Every day, 2,587,000 passengers fly in and out of airports in the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2015, there were 24,142,000 hours of flight time in America. We don’t know how many hours of those millions of hours passengers spent sleeping, but we can guess it’s quite a lot. If you’ve ever flown internationally or cross-country on a red eye flight, you know the importance of trying to get a bit of shut eye, and you also probably know how impossible it can seem to do so without being able to fully recline or rest your head.
An Expedia study found that 48% of Americans say they can generally not sleep on planes, while 15% said they “always or sometimes” use medication or alcohol to help them sleep in flight. A good travel pillow could help.
Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all u-shaped travel pillows. Now there are options for seemingly every type of sleeper and budget. So many, that shopping for the perfect pillow could become overwhelming. We’ve done the work for you, combing through ratings and customer reviews to find the best travel pillow for multiple types of travelers. There were three criteria we kept in mind while searching: transportability, comfort, and support. No one likes carrying a pillow the size of their luggage, comfort is obviously key, and support is important so you don’t drift off happily, then wake up with a stiff neck.
Each of these can be ordered online, which you should do so you don’t end up buying a pillow at the last minute before boarding your flight. The pillows sold in airport stores are rarely the best option, and always overpriced. Buying ahead will also save you from falling asleep on your tray table–did you know they have the most germs of anywhere on an airplane, including the bathroom? Yikes. Go with a travel pillow instead. These are our favorite options, from something discreet, to something that blocks out the world. Maybe on your next flight you’ll actually get some sleep!
1. Best Classic Option: Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam
We’re with The Wirecutter on this one. The review site sent 10 panelists on four cross-country red-eye flights with eight different pillows, and sat them in window, aisle, and middle seats to determine their top-rated pillow. They found this one’s “high memory-foam walls do the best job of supporting and cushioning your head and neck.”
The pillow is shaped like a U, but has shoulder cut outs, making it more comfortable than most. It’s made from a thermo sensitive memory foam, so it contours to your body and provides support. Memory foam was originally designed by NASA to keep pilots cushioned during flights, so you know there’s a lot of science behind it. In travel pillows, it helps the pillow form perfectly to your neck.
There’s non-slip backing, so you don’t have to worry about sliding around in your seat once you drift off. When you’re ready to disembark, the pillow is very light and folds up to a quarter of its size and attaches to your luggage. Plus, it comes with memory foam ear plugs.
The downside is that even at a quarter of its size, it’s not the smallest pillow you’ll ever use. If you don’t want any extra bulk or to have something attached to your bag, the next option on thist list might be a better fit.
One Amazon reviewer said “while it’s not perfect, it is better than anything else I have tried,” but went on to note that there could be more chin support. Another was equally positive, but wished the back was a bit flatter. If you try the pillow and it doesn’t work for you, you can return it for a 100% money back guarantee.
2. Best Discreet Option: Trtl Travel Pillow
The Trtl pillow’s tagline is “Sleep when you travel, be awake when you arrive.” That’s a hefty promise, but one that they say is scientifically proven and has gained it thousands of four and five star reviews on Amazon. The pillow was tested by the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee, a process that involved simulated aircraft seating. During the trial, nine out of 10 participants chose the Trtl pillow over a memory foam pillow.
This pillow is great for those who sleep with their head to the side. It uses a ribbed support system covered in fleece and foam that rests on one shoulder. Then, it wraps around your neck like a scarf to hold it in place. The design is meant to fit any neck, jaw, and shoulder shape. An Amazon reviewer who had three neck surgeries said it was “the first travel pillow that helps.” Another called it one of the “great travel inventions of the 21st century.”
Aside from neck support, the pillow is extremely lightweight and folds up small, which is great for light packers. Some users noted that it’s not embarrassing to wear because it looks like a scarf and comes in muted colors. It’s also machine washable.
The pillow is best for those who sleep with their head to one side. If you prefer to sleep in another position, it won’t work for you. Some reviewers also complained that while the fleece material is great in cold weather destinations, in other places it is much too hot and uncomfortable to use. One complaint is that it folds up, but doesn’t lie flat, which could be an issue if you’re really tight for space. It can attach to the outside of your bag, though.
3. For Those Who Love Sleep and Have No Shame: Ostrich Pillow
The Ostrich Pillow blocks out sound and noise, plus provides support. That comes at the cost of wearing it like a bag over your head, but when looking at reviews, it’s clear it works. The adjustable pillow is filled with microbeads that help with sound reduction, and the plush material serves as a pillow around your entire head. Since it covers your eyes, you don’t have to worry about light, or about packing an eye mask or ear plugs. A consultant who flies often for work said it was great for overnight flights.
The cons are that it does look a little strange, and it doesn’t pack well. At $99, it’s also more expensive than others. If you have extra space in your bag though, or need the world to be completely shut out in order to catch any sleep, it could be perfect for you.
4. For the Person Who Shifts How They Sleep: Infinity Pillow by Huzi Design
Unlike a U-shaped pillow or the Trtl pillow, this infinity pillow can be used in almost any sleeping position. Wrap it around your neck any way you please, or fold it up and lean it against the window. It’s made of 55% bamboo and 45% polyester, so it’s supportive but also soft. The material is also machine washable, hypoallergenic, and anti-bacterial. If you wear the pillow over your ears, the creators claim it has the same effects as noise cancelling headphones.
A review on Smarter Travel pointed out that the pillow can also be used as an eye mask, neck or foot warmer, for back support, or as a scarf, and said using it as an eye mask/pillow combination was their favorite way to use it in flight. “If you are one of those people that brings your full size pillow with you when you travel, the Infinity Pillow is right up your alley,” they said. A glowing Amazon review agreed. “I travel internationally often and was on the hunt for the perfect pillow,” the reviewer said. “This Huzi pillow did the trick. I just got home from Ghana yesterday and I don’t even feel jet lagged- I was totally comfortable with this pillow. I used it around my head to sleep, I used to as a shawl around my arms when I was cold, I used it on my lower back when it was meal time, I used it to tuck my arms into for a good stretch. Bottom line, it was tested in the air with 16.5 hours and I came home rested!”
Part of the reason the pillow works is its size, which is also part of its downside. It’s bulky and will take up a lot of space in your bag. If you’re traveling somewhere cold and can wear it as a scarf, this might not be an issue, but otherwise you’ll have to make room for it or find a way to attach it to your bag. Because it’s meant to be used in multiple positions, it doesn’t have the same support as other, more structured pillows.
5. For Those Who Prize Luggage Space and Affordability: Lewis N. Clark Pillow
The Lewis N. Clark adjustable neck pillow inflates in just two breaths, and deflates to be easily stuffed into any bag. It weighs only 5.5 ounces, so it’s great for light packers. The pillow can be adjusted by adding or removing air, but the U-shaped pillow isn’t tailored in any way, so it’s best for short naps or those who sleep easily. A soft, removable jersey cover hides the inflatable plastic, and is more comfortable than it looks. Amazon reviewers were impressed with how well the pillow held air, and thought it was a good buy for the affordable price of $14.99.
The pillows cons come with its simplicity. It’s not as supportive as memory foam, and not as easily adjustable as larger pillows. It also isn’t as durable. Still, for price and the fact that it folds into small spaces, it works well for shorter trips.
Price: $12.32 (18% percent off $14.99)
6. For Those Who Hate Nodding Off: BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow
If you hate that feeling when you nod off and your head slumps down, jerking you back awake, the BCOZZY pillow will help. The neck pillow wraps all the way around, with the ends resting on top of each other and providing chin support. The chin area is adjustable and the sides have extra cushioning to keep them in place. The flat back is unique to neck pillows and prevents your head from being pushed forward. The pillow is also useful for children, as other pillows often don’t fit their small necks.
The pillow is machine washable and comes with a strap that can snap onto luggage. It also comes in a few different colors, from neutrals to bright green.
However, the design might not be for everyone. One reviewer (who in the end gave it a positive review), said the design takes some getting used to. “It does take some time getting used to it, and at first, it can feel extremely confining having this thing wrapped around the throat,” he wrote. Others said that the chin area moved out of place.
7. For Those Who Can Rarely Sleep on Planes: The Daisy Travel Pillow
The Daisy Travel Pillow has been called “magic” for its collar-like cushion and various touch points that allow it to stay in place. The design looks like two pillows in one. There’s the part that goes around your neck, like a traditional neck pillow but with more extension under the chin, and then a second smaller u-shape that goes around your temples. The two-tier design helps it stay in place and provide a sleep that’s more typical to what you would get in a bed.
It’s made out of polyester, but has friction points that allow it to stay in place against airplane seats or windows. It also has multiple extra-cushioned points on the neck, chin, and temples, to keep your head in place at various angles.
There is no bag to carry it in or strap, and its design makes it difficult to wrap around luggage. It’s also a bit bulky, which might be an issue for light travelers. Reviews are mostly positive. One reviewer said, “This pillow is unbelievable for plane travel. Makes it so I can sleep on any distance flight, in any seat (even the middle!) I have tried the J and the horseshoe designs, and this is by far the best. You twist the pillow to the side and it supports your chin from falling and your head from tilting.” A less positive review commented on its size, saying, “works great while on plane, hard to work with the rest of the trip.” The pillow comes with a 100% money back guarantee.
Price: $33.70 (51% percent off $69)
8. For Extra Head Security: GoSleep Travel Pillow
Your head will never slip again with the GoSleep Travel Pillow, thanks to the eye mask that attaches to the back of your headrest and keeps the pillow and your head in place. It has an adjustable strap, making it useful for a variety of people. However, it cannot strap onto seats that have a television attached, which could be a problem especially on long-haul flights. If the television is part of the seat, rather than sticking out from it, it can work, though no matter what you’ll have to ask the person behind you for permission to wrap it around.
The memory foam pillow is shaped like an airline pillow (a small rectangle), but much more comfortable. The included eye mask is meant to block out light while also keeping your head secure. Most reviewers like the eye mask feature, but one did say it was too flat and didn’t curve to face shapes. The pillow also comes with a bag that can be attached to or packed in your luggage.
If you move around often while you sleep, having your head stuck in one place might not be the most comfortable option. But if you’re looking for a pillow that will stay in place, this could be your best bet.
9. The Best Standard Option: Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow
If you just want a standard pillow that’s comfortable enough for an airplane, this is the one for you. The standard rectangular pillow comes in small (12 x 16 x 4 ) medium (14 x 18 x 4) and large (16 x 23 x 4), and each size compresses to one-fifth of the original for packing away. The foam filling is comfortable and supportive, though it can’t be manipulated easily to fit awkward sleeping positions. Note that it takes a few minutes to expand to its true size. The soft material is made from upcycled Therm-a-Rest mattresses and it comes in a few different colors.
It’s great for those who travel in other ways aside from by plane, as it can also be used as a camping pillow or on overnight train or bus beds. It can’t be easily attached to luggage, so you’ll have to carry it separately or make room in your bag. Reviewers say the small is a good size for an airplane, though the medium is more comfortable if you’re willing to carry extra bulk. One reviewer also said, “The downside is that after having it uncompressed for a month, it was difficult to get back into its smaller, original form without the drawstring cord just giving up.
10. For Light Sleepers: Aeris Memory Foam Travel Pillow
This u-shaped travel pillow, eye mask, and earplug trio is perfect for those who can’t sleep with any distractions. The memory foam pillow contours to your neck, while the silk mask blocks out light without scratching your face and the foam earplugs fit to your ears. The foam is wrapped in a soft velour case, which is machine washable, and everything comes in a small carry-on bag.
Unlike other memory foam pillows, this one has ventilation holes, which prevent it from getting too hot. It’s also aerated for seven days for the memory foam scent to dissipate. It has overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, though a couple people complained that the back was too thick to sit comfortably on a plane. Others noted that it can be worn with most headphones, which is a plus. One reviewer on a 27-hour flight to India said, “did what my husband needed it to do. It didn’t push on his neck, and wasn’t too bulky, but held it’s shape. he was able to rest, even sleep on the plane when normally he wouldn’t have. It didn’t cause his neck to get hot either. It was great to have the included ear plugs, and eye mask. We had to try and sleep during the “day” on the plane and this was very useful and effective. The earplugs were much better than the ones we received from the airline. I’m glad we purchased this pillow.” Interestingly, she also said the black pillow was more comfortable than other colors.
Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.
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