It’s enough to ruin a trip – sleeping poorly and worse, struggling with neck problems. Dozing well and avoiding neck kinks is tricky when you spend long hours in an airplane seat or squeezed into a car. Travel pillows help but not all are made equal and finding the one that works for you may take some trial and error testing.
I travel a lot. Mostly it’s by air but this summer I spent three weeks on the road and would’ve been lost without a travel pillow. It’s not a generational thing either, my millennial travel buddies brought their favorite travel pillows along too.
Here’s a round-up of travel pillow options:
The Techie – Comfy Commuter
I’ve been testing the Comfy Commuter on long car rides and in airplanes. A version of the memory foam pillow, it’s been engineered with two side pillows shaped for support and the back is flat, making it better for your neck when leaning against the seat. There’s a series of Velcro straps to attach it to your chin but I found them complicated, especially when sleepy. The pillow’s designed with an attached pocket for storage but like old maps, good luck figuring how to fold it neatly back into shape. It does fit eventually.
The problem: In the car I found the pillow was too hot to wear comfortably. The raised, fur-like nap was soft but too soon sweaty. Biggest problem? The pillow wraps neatly into a ball. What do balls do? They roll and my pillow has yet to be found after my last multi-leg flight. I hope it found a good home.
The Fashionista – The Sleeper Scarf
Some travelers wouldn’t be caught dead dragging a bulky neck pillow through the concourse. Voila! Meet the Sleeper Scarf. The design coup is an inflatable pillow fitted inside the scarf. You blow it up and make adjustments as needed. It comes in various colors and patterns. The problem: Deflating a pillow that’s part of a scarf wrapped around your body isn’t a discreet process. C’est la vie.
The Work-Around – Bead-filled pillow
There’s a reason you can find this pillow, filled with seeds (heavy) or plastic beads (light), in every airport concourse travel shop. It works. The squishy pillow contorts easily in a variety of ways for neck and chin support. I’ve used it for low back support too. With that versatility it’s become my go to travel pillow. The problem: It’s a bit bulky to carry. You can’t attach it to your luggage. Cheaper versions compress eventually. Pillows just do that.
The Little Puffer – Inflatable pillow
This was my first love of all the travel pillows. It’s relatively inexpensive, you can pack it neatly and inflate to the degree of support you need. It’s is the most discreet of them all – until you need to deflate the thing. The problem: Breaking up is hard to do. My inflatables eventually burst. They have seams and when you’re punching, twisting and pressing, the seams eventually give out. Not fun in the middle of the flight. The solution: Carry a spare.
This is the most invasive of the travel pillows – once it’s inflated. The pillow is designed for forward sleepers and rests easily enough on your lap. The problem: While I like the idea I can’t imagine using it with the increasingly narrow seats on airplanes. What do you do with your arms? I’d be harassing my neighbor each time my hand fell on their lap. Deflating would take some time but you have that while waiting to get off the airplane.
The side-winding Puffer – Travel Rest travel pillow
This innovative and patented design is pretty sleek. It’s a long, inflatable pillow that attaches to the seat and is simple to adjust. The problem: It’s an inflatable and in time the seams will break. It doesn’t offer chin support, so your head may still fall forward which can lead to neck problems.
The Hardy Pal – Memory foam
I often travel with one of these stiff little numbers. This travel pillow has a curved shape that supports the neck and chin well and is comfortable to use. They’re usually covered in a shallow nap fabric which keeps them from being too hot. The problem: They’re clunky and don’t attach to carry-on luggage.
The problem with travel pillows
They are hard to transport and easy to lose. What each company needs to realize is that airport travelers, those most likely to use travel pillows, are limited by what we can carry easily. Attaching them to a carry-on is a necessity. Dropping a travel pillow on a concourse floor and then rubbing your face on it is no fun. Dropping shouldn’t be an issue. Until that problem is addressed I’ll keep struggling with, losing and dropping my trusty travel pillows.
I wouldn’t leave home without one.
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