: Memory foam | Machine-washable cover: Yes | Portable features: Elastic strap

What are the benefits of travel pillows?

Whether your airplane seat is too small or your bus ride endures several bumps, it may be difficult to relax on a long trip. Add noisy conversations and frequent overhead announcements and you have multiple barriers in your way to getting a good nap.

One of the main reasons people struggle to sleep while traveling — especially on international flights with time changes — is because they’re trying to sleep at a time with “low circadian and homeostatic drive” (a time when they would not normally sleep, so they’re not as tired), says Dr. Andrew Varga, a board-certified physician at The Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center. The other factor, according to Varga, is the sleeping space, which is usually cramped and doesn’t let you lie recumbent or change positions, except in typically pricey business- and first-class cabins.

“Not everyone is an equally deep sleeper, and people with any sleep issues at baseline will often have a harder time sleeping in a louder and less comfortable environment — such as an airplane,” says board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu. He noted that posture plays a big role in the discomfort we feel — and as anyone who has slept on a plane knows, “the head tends to fall off to the side or forward, which is both uncomfortable and can cause neck pain, and [can] even make breathing less efficient.”

“Sleeping upright is not at all a natural position,” says Dr. Mayank Shukla, a board-certified pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist in New York City. “Our head weighs almost 10 pounds and flops around the neck when sleeping upright, leading to aches and pain with all that muscle strain.”

Experts noted that travel pillows can provide support for the neck and head, alleviating some pain and discomfort when combating an upright sleeping position while traveling. They’re typically portable, lightweight, ergonomically designed and come in different sizes to fit every type of person, plus some have additional high-tech features like temperature regulation. This is an ideal tool for frequent flyers who hope to maintain a semi-regular sleeping schedule.

What to consider when buying a travel pillow

The best travel pillow is one that you find the most comfortable to use for extended periods of time. Ideally, Dimitriu recommended testing out the pillow beforehand to see whether it’s comfortable and how it changes shape.

“The emphasis for most users should be to see how comfortably the pillow lets you rest with your back to the seat and without your head falling forward,” he says. And while larger pillows tend to provide more cushioning, he noted “airplane seats are tight, and there is such a thing as too much pillow.”

Below, we highlighted two of the most important considerations when shopping for travel pillows: inflatability and portability.

Inflatable vs. non-inflatable

When going on a long-haul trip, most travelers don’t want another thing to lug around. “Inflatable pillows may allow for more cushion and can fold to a smaller size,” Dimitriu says, adding that they won’t take up too much space in your luggage. They’re also typically more adjustable — you can change the amount of air to get more or less firmness, depending on your comfort level.

Non-inflatable travel pillows include various types of filling material including memory foam, polyester fiberfill and microbeads. While the different materials can make it easier to find a more comfortable fit, non-inflatable pillows tend to be bulkier than inflatable ones. When it comes to cleaning, both inflatable and non-inflatable pillows typically have removable covers that you can machine wash or spot clean.

Portability

If you’re on a multipart journey or backpacking through Europe, for example, the size and portability of your travel pillow may be just as important off a plane as it is on it. Some travel pillows have straps that you can attach to your luggage, while with others you can fold to fit inside a small bag.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Dr. Andrew Varga is a board-certified physician at The Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center.

Dr. Alex Dimitriu is a board-certified psychiatrist, sleep medicine specialist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo Park, California.

Dr. Mayank Shukla is a board-certified pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist in New York City.

Why trust NBC Select?

Mili Godio is an updates editor at Select and covers a range of sleep topics including weighted blankets, sunrise alarm clocks and blackout curtains. For this story, Godio spoke to three sleep medicine experts to get their recommendations on how to shop for travel pillows and their benefits. She also researched dozens of travel pillows on the market that are in line with experts’ guidance.

Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date.


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