These days it’s surprising at just how many designs there are available on the market for travel pillows.

With more and more travelers trying them out for size, entrepreneurs and business minded individuals were bound to create new and improved versions of the traditional travel pillow.

Whether you’re on a long flight, in transit or traveling by road, travel pillows give that extra level of creature comfort and you won’t wake up with a strained neck from sleeping on a strange angle.

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How To Choose The Best Travel Pillow

You should first think about what kind of sleeper you are. I’m not talking how you are positioned when you’re lying down in bed at home, but rather the most comfortable position for you to sleep when in a seated position.

What’s The Most Comfortable Pillow For You?

Do you try and make the most of the limited airline seat room and turn yourself into a contortionist by folding your knees up and twisting to one side?

Or do you simply prefer your feet on the ground with head leaning back? If you’re lucky enough to get a window seat you can of course use the wall to sleep against.

Travel pillows come in all shapes and sizes, with the traditional design being one that wraps around the neck. You can also choose from a standard inflatable pillow which gives you many options to fold, stuff into compartments for added stability or place in whatever position you wish.

Here is a general breakdown of the variety of types of travel pillows to choose from:

Neck pillow. The neck pillow doesn’t really give you much more than the option of wrapping around your neck- which is a popular choice given the confined space within an airline seat.

“J-Pillows” are an extension of the traditional neck pillow, shaped in an almost elephant trunk design for added support under the bottom of the chin.

Other travel pillows come in what seems like an almost endless array of designs, from blocks to oblongs and allows you to think creatively in terms of where and how you travel.

Sleep scarves. You can also look into sleep scarves which have the appearance of a regular scarf but features a plastic insert which supports the neck and head.

Memory foam. Some of the best travel pillows are made from memory foam for the highest level of comfort. Memory foam does tend to heat up around the neck, however some companies have reduced this problem by adding air vents into the pillow. The heating of the foam is actually what helps the pillow mold to your shape of neck. If you’re traveling to a hot climate it’s probably best to avoid memory foam travel pillows that don’t feature the air vents.

Down pillows. Less commonly travel pillows can also be made of down filling (feathers) but aren’t as comfortable as down- but are lighter to travel with.

Also, note that one-way inflation valves are common on most travel pillow (if they are of the inflatable variety) to prevent air loss between blowing up. Some designers have even gone so far as to feature a press button for inflation which obviously comes out on top in terms of convenience!

How Easy Is the Pillow To Pack & Use?

It seems having to inflate a travel pillow is a bit of a thing of the past. It depends how much you are willing to spend and what size pillow you are going for, and of course how much room you can allow in your luggage for a travel pillow. For instance, some inflatable designs allow your head to rest comfortably on a block shape pillow that sits on your knees.

That to me seems like a lot of blowing up and effort compared to the air it would take to inflate a simple neck pillow, and thus you should really think about how much effort you want to put into using your pillow and packing it.

If you opt for a travel pillow that doesn’t deflate then do you have the extra room available in your hand luggage, or perhaps a backpack with straps to secure the pillow when on the go.

It’s all about personal preference, with some travelers rather not having to go to the fuss of inflating and deflating the pillow every time they wish to use it. On the other hand the convenience of being able to squish inflatable travel pillows down into compact sizes might be the only option some travelers are considering to take!

Best Inflatable Travel Pillows

As mentioned above, you do have to consider the extra room travel pillows take up in your bag or the inconvenience of inflating and deflating a travel pillow.

If you are space consciousness or prefer to travel extra light, then an inflatable travel pillow could be the right style for you. Plus you get the added benefit of being able to inflate the pillow to just the right firmness for you comfort.

Travelrest Pillow

Looking more like an inflatable seat belt than a travel pillow, the Travelrest features an ergonomic design that helps to support the whole upper body rather than just the neck. You can also use on the side of the body, say against the wall of an airplane. While it looks like a lot of breaths to inflate it actually doesn’t take many at all. It also deflates easily and squishes down to a small size which is great for space-saving. It features an optional velour cover (at an extra cost) which makes it even more comfortable. Once deflated, the strap allows you to roll the pillow into a size that can easily fit into your hand.

Dimensions: 26 x 7.9 x 5.9 inches

Weight: 6.6 ounces

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Restoration Inflatable Travel Neck Pillow

One of the most convenient travel pillows available on the market, featuring a press button to inflate and deflate. As you can see from the photo, the Restoration travel pillow has a velvety soft material on the outside for added comfort. The design is unique from the traditional neck pillow as it has a square shaped back, which ensures proper alignment of the neck and head. This travel pillow is recommended for both frequent and infrequent travelers and is one of the top picks on the market.

Dimensions: 6 x 4.3 x 3.3 inches

Weight: 3.2 ounces

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Best Travel Neck Pillows

These are the traditional type of travel pillows and the design which first hit the market. The best thing about this original design is that it allows you to fly in comfort, without taking up the already limited room in an aircraft and is still a very popular choice today.

Aeris Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow

Compared with other neck pillows the Aeris is a bit heavier in weight but makes up in comfort and quality, featuring a lifetime guarantee. The draw cord is great for keeping the pillow in place which is a highlight of the Aeris pillow. Often when traveling it takes a while to get comfortable and fall asleep, with your travel pillow often moving around a lot. The Aries pillow is as good as the traditional u-shaped travel pillows get, however it doesn’t support your head from falling forward like some of the more sophisticated designs available.

Dimensions: 10.8 x 10 x 3.6 inches

Weight: 12.3 ounces

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J-Pillow Travel Pillow

The J-Pillow is relatively new on the market and when you first look at it you might wonder “how on earth do I use this”? thanks to its unique looking design. The “J” shape or hook on the bottom of the pillow actually curls under your chin for added support and prevents your head falling forward, as it often does with you doze off to sleep in a seated position. This travel pillow has already won multiple awards for its invention. The J-Pillow is recommended for all travelers as it condenses into a small ball which can easily fit into your hand luggage and then inflated to your desired size.

Dimensions: 11.8 x 7.9 x 13 inches

Weight:7.5 ounces

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Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow

Another design that has stepped away from the traditional u-shaped pillow and features a non-slip backing to help the pillow stay in place while it rests on the back of any seat. The velcro strap at the front allows you to adjust the pillow to your level of comfort and prevents your head from falling forward while sleeping. Memory foam is a lot heavier than inflatable travel pillows but as it molds to the shape of your neck and shoulders it reduces a lot more pressure in those same regions and is the best option for ultimate comfort.

Dimensions: 12.6 x 12.3 x 5 inches

Weight: 13 ounces

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Other Top Travel Pillows

There are many travel pillows available that you can purchase on a personalized level. A lot of designs as featured are well thought out and very specific to the type of travel you are doing.

Trtl Pillow

A travel pillow but not as you know it! Appearing as an every day scarf, the Trtl pillow features a plastic insert to support your head and neck over a long period of time. Backed by scientific studies, this travel scarf is proven to keep your head and neck in a better position while traveling than other traditional neck pillow designs. It is made from lightweight fleece which is hypoallergenic and a plastic insert inside the scarf, which molds to the shape of your neck. No need to worry about any inflation with this travel scarf, just grab and go!

Dimensions: 7.5 x 7.5 x 3.7 inches

Weight: 7 ounces

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Skyrest Travel Pillow

The Skyrest is a heavyweight compared to the majority of travel pillows available but is a great option for those that prefer to sleep leaning forward. It is a wedge designed to rest on your knees and sit underneath your chin. If you change positions a lot in your (seated) sleep then probably opt for another design as it is only designed to sleep in a forward position. It’s great for long flights but it does take up a lot more room than traditional pillows- you wouldn’t want to be wedged in a seat between two overweight passengers!

Dimensions: 8.5 x 2.9 x 10.5 inches

Weight: 15.2 ounces

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Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

Available in a wide range of sizes and colors, Thermarest have provided so many options for both airline travelers and campers/those traveling by road.The small to medium sizes are great for the plane whereas the XL option better suited for those traveling on the road or camping as it expands to a whopping 67cm. As the name suggest however, it does deflate into a very compressible size. The outer brushed polyester material is incredibly soft and comfortable against your cheek, allowing you to bring the comforts of home with you.

Dimensions: From 16 x 12 x 4 inches

Weight:  From 7 oz

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Best Lightweight Travel Pillow

If you’re still not convinced on the bulkiness and weight of taking a travel pillow with you then you could consider the ultralight options available.

Cocoon Air-Core Pillow Ultralight

Easily packable and you guessed it- lightweight. The outer material features a nylon ripstop shell which makes it a great pillow for long-term travelers or campers as it’s extra durable. A great design for side sleepers or if you were lucky enough to get a window seat on the plane- if not it may be difficult to find a level of comfort in the middle aisle due to the pillow moving around a lot and no neck support. It does shrink down to a small size when folded correctly.

Dimensions: From 19 x 15 x 4.5 inches

Weight: From 5.8 ounces

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Ubens Portable Inflatable Travel Aeros Pillow

The Ubens is one of the more affordable options available and is aimed at backpackers looking to save every penny but without skimping on comfort. Made out of 80% polyester its a good travel pillow if you’re in hot climates as it keeps you a lot cooler than memory foam, commonly found in travel pillows. The handy multi-functional valve allows you to inflate in just a few breaths.

Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.1 x 4.65 inches

Weight: 0.53 pounds

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The Bottom Line

If you mostly only take short flights then you may have never thought about travel pillows before, but if you’re flying to the other side of the globe or on a lengthy road trip, then travel pillows bring about that extra level of comfort.

It’s often the small things that make big differences when on long trips. Waking up with a stiff neck from sleeping upright in an awkward position is not something you want at the beginning of any trip.

Travel pillows are a simple and cost effective to put a bit of a luxury and certainly add that extra level of comfort when you frequently travel or have long lay-overs.

The best option is to jump in and try one out and it’s hard to go wrong with the selection and quality of travel pillows out there today!