The ultimate travel pillow buyer’s guide

Travelling can be one of the most rewarding ways to spend your leisure time, but long journeys by buses, planes, trains and automobiles are definitely the least inspiring aspect of any journey. Back and neck pain, loss of sleep, jetlag – these are things we’d all rather avoid. And the good news is that getting a quality travel pillow could help out with all these ailments!

It can certainly feel a little daunting when setting out to purchase your first travel pillow – just hop on Google and you find a bewildering array of shapes, brands and materials. In this article I will break down the different types of travel pillows and describe the pros and cons of the different materials used. As well as linking to handy travel pillow reviews for some of the products we think are really outstanding.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to purchase a quality travel pillow that’s right for you. So what have you got to lose – your next long trip could turn out to be a pleasure, rather than a misery! And what better way to arrive at your destination, than well rested and ready to enjoy yourself?



Types of travel pillows

Here I’ll analyze and explain the different types of travel pillows.


Aeris Travel Pillow

Neck pillows

Neck pillows for travel are probably the most well known variety of travel pillows, and more than likely the type most people are familiar with. They come in a u-shape which wraps around your neck, sitting on your shoulders. Their design helps keep your head and neck in place, and avoid it dropping forwards, or bobbing side to side. They’re perfect for any situation where you’re sitting upright, for instance an airplane, car, bus or train. Even when not in a window seat they allow you to semi-lean into one side, which can be a substitute for a window seat.

Due to their shape they’re not really ideal for use when lying down flat to sleep, such as in a hostel, hotel, or camping. There’s a staggeringly wide variety of models to choose from in this category, and there is still room for innovation. For instance, the Hoodie Travel Pillow uses an inflatable section which sits around your neck, combine with a fabric hood to sit over your head – just like a hoodie sweatshirt!

Available materials include: memory foam, microbeads, buckwheat, polyester and goose down.

Read travel pillow reviews for Neck pillows for travel.

TherThermaRest Compressible Travel PillowmaRest Compressible Travel Pillow

Camping pillows

Camping pillows are made for the great outdoors, and come in a range of different designs. Designed for lying flat in a tent, they usually come in a traditional rectangular pillow shape. They’re also great for backpackers to use in hostels, but can definitely be used in aeroplanes or any other situation when sitting upright. Either as lumbar support, or as something soft to lean against.

Their advantage is that being a rectangular shape, they’re far superior for lying down to sleep than any other category of pillow on this site. There are also some products like the ThermaRest Trekker Pillow Case which are simply a pillow case which you can stuff a down jacket, or similar into. This is a great option for hikers, when space in their backpack is at an absolute premium.

Available materials include: memory foam, microbeads, buckwheat, polyester and goose down.

Read travel pillow reviews for Camping pillows.

Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow

Airplane pillows

I frequently get asked – what is the best travel pillow for airplanes? The truth of the matter is that any of the travel pillows reviewed on this website are suitable for use on an airplane. However, there are some travel pillows that are better than others. Overall I would recommend neck pillows or J pillows as the ultimate airplane travel pillows. Some of the pillows in the Other Travel Pillows category also make very good airplane pillows.

Available materials include: memory foam, microbeads, buckwheat, polyester and goose down.

Read travel pillow reviews for Airplane pillows.

J Pillow Travel Airplane Pillow

J Pillows

The J pillow sits in a category all of its very own. An extremely unique design, it does look a little different – but I can assure you that it is a very, very comfortable travel pillow indeed. Its award-winning design was the brain-child of a British flight attendant, and has gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years to be one of the most popular travel pillows on the market.

To use the J Pillow simply take the tail of the J and tuck it under your chin, the arms of the J wrap around the side of your face. It allows you to rest your chin and lean your head sideways into the body of the pillow. It sounds confusing, so check out this video to see what we mean. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and the raft of copycat designs now available testify to the quality of this great little travel pillow. This pillow is definitely designed for sitting upright – I would not recommend this for lying down.

Available materials: polyester.

Read travel pillow reviews for J Pillows.

Trtl Travel Pillow (hypoallergenic)

Other travel pillows

This category covers a very diverse range of travel pillows. There are some very unique and creative solutions available out there, some of which are just marketing gimmicks, some of which are really very good. Have a look at some of these unique products below!

Trtl Travel Pillow (hypoallergenic)

The Trtl Travel Pillow wraps around your neck somewhat like a scarf. It has ingenious, internal plastic bracing, which supports your neck and lets you lean into the pillow.


Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow

The Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow uses another unique approach. An long inflatable section runs from you head and neck, down to your waist, which you secure behind your body with a string. This lets you rest your head against it, and supports the neck wonderfully.


Skyrest Travel Pillow

The Skyrest Travel Pillow is another really unique approach to the humble travel pillow. It inflates to a large, tapered shape which you place on the airplane’s fold-out table. You then lean forwards and rest you entire upper body, head and neck against it. It might not be for everyone, but it is very effective.

Available materials include: memory foam, microbeads, buckwheat, polyester and goose down.

Read travel pillow review for Other travel pillows.

Animal Planet Kid's Neck Support Pillow

Kids travel pillows

Travelling with little munchkins can be a difficult experience as all parents reading this will know! Luckily there’s a whole range of great kids travel pillows designed just for all those little travelers out there. They come in a very wide range of styles, most commonly neck pillows, or large rectangular pillows. Many are simply large soft and cuddly toys – shaped as their favourite cartoon character. All of them are soft and cuddly, and for the most part come with a cartoon or movie character theme. Think Disney, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles or animal designs.

Available materials include: memory foam, microbeads, buckwheat, polyester and goose down.

Read travel pillow reviews for Kids travel pillows.

Aeris Travel Pillow

Travel pillow materials

Here I’ll explain the pros and cons of the different material used in constructing pillows, and how I factor these in when writing travel pillow reviews.

Memory foam travel pillows

This is easily one of my favourite travel pillow materials. Memory foam is made from polyurethane but with special chemicals added which help to increase its viscosity and density. The memory foam molds to fit your body’s shape, as the heat and weight of your body presses against the pillow. This is great, as it really adds to the travel pillow’s comfort by conforming to your body’s shape. And once you’re finished using it, the memory foam magically morphs back into its original shape. Not only are memory foam pillows comfortable and soft due to the way they mold to your shape – they also provide really good support to your head and neck.

This is an excellent feature, because it means you can compress most memory foam travel pillows down to a much smaller size. Many of them come with a handy stuff sack, or something similar, which allows you to really cut down of the bulk of the travel pillow. Which is so important when you are travelling. This combination of portability and excellent comfort and support, is a hard-to-beat combination.

Furthermore, they tend to be quite resilient and a good quality product should last you for years. They’re also a better option for hayfever suffers as they are resistant to dust mites.

One downside of memory foam travel pillows, is that they can sometimes be prone to warming up due to your body heat. This is not always the case, and often is affected by the type of material used on the exterior of the pillow. Some models such as the Aeris Travel Pillow also come with holes drilled into the memory foam which helps circulate air and alleviate any over-heating issues.

Inflatable travel pillows

The number one feature inflatable travel pillows have going for them is portability. No other travel pillows on the market can come even remotely close to these in terms of how small they pack down to, or for their extreme lightness. This makes them perfect for travelers where space in their bags is at a premium. Backpackers in particular should be looking at inflatable travel pillows!

The drawback of inflatable travel pillows is that they don’t provide the same level of comfort and support as other travel pillows. Being filled with air, they inevitably are not as soft and supporting. And where your body weight presses against them, the air inevitably gets pushed to other parts of the pillow. That’s not to say that inflatable travel pillows are uncomfortable and not worth considering. Many of them are excellent and combined with their tiny packed down size are 100% worth considering. It’s always a danger that they can burst, or develop a slow leak over time. Generally very cheap inflatable travel pillows should be avoided for these reasons.

Polyester travel pillows

Polyester travel pillows are another very common type of pillow on the market. They’re relatively cheap to manufacture and are certainly very soft and comfortable. They generally don’t provide the same amount of support as a memory foam travel pillow. This can come down to personal taste between a firmer or softer travel pillow.

Polyester travel pillows can in some instances be prone to losing their shape over time, as well as uncomfortable clumping. And for people with allergies, dust mites can be an issue. They do compress down to a reasonably smaller size, although not to the extent of memory foam.

Microbead travel pillows

Microbead travel pillows have a number of very positive attributes. For a start they’re super light, and are very soft and comfortable to use. They also provide really good support, as the beads shift and redistribute to contour to your body’s shape – although not to the extent of memory foam. The good news continues as they are hypoallergenic, excellent for all you allergy sufferers out there! And they also don’t absorb moisture like some other materials. They’re generally machine washable, and a good quality microbead travel pillow should last you for years. Once again, they do compress down in size to a certain extent, but nothing like a memory foam travel pillow.

Buckwheat travel pillows

Buckwheat travel pillows are a great all-natural alternative, and are also hypoallergenic. The shape of the buckwheat hulls allow air to pass through the entire pillow. This is a great feature because it allows air to ventilate through the travel pillow and cut down on body heat creating uncomfortable warmth. They’re generally very soft and comfortable, and provide similar levels of support to a microbead travel pillow. Properly looked after the lifespan of these travel pillows can be 10+ years. Drawbacks are lack of machine washability, and limited compressibility. They can also make a slight rustling noise as the hulls rub against each other when you move.

Down travel pillows

Down travel pillows are very light and also very comfortable. They tend to hold their shape really well and wonderfully soft and cuddly. Having said that they are not a very common material used in the travel pillow market, primarily due to their high costs. They are not as firm something like a memory foam pillow, so do not provide the same amount of support. Furthermore they are difficult to clean and can cause allergies in some people.


Naipo Travel Pillow Memory Foam Neck Pillow

How to use a travel pillow

This may seem like an unusual question, but some of the more unique travel pillows on the market definitely require a read through the instruction manual! Some products like neck pillows for travel are pretty self-evident – you wear them strapped around your neck and shoulders. However, many of the pillows in our Other Travel Pillows category push design norms and really need to be used correctly to get the maximum benefits. For instance, the Trtl Travel Pillow needs to be positioned with the internal plastic braces aligned to one side of your neck. Used incorrectly this travel pillow will likely seem like a complete waste of money! I’ll always explain how to use these types of travel pillows, and when it helps link to helpful videos to show you exactly how to use them.


Are travel pillows worth it?

As far as I am concerned – ‘are travel pillows worth it’ is not even a question worth asking. Yet many people do ask themselves if they’re really a worthwhile investment – or simply a gimmicky product that does not really work. As an avid traveler I can testify to the fact that a good quality travel pillow can help you sleep on long journeys. They can help reduce back, neck and shoulder pain. They can help you feel more rested when you arrive at your destination. And getting a decent sleep on a long haul flight can certainly help reduce jet lag. And when you consider that travel pillows start at around $10 USD, then it is really not a large investment to make – when there are so many benefits to be had.


Other considerations

There are some other considerations to take into account when purchasing a travel pillow.


Many travel pillows are machine washable, which is a really important factor to consider to help prolong your travel pillow’s lifespan. Some also come with removable covers which can be put through the washing machine. Most of this comes down to the materials used, and whether they can stand up to washing machines and dryers. There are even some products like the ThermaRest Compressible Travel Pillow where putting them through a wash cycle is actually very beneficial – increasing the pillow’s loft, fluffiness and size.

Is it hypoallergenic?

There are millions of people in the world like me who suffer from allergies. Certain materials are better for allergy prone people such as buckwheat or microbeads. I’ll always specify in my travel pillow reviews if a pillow is hypoallergenic.

Breathability and body heat

The external and internal material used on your travel pillow can make a big difference to breathability. Some travel pillows can be prone to heat up with extended use, due to your body heat getting trapped in the material. Buckwheat travel pillows are fantastic in this regard – as the shape of the hulls allows air to freely travel through the travel pillow. Inflatable travel pillows obviously allow no air flow through them whatsoever. When purchasing an inflatable travel pillow it is important to pay attention to the outer finish. Some of the cheaper products are very plasticky and can start to get sweaty pretty quickly.


Not all travel pillows are created equally, and some will definitely last you longer than others. Price can often be a determining factor here – if you buy a bargain basement travel pillow, then in many cases you cannot expect it to last you for a long time. However that is certainly not always the case. Memory foam travel pillows, buckwheat travel pillows and microbead travel pillows all use materials which lend themselves to a long lifespan. Polyester travel pillows can tend to lose their shape or clump in uncomfortable sections over time. And the worry with an inflatable travel pillow is that they can pop or develop a slow leak. Other things to watch for are the quality of the materials used, the stitching, fit and finish and the air sealing on inflatable travel pillows. Some of the bigger, established brands also back their products up with long warranties. I always consider these factors for any travel pillow reviews I write.

How we write our travel pillow reviews

How I write my travel pillow reviews

When writing travel pillow reviews I primarily consider the following four criteria.


Comfort is probably the most important consideration when writing a travel pillow review. I ask questions like how soft is the outer material against your skin? Does it adequately support or your head, neck, shoulders and back? Is it comfortable enough that it will it help you sleep whilst on a long distance flight?


In the design criteria I analyze the unique design features of every travel pillow I review. Things like the types of material used, handy travel pouches or clips and ease of use. Is it a good looking travel pillow, is it machine washable?


Portability is very important when writing any travel pillow review. As a travel accessory, travel pillows need to take up as little amount of space as possible, and not weigh you down. Inflatable travel pillows are hard to beat when it comes to this category, as they weigh almost nothing and pack down extremely small. Lots of travel pillows can be compressed down to make them more portable. And many also come with a compression sack so you can store them at their smallest size. Things like clips or velcro straps also make travel pillows more portable, as you can clip them onto your luggage.


When writing a travel pillow review I consider the scores for comfort, design and portability and then weigh that against the travel pillow’s retail price. Knowing the travel pillow market well, I am able to gauge how a given product stacks up compared to other travel pillows in its price category.

Extra features and products

Some travel pillows come with additional features or products which can be really useful. A stuff-sack is really handy to be able to compress your travel pillow down in size, and keep it nice and compact. There’s nothing more frustrating than a pillow which you can drastically reduce its size by compression, but without a stuff-sack it simply expands back to its original size, taking up valuable space in your luggage. Some travel pillows like the Aeris Travel Pillow come with extras including foam earplugs and a sleeping mask – both really handy for a long journey! The Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow comes with a handy pouch to slide your phone or mp3 player into whilst in transit. Clever little design touches and extra products like this are all great features that we look out when writing travel pillow reviews.


Final thoughts

So there you have it, my definitive guide to buying a travel pillow. Whether you’re a first time buyer, or are considering buying a different style of travel pillow, I hope that this guide has been helpful. There are such a wide variety of travel pillows available that will appeal to all kinds of different customers. From backpackers, to hikers and campers, to regular commuters and business people, families with children in tow or flashpackers and luxury holiday seekers. How and where you’re planning to use your travel pillow will dictate the type of product you choose to buy, not to mention the price tag. Often times purchases can come down to personal taste. The perfect travel pillow for you might be completely different to your friends. Happy travels!

We will be happy to see your thoughts

Leave a reply

Login/Register access is temporary disabled