If you are like me, you have trouble sleeping on a plane. I often have trouble not only falling asleep, but my bigger issue is staying asleep. As soon as I’m asleep, my head falls to my chest or one of my shoulders and I’m snapped back to reality. Since airlines no longer provide pillows to their passengers it’s up to us to bring our own neck pillows if we want to support our heads and get a little rest.
I’ve put off getting a neck pillow for travel for a number of years. I thought they looked uncomfortable and to be honest, a little silly. I finally put aside my skepticism and decided to give one a try. Now I don’t make any long-haul flight without it.
Below I’ll go through my top five picks of travel pillows.
Top 5 Travel Pillows
- Purefly – Inflatable
- Cabeau Evolution – Memory Foam
- Travelmate – Memory Foam
- MLVOC- Inflatable
- Cloudz – Microbead
Travel Pillow Reviews
I’ve looked at a number of the top rated travel pillows, done the research and selected the top five that ticked all the boxes. Let’s take a look at the reviews.
I’m a fan of inflatable pillows for travel. They take up less space in your bag and can be adjusted to your desired firmness. This is the one I’m looking at to replace my current aging one.
It inflates by pushing a button which is a nice feature and saves blowing it up with your mouth. The cover is made of a velvet like cloth that is machine washable. The unique design looks like it provides good neck support that could keep your head from tilting to the side. It also compresses into a small 4” x 6” sack that shouldn’t take up much room in your bag.
- Button inflation, no blowing into a valve
- Ergonomic shape
- Washable cover
- Compact size
- Not as comfortable as memory foam
- Anything inflatable is prone to leaks at some point
This memory foam pillow is known for its comfort and support. It’s flat back helps to keep your head from being pushed too far forward. It comes in a variety of colors and the case is a washable velour.
What’s nice about the Cabeau Evolution is that it compresses into a small bag that is ¼ it’s full size. It maybe small enough to go with memory foam instead of an inflatable if you are worried about taking up space in your luggage. As a bonus, it also comes with a set of memory foam earplugs.
- Memory Foam comfort
- Flat back design
- Compact travel size
- Can’t adjust size or firmness
- Tall sides could be a bit restricting
The Travelmate is a pretty standard looking u-shaped travel pillow, but it has a secret feature that makes this pillow one to consider. One common complaint is that the u-shape forces the head too far forward making sleeping in an airline seat very uncomfortable. The Travelmate has a removable back cushion that turns it into a flat back.
The cover is machine washable and made from a plush velour. The biggest drawback is that it does not compress, but it has an elastic strap to make it easier to attach to the outside of your luggage.
- Removable back cushion to make it a flat back
- Memory foam comfort
- Can’t be compressed and stowed in luggage
The MLVOC is an inflatable that is designed to help prevent side to side swaying with the two distinct humps on the back sides. It inflates in as little as 5 seconds and can be adjusted to your desired firmness. The cover is removable and machine washable.
Also included is an eye mask and set of earplugs to help you get to sleep on the plane.
- Designed to reduce side to side head sway
- Inflation valve on bottom of pillow, makes it harder to adjust firmness when around neck
A lot of travelers rave about the Microbead travel pillows. They have been around for years and are common sights around airports around the globe. The cover has two sides to choose from depending on you desire, either plush or smooth.
The Cloudz doesn’t compress, but has a way to attach it to your luggage. The cover is not machine washable and can only be spot cleaned.
- Dual sided, smooth or plush
- Can’t remove and wash cover
- Not compact
How to Use a neck pillow to sleep on a plane
Like many things in life, there is not one way to do things that works for everyone. This holds true for travel pillows as well. Most pillows are in the familiar horseshoe shape. When I first tried mine out I put the opening in the front and in all honest, I found it very uncomfortable. It seemed to push my head forward and even though it stopped my head from bobbing, it didn’t help me sleep. So much so that I didn’t take it on a trip again for another year.
If this is the case for you, you can try turning the pillow around and have the opening pointed at the back. It puts your head in a more natural position and stops the chin bob and shoulder jolt. This might make things a bit more comfortable.
Another option is to use it as a regular pillow. Many of today’s airplane seats have adjustable flaps on the headrest that can be angled toward the head. You can use the flap to hold the pillow against your head.
One way to try and grab some sleep on the plane is to place the pillow on the tray table. Not a great option for tall people, and becoming harder to do with the airlines removing room between seats in coach.
For me, the best option was to go for an inflatable neck pillow. It allows me to control the size and inflation to what works best for me. It has proven to be the most comfortable option for me. Plus, it has the added benefit of not taking up much room in your carryon bag.
Types of Travel Pillows
There are 4 main kinds of travel pillows. Each of them have their pro’s and con’s and there is no one type that is going to be right for everyone. I’ll cover the main points here to help you make a selection that is better suited to your needs.
The big pro of the inflatable pillows is that they small and don’t take up much room in your carry-on bag when the air is let out. They are relatively comfortable, and you can inflate them to your desired amount of firmness.
On the down side, an airbladder doesn’t have the cushion of a more traditional foam pillow and some of the interior air bladders can have a crunch, plastic feel when they aren’t inflated all the way.
Memory foam seems to be a love it or hate it material. It is a comfortable material that forms to the contours of your body. However some people complain that this material gets too warm and causes them to sweat.
Microbead travel pillows get the credit for being the originals an seem to be sold in every airport around the world. They have the comfort of foam but the small beads provide a little more give than a regular foam product.
Foam pillows should be familiar to just about everyone. It’s a comfortable and provides a good amount of support. Just like the foam pillows you might be sleeping on every night, this material tends to compact and wear out with use.
One thing to consider when selecting your travel pillow is the cover material. You’ll want to look for something that has a removable out cover so that it can be washed easily. Nobody wants to sleep on a pillow they’ve been drooling on for countless flights.
Most of today’s pillows come in a cotton, cotton blend, or microfiber material
Some Odd Types of Travel Pillows
In my search for the ultimate pillow to help me get some quality sleep on a plane I came across some pretty different and strange designs. I can’t imagine using them, but thought they were curious enough that I’d show them here.
The Inflatable Head Rest
This has to be one of the largest options of all the pillows I looked at. It doesn’t seem all that comfortable to me, but it may be the ideal solution for some folks.
As far as being compact and easy to travel with, this one doesn’t score high on either marks.
The Cross Body Pillow
This is another unique option that looked good to me on surface but in practical use seems a bit troublesome.
The size of the pillow alone looks like it would be unwieldy and another tough option to lug around the airport. However it does look like it could be a comfy option if trying to catch a few z’s on the plane.
Do Travel Pillows Really Help You Sleep On A Plane?
This is one of those “how long is a piece of string?” questions. The answer is going to be different for everyone. For me, a good travel pillow helps me sleep on planes. I doubt I’ll ever be able to sleep soundly on a plane for a long-haul flight, maybe if I get to fly in one of those nice lie flat seats in business class. But until that happens, I know a travel pillow will allow me to sleep longer and better than not having one.