I remember when I first tried to sleep on a plane with the doll house-sized pillow they give you. I was quite young at the time, but still wondered if the airline thought only people with small heads like to fly.
Combining it with my rolled-up jumper, I eventually fell asleep, but inevitably arrived with a stiff neck and puffy eyes.
I quickly learned that if you want to sleep comfortably on a long journey, you simply have to bring along your own travel pillow.
Personally, I’m a fan of memory foam pillows because I find them more comfortable. But the space-saving bonus of inflatable pillows is also something to consider if you have a lot of luggage.
In this review I’ll be looking at the best inflatable and memory foam travel pillows that I’ve tried in 2016. Hopefully you’ll find one which helps you sleep in comfort the next time you travel, and arrive feeling as refreshed as possible.
Most comfortable memory foam travel pillow
The Aeris is a simple, yet surprisingly comfortable memory foam travel pillow. And it’s currently my personal favorite for 3 main reasons.
Firstly, it gets the balance right between softness and neck support. The memory foam filling molds well to your neck and head, but still keeps you upright enough to feel supported.
Secondly, it has a soft, plush cover which feels comfortable on the skin and doesn’t leave marks when you wake up. It’s also easy to remove and wash, which is ideal if you travel a lot and plan on using it regularly.
Finally, it comes with a travel bag which allows you to roll it up and squeeze it into your hand luggage to save space. It doesn’t roll up as much as an inflatable pillow of course, but it’s better than most other memory foam pillows I’ve seen.
Overall, if it’s a comfortable memory foam pillow you need, you can’t go far wrong with the Aeris. You can find travel pillows with a more complex design, but this one just does the simple job of providing neck support and a comfortable surface very well.
Can be used for a range of sleeping positions
The J-Pillow was designed by a flight attendant and won British consumer invention of the year in 2012.
That’s quite a claim to fame, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this unusually shaped pillow is indeed very effective on long journeys.
What I liked about it most is the way the J part curves under your chin to stop your head dropping forwards. And at the same time, you have the side supports to help keep your head upright and in line with your back.
Although it’s marketed as being versatile because you can change the angle you use it, I found it works best in a window seat. It does provide some support if you’re in a middle or aisle seat, but definitely shines most when you can lean against a solid support.
It’s made from a soft, cuddly fabric that feels cozy against the skin, and the internal material has the right balance of firmness. Usefully, the entire pillow can be machine washed and dried.
My main complaint is that it’s quite an odd shape and a bit bulky. However, it does come with a strap so you can easily tie it to your hand luggage.
Overall, if you find the traditional U-shape pillow doesn’t work for you, then perhaps this new J-shape will do a better job.
360 degree support stops your head dropping forwards
The Cabeau travel pillow improves on the standard memory foam design and is great if you really need your neck and head to be kept as upright as possible.
The 360 degree wrap-around design means it provides support for your head and neck whichever direction you naturally lean during your sleep.
So if you have a habit of dropping your head forwards and waking up with a sore neck, it will prevent that from happening.
It’s also designed to ensure it doesn’t push you head forwards. Many other travel pillows are too thick at the back, so when you rest against your seat, the pillow pushes your head forwards. That doesn’t happen with the Cabeau though.
The memory foam itself is soft, with a good balance of flexibility and comfort and the surface material is a soft, cosy fabric. It comes with a travel bag which you can squeeze it into.
My only complaint is that it can get quite warm as it kind of acts like a thick scarf, so perhaps isn’t the most practical if you’re travelling in very hot weather. But on a cold overnight plane journey, that extra warmth is very welcome.
4) Travel Mate
Firmer memory foam pillow
The Travel Mate is a simple memory foam pillow which like the Cabeau works well if you need to keep your head as upright as possible when travelling.
Although it does have some give and will somewhat mold to your head, it’s firmer than many other models I’ve tried. This firmness means it does a good job of keeping your head upright and not slumping to the side.
The material is a soft velour fabric which feels comfortable to the skin, and can be removed and easily cleaned.
It’s designed to provide solid support for your neck and head, so doesn’t roll up as tightly as some travel pillows. However, it does have an elastic strap so you can attach it to the outside of a small bag or hand luggage.
Overall, it’s a sturdy pillow, ideal if you need solid support for your neck to sleep comfortably on your journey. And if you prefer a simple shape rather than some of the more advanced pillows, it’s a good choice.
Available at: amazon.com
Ideal for natural side sleepers
The Travelrest takes the concept of inflatable pillows to the next level, and is an interesting option if you’re naturally a side sleeper.
It comes with a tether which you can attach to a car seat headrest to keep it in place. You can also loop it around the back of a standard seat on a plane or train.
There’s also the option to wear it around your body if there’s no way to attach it to a seat. So whichever way you choose, you’ll have something solid and comfortable to lean against.
The arm which drops down across the front of your body is a great addition, providing a comforting feeling while you relax and sleep.
It’s easy and fast to inflate – just a few breaths does the trick. And like all inflatable travel pillows it shrinks and rolls up neatly. You can get extra covers – either a soft velour or a memory foam exterior for even more comfort.
Overall, I think it’s a great idea in theory and I did find it comfortable to use as I’m a side sleeper. But I think it’s perhaps a little over the top and not so great on planes – unless you don’t mind attracting some attention and having a giant pillow to deal with every time you get up from your seat.
6) Lewis N. Clark
A light-weight inflatable pillow
The Lewis N. Clark pillow has one little extra which marks it as different – a handy touch button mechanism.
Once you inflate it (which takes just a few breaths), you can press the button to deflate it slightly, allowing you to find exactly the right level of comfort.
It’s very light and rolls up neatly, taking up very little space in your hand luggage, which is particularly useful if you’re flying.
As with all inflatable pillows of this style, it’s not as comfortable as a memory foam pillow. However, I do like the shape and found that it provides sufficient support for my neck and head.
The material is reasonably smooth, though not as soft and inviting as the memory foam pillows. It’s fine for short to mid distance journeys, but for long-haul you might wish you had a softer surface next to your skin.
If all you need is a simple pillow which weighs almost nothing, and is relatively comfortable to sleep with, it’s one of the better basic inflatable pillows.