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How to Choose the Best Neck Pillow for Travel Comfortably

  • Post author:Suvankar Das
  • Post last modified:August 9, 2021
  • Reading time:18 mins read

You often wake up with a painful neck after a long sitting-sleep in flight or train, and then you promise yourself to buy a neck pillow for travel next time. don’t you? And the funny fact is, you face the same pain on the next journey because you forget to buy your travel pillow. It’s a reality! And in my early days, the same thing happened to me also.

Actually, we remember some specific things only when they are needed, and forget again as their requirements are over. Toothbrush, umbrella, medicine, handkerchief, mask, the list is long enough; travel pillow is just another addition! When we experience stiff neck and headache on a sitting sleep we remember it, and again forget upon getting the real pillow and soft white bed at home.

Seems like, this time you are determined to get a brand new neck pillow for travel next!? But also, you are a bit skeptical, right?

It’s good! When you have finally decided to feel the magic of a travel pillow, go for the best one for the ultimate comfort. You have to choose the right one the fulfills certain criteria. I have listed them below.

What is Travel Pillow?

Travel pillow provides great comfort in your long journey, especially in the absence of sleeper class coaches. It allows you to sleep well while you are sitting, and never let you experience a stiff neck, back pain, or a headache. It simply supports your head while you are sleeping on a chair or any vehicle, where no option for lay down. Not only for the journey, but the travel pillow is also useful if you are sleeping on a constant chair; for example, your flight is delayed and you need some power nap in the airport waiting room; a travel pillow is a great option to meet your need under such situation.

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The Reasons to Consider Neck Pillow for Travel

Neck Pillow for Travel provide relief from neck pain

In my early days, sitting-sleep was almost impossible for me during any type of journey, stiff neck and back pain became my nightmare! As a result, I always felt tired after every long journey. I can’t remember how many times I oathed to get a travel pillow for the next journey, and also I forget how many times I forget to buy a travel pillow.

I can remember, I ordered my first neck pillow when I was traveling on a train, right on the moment I was experiencing the trouble. Initially, I didn’t have much idea, so I had to change a few. Now, I can feel the magic of a travel pillow.

Anyway, for your simplicity, I summarized the reasons below.

Travel pillow provides you a happy sleeping experience, even if you never slept comfortably on a sitting arrangement. A perfect sleep makes you energized and relaxed.
You’ll never experience a stiff neck or headache again if you sleep with a neck pillow for travel long.
In any nomadic destination (camping trip) in the absence of a real pillow, you can easily use your travel pillow for happy sleep.
Your flight is too late, and you are feeling sleepy. You can simply utilize your neck pillow, and have a power nap on the airport chair, you’ll feel much refreshed.

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Types of Neck pillow for Travel

Generally, there are two types of travel pillows available in the market.

  1. Inflatable travel pillow
  2. Non-inflatable travel pillow (Memory foam based or PVC based).

Complete knowledge about both types will help you to select the right one; so, let’s check out the properties, pros, and cons.

Inflatable NeckPillows

Under deflated conditions, inflatable travel pillows are just flat shaped, look like a thick handkerchief. These travel pillows take minimum space in your backpack. Upon inflation by pumping, most of them convert to a shape like ‘U’. The properties of inflatable travel pillows are described in the following points.

The inflation method differs in various models. In a few models it may be done manually, by pushing air from your mouth or by the external electric pump; however, in integrated models, these pillows can be inflated by pressing an inbuilt button.
Inflatable travel pillows are made of polyurethane-based material. Sometimes the main shell remains covered by soft velvet or artificial foam. The cover may be permanent or removable.


  • Inflatable pillows are easier to carry because under depleted condition they are pretty compact and lightweight.
  • Inflatable travel pillows are inexpensive, mostly you’ll get within $10-20.
  • These are easily washable. If the velvet covers are removable then washing is even more easy.


  • Most of the Inflatable travel pillows appear in ‘U’-shape, and the shape cannot be altered as per requirement.
  • They may be deflated without any prior notice, especially at high altitudes.
  • Need to be careful, pins or sharp things should be always away from this.
  • By means of comfort these and far below than Memory foam-based travel pillows.

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Non-inflatable Neck Pillow

These are solid and available in several shapes and models; the shapes of certain models can be altered by bending them. You can see the following points to realize the differences.

Non-inflatable travel pillows are much softer but filled-up (no deflating option), and hence, take greater space in your backpack compared to inflatable travel pillows.
The inner shells of non-inflatable pillows are made with firmer memory foam or soft microfibre. Significantly, memory foam material becomes softer by the body-heat and converts perfect shape as per requirement, and thus provide right neck support and the best comfort. Several memory-foam based neck pillows are equipped with a soft and removable cotton cover over the foam shell.


  • Memory foam based or PVC-based non-inflatable travel pillows are much comfortable.
  • No need to worry, there are no chances to be deflated. You can feel relaxed while sleeping.
  • The shapes of several non-inflatable travel pillows are adjustable by bending them; such as, ‘U’-shaped pillow may be converted to ‘S’-shaped for your sidewise neck-head support.


  • Relatively thicker, so may not be ideal for trekking backpack due to limited space, but still worthy.
  • Some non-inflatable neck pillows are difficult to wash, especially when removable covers are not provided. But often these come with a removable cover.
  • Need to keep them away from water, otherwise, it may take several hours to become dry. Moreover, memory foam may be affected due to long term water contraction.

Things to Be Considered Before You Buy

This section is especially suggestive in choosing the right neck pillow for travel comfortably. When you decide to buy a travel pillow for long flights or frequently traveling or hiking, you have to take the deepest care of your requirements. Otherwise, your hard earn money can be wasted. So it is recommended to consider the following factors before you press the final payment button on a shopping portal.

Space really matters

Often it becomes difficult to manage space in our backpack. If you think you’ll be able to manage only a very little space in your backpack, then inflatable travel pillow is your only hope. But if you can manage little more space, a compact non-inflatable pillow will be the best pick for you. There are non-inflatable travel pillows in the market which are foldable and compressible; also you can hang them outside the backpack.

So, if you can manage space in your backpack, then just go for any memory foam-based travel pillow for the best comfort.

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Chose the right loft by which you feel comfortable

The loft of inflatable pillows may be adjusted by deflation, but the thickness of non-inflatables is locked. Notably, there are various models of non-inflatable travel pillows with different loft measures (3″-5″), you may check it out. But, in general, the majority of them offer an average loft, suitable to most people.

The sleeping positions

As you are going to buy a neck pillow for travel & sleep comfortably, you must be focused on your favorite sleeping position. Otherwise, you may not feel relaxed. Do you prefer to sleep on your back or your stomach, or do you love to sleep sidewise?

Common ‘U’-shaped travel pillows are a nice choice for people who like to sleep in the upright position (on back). For them, there are many alternatives in the market. Some pillows can be converted to various shapes by bending them, few are of unusual shape; choose the perfect one for you.

Travel pillows with several shapes are available in the market as follows:

U-shaped collar travel pillow: Collar travel pillows are most common in the market and they shape almost like ‘U’. These pillows offer full support around your neck from the backside and are perfect if you like to sleep in the upright position.
Wedge-shaped pillow: You can travel with a Wedge-shaped pillow if you badly suffer from backaches. These are not compact size pillows, but if you are a patient with backaches, you should consider this pillow when traveling.
Cushions: These look like a normal pillow; They are smaller in size and can be used for supporting your back or neck in your long journey. These are even useful if you are sleeping flat in an outdoor camp.
Travelrest travel pillow: This interesting type looks like a ‘comma’. Its straight part lay over your chest while you are sitting, and the bend portion goes towards the seat-head and gets attached with a belt. You get head-neck-body support with travelrest travel pillow.
L-shaped neck pillow: Skysiesta produces the ‘L’ shaped travel pillows. It supports your head-neck from the back and head-neck-chin from the front.
Skyrest pillows: This gets larger upon inflation. You can just put it on your lap and rest your head on it.
U-shaped and J-shaped pillow: These are much bigger and normally not treated as a travel pillow. However, both are very comfortable and support your full body.

Washing factor

To maintain hygiene, you need to wash the pillow after a long use for removing oil and bacteria. So before buying, you should check, whether the cover is removable from the shell or not.

If you are choosing a memory foam-based travel pillow, you must buy the one that is having a washable cover. Memory foam doesn’t like water contact much. However, there are some one-piece designs in the market, which are commonly made of polyester; this material can be washed directly in water. So, you should be very selective in choosing them, you must look after their washing criteria.

Softness and firmness

You can check the firmness of the travel pillows by touching them; if the firmness does not meet your expectations, just don’t buy (in case of offline purchase) or return the product (in case of online purchase).

Without proper firmness, you may not enjoy the 100% relaxed feeling. You can also get an adjustable travel pillow, which can be adjusted based on your need.

Notably, original memory foam-based or fleece-based travel pillows are more comfortable, maintaining the right softness and firmness.

Check the inflation method if you choose inflatable travel pillow

There are two types of inflation methods, as already discussed above, (1) inflation manually by mouth, (2) inflation by inbuilt valve and button. You should check your preferences.

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Get Your Favorite Neck Pillow for Travel Comfortably

Nowadays travel pillows are very popular travel accessories, and you can easily get them at offline or online stores. Offline shops are most commonly available in the airport, because people often remember of travel pillow just before their long journey. But be careful, airport shops ask you for a higher cost than your expectations, so it is better to avoid buying from the airport.

For saving money, I suggest get the neck pillow from an online store prior to your trip; there, you’ll get far more varieties also.

If you have any further queries, feel free to post them in the comment box below. I shall be happy to help you. If you find the article useful, social sharing will be highly appreciated.

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Dr. Suvankar Das is a scientific advisor by profession, associated with a CRO organization. He pursued his doctoral degree in Chemistry in 2015. Later, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher & scientist in a couple of institutes/companies.

Besides his scientific journey, Dr. Das is also a passionate traveler and travel blogger. He loves to share all his travel experiences with other travelers so that everyone can enjoy hassle-free holidays with their own tour plans.

He believes, the most beautiful thing in this world is the WORLD itself. so there is no way to live like a clock; rather live it like a compass!

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