The best travel pillows of 2021 for a good night’s sleep in the air or on the road

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Falling asleep while traveling can be very difficult, but having the right travel pillow can help.
  • The Trtl pillow is our top pick because it is comfortable, portable, and affordable.
  • See Insider Reviews for more travel coverage.

Sleeping while traveling is an exercise in futility. For many people, long-haul travel – whether it’s by air, rail, or road – is one of life’s great discomforts, especially when they need to get some shuteye. Some can’t sleep a wink, while others wake up with sore necks and bodies. While they aren’t foolproof, the best way to get some sleep while traveling is with one of the best travel pillows.

There are innovative travel pillows today besides the classic U-shaped options. Some use memory foam that mold to your neck and body, while others are inflatable for easy storage. There are some that prevent heads from nodding forward, and there are some designed for full upper-body comfort. Even if sleep isn’t the intention, a travel pillow can help make the journey a bit more comfortable.

Here are the best travel pillows

The best travel pillow overall


Despite its unique scarf-like design, the Trtl offers huge support for your neck.

Pros: Comfortable, low profile, innovative design, soft, not too warm, easy to pack

Cons: Only offers support on one side, only comes in one size

At first glance, the Trtl pillow looks nothing like a pillow. It seems more like a scarf or blanket, and in some ways, that’s actually what it is. A soft, lightweight fleece wrap hides and cushions a plastic neck support on one side, which rests on either shoulder or your chest to keep your head in a comfortable position.

The neck support consists of a few stiff ribs on one end of the scarf. To use the Trtl, simply place the ribs in the position you find most comfortable, then wrap the scarf around your neck. Velcro on the other end of the ribs holds the wrap in place while you doze off. The ribs have a little bit of flexibility to eliminate any pressure points or discomfort.

It’s actually pretty ingenious, and, despite the weird design, surprisingly comfortable. The strengthened ribs almost look like one of those emergency neck braces, but since they only rest on one side, instead of both, it’s more comfortable and less restrictive. Trtl, which is based in Scotland, was founded by two mechanical engineers in 2010. The inventors claim that the design is based on scientific research into sleep positions and independent testing.

Because there’s no stuffing and the pillow is made of soft fleece — aside from the ribs — the Trtl is both lightweight and low profile, which makes it easy to stash in a bag on your way to and from the airport or train station.

The biggest downside to the pillow is that, since it only offers support on one side, you’re out of luck if you toss and turn or shift positions during the flight. Some buyers also report that the support is a bit too short for taller people — the pillow only comes in one size — but this was easily remedied by using a folded airline blanket. You can read our full review here for more details.

Read our full review of the Trtl Travel pillow on Insider Picks.

The best traditional travel pillow

cloudz pillow

The Clöudz pillow is a simple microbead travel pillow that works for just about everyone.

Pros: Snap closure, warm and cool sides, soft, affordable

Cons: Doesn’t shrink, fold or compress to fit in a bag

I’m personally a big fan of the Clöudz pillow. This is the first pillow that was comfortable enough to help me sleep during a trans-Atlantic red-eye flight. It’s simple and straightforward, which makes it a perfect solution for most people’s needs.

The design is mostly traditional — it’s exactly what comes to mind when you hear the words “travel pillow.” Shaped like a giant U, the pillow is designed to go around the back of your neck, supporting your head if you lean backward or to the side — although when I use it, I spin it around.

A helpful feature that makes this pillow stand out is the nifty snap at the ends. The strap is perfect for attaching the pillow to a bag handle or strap when you’re walking through the airport. When I use the pillow, I close the snap when the pillow is on my shoulders before turning it around. That way, it doesn’t fall off my neck when I lean forward.

Something that makes the Clöudz pillow stand out is the fact that it’s can accommodate people who tend to feel either too warm or too cool when they’re sleeping. The top side of the pillow is covered by a warm, cozy felt-like material, while the bottom has a cooler spandex fabric. It’s filled with tiny microbeads, which conform to your head and face as you lean on them. At the same time, though, they hold enough shape to stop the pillow from collapsing under you and falling flat.

The best memory foam travel pillow


The Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow uses ergonomically-molded memory foam to keep your head supported in flight.

Pros: Ergonomic design, 360-degrees of coverage, comfortable

Cons: Can get warm and sweaty, no “cooler side”

The Cabeau looks similar to the Clöudz pillow because it’s the same traditional U shape. The pillow is designed to go around the back of your neck and rest on your shoulders. Like the Clöudz pillow, the Cabeau closes around on the front, but instead of snaps, it has a drawstring with a fastener that you can use to turn the U into an O. The biggest difference is that instead of microbeads, the pillow uses memory foam.

When you pull the drawstrings taut, it pulls the two ends of the U together, allowing for 360-degrees of coverage, so that if your head falls forward when you sleep, you don’t need to spin the pillow around. The back portion is a bit thinner and is designed to sit flat against the seat and conform to the back of your neck so that it doesn’t push your head forward.

Instead of a smooth tube-like shape bent into a U, the Cabeau pillow has an ergonomically designed hump running the length of the pillow to support your head more effectively. The cover is removable and machine washable. In reviews all around the web, buyers say the Cabeau is helpful and comfortable, even if they haven’t liked past travel pillows.

Some people will prefer memory foam to a bead-filled pillow, but there’s a big drawback. Some buyers report that the pillow can get pretty warm, which can make you sweaty and uncomfortable. Beyond that, the pillow is a bit less convenient to attach to the outside of a bag while you’re in transit — the workaround is that the pillow can be compressed to about 1/4 of its size for stowing in a bag. The company warns against compressing it for long-term storage so that the pillow doesn’t lose its shape.

The best inflatable travel pillow


The inflatable Lewis N. Clark Pillow can fold up small to fit anywhere, and provides adjustable support. 

Pros: Fits just about anywhere when deflated, easy to adjust firmness, comfortable

Cons: Bulkier in the back than some other pillows

By nature, pillows are large and bulky. To provide the right amount of support, they need enough stuffing, and they need to be big enough to provide an adequate surface area. That’s fine when you’re leaving it on a bed or couch, but when you travel, there’s a big premium on storage space. You need to keep your luggage as small and light as possible so that you can deal with transiting, and a big pillow can take up more room than you can justify.

That’s why an inflatable travel pillow can be handy. When you’re in transit to an airport or your hotel, you can deflate the pillow, fold it up and shove it in a corner of your bag. When you’re ready to use it, it just takes a few breaths to fill it all the way.

Some inflatable pillows can be a bit uncomfortable, since the airtight material is, by its nature, not breathable. Lewis N. Clark solves that problem by covering the pillow with a comfortable jersey material, which is much nicer to have against your skin than plastic or vinyl. Because you control how full the pillow is, you can easily adjust it. If the pillow feels too firm or unyielding, you can use the well-designed release valve to deflate it a tiny bit at a time, while wearing it, until it feels right.

When it’s fully inflated, the Lewis N. Clark pillow forms a U-shape like many traditional travel pillows, although it has a slightly more squared profile. The back of the pillow is a little bit bulkier than pillows like the Cabeau, but most buyers agree that it’s a comfortable solution.

The best travel-friendly body pillow


The Travelrest Pillow is perfect for side sleepers, offering support to the entire side of your body.

Pros: Great for side sleepers, supportive, comfortable

Cons: Can fall out of place, can take a bit of effort to find the most comfortable position

The Travelrest has a completely different design from most travel pillows. Rather than going around your neck and just supporting your head, it goes across your entire torso like a sling, offering a totally different kind of support.

When seated, you wear the Travelrest pillow basically like a shoulder seatbelt. A bulkier portion rests on either shoulder, while the “tail” goes across your body. Alternatively, it can go down your side. Your head and the side of your body are supported, giving you a more bed-like feeling than most neck pillows can offer. A cord attached to the top of the pillow can loop around a plane or car seat headrest, keeping the pillow secure and in place while you rest.

The pillow is conspicuously bulkier than most other travel pillows, but fortunately, it’s inflatable. You can fold it up into a nice, small package and keep it near the top of your carry-on, inflating it to full-size once you’re ready to settle into your seat. If your seat doesn’t have a headrest, you can secure the pillow’s cord to its tail and wear it around yourself like a sling.

The pillow is covered with a soft velvet-like material, but you can purchase an optional cover that is a bit softer. The cover also has a memory foam pad at the top of the pillow to provide an extra soft place to rest your head.

The best rectangular compressible travel pillow

thermarest pillow

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow rolls up into a tiny package and expands to a full, rectangular pillow.

Pros: Compresses to a travel-friendly size, normal-shaped pillow, many sizes and colors, affordable

Cons: Heavy for backpackers

If you want to bring a normal-shaped pillow with you on your travels, but you don’t want to waste space in your luggage, Therm-a-Rest’s compressible pillow is the one for you. It comes in a variety of sizes, but the small one is probably best for most travelers. 

The small pillow measures 12 x 16 x 4 inches when it’s open and 13 x 4 x 4 inches when it’s compressed. It weighs just 7 ounces, which is quite impressive. The foam filling is 4-inches thick and quite comfortable. Its polyester cover is relatively comfortable, and it comes in a few fun colors. The pillow is machine washable, which is nice.

When you’re done using the pillow in flight, you can roll it up and pop it in the drawstring pouch until you need to use it again at your hotel or campsite.

Experts from the Outdoor Gear Lab gave this pillow a great rating, and the reviewer’s only complaint is that it is a bit heavy for backpackers. However, if you’re just throwing it in your carry-on bag or purse for use on a plane, that’s probably not a huge deal.

The small size is ideal for travel, but if you think it is too small for you, the medium measures 14 x 18 x 4 inches expanded, 14 x 5 x 6 inches compressed and weighs 9 ounces; while the large measures 16 x 23 x 4 inches expanded, 16 x 7 x 7 inches compressed, and weighs 12 ounces. There’s also an XL version that measures 16.5 x 27 x 4 inches expanded, 18 x 7 x 7 inches compressed, and weighs 15 ounces. — Malarie Gokey

The best travel pillow for head bobbers

bcozzy travel pillow

If you tend to hang your head while you sleep and wake up with some serious neck pain, then the Bcozzy is the only travel pillow for you.

Pros: Great for folks who nod off frontward while sleeping, allows for the wearing of large, over-the-ear headphones, lightweight

Cons: Not much side support, can’t be compressed or deflated for easy storage

Plenty of travel pillows have attempted to support sleepers whose heads tend to roll to the left or to the right as they doze off. But far fewer have attempted to solve the challenge of the forward sleeper (unless, like David, you use a U-shaped pillow in reverse). For these people, the Bcozzy is a pillow designed to support the head, from the front.

The pillow’s design hinges on its overlapping ends, which create an extra level of support. Whereas most pillows have a gap where there ought to be a platform for your chin, the Bcozzy solves this problem by creating a sort of supportive collar that has some additional cushion at the front. The pillow is fully adjustable, which is to say that you can decide for yourself how much overlap and support you really want. 

Most other travel pillows will all but require you to use earbuds or other in-ear options, lest their high walls push off your headphones. But this presents no problem for the Bcozzy. Really, it’s almost as though this pillow realized that you wouldn’t need support on your sides — after all, that’s the job of your noise-canceling headphones.

The Bcozzy also comes with a small loop that lets you clip it to the outside of your backpack or another piece of luggage. So even though you can’t deflate it or roll it out, it’s still supremely portable. Plus, at just 7.4 ounces, you’ll hardly notice it’s there.

The best no-slip travel pillow


Thanks to the Travelrest Ultimate’s ability to lay flat against your seat, your head will be well-supported without being pushed outward, which is key for long drives or flights.

Pros: Great support all-around your neck, no slipping, adjustable Velcro fits any seat as well as your neck

Cons: High walls make using over-the-head headphones difficult

The Travelrest Ultimate may look a lot like the traditional travel pillow you’re accustomed to, but a few key tweaks make it far better. Most notably, this pillow’s flat-back design allows it to lay flat against your seat, allowing you to rest your head comfortably during long journeys.

Though it’s inflatable, the Travelrest Ultimate doesn’t feel like it’s just full of air. Instead, the memory foam cushion keeps your entire neck comfortable while easing into a comfortable sleeping position. And even if your head tends to loll around quite a bit while you’re dreaming, the pillow will prop you up.

The Travelrest Ultimate has rubberized grips that ensure the pillow won’t slip, even if your head does. Thanks to the pillow’s adjustable Velcro strap, you can customize its size based on the seat you’re in. Whether you’re looking to get some repose on a plane, train, or automobile, the Ultimate will help.

One of my favorite things about the pillow is that its cover is removable and machine-washable. If you’re like me and are perennially perturbed by the potential for germs in various travel environments, rest assured that this is one travel pillow you can keep clean.

When you’re not using the Travelrest Ultimate, you can deflate it, and because it weighs less than a pound and can be rolled into its Velcro-secured carrying case, it’s about as portable as they come.

Check out our other buying guides for long-haul travel

carry on luggage plane
Read the original article on Business Insider