What to know and what to look for when buying travel pillows

Consider these details when shopping for travel pillows.

April 1, 2024, 11:03 AM
Consider these details and products when shopping for travel pillows.
Consider these details and products when shopping for travel pillows.
ABC News Photo Illustration, Amazon - BCOZZY, Nordstrom, Revolve, Walmart

Whether you are preparing for a long haul flight or gearing up for a lengthy road trip, bringing along a travel pillow can add more comfort and ease to your journey.

A travel pillow is traditionally U-shaped and wraps around the neck, shoulder and chin areas for added support when sleeping in an upright position.

Many people have invested in travel pillows for years to avoid unwanted muscle and neck pain that can be caused due to your head dropping while you snooze, resulting in stiffness, soreness and aches.

How long-haul flights can affect your spine muscles

"The supporting muscles of the spine -- the paraspinal muscles -- can be strained and fatigued when the spine is subject to stressors, such as being in an unnatural or awkward position for an extended period of time," Richard Lau, M.D., an interventional pain and spine physiatrist at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone Health, told "GMA."

Lau also explained that the key to maintaining spine health is motion as well as maintaining a neutral position when still -- both of which are somewhat restricted when on a plane. For the neck, this means having your head in perfect alignment without bending forward, back, sideways or rotated, as this puts the least amount of stress on the supporting structures of the cervical spine. However, when we fall asleep, gravity may cause us to find our neck in one of the aforementioned positions.

"In general, I advise my patients with a history of neck and low back pain to try to stand up and walk to the restroom several times during a long-haul flight," said Lau. "Aisle seats may be advantageous for this. Simple neck stretches such as looking up and down, tilting left and right, and turning left and right may help prevent neck stiffness. Avoid constantly looking down and forward at laptops, tablets and phones."

In addition to Lau's best posture practices, he also confirmed that using a travel pillow may provide more structural support to the neck while sleeping -- encouraging more natural alignment.

What to look for when shopping for travel pillows

"I would recommend trying pillows that are comfortable and non-chafing, while also providing some lateral, and possibly forward support for the neck," said Lau. "The headrest typically prevents the neck from falling backward while sleeping -- which is a good thing."

He also points out that a pillow with some extensions that can support the side of the head and neck may be beneficial -- especially for side sleepers as they may tend to drift towards one side or the other.

For back sleepers, Lau suggested that it may be helpful to avoid having a pillow with too much cushioning at the posterior (back) of the neck that may potentially cause more pain and discomfort.

"Given how little room is behind the neck against the seatbacks and headrests, only a small amount of space for cushioning is needed to support the natural C-shaped curvature of the neck," he added.

Types of travel pillows

Not all travel pillows are created the same. They come with several different fills including memory foam, microbead, polyfill and down.

Additionally, there are also a variety of materials such as cotton, suede, velour, fleece and nylon, and there are also travel pillows that can be inflated, deflated and easily packed.

Mass retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Kohl's and many others offer a wide variety of options to consider and shop before your next big trip.

Below, you can load up your digital cart with one or more of these top-rated standouts.

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23% off

MLVOC Travel Pillow 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow

With a nearly five-star rating and over 33,558 reviews, this memory foam-filled neck pillow features an adjustable rope lock that allows you to easily adjust its angle. It's also sweat-resistant and has a washable cover. Plus, it comes with 3D contoured eye masks, ear plugs and a bag.

  • $22.99
  • $29.99
  • Amazon

Ostrichpillow Go Memory Foam Travel Pillow

This comforting memory foam travel pillow has a 360-degree ergonomic design to help maintain all-around neck and spinal support. It's also made of soft stretchy material that can be easily removed and washed. Plus, this pick has an adjustable hook-and-loop closure to help provide a more customized fit.

  • $60
  • Nordstrom

Protege Microfiber Travel Neck Pillow

If you're looking for a no-frills neck pillow, this bestselling pick from Walmart is ideal. It features a patented microfiber filling made of recycled materials. It also has a soft outer shell made of crystal fleece. 

  • $10.12
  • Walmart
25% off

BCOZZY Neck Pillow

The unique ergonomic design of this travel pillow offers double support to the the head, neck and chin. It also has adjustable straps, a flat back and breathable outer shell made of microfleece and microsuede. Plus, its filed with a soft bounce back down alternative that provides additional comfort for the neck and head. 

  • $44.97
  • $59.97
  • Amazon
7% off

trtl Travel and Airplane Pillow

This top-rated pick features a patented design that allows you to easily adjust it. It's also lightweight and compact, making it an ideal pillow for packing or attaching to your carry-on bag or luggage. 

  • $64.99
  • $69.89
  • Amazon

Slip Jet Setter Travel Pillow

This stylish pick features a smooth, striped silk outer shell that's soft and durable. It's filled with 100% polyurethane, and the pillowcase is removable as well as machine-washable. Additionally, it comes in a carry on bag that easily fits over wheelie suitcases.

  • $99
  • Revolve

The Pillow Bar Down Alternative Jetsetter Mini Pillow with Cover

Available in four vibrant colors, this down alternative-filled travel pillow has a neck-hugging mini boomerang shape that fits easily into most carry-on bags. It also features a zippered pillow protector made of 300 thread count. 

  • $110