By Lottie Gross
There’s a new breed of best travel pillow about – and it’s not that classic toilet-seat U-shape we’re all used to snoozing on.
Finding the best pillows for use when travelling can be hard, but companies new and old have been experimenting with the best shapes, sizes and materials to create some truly unique – and actually comfortable – travel pillows. So, we’ve tested a range of travel pillows for you so you can make the right decision. Here’s our guide to the best travel pillow for every kind of trip and traveller.
How did we test the best travel pillows?
The best travel pillows were tested rigorously - lots in situ on long red-eye flights or arduous journeys across the country. This included wildly uncomfortable economy class seats in flights departing at god-awful hours in the morning. They were also tested in the car, and on trains across London. We closely scrutinised everything about them, including size, weight and, of course, the level of head and neck support. They have also been tested for portability and comfort – the two most important aspects for any travel pillow.
The test was conducted over the course of two months. During this time, we established which pillow was the best all-rounder, which was best for neck pain and which was best for those pesky (and awkward) middle seats. According to our testing, here are the best travel pillows on the market right now.
The best travel pillows you can buy right now
1. J-Pillow Travel Pillow
Best overall travel pillow - and best for long-haul flights
By far the most unusually shaped travel pillow on this list, the J-Pillow looks somewhat like an elephant, so it’s only right that its longest protrusion be called “the trunk”. It’s this trunk that makes the pillow so special – where normal U-shaped travel pillows support just the back or sides of your head, this pillow supports almost all angles.
Knowing how to use this isn’t tricky, either. There’s a clever little embroidered ear on the side to show you where to put your face. Then the trunk naturally sits below the jawbone and chin to support your head should there be any lolling about. The pillow is supremely soft in feel and is firm without being hard. It has a loop for attaching to bags or suitcases, and it comes in a carry case for ultra protection.
While this best travel pillow doesn’t squash down significantly, it’s well worth carrying the bulk with you if you’re on a long-haul flight. We reckon even the most sensitive sleeper will get a couple hours of shut-eye with this pillow.
The J-Pillow is our top travel pillow thanks to its decent support softness and portability. You won't lose sleep over this one...
2. trtl Pillow Plus
Best travel pillow for neck pain
At first glance, the Trtl (pronounced “turtle”) travel pillow doesn’t look like the comfiest of pillows. In fact, it doesn’t look much like a pillow at all. More neck brace than soft furnishing, the device is specifically designed for those lolling heads aboard long- or even short-haul flights. The durable but solid brace mechanism inside is covered with a breathable, soft fabric. This extends to create a wraparound functionality to secure the pillow in position. Two dials allow you to change the height of the brace, too – ideal if you need extra support or perhaps have a shorter or longer neck than most.
A downside is that it’ll take some time to find the right position for you. Want to change position mid-flight? Then you’ll likely have to take it off in order to readjust.
But all the faff is well worth it. The support inside is scientifically proven to hold your head and neck in a better position than traditional U-shaped pillows, making this, by far, the best pillow for neck pain. It also has more padding than the original (see below) to make it softer for the sleeper. It’s super lightweight, easy to pack away into backpacks or larger handbags, and is even machine washable. The Trtl Plus also has a waterproof carry case, which can be attached to any backpack or handbag using its popper-button loop.
3. Simba Memory Foam Travel Pillow
Best travel pillow for side sleepers
While most of the best travel pillows are U-shaped, this one’s much more like a traditional pillow you’d use in bed, but don’t dismiss it immediately. It might not be specially shaped for aeroplane use, but it’s still a supremely comfortable pillow – and it’s a world better than the ones provided by the airline (and cleaner, no doubt). Plus, the classic shape makes this one perfect for side sleepers.
It is made from memory foam – or Simbatex, as the company calls it – which has been designed to keep you cool while you sleep. It’s firm but moulds nicely around your head. In fact, it will fit in those awkward gaps should you be lucky enough to get a window seat. While it can be a little noisy if you shift around on it, it does have a smooth, pleasingly cool case on it that’s great to rest your face on. The pillow comes with a clever carry cylinder that unzips completely. This means it can be packed away just by rolling it up with the case.
4. Trtl Junior
Best travel pillow for kids
Tempted by novelty pillows in the shape of sausage dogs or crocodiles? Avoid those tacky travel pillows and opt for a Trtl Junior. You’ll need a short lesson on how to use this before you let the kids get settled, but once they’ve mastered its mechanisms, they’ll be snoozing in no time.
As with the adult Trtl (see above), this one looks more like a neck brace than an actual pillow. It has a curved piece of durable plastic inside it and the outer fleece then wraps around the neck to secure it. It’s best worn on either side of the chin, supporting the jaw line and ensuring no necks are strained by any head bobbing, or directly beneath the chin. This is great to keep in the car – it’ll slot nicely into the back pocket of the front seats. It’s machine washable, too, so the kids can be as messy as they like with this one.
5. Trtl Pillow
Best travel pillow for short-haul flights
This is the third time this brand features in this list – and for good reason. This is their original travel pillow (read: “neck brace”), and it's a brilliant little gadget to carry on your holidays. It’s perfect for planes or cars, and is scientifically proven to offer the best support ergonomically. The brace part is encased in a lovely soft fleece material, which then wraps around your neck to secure the support.
We reckon the best place to secure it is below your jawline on your preferred side. However, it can also be used directly under the chin. This one doesn’t come with a carry case or extra cushioning, but for short-haul flights it’s a perfect addition to your hand luggage – you’ll likely get an hour or two’s kip thanks to the Trtl.
6. Samsonite Inflatable Travel Pillow
Best inflatable travel pillow
Inflatable travel pillows are rarely on any best-of lists. This is due to the hardness once they’re full of air, plus the inconvenience of having to blow them up and stick the stopper in without letting any air go. But the Samsonite inflatable travel pillow is changing things. Its clever stopper means it can be inflated by mouth in a matter of seconds. It literally takes just a few breaths – and it won’t deflate as soon as you try to plug it up. Want to deflate it in an instant? Simply remove part of the stopper to let significant amounts of air out extremely fast.
It has a lovely soft feel on the top and a non-slip surface on the bottom. This makes it secure on your shoulders, though the underside can be a little noisy when moving about. The only major downside about this pillow is the seams. There are large external flaps of material on the inner rim of the pillow where your neck rests. This can become irritating if you move a lot in your sleep. Regardless of that, though, this is by far the best inflatable on the market. The best bit? It packs into a carry case no larger than your mobile phone, so it’s a handbag-friendly inflatable pillow too.
7. Hippychick Lumbar Support Travel Pillow
Best memory foam travel pillow
Hippychick is known for its ergonomic, cleverly designed baby products. Its travel pillow is equally good and well worth the investment if memory foam is your bag. It comes packed tightly into a lovely linen drawstring bag, but once it’s out, it puffs up fast – within 30 seconds, the pillow is ready to use. Plus, the memory foam is firm enough to keep its shape while allowing the contours of your head and face to find their own way.
It folds and rolls nicely into all sorts of shapes, making it an ideal window-seat accessory. Its silky-smooth cover is a lovely place to rest your head. The pillow is surprisingly easy to pack away, thanks to the durable memory foam – just roll it up to pop it back in the bag! This pillow is also good for the environment. The cover is made from 100% biodegradable wood pulp cellulose, so it’s waterproof and hypoallergenic.
8. Huzi Design Infinity Pillow
Best travel pillow for middle seats
The dreaded middle seat – you’re stuck between two people. There’s nowhere to rest your head. It’s a horrifying prospect on an 11-hour flight. But this is where the Infinity Pillow comes in. This unusual pillow – more like a giant cushioned snood – is a real gamechanger.
The Infinity is incredibly versatile, so you can twist it into almost any shape you like. Wear it just like a snood or scarf, by doubling the loop around your neck to create 360º support. Or, twist it tightly and tuck it into itself to use as a pillow against your headrest. Alternatively, ideal for those middle seats, create a massage-table-style face hole on your tray table by doubling it around. The creators even suggest you could wrap the entire thing around your head to create a noise-isolating environment, complete with eye mask and pillow all in one.
The pillow’s outer cover is part bamboo, part polyester. This gives it a lovely cool, smooth feel and the filling doesn’t make a sound when you move around on top of the cushion. The whole thing is polyester and machine washable, so you’ll have a fresh pillow for every trip.
9. Tielle Luxury Supersize Travel Pillow
Best travel pillow for business class
If you’re fortunate enough to be flying in business, you might not think you need a travel pillow – you’re usually given one onboard along with your bedding on long-haul flights. But those airline pillows aren’t always the best, even in business, and who knows how often they’re washed? That’s why, if you’re flying in business class, we recommend you take a Tielle along with you.
This 80% duck down and 20% duck feather pillow is a luxurious addition to your hand luggage, and will ensure a good night’s sleep on a fully reclining seat. It’s big – 40cm x 50cm – and is shaped like a normal pillow, making it a perfect addition to the bedding set you’re provided with by the airline. The case is a silky-smooth cotton blend (600 thread count, to be precise) and is wonderfully cool on your face.
Super lightweight, it won’t make your hand luggage feel heavy, but it’s not like other travel pillows that crush into small carry bags. This one comes in a huge sack-like drawstring bag, which isn’t ideal for travel. However, that’s easily solved if you can squash it down and pack it into a backpack or handbag.
If you're still a little unsure about which travel pillow to buy for your adventures, see our expert guidance on some of the most frequently asked questions below...
Frequently asked questions about travel pillows
How to use travel pillows?
There is some debate around how best to use travel pillows – specifically, the U-shaped ones. Traditionally, most of us assume that they wrap around the back of the neck, leaving a gap at the front for your chin. However, this might not be the best way to use them, as any travellers with lolling heads will quickly get neckache if they’re nodding forwards. That’s why many will wear the pillows backwards to provide a much better chin support.
Of course, none of this is an issue with rectangular travel pillows, which can be squashed into various corners and crevices to make excellent sleeping companions. Either way, whichever type of travel pillow you choose, don’t forget to recline that seat. This is because sleeping on planes is always easier when you’re semi-supine.
What type of travel pillow is best?
With so many new travel pillows on the market, it’s hard to know which type of pillow is best. Should you get the classic U-shaped pillow that slots behind the neck or under the chin? Or should you try something completely different?
Ultimately, the best type of travel pillow for you depends on your sleeping style. If you’re partial to a floppy neck and nodding head, you might want to consider something like the Infinity or J-Pillow (see above), as both offer all-round support. If you’re a fidgety sleeper, you might need something simpler like the Simba. And, if you’re a light packer, you’ll probably want to go inflatable.
Is a travel pillow worth it?
Carrying a travel pillow might seem like more hassle than it’s worth, but you should really consider the impact it could have if you don’t get that much-needed shut-eye on an overnight flight. If, like many travellers these days, you’re packing lots into your schedule as soon as you hit the ground, taking a travel pillow could mean the difference between having two days of groggy jet lag and feeling spritely on arrival.
Plus, many airplanes (unless you’re in first class) are undoubtedly ever-so-slightly uncomfortable, so having a travel pillow can certainly make any journey feel just that little bit more comfy and bearable – however long your flight is.
If you’re going long-haul, invest in something that’ll be comfortable in a number of positions, so you can fidget a little throughout the flight. And, if you’re doing a short-haul hop, try a lightweight travel pillow that won’t take up too much space in your bag.
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