It’s hard to sleep when your body is being shaken like a cocktail, and your head is nodding up and down as if it were a novelty bobblehead toy.
On long journeys, a decent travel pillow can make a big difference to how comfortable you feel. And with that, give you a chance of sleeping well and arriving at your destination with a spring in your step.
I travel a lot and regularly test new travel pillows, from the typical ones you see in airports to some bizarre inventions I’d only dare use in a car where nobody will laugh at me.
As is often the case, this is an area where different styles will suit different people. So in this review, I’ll be covering some of the most effective travel pillows I’ve discovered to give you a good range to choose from.
1. Cabeau Evolution S3
Best memory foam travel pillow, with excellent neck support
The Cabeau Evolution S3 has raised sides that help keep your neck aligned and head in place. And with the adjustable rope lock at the front, you almost have 360-degree support, which is great for sleeping in the sitting position.
You can also use the attached seat straps to keep it in place and prevent your head from doing that ‘flopping forward’ thing that might lead to neck pain.
The memory foam is medium density for a travel pillow, which contributes to the effective support you feel when you lean into it. It feels soft on your skin and molds gently to your head, providing a gentle cushioning that’s very comfortable.
It comes with a small travel bag that it compresses into to save space. And the exterior cover can be removed and machine washed.
I wouldn’t recommend this one for children due to the relatively high sides. And if you’re driving in hot weather without air conditioning, it might not be appropriate either. Otherwise, I think the Cabeau will be an excellent travel pillow for most people.
Best micro-fiber travel pillow, with good chin support to keep the head aligned
The versatile Bcozzy will suit a wide range of neck shapes in adults, and also children because of its friendly look and feel. It provides complete 360-degree neck support, and you can create different support heights with the overlapping ends.
If you have a shorter neck, you can lean your head on just one level of the pillow. And if you’re a bit of a giraffe (like me…), you can double the ends together to get more support. You can also fold it in half to get even more cushioning if you’re in a window seat.
So it’s easy to adjust it into a position that either lets you lean slightly to the side, or keep your head completely upright without dropping forward. And I found the flatter back section means it doesn’t push your head forward when on a plane.
The cover material feels beautifully soft. And the interior, made from high-quality polyester fiber, feels soft, yet supportive to lean on. Conveniently, the whole pillow is machine washable.
I like that it comes with a handy snap strap to tie it onto hand luggage, which is useful as my only real criticism is that it doesn’t compact down as well as I’d like it to. Overall, the Bcozzy is ideal for kids, and also adults who don’t suit the human bobblehead look.
Best inflatable travel pillow, compact and easy to transport
If you need a travel pillow that takes up as little space as possible in your luggage, the Purefly is the most comfortable of the many inflatable travel pillows I’ve tried.
It inflates to the classic U shape, but with a style of raised neck support that more and more inflatable pillows use these days. This style of raised support does work well, but only if you’re sitting upright in my experience – not if you’re fully reclining.
I liked the micro-velvet fabric, which really felt like soft velvet on the skin. The cover is removable and machine washable too, which means you’ll get more life out of it, especially if you’re off doing some serious traveling.
It has an inbuilt hand pump, avoiding the need to use your mouth to inflate it. You just squeeze the little dome next to the main air valve, and it slowly inflates.
As with all inflatable designs, the Purefly can’t match the previous two in this review for comfort. But it shines when it comes to saving space, convenience and not being one of those people who walks through the airport wearing their pillow.
A versatile pillow that’s ideal for window seats, cars and trains
The J-pillow won a British invention award back in 2013, with its unique design that steers well away from the classic U shape. It has a sort of double J shape instead, with a section that sits under your chin to help prevent your head from dropping forward.
I’ve tested it on two flights, and it’s very comfortable to use in a window seat. That chin support really does help keep your head in place, and the side part feels plush to lean on. It didn’t feel quite as effective in a middle or aisle seat though.
The interior material is made from squishy polyester fiber. I personally like the feel of that, and it doesn’t get as hot as some memory foam pillows. I also like the fact that the whole pillow is machine washable, not just a cover.
My main issue is that the strange shape and springiness of the filling make it slightly inconvenient for storage. You can squash it down into your bag, or use the strap to tie it to your hand luggage. But it’s still kind of a lumpy ‘thing’ you have to cart around with you.
I think the J-pillow is a great choice if you have a window seat on a plane, or are traveling by car or train. It’s still okay for middle and aisle seats – just be aware that it might not stay in place quite as well.
Compact inflatable pillow for side sleepers
The Travelrest is another one with an unusual design. It has a long shape that crosses the front of your body, providing a large surface area for you to lean against.
It comes with an attached strap that you can tether around the top of your seat to keep it in place. Alternatively, you can wear it like a bag and hug it to your body.
I like how it gives you a comfortable surface to lean against – especially if you have a window seat. And you can even make it work in a middle or aisle seat.
My main complaint is that it didn’t stop my head drooping forwards when sitting upright. But in a reclining seat, it worked well as I’m naturally a side sleeper. My second complaint is that it looks a bit odd due to the size, and is a little awkward to change sides.
Considering how large it is when inflated, it rolls up tightly and is remarkably compact. So if you’re in need of a space-saving pillow, and you’re a side sleeper at home, this could be one you like. It’s also good for children on long car journeys, who might like the comforting feeling it provides.
Large microbead pillow, with a plush cover
The Cloudz travel pillow is a large micro-bead travel pillow that feels comfortable to sleep with. It’s large enough to keep your head reasonably upright, which isn’t always the case with this style.
It has a convenient snap closure which allows for a tighter fit around your neck, meaning your head is less likely to bobble around on awkward angles.
Like so many of this style though, the sheer quantity of material in the back section means you need to play with it to find a comfortable position. I found it was good for reading and watching movies, but when I wanted to sleep, I had to turn it sideways so it didn’t push my head forward.
The large size and quantity of microbeads also mean it doesn’t compact well. So you’ll need to tie it to the outside of your hand luggage.
If you enjoy the feel of a microbead filling, the Cloudz travel pillow offers comfort and head support along with a soft external material. But if you’re a fan of saving space and ergonomic design, it might not be the one for you.
Memory foam pillow with a curved design
Mvloc used to make one of my favorite inflatable pillows, but they appear to have stopped that model and now produce this memory foam version instead.
It has a very similar look and feel to the Cabeau, with a memory foam filling, the raised neck support and the adjustable rope lock at the front to help keep your head upright.
The contours of the sides are slightly more curved than the Cabeau, but the raised sides are not as high. So for me, this is one that will suit adults with shorter necks, whereas the Cabeau would be better to those with medium and longer necks.
The external material, unusually, is made from cloth and gauze. It feels breathable and soft on the skin, so along with the memory foam, is very comfortable on the whole.
Like most memory foam designs, the main problem is that it’s not so compact when not in use. But it does have a carry bag you can squish it into, and then hang on the outside of your hand luggage.