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HAVING THE right gear makes a difference in the overall comfort of your travels. Proper luggage, a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and an array of useful travel gadgets will go a long way toward ensuring the smoothest, most comfortable flight. Want to know the single best travel gear investment you can make? That's going to be a quality travel pillow.
We at MH are always testing the latest travel products, and the one item we're always looking for new developments in are travel pillows. Like your favorite pillow at home, the best travel pillow is going to fit unique to your sleeping habits, which is why we went and tested a wide range of travel pillows that will appeal to all types of individuals.
Aside from a stiff drink, a travel pillow is the one item that makes flying tolerable. A good travel pillows is soft, supportive (memory foam is a good start), long-lasting, and easily packable. Not sure which one is right for you? We've done the legwork to round up the best travel pillows so far this year.
POD Travel Pillow
Since we first got our hands on the Pluto POD to test earlier this year, the travel pillow gets on average one positive comment per trip through the airport. We've even gotten comments from flight attendants on how much they like the design! For starters the POD looks like something out of science fiction, and that's not done by accident. What the POD does is act as a sensory deprivation mask along with being a travel pillow, resulting in something almost entirely different than your average travel pillow. With all that being said, the POD has helped us power through cross country flights of 5+ hours like a champ.
The overall design is larger than most travel pillows, which may dissuade some. However it does pack up to an impressive carrying size that still fits in a travel backpack or carry-on. Why the large size? Well for one the neck support is firm and allows the wearer to wrap it as tight or as loose as they'd like in order to get the right head positioning. The hood is also large, as it extends out over the top of the head to fully immerse yourself into the pillow. The hood keeps the pull down eye mask inside: it's a legit eye mask, meaning it's not too thin or flimsy.
The POD is a bit bigger in size than most of the travel pillows on this list, which is why it might not be the ultimate best for taking on short excursions. But for long trips we have yet to find a pillow that's better. As for price, you won't regret making the investment on the POD. Grab one now before stock sells out.
The Trtl Pillow upends the traditional concept of bulky, bean-filled travel pillows. It’s a one-of-a-kind design that wraps around your neck like a scarf. A built-in inner “rib” contours the jaw, neckline, and shoulder, so it supports your head unlike any travel pillow we tested. That’s made it a favorite among some of the biggest names in the travel industry. It’s thin, lightweight, and packs down small, making it perfect for travel. If you’re inclined to drool while you sleep (no judgment), it’s also machine-washable.
It's true there might be a couple of other travel pillows with as good of comfort (if not better) but when you consider the unmatched portability the Trtl still takes the cake as our best travel pillow of 2023.
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Travel Pillow 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow
This good ol' fashioned memory foam pillow comes in a simple design and a friendly price. You get the pillow, a carrying bag, an eye mask, and a set of ear plugs all for under $3o. While the memory foam pillow might not have any bells and whistles, it does have a comfortable wrap-around design and pull tabs at the front to make the pillow tighter or looser.
Those who are used to a memory foam pillow at home will likely enjoy this pillow. Overall, we see it as an affordable option that is suitable for short naps no longer than 2 hours at a time. If you're looking for a more customized fit or looking to max out on comfort though, we recommend going up on your travel pillow investment.
Evolution TNE S3 Travel Pillow
Cabeau makes a number of high quality travel pillows, and the TNE S3 is the latest iteration of its top selling product. The pillow's memory foam core has been a favorite from Cabeau fans for the past few years now as a trusted go-to for flying. This updated TNE S3 comes with a seat strap that will help you lock in the travel pillow, and a unique chin strap design that allows you to hold your head up in place for a secure sleep position.
This pillow is great for those who are prone to getting a sore neck when sleeping on a plane. It's also a solid option for those who are constantly finding themselves shifting their travel pillow around to get in a preferred spot. The one downside we found when testing is the pillow's design can push up on the ears and shift your earbuds around, which can be annoying for those who like to wear AirPods on the place.
Chin Supporting Travel Pillow
J-Pillow’s Chin Supporting Travel Pillow is unlike any other on the market. That’s because it’s purpose-built to support your head and neck while traveling. The design isn’t for everyone and can take some getting used to. But, if you find traditional travel pillows aren’t supportive enough, we think this is a great alternative. The plush headrest is extremely comfortable, and the cushy design compresses smaller than typical U-shaped travel pillows. While many travel pillows boast only a washable cover, the entire J-Pillow can be thrown in the washer and tumble-dried, ensuring it’s hypoallergenic.
Our testers found the J-Pillow works best when laying it up on a window, whether it be a car, train, or plane. The downside is we believe there are other pillows that might be more comfortable when resting standalone, with no window to add support.
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Evolution Cooling Travel Pillow
If you run hot—even on freezing cold flights—Cabeau’s aptly named Evolution Cooling Travel Pillow helps keep you cool while napping. The ventilated mesh neck vents ensure better airflow than any pillow on this list, making this an especially great alternative for long-haul flights. With a memory foam core, this model offers excellent head and neck support. The thin, lightweight design packs down smaller than traditional travel pillows, so it’s well-sized for tossing into a carry-on.
Some travelers may find that the wraparound design feels more like a neck brace than a neck pillow. Unfortunately, these unique features come with a price, as this is among the most expensive options on this list.
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Go Neck Pillow
Ostrichpillow has long been a favorite among travelers in the know. The Ostrichpillow Go, in particular, features a unique, swooping design with the best neck support of any pillow we’ve tested. It’s also height-customizable so travelers can adjust to their preferred comfort level. The soft cover feels great against the skin and is removable for easy machine-washing. It packs down to less than half of its full size to slip effortlessly into the included carry bag, making it ideal for travel.
One qualm we had when testing was it felt quite heavy, weighing nearly a full pound.
Memory Foam Travel Pillow
Whether sleeping at home, in a tent, or on a plane, memory foam is our go-to pillow type. Wise Owl Outfitters’ Memory Foam Pillow features a memory foam core that’s soft yet supportive enough for window-seat naps in-flight. The plush micro-suede cover provides the perfect surface to rest your face and is machine-washable to boot. And because the design packs down incredibly small into the included stuff sack, it’s a great pillow for travel, camping, and any adventure in-between.
It’s available in two sizes: Small (12 x 16 inches) or Medium (14 x 18 inches), so you can choose the right one for your travel style.
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The Original McKenzie
Travel pillows needn’t be just for sleeping. The Original McKenzie Self-Inflating AirBack Lumbar Support Pillow from OPTP makes any airplane seat, whether in coach or First Class, even more comfortable. Once properly inflated, it more than doubles in size for additional support for your lower back or anywhere you need it really. The built-in twist valve allows for fine-tuning the inflation to your comfort level. It packs down to just 8 x 3 inches, small enough for even the most compact carry-on bag.
We also love that the design is versatile enough to use just about anywhere and even rest your head on like a typical camp or travel pillow.
Travel pillows are often air- or bead-filled, so they can feel strange compared to your pillow at home. Not so with Teton Sports’ Camp Pillow. There are no fancy inner ribs or self-inflating features with this one. It’s a straightforward pillow, much like the one you probably already sleep on, only smaller. That design makes it immediately comfortable in almost any position, though it’s not as supportive as others on this list. It is, however, extremely packable, lofts up on its own (with no inflation necessary), and is machine-washable. Plus, at less than $20, it’s the cheapest pillow on this list.
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What to Look for in a Travel Pillow
Shopping for travel pillows isn’t much different than shopping for traditional bed pillows. When we spent the past two months testing each travel pillow, we considered these features:
Firmness: As with typical bed pillows, travel pillows range from soft (plush) to medium to extra-firm. The right one for you is a matter of personal preference.
Core construction: The core of most travel pillows is either memory foam, air-filled, or bead-filled.
Size & packability: How small does the travel pillow pack down? Will it fit in or clip on a carry-on travel bag? Consider whether the packed size fits into your travel style.
Washability: Is the entire pillow machine-washable? Or just the outer cover?
Price: In our experience, you shouldn’t need to spend more than $40-60 on a great travel pillow unless it's truly exceptional (like the Pluto POD). A quality travel pillow can be had for around $30.
Do Travel Pillows Count As a “Personal Item” for Air Travelers?
The short answer is: Sometimes. It’s up to the discretion of TSA agents. In our experience, if you carry your travel pillow in your hand through airport security or onto the plane, TSA and gate agents are more likely to count it as a personal item. We recommend wearing it around your neck, where it’s more likely to be overlooked.
How We Tested
We tested and thoroughly researched two dozen travel pillows for this roundup. We noted everything, including firmness levels, packability, durability, ease of washing, and, of course, price. The list above represents our honest opinions on the best travel pillows for travelers to shop in 2023.
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