An indispensable accessory – Your travel pillow

Travel Pillows Collage

Travel Pillows CollageIt’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.

Sleeper Scarf, travel pillow

The Sleeper Scarf in action. Picture:

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.

Bead filled travel pillow

Bead-filled travel pillow

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.

Skyrest travel pillow

Skyrest Pillow. Photo: Skyrest


Skyrest Inflatable works for disabled travelers too.











The Big Puff – Skyrest Inflatable

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.

Travelrest inflatable pillow

Travelrest inflatable pillow

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.

Memory foam travel pillow

Memory foam travel pillow

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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Travel Pillows, TripwellnessDisclosure: I was given a sample of the Commuter Comfort travel pillow but all opinions are strictly my own.

Travel Notes & Beyond


  • I bought a travel pillow from the airport more than 10 years ago and I don’t leave home for long flights without it. I’ve tried a number of different versions but nothing seemed to work as well for me.

  • I’ve never been a fan of the travel pillow. I see them cumbersome and get in my head where I need support. But I do like the idea of the scarf pillow – a light blanket and pillow in one.

  • Absolutely cherish the thought of the sleeper scarf, and I think this would be the best choice for me

  • I had three of them and gave them all away, all given as gifts since people knew we travel a lot. Lugging them around airports is inconvenient at least and burdensome at most. And I never needed them on road trips since we have limited those to six hours at a time, in the day. I guess I am not part of the market for travel pillows.

  • Hi Elaine, thanks for joining me for #TheWeeklyPostcard. I am not a big fan of the travel pillows. Like you say, first it’s the inconvenience with the transportation. Second, I can’t sleep on the plane. I’ve tried a few and I wasn’t very convinced of their utility. However, looking at the one that you can wear when driving, I’m thinking it may prevent a whiplash injury.

    • Hi Anda, Honored to be part of the Weekly Postcard. I’ve actually had someone say they wear their whiplash brace when sleeping on airplanes which helps them stay comfortable after an earlier injury. It’s a process of finding what works best for you.

  • This was a super helpful post. I have never travelled with a travel pillow. I think I silently make fun of those who do… Maybe I am the fool. I don’t really sleep on planes unless it is to Europe or Australia or to another long distance destination. I then take something to sleep and I don’t seem to need a pillow.

    • Glad that you found this helpful, Suzanne. I sometimes take something to help me sleep on long flights too but have woken up in the oddest contorted positions. Then I notice the kink in my neck or back! The pillow helps me avoid that. You might feel most comfy with the inflatable kind. They’re easy to carry, take very little space and you’ve got them if you need them.

  • We never leave home without our inflatable neck pillow. Thanks for the great tips and new ideas.

  • my solution to the travel pillow was always a sweater (I’m always freezing on the airplane anyways so i always have one). But now that i have two little boys, keeping them entertained means that i don’t get a chance to take a (much-needed) nap on the plane!

  • I have one of those bead filled, U-shaped pillows commonly found in airports. I don’t love it, but it does the job. What I really need is a business class ticket so I can recline. That’ll be the day!

  • I travelled once using one of those inflatable pillows and found it to be super uncomfortable but the scarf pillow in your post looks like a good option!

  • I’ve carried two of the blow-up pillows for years because, as you said, one always breaks when you want it the most. On a long flight from Portugal back to the States I finally broke down and bought one filled with the plastic beads. It was comfortable and, while it may not have looked too stylish, after hours in the airport, neither did I!

  • I tried lots of different pillows and none of them worked for me. My neck always ended up painful if I fell asleep, because all of them allow it to loll to some extent. When I ended up with a hernia in my neck, I was traveling with a neck brace and discovered that with that thing on I could sleep with my head completely upright. So now I take that with me. It doesn’t fold up small but it is in the shape of a tube, closed with Velcro, so I strap it around the handle of my rolling carry-on bag. I recently saw, here in Korea, something very similar, but more attractive, being sold as a travel pillow.

  • I always like the concept but always found them to bulky. But the scarf pillow is new to me and I would use a scarf for many different purposes so I think that is actually fun as an accessory

  • I’ve not travelled with a travel pillow, but on my most recent trip wished I had one. It’s too bad that all the options have some drawbacks. I don’t like having to inflate and deflate a pillow while on the plane, but also don’t like the idea of having to carry something bulky. The pillow in the scarf interests me. I may have to experiment to find the best option for me.

  • I’ve never traveled with a pillow before and I do think it looks silly when people are walking through the airport with them on, but comfort on the road is important. Maybe I’ll give one of the smaller ones a try. I like the scarf idea.

  • I can see the use of one but I have never been able to justify the extra space and weight for a pillow.

  • I got to try the Comfy Commuter, too, and I actually quite like it! Other than it being rather bulky to fit into my luggage or attach to my carry-on, I really like it. I found that I could even put it on the food tray on an airplane and then put my head down on it and lay down that way….yeah, I always end up in odd positions on flights haha. I am not really a fan of the inflatable type of pillows.

    • Nice that you got to try the Comfy Commuter pillow too. I like mine! It could be used in lots of different positions. Wish I could sleep resting forward but it sounds like you’re flexible enough and experienced enough to adjust easily. Lucky you!

  • I really need that side/window pillow! I always sit in the window so I’m not disturbed during the flight but it can be difficult to sleep if there is a large gap between the seat and window. This would be perfect for those flights. Great comparison for those who can’t choose one over the other!

    • I prefer window seats on long flights too. It can be especially cold on some airplanes with blasting air coming up from below the windows. That side pillow might just make that easier to take.

  • This is great! So many options I wasn’t aware of! I just got rid of my travel pillow (won it at a night market in Taiwan) because it was getting dirty from carrying it everywhere and was turning into more of a hassle to attach to my luggage then a help. But I do miss having something to prop my head up on long bus rides! I’ll be looking into some of these options for replacements!

  • Totally love the idea of the sleeper scarf, and I think this would be the best option for me. Good point re inflating it not being discrete, but I think I would deal with it for something as possibly handy as that. I always lose my travel pillows too, and they’re always bulky and fairly hot, though I think I could really make the scarf work.

    Thanks for the round up – I hope you find a travel pillow which really works for you soon!

  • I bought a travel pillow from the airport more than 10 years ago and I don’t leave home for long flights without it. I’ve tried a number of different versions but nothing seemed to work as well for me.

  • I had an excellent travel pillow that was filled with little balls of something. Then it sprung a leak and those little balls seemed to be like a Hansel and Gretel trail all over Europe. But I loved it, and have not found a better one yet. Still in mourning.

  • I’ve never been a fan of the travel pillow. They’re bulky, push my head forward and don’t support where I need support. But I do like the idea of the scarf pillow – a light blanket and pillow in one.

    • The Commuter Comfort pillow is the best design for not pushing your head forward that I’ve found. That scarf pillow seems to be a favorite option too and the less you have to carry and juggle the better, I say.

  • I need to find one of those sleeper scarves for my next flight! We have inflatable neck pillows that we use; good to know about the other options out there!

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