Your neck, back, and neighbor’s shoulder will thank you.
Full disclosure: I am gifted with the ability to fall asleep anywhere. At any time, with any light or noise conditions, and in any imaginable variety of train, plane, or car seat, I can fold my body into some semblance of comfort and be totally out for the count within minutes.
I don’t say this to brag; there are downsides. For one, my friends have lovingly captured multiple photos of me comatose in the passenger’s seat, drooling onto the seat belt that’s somehow strapped across my face. And while that hurts my pride, it’s the least of my worries when it comes to pain. Because falling asleep is no problem, waking up at the end of the trip with a stiff neck, numb lower back, and searing headache almost always is.
Enter the wonderful world of travel pillows. There are endless products out there to provide the plushy reinforcements you need to sleep better while traveling and feel better once you’ve reached your destination. I’ve rounded up a few favorites, from discreet neck pillows that could pass for scarves—or are hidden away in the hood of a jacket!—to inflatable sleep support devices that require superhuman levels of self-esteem, but are so, so worth it.
Best for: the Window Seat
Pull down the shade and expand the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow for the perfect window seat snooze support. This soft, urethane foam–filled pillow packs to one-fifth its normal size and comes with a comfortable brushed polyester cover.
Best for: the Bobblehead Sleeper
If you’re literally nodding as you attempt to nod off, the GoSleep Eye Mask and Memory Foam Pillow Travel Kit will ensure your head stays cradled securely in place. The eye mask attaches to the back of your headrest with an adjustable elastic cord, but keep in mind it may only be usable when there’s not a screen on your seat back.
Best for: Truly Shameless Shut-Eye
What the Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in comfort. When inflated, it’s shaped like a long apostrophe that tucks right above your shoulder and across your body or down your side. Upon arrival, it easily deflates into a small roll designed to snap right onto your carry-on’s handle.
Best for: the Can’t-Get-Comfortable Traveler
Best for: Travelers Who Get Too Cold
The ultra-soft Brookstone Convertible Travel Blanket is lightweight to pack, but the box-stitched design retains heat to keep you cozy. It folds into a pillow with a built-in strap for easy transport.
Best for: Travelers Who Get Too Hot
If you overheat just thinking about a thick, fluffy pillow wrapped around your neck, the Cabeau Evolution Cool Pillow is for you. The sporty design pairs memory foam with cooling air circulation vents and sweat-wicking fabric for when the tiny air conditioning vent above you is in “does this even work?” mode.
Best for: Secret Support
If you’ve found that U-shaped neck pillows don’t provide the support you need, the scarf-like, fleece Trtl Pillow—pronounced, “turtle”—packs a strengthened inner rib that contours to any neck, jaw, or shoulder shape. It’s half the size of a traditional neck pillow, and in the unfortunate case of deep-sleep drool, it’s machine-washable.
Best for: Saving Space
The AirComfy Travel Pillow is designed to provide either lumbar support or neck support, with an elastic band to secure it to your headrest. Just inflate it to the firmness you prefer and pack it back flat or into its pouch when you’ve reached your destination.
Best for: Packing Purists
Best for: Shoulder Snoozers
Even though it slightly resembles a whale tail, you’ll be far more restful than Captain Ahab with the J Pillow. It’s currently the number one best-selling travel pillow on Amazon and it’s specifically designed to cradle your head, chin included, from the side.
Best for: Sensitive Sleepers
If bright lights and rowdy neighbors are just as annoying as fumbling around with an eye mask and earplugs, you’ll love the Ostrich Pillow Light (and you can see our editors try it out here). This adjustable ringed pillow is filled with silicon-covered micro-beads for sound reduction, setting you up for a sleep so deep you won’t even need these brilliant ways to cure jet lag.
Best for: Serious Do-Not-Disturb Signals
The AERIS Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow Kit was made for the light sleeper. Its ventilated memory foam molds to the contours of your neck and it comes equipped with a soft sleep mask and a pair of foam earplugs.
Best for: the Kids
The faux fox Eddie Bauer Travel Pillow doubles as an adorable cuddle buddy and a cozy neck support for tiny travelers on long plane, train, and car rides.
Best for: the Too-Cool-for-Neck-Pillows Crowd
The Orvis Global Travel Zip Sweatshirt is designed for the long-haul traveler. The oversized hood has a built-in inflatable neck pillow so you can be comfortable without looking like you’re trying to. And you won’t need to carry or pack anything extra.
Best for: Avoiding Tray Table Bacteria
PSA: Do not put your face anywhere near your tray table. A 2011 study confirmed they’re almost 10 times more germ-covered than the airplane bathrooms. If downward-facing drool is your preferred sleeping position, check out the Woollip Travel Pillow, which is being developed with help from yoga teachers and physiotherapists. It’s a frontal pillow that’s the weight of a smartphone, but able to support your head and upper body when you lean forward. It’s on track to be available for purchase this fall.