Forget the bead-filled monstrosities from the airport gift shop—these are the best travel pillows on the market.
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.