The Best Neck Pillows for Every Kind of Traveler
Anyone who’s impulse-bought a seemingly suitable neck pillow just before boarding a redeye, only to discover midway through the flight that it’s a glorified beanbag, knows that the proper structure and support can make or break a long-haul flight. Functionality is key: First and foremost, you need to keep your head upright (too much bobbing up and down, and you’ll wake abruptly; leaning too much to one side or the other, and you’ll wake with a cricked neck). But portability and design are also important. We like models that don’t take up too much space in your bag, or come with a case that attaches to your carry-on—you don’t want something that’s going to be up against your face coming into contact with those notorious airplane germs. Comfort is subjective, but whether you’re a side-sleeper or someone who wants to feel cocooned in their seat, our picks will have you deplaning well-rested and refreshed, ready to take on that next adventure.
1. The Standout
With firm memory-foam padding up to the ears, a cool, quick-drying fabric cover to keep you from overheating in fluctuating cabin temps, adjustable chin straps for a customized fit, and more straps that attach to your seatback to keep it all in place, Cabeau’s Evolution S3 pillow is our pick of the bunch. At just under 12 ounces, it’s slightly heavier than the others we tried, and the extra level of padding makes it difficult to use with over-ear headphones, but it easily rolls up to a quarter of its size to fit inside the included travel case—and at six inches wide by five-and-a-half inches high, it’s not a problem to find space for it in your bag (and it won’t be in the way if you decide to attach it to your suitcase, either). It even has a zippered pocket for keeping small essentials, like lip balm or eye drops, close at hand. Grade: A
Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com.
2. The Utilitarian One
A close runner-up, Travelrest’s thermo-sensitive memory-foam pillow may look like your standard, u-shaped model, but this version provides substantial cushioning without making you sweat, even with a plush velour cover. This well-padded headrest has an angled back that won't force your head forward, and a Velcro tab under the chin that allows you to adjust the fit, which does give it a bit of a doctor-prescribed cervical collar feel. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, given the quality construction and level of support. It comes with a set of earplugs and a small bag to carry it in, but our tester had trouble cramming the stiff foam into the little sack from her seat in coach, where the elbow room is nonexistent. Grade: A-
Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com.
3. The Cozy One
This one may require some personal adjustments (our tester found it a bit tight at first), but once you’ve figured out the best way to wrap it around your neck, get ready for some solid Zs. With a cushiony filling that keeps your chin from dropping mid-nap and a soft microfleece fabric on one side and microsuede on the other, the BCOZZY pillow is best for overnight flights, or those lasting six hours or more: Though it has a Velcro strap that’ll attach to your carry-on handle, it’s bulkier than other neck pillows and doesn’t really squish down much. If you prefer to stash it in your tote, it’ll occupy substantial real estate—and for shorter trips, the space-comfort trade-off may not be worth it. Grade: B+
BCOZZY Chin-Supporting Travel Pillow, $30; amazon.com. (Budget Travel readers receive 20% off with coupon code BUDGETTRAVEL, good through April 15, 2019.)
4. The Compact One
When you’re committed to traveling light, the Trtl pillow is a good bet. It folds to take up the least amount of room in your bag, and its scarf-like style offers a unique form of support: Instead of bracing your head at 360 degrees, a fleece-covered plastic insert nestles into the side of your neck to prop you up while you snooze, and the fabric wraps around to secure it snugly in place. Our tester had a hard time finding a comfy fit, but we’ve heard from others that they won’t fly with anything else. (The company recommends experimenting before you travel and suggests this video with tips on how best to wear.) It’s ideal for those who lean to one side or the other while they sleep, so if your head tends to roll around a bit, this may not be the model for you. Grade: B
Trtl Pillow, $30; trtltravel.com.
Worst Cities in the World for Traffic
The New England Patriots just brought home their third Super Bowl ring in five years, and it looks like the Red Sox have a promising pitching lineup going into 2019 spring training. Boston's universities and medical facilities are regularly ranked best in the world, and its legacy of political royalty is unparalleled. But this month, the city earned another notch in its belt of superlatives, and locals won’t be beating their chests about this one: worst traffic in the United States. A Traffic-Stopping Analysis (Roman Smirnov/Dreamstime) INRIX, a transportation data firm that publishes annual rankings of urban traffic and congestion around the world, released its Global Traffic Scorecard last week (inrix.com/scorecard). The study identifies and ranks mobility and traffic in more than 200 cities in 38 countries, analyzing lost time due to congestion as well as the severity of the congestion and reasons for it. When it comes to spending time in gridlock at peak hours of morning and evening commutes, Boston drivers took home top prize for 2018. (Well, if they can ever manage to get home, that is.) To be fair, Boston isn’t alone in its supremely slow-moving misery—it’s an honor shared with Washington, D.C. Both have 15 more hours of congestion per year than Chicago and Seattle. Logic would dictate that New York City and Los Angeles, both infamous for bumper-to-bumper traffic, would come out on top. Chalk the counterintuitive results up to methodology. The study looked at commutes during peak times in the day, and, according to the report, “Los Angeles experiences high levels of congestion throughout the day, but its peak severity is less than Boston.” It also notes that the city has employment across a wider geographic area, preventing severe downtown congestion that more centralized cities experience, which helps explain Boston’s issues. Even with the billions spent on the so-called Big Dig, the decades-long construction project designed to relieve traffic by building a tunnel under the highway, it did nothing to alleviate the gridlock on the city streets, which were originally built for horse-drawn carriages. New York City has an honor entirely of its own: the slowest city in the U.S., with “last mile” speeds of nine miles per hour. Translation: It’s faster to bike than to drive or take the bus. (L.A.’s last mile speed is four minutes.) Time Is Money (Erik Lattwein/Dreamstime) The Global Traffic Scorecard found that congestion alone cost Americans nearly $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver. When it comes to time wasted, Americans lost an average of 97 hours annually. As far as the breakdown of losses across the world, the Scorecard ranked cities both by economic impact and hours lost. On the economic scale, the cities where traffic had the most serious impact are, in decreasing order, Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota, Mexico City, and São Paulo. Boston is the only U.S. city in the top ten, with drivers losing $2,291 per year due to congestion. As far as U.S. cities go, Boston is followed by D.C. ($2,161), Seattle ($1,932), Chicago ($1,920), and New York City ($1,859). At $304 per driver, Wichita, Kansas, had the lowest cost of congestion among the U.S. cities studied. When it comes to lost time, Bogota had the most hours lost globally to peak period congestion: 272 in 2018. That almost makes Boston, the top-ranking U.S. city, look good, with 164 hours lost. D.C. drivers lost 155 hours per year, with Chicago and Seattle trailing not far behind at 138 hours lost in each. New York City, L.A., Pittsburgh, and Portland, Oregon, are only marginally less congested, with 133, 128, 127, and 116 hours lost, respectively. So next time the hankering for a road trip takes hold, make sure you account for time lost to gridlock when you’re planning your journey.
Conquer the Top 6 Travel Anxieties
It’s happened to the best of us. We have that jolt of panic, just like that classic moment in Home Alone when Kevin’s mom, Kate McCallister, bolts up during her flight, trying to recall whether she locked everything, turned everything off, remembered everything. Most people, of course, don’t leave their kids behind, but the jitters and worries that come with the excitement of zipping off to a distant locale are common to even the most seasoned frequent flyer. To help debunk common fears surrounding travel, whether by plane, train, automobile, or otherwise, we asked the experts to analyze the anxieties that can strike when we embark on a journey, and to suggest in-the-moment exercises or mantras to help ease those nerves. 1. The Fear: My Plane Will Malfunction Tom Bunn, LCSW, a former Air Force and commercial pilot who now teaches a course around conquering the fear of flying, says there are so many back-up systems in place on board an aircraft that there’s very little room for something major to go wrong. “The problem during takeoff, for example, is stress hormones build up because a series of things are happening one after another," he says. "The engines rev, the pitch changes, the engine exhaust sounds, the acceleration pushes passengers back in their seats, the plane bumps down the runway, the overhead compartments shake.” Try This Exercise: The 5,4,3,2,1 exercise helps release stress hormones. Stay in the moment by naming five things you see ("I see a coffee cup"). Then switch to five things you hear ("I hear a fan"). Moving on to touch, what five things do you feel? ("I feel my wedding band"). Go back and repeat each sensory step with four new things, then three, then two, then one. 2. The Fear: Crowds Are Overwhelming/Strangers Intimidate Me As Jean Kim, psychiatry professor at George Washington University, explains it, each traveler has his or her individual agenda, often paying no mind to what others around them are doing. “Depending on one's past history of social interactions, or just one's physiological tendencies towards social anxiety, being around lots of unknown people can trigger one's sense of potential threat and loss of safety,” Kim says. Try This Mantra: "Others around me are feeling this way, too, and they have their own goals today. My goals are: [fill in the blank]." 3. The Fear: Is My To-Do List Complete? Remember Kate McCallister? It's that constant feedback loop: Did I remember everything? Did I bring enough cash? Will my kids be okay? Did I pack enough? Will my luggage make it? And it can be paralyzing. “Everyone increasingly juggles so many responsibilities and data points in today's hectic, tech-driven society that people can feel swamped and overwhelmed and prone to forgetfulness, or anxiety about making mistakes,” says Kim. She suggests advance preparation, like writing a list to follow as you leave. “A general attitude that solutions will still exist even if something that's missing may help.” Try This Mantra: "I can always adapt and find a solution at hand." 4. The Fear: The Unknowns of Weather Weather can make or break some trips. For some, it’s an obstacle to the planned activities. To others, it’s a safety issue, especially when it comes to flying or boating or driving. “The planes we are flying these days can handle any kind of weather, and if the destination airport has state-of-the air guidance systems on the runways, landing can be made automatically in almost any weather,” Bunn assures. Try This Mantra: "My safety is more important than my plans." Or: "There are countless experts making an informed decision." 5. The Fear: I Don't Speak the Language or Know the Culture When this feeling creeps in, it’s easy to stay in our comfort zone, spending most of the time in the hotel or on group tours. That could mean forgoing a rich cultural experience and missing out on meeting new people. “Some discomfort with new social customs or situations or language barriers is normal, especially if you’re someone comfortable with routine and familiarity,” says Kim. “Just remember that it's not the end of the world if you commit a social faux pas or encounter a different way of doing things you don't quite grasp—it's very normal. If you encounter unfriendly people, that's on them and isn't your fault.” Try This Mantra: "When I go with the flow, I broaden my horizons and gain a new perspective." 6. The Fear: I'm Afraid of Getting Sick Planes have a reputation for being a breeding ground for germs. Plus there’s the lack of sleep, an all-too-common consequence of being uprooted from your routine. “While it's true that the stresses of travel and shifting time zones can lower your immunity, and you can encounter bugs that you may have less resistance to in new places, if you are generally in good health you will usually be fine,” Kim says. “Prepare as needed by bringing medications, taking care of yourself with proper sleep and hydration, and investigating health care options where you are going in advance. Mostly any travel-related illnesses are mild and time-limited.” Try This Mantra: "I am capable of taking care of myself and enjoying new experiences, even if I catch a small bug."
12 True Stories of Romantic Trips Gone Awry
Is there anything better than getting away from it all with your better half? But sometimes things don't go according to plan. From unwanted guests (be it wildlife or in-laws) to quarantines to hurricanes, these 12 true stories from Budget Travel readers will amaze—and amuse—you. 1. A LOCKED-IN VALENTINE'S DAY On our final day in Cancún, I headed to the beach to read while my wife went to the room. After an hour, I called the room, but there was no answer. I figured she got sidetracked. When another hour passed with no sign of her, I called again—still no answer. As soon as I walked into the room, I heard pounding on the bathroom door and saw a washcloth on the floor with "help" scrawled on it in mascara. "Get me out of here!" my wife was yelling. "I'm locked in!" She'd been trapped in the bathroom for two and a half hours. What a way to spend Valentine's Day! —Gene Jackson, Longmont, CO 2. A FEW TOO MANY When my husband and I were engaged, his parents said they would give us a honeymoon to remember. We instantly had visions of Hawaii or Mexico. Not quite. They told us we were heading to Disney World in Florida, then added that they'd always wanted to go themselves and were coming along. "That's great!" I told them—what else could I say? In the end, my mother-in-law invited two friends, the friends' three kids, and my sister-in-law and her husband. I can't say a lot of honeymooning went on, but my in-laws did give us a trip we'll never forget. —Cristina Beitz, El Cajon, CA 3. BUBBLE BATH GONE WRONG My partner and I stayed at Arenas del Mar in Costa Rica, which is ranked as one of the most "green" hotels in the country. We were in the top floor apartment, with a balcony overlooking the Pacific that had a huge hot tub, providing the perfect sunset view. While my partner was out exploring the resort, I decided to surprise him with some wine and a soak. I turned on the faucets, adjusted the temperature, and started the jets. As an afterthought, I added some scented eco-friendly body wash from the bathroom and went in to get the wine. Within five minutes, there was a knock at the door-it was the manager, and he wanted to look at my balcony. We walked out to discover a waterfall of bubbles cascading over the tub and onto our neighbors' balcony below! Even worse, the bubbles were rolling off their patio and down the cliff, covering trees and plants that had been full of birds, lizards, and monkeys. The manager directed my attention to a placard stating that no additives should be put in the hot tub. For days afterward, we would hear our downstairs neighbors commenting (loudly) about how unusual it was that they never saw any more iguanas or monkeys around their patio. At least the bubbles were biodegradable! —Bryan Craft, Naples, FL 4. A PINCH WILL DO One gorgeous evening on Kauai, my longtime boyfriend and I were lying on the beach gazing at the stars. It was such a romantic setting that I started expecting him to propose. Instead he yelled, "Stop pinching me with your big toe. You know I hate it when you do that." I said that I hadn't touched him, and I was upset that the mood was ruined. Then he sat up and yelled, "Something just moved!" I didn't see a thing, but he said, "There are crabs all around us." To my horror, it suddenly looked like the sand was moving. We ran screaming like little children—and got engaged two months later in Chicago. —Lori Wheeler, Columbia, MO 5. A SWEET OLD LOVE SONG On our first night in Venice, my husband suggested we take a gondola ride as the sun set. I'm the planner in the family, but it turned out my husband had been doing some planning of his own. He reproposed and gave me a beautiful new diamond ring! It was one of the most romantic moments of my life. We were kissing in a quiet side canal, water lapping gently against the boat, when we heard: "I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world, life in plastic, it's fantastic." Instead of killing the moment, our gondolier's cell phone ring tone made it even more memorable! —Lori Hlucky, Brunswick, OH 6. A TOUCH OF MUD While in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, my husband, Scott, and I arranged a day trip to Tabacón Hot Springs. After a quick hike, we hurried back for our mineral mud bath. The other guests were already coated in mud and baking in the sun. When we entered the adobe hut for our turn, two Costa Rican men motioned Scott to leave while they studiously painted me from head to toe. Leaving no skin uncovered, they followed very close around my bikini. When I emerged, the other people in our group asked how I got my mud on so perfectly--theirs was streaky and uneven. I said that was how the two Costa Rican men applied it. "What Costa Rican men?" they said. "We were all told to put it on ourselves!" Scott and I never did see those two men again. —Pam Anderson, Sussex, WI 7. FREUDIAN SLIP As we strolled around Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, a girl laughed when my boyfriend asked her to take our picture. I had no idea what was going on! Mike's first language is French, but it was a little rusty. He explained later, he had told her he was going to propose marriage to "ma petite fille" (my little daughter). Even through her laughter, she captured the moment for us. I said yes, and he still calls me his "petite fille." —Cassie Gokey, Atlanta, GA 8. STRANGERS WITH SMOKES My husband and I were in Italy enjoying a romantic dinner in a lovely little restaurant. Since I'd recently quit smoking, I was savoring every morsel. But when I finished my meal and saw a gentleman across the room light a cigarette, I just couldn't help but look at it longingly. I had always loved a cigarette after a good meal. Before we left, I went to the ladies' room. When I came out, a waiter handed me a piece of paper indicating that it was from the man with the cigarette. To my great surprise and embarrassment, the note read "call me" and included the name and telephone number of his hotel, along with his room number. Needless to say my husband and I left in a hurry, and he had yet another reason to add to his list of why I should not smoke. —Linda King, Rensselaer, NY 9. WORST HONEYMOON EVER My husband and I went to Santorini, Greece, for our honeymoon. The day after we arrived, Rocco had a fever, a cough, a cold, and body aches. After 24 hours, we went to a doctor, who sent us to a medical center for tests. There, we were stuck in an unfinished room with a twin bed and told we'd be quarantined until the results were in. After 36 hours, they arrived—Rocco had the H1N1 virus, and we were told we had to stay in the room for five to seven more days. Our hotel brought us our luggage, plus sheets, a cot, towels, a cell phone, and food. We missed flights to Crete and Athens (and prepaid hotels in both places) and had to buy new tickets home. I'd say we had the worst honeymoon ever! —Anna Maria Calo, Glen Cove, NY 10. LOVE, ITALIAN-STYLE My husband and I went to Caiazzo, Italy, to see my relatives. They don't speak English and my husband doesn't speak Italian, so I was the translator. On our first night at my cousin's house, she handed me two towels and a small box labeled INTIMO. My husband assumed it was for "intimate" purposes for the two of us and tried to rush me off to the bedroom, yelling, "Grazie! Grazie!" That's when I realized he was excited about a box of soap for the bidet. As I explained things to my relatives, they laughed hard, and for days the men in the family kept nudging my husband and giving him the thumbs-up. —Lorena Aguilar, Woodbridge, VA 11. A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOREVER While dining at Bobby Chinn's Restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, my wife ordered—unbeknownst to me—a side dish called, "We tell you that you are beautiful all night long." (It was listed on the menu as a side dish, right above the green salad, for $2.) When the waiter brought our food, he paused, looked me in the eye, and, much to my surprise, told me that I was beautiful. This continued for the entire meal. Between the waiter, busboy, and bartender I was told no less than 10 times that I was beautiful. The food and service were hands down the best we had in Vietnam. My only complaint: I wish that we'd had a waitress! —Jason Mullin, Chicago 12. STORMY ROMANCE We spent our last dime on our dream honeymoon in Cozumel, Mexico. For two days, we toured the town and were looking forward to a visit to Tulum and scuba dives at some of the world's best reefs. Instead, we got Wilma, a 52-hour hurricane with winds up to 155 mph and waves that shook our hotel. We had planned on staying in the room, but not under those circumstances. —Nicole and Matt Jacobson, Montrose, MN
How to Fly With Just a Carry-On
In an era of airline cutbacks, overbooked flights, and delays, delays, delays, there’s a long list of reasons why traveling with only a carry-on is preferable to checking a bag: Your luggage stays in your sight, so there's less risk of loss or damage; you won’t have to jump through hoops to retrieve your belongings if you miss your connection and get stranded overnight; it’s less expensive (no checked-bag fees!); and you'll save the time otherwise spent at baggage claim. Of course, if you’re a food and beverage connoisseur, you may find yourself checking a bag full of goodies for your return leg, but whether you’re aiming to avoid overweight baggage charges or keep your gear close at hand in the overhead bin, our tips will have you zipping through those security scanners in no time. 1. Prepare to Rewear First things first: Check the weather where you’re headed, count the number of days you’ll be away, and tally up how many outfits you’ll need. Will you be doing a lot of walking, hiking, or working out? Will you have to change into something nice for dinner? Does your hotel have a pool? Pack twice as many pairs of underwear and socks as you think you’ll need, and plan to mix and match a capsule collection of basics for everything else. Undergarments aside, you can rewear pretty much anything at least twice, especially if you manage to avoid spills and stains. (A travel-size laundry kit will help if you’re accident-prone.) Shoes and bulky top layers take up the most space, so pick a few items you absolutely have to have and work around them; some hotels will provide workout gear, including sneakers, for a nominal fee, so do your research before you leave. Wear the things that take up the most space on the plane, and always, always pack a swimsuit. You just never know. 2. Pick the Proper Personal Item If you’re traveling in basic economy, you probably won't have the luxury of overhead-bin space, and your carry-on will have to fit under the seat in front of you. In that case, we recommend a slim backpack with a 24-liter capacity or less—Cotopaxi’s Nazca pack and Timbuk2’s Never Check Expandable pack are both good options. If you're a light packer, a sleek little underseater is all you need, and Delsey makes a nice one. If you’re in plain old economy class, though, you can stash your rollaboard overhead and use your personal item as another packing tool. Pro-tip: Stash toiletries at the top of your bag where you can easily pull them out for screening, and group food items together so you won’t have to repack completely if and when those organic materials trigger the scanner. 3. Don’t Sweat the Liquids Rule Technically, the TSA’s 3-1-1 mandate—as many 3.4-ounce bottles as you can fit in a clear, plastic, quart-sized bag—is still in place, but you can usually get by with keeping your liquids in a regular Dopp kit or toiletries bag instead of a ziplock, as long as the bottles themselves aren’t larger than the prescribed 3.4-ounce volume. If you’re attached to your daily routine, decant large bottles of product into smaller travel-sized ones, or pick up what you need once you land; if you’re not, rely on your hotel or Airbnb to provide passable alternatives for the length of your stay. To streamline your kit even further, consider solid perfumes and facial bar soaps or wipes instead of liquid versions. 4. Shop Accordingly on the Ground It’s hard to resist a good souvenir shop, and honestly, you shouldn’t have to—mementos are a great way to remind you of experiences and adventures past. We highly recommend bringing at least one reusable, packable bag for the treasures you pick up on the road, and/or traveling with enough room in your suitcase to accommodate potential purchases. (We know of at least one shopaholic who carries a mostly empty suitcase for just that reason). If space is at a premium and you can’t cram anything else into your carry-on, plenty of stores will ship purchases back for you; if you’re going big and your suitcase is exceptionally heavy, sending it home with a mailing service like Luggage Free instead of paying the airlines’ overweight baggage fees may make more sense. Just be sure to run the numbers before you buy out the store, as costs vary based on where you’re going and what carrier you’re flying with.