The Travel Pillow That Made Me Believe I Could Actually Be Comfortable on Planes
My neck no longer feels like it’s going to snap in half. I never thought this day would come.
For me, neck pillows are a point of contention. They sound good in theory, seem like they should work, and people always act like they’re going to make your life better — but they’re not, and they don’t, and when you realize how disappointing they are, you put them in a closet and pretend it never happened.
Some background: I’m a tall lady with a longer neck — a neck that also happens to be fairly stiff, especially on flights, thanks to a combination of normal, 20-something-New-Yorker tension and the stress that comes along with dreading 6+ hours in coach. Unsurprisingly, I’ve also never been able to sleep on planes (and yes, if you have a “foolproof” method involving wine or pills, I’ve already tried it).
My problem isn’t that my knees are inevitably knocking the seat in front of me, or even that the cabin lights are seeping through the bottom of my flimsy eye mask. My problem is that, no matter which seat I’m in — no matter how I maneuver my body —I never know where to put my head.
I’m not one of those people who can just let it loll, neck bent at a dangerous angle or chin slumped against my chest. Feeling like my neck is unsupported or unnaturally positioned can affect my whole body and mood while traveling. This should make me the ideal customer for the travel pillow market, but I’ve been burned time and again. I’ve tried those stretchy ones filled with beads that sound like crunching snow whenever you move your cheek; the inflatable ones that roll up nice and small in your bag, but once blown up, leak out over the course of 15 minutes and leave you smelling like your own breath; the ones that promise “maximum support” and yet are still not substantial enough to maximally support my (admittedly, fairly large) head. For the most part, travel pillows kind of suck.
To buy: amazon.com, $30
This was my outlook when I went into testing the Trtl (pronounced “turtle”) pillow. A longtime favorite of Travel + Leisure editors, it does away with the main design flaw of the majority of travel pillows on the market: the “U” shape. Think about it. It’s nice to be able to move your head from side to side, sure, but what these pillows give us in horizontal surface area, they lack in vertical support. I always wished my pillows were “taller” so I wouldn’t have to crane my neck — run with that idea, though, and you’ll end up with a neck brace the size of your carry-on.
This fine specimen, on the other hand, doesn’t really even look like a pillow at all. The concept is simple: a thin-but-sturdy frame, ergonomically designed to hinge at around a 90-degree angle, covered in soft fleece. Attached to the frame is a length of fabric that you use to secure the frame in place (between your shoulder and your face) — wrapping it around your neck infinity-scarf-style and securing it with Velcro.
Unfurled, it looks like a piece of (machine-washable) fabric. Folded up for storage, it’s the size of a small book and weighs about a quarter of a pound. It sounds a little scary at first, being totally detached from our idea of a “pillow” — it's not puffy, squishy, or filled with down — but during a recent overnight flight from New York to Madrid, the Trtl helped me sleep on a plane for the first time in 15 years. If this isn’t a pillow, I don’t really care what it is.
To my fellow stiff-necked, heavy-headed travelers, I say this: the Trtl Pillow will support your head nearly vertically. You won’t feel like you’re being strangled by redundant material. You won’t feel like your neck is craning so far it will snap. You won’t really feel like you’re using a travel pillow at all — and that’s all this travel pillow skeptic could ask for.