By Travel + Leisure Staff
May 10, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Courtesy of Respective Retailers

A travel pillow will see you through one of your most vulnerable travel moments: sleeping with dozens of strangers on public transportation. That is, if you're able to find one that works for you, which can be an exhausting (and expensive) endeavor.

But fear not, your trusty Travel + Leisure editors have used our frequent flying habits to test out all of the most popular pillow options — from the subtle to the “interesting” to the just plain wacky — so you don't have to.

Related: The Best Sleep Masks for Traveling

The portable pillow market is continually expanding beyond the standard, U-shaped neck pillow — which, side note, is still hanging onto the sixth-place spot — to all sorts of head-supporting contraptions that use Velcro, memory foam, hidden support structures, and, of course, your very own breath to help you feel as comfortable as you possibly can whilst desperately attempting to doze off in the middle seat.

Our Review Methodology

During testing, we took four categories into account and gave each a rating between one and five — one representing poor performance and five, perfection.

  1. Support — Does the pillow hold up your head or is it too flimsy?
  2. Comfort — Is the material soft? Does the design make it easy to use?
  3. Portability — How packable is the pillow? Is it too much of a burden to bring?
  4. Public Shame Potential — Is it inspiring envious looks or stifled laughter from fellow passengers?

Then, to get a total score, we weighted the categories to favor those that matter most: support and comfort were each worth 35 percent, with portability at 20 percent, and the embarrassment factor coming in at 10 percent. 

Below, ranked from worst to best, see the surprisingly good, the pretty bad, and the really ugly (but oh-so-worth-it).

No. 17: Cloudz EZ-inflate Cloud Sleeper

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: on a drive from New York City to Pittsburgh in the back seat
Support: 5; “Definitely gave me massage-table vibes though.”
Comfort: 3; “The seams in the armholes could be softer.”
Portability: 1; “Condensing it back into the original storage sleeve required two people and multiple tries.”
Public Shame Potential: 1; “I was happy to provide my friends with some entertainment, but definitely wouldn't use this thing on a plane.”

Weighted Score: 3.1/5  

To buy: amazon.com, $20

No. 16: Cabeau Evolution Cool

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight; window seat
Support: 2; “I was the most excited for this pillow, since it packs so small and brags about how cool it is. However, while it kept my neck perfectly wrapped, it did almost nothing for my head. It was like wearing a high-tech collar that didn't actually support my head.”
Comfort: 4; “It felt good — right amount of firmness, etc. But when it came time to sleep, your head doesn't actually touch it.”
Portability: 5; “Fit into an overstuffed camera bag. Extremely packable.”
Public Shame Potential: 2; “It looks a bit like a medical device.”

Weighted Score: 3.3/5

To buy: amazon.com, $60

No. 15: Bcozzy Chin-supporting Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight from New York City to Los Angeles; window seat in business class
Support: 4; “It was so close to being supportive enough when the doubled-up side was the section I was resting my head on. I wish it were just a tad more cushioned so I didn't feel like I needed to crane my neck over a little farther or nudge my shoulder a smidge higher. Perhaps it's meant for those whose heads tend to nod forward as they drift off to sleep, rather than someone like me who has more of a tendency to tilt left or right.”
Comfort: 4; “The fleece felt pleasantly soft against my face, but it also warmed up mid-flight, which led me to readjust and flip over to the microfiber side, which I actually liked better.”
Portability: 2; “Rather than hook it to my carry-on or the strap of my tote bag, I looped it around itself and shoved it inside my bag, which took up more room than I would've liked. That said, it sprang right back to its proper shape with no signs of having been sardined in my bag with all of my other travel tchotchkes.”
Public Shame Potential: 2; “It's certainly not as goofy-looking as a certain avian-named pillow, but it's a little too wormy for my liking.”

Weighted Score: 3.4/5

To buy: amazon.com, $30

No. 14: Infinity Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: an overnight bus ride; window seat
Support: 4; “Not super supportive, but if you have the window to lean on, it's perfect.”
Comfort: 5; “So nice, like a comforter for your neck that doesn't feel smothering or heavy. It's just the right amount of plush.”
Portability: 1; “Not ideal for light packing; doesn't really condense at all.”
Public Shame Potential: 3; “I mean, I think it's cute but I can see how it might feel a little ridiculous to some.”

Weighted Score: 3.65/5

Further Comment: “I thought I was going to be annoyed by this pillow and it ended up giving me hours of restful sleep on a Greyhound bus — do you know how hard that is to achieve? It's also supposed to block noise when it's wrapped around your ears and I can totally vouch for that feature. I love that it can be wrapped a ton of different ways and it also helped to keep me warm when the air conditioning was on blast.”

To buy: amazon.com, $40

No. 13: Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: two flights between Lisbon and Boston; both middle seats
Support: 4; “It doesn't quite support me where I need it. My head still drops too far to the side, which strains my neck.”
Comfort: 4; “The memory foam is nice and soft and the back is flush against the seat so it doesn't tip you forward at all but I like to turn or tilt my head to the side to sleep and that didn't work for me in this pillow. It's more comfy straight on.”
Portability: 3; “It does condense a bit into a pouch, but not very much. Also kind of heavy.”
Public Shame Potential: 4; “It's a standard travel pillow.”

Weighted Score: 3.8/5

To buy: amazon.com, $30

No. 12: Shhh Silk Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Shhh Silk

Tested on: a five-hour drive and also while camping
Support: 3; “It's a regular, rectangle-shaped pillow, so you need a window or something to add support.”
Comfort: 5; “So soft and cool, especially on a summer night sleeping in a tent.”
Portability: 3; “It flattens a bit and is lightweight, so worth packing if you have the extra space”
Public Shame Potential: 5; “With the marbled print and simple style, dare I say it actually made me feel chic?”

Weighted Score: 3.9/5

Further Comment: “Silk is easier on your skin and hair than other common travel pillow fabrics, so that's a nice added bonus.”

To buy: shhhsilk.com, from $149

No. 11: Cloudz Gel and Bamboo Memory Foam Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight; aisle seat
Support: 4; “So close to being perfect — the gel added a nice amount of firmness. I just wish it was slightly thicker so I didn't feel like I had to strain my neck or raise my shoulder at all.”
Comfort: 5; “The memory foam and gel helped the pillow mold to my head and neck, and the combination of cooling gel on one side and cozy velour on the other meant I could flip it over depending on the cabin temperature. As someone who generally sleeps hot but gets cold on planes, having that option was clutch.”
Portability: 2; “This is one respect where the gel and memory foam worked against the pillow. There's no way it's compressing into a carry-on or tote without taking up a decent amount of space.”
Public Shame Potential: 4; “Aside from the mesh overlay on the cooling gel portion, it looks like your average travel pillow: not the cutest, but no shame in that game.”

Weighted Score: 3.95/5

To buy: amazon.com, $17

No. 10: Thermarest Compressible Pillow (Medium)

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: Five-hour car ride; passenger's seat
Support: 3; “It takes a few hours for the foam to expand to its full fluff potential after being condensed, and you'll definitely need something to lean it against if you're sleeping upright.”
Comfort: 5; “You can feel the separate foam pieces inside, but it didn't bother me.”
Portability: 4; “It's really easy to compress back down to about a third of its size, but still kind of bulky if you're traveling light.”
Public Shame Potential: 5; “The print is a little wild, but that's the only thing that will draw any attention.”

Weighted Score: 4.1/5

To buy: amazon.com, from $21

No. 9: AirComfy Daydreamer Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight; aisle seat
Support: 4; “Very supportive — almost too supportive!”
Comfort: 4; “It was very soft, but it got very hot because of the fleece-like fabric.”
Portability: 5; “This was the most packable of the three pillows I tried.”
Public Shame Potential: 4; “The little pump on it was a great touch — no awkward blowing-up of a pillow next to my neighbor.”

Weighted Score: 4.2/5

To buy: amazon.com, $19

No. 8: J Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: bus ride from New York City to Boston; window seat
Support: 3; “It kept sliding down the window and leaving my neck at a slightly uncomfortable angle. After two hours of repeated readjustment, I had a crick in my neck. On the upside, it did keep my neck from flopping around while I napped.”
Comfort: 5; “It was perfectly plushy enough to protect my head from the window!”
Portability: 5; “The pillow came in a drawstring pouch, which you can tie to your luggage. Even though I had a duffel bag, backpack, and cooler bag of snacks, it wasn't at all awkward or difficult to carry around.”
Public Shame Potential: 5

Weighted Score: 4.3/5

To buy: amazon.com, $30

No. 7: Cori Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Cori

Tested on: a flight from New York City to Liberia, Costa Rica; aisle seat
Support: 4; “I didn't really like that it had to be secured super tightly around my neck to be able to hold my head up comfortably. I found myself having to use the headrest wings, too, to feel supported.”
Comfort: 5; “The memory foam in the little pillow modules is nice and the Velcro is soft, not scratchy, in case it does come in contact with your skin.”
Portability: 4; “The separate parts are a little cumbersome to remove and roll up like the directions show, so I ended up just putting them in my backpack separately and that seemed to save space.”
Public Shame Potential: 4

Weighted Score: 4.35/5

Further Comment: “I feel like it would get better with more use; I'm not sure the configuration I was using is actually the best one for me.”

To buy: coritraveller.com, $49

No. 6: Cloudz Microbead Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight from New York City to Los Angeles; aisle seat
Support: 4; “I don't like rough support, so I appreciated that the pillow was soft. Unfortunately, it's not a design where you really get support on the sides.”
Comfort: 5; “It was soft without being too flimsy and held its shape, which made it not only comfortable, but easy to carry around, too.”
Portability: 4; “I don't ever pack my pillows into my carry-on; I tend to attach it to the handle, which was easy to do with this pillow.”
Public Shame Potential: 5

Weighted Score: 4.45/5

Further Comment: “It was comfortable overall and sturdier than most microbead pillows I've used.”

To buy: amazon.com, $11

No. 5: Dot&Dot Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Dot&Dot

Tested on: flights from New York City to San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Croix and back; window seats
Support: 5; “The adjustable ‘spine’ of this pillow feels sturdy and you can twist it to support your neck/head in any way you need it depending on how you sleep, which seat you're in, or what's bothering you. I was having upper back/shoulder pain on one side prior to flying and being able to customize where I was supported was key.”
Comfort: 5; “The memory foam was the right amount of cushy comfort meets sturdy support, and the cotton exterior was soft and comforting without making you feel hot or sweaty (like some of the velour ones I've tried before).”
Portability: 3; “There's no way to really fold it up and stash it, so I had to hang it from my bag, which was a little bulky.”
Public Shame Potential: 4; “I liked that it was just simple, gray cotton; it didn't look too over-the-top. Although it did leave my hair looking kind of crazy. If you have long hair, maybe go with a ponytail.”

Weighted Score: 4.5/5

Further Comment: “The customizable memory foam really made it stand out for me. I would buy it.”  

To buy: amazon.com, $25

No. 4: Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a long-haul flight from New York City to Southeast Asia; aisle seat
Support: 5; “This was by far the best travel pillow I have ever used.”
Comfort: 5; “It's inflatable, so you can adjust the firmness. The material itself is very soft.”
Portability: 5; “It deflates down to a tube-like roll that is smaller than most burritos.”
Public Shame Potential: 1; “It is very shameful. It crosses your entire body and you have to inflate it. Every time I used it, I caught someone giving me the side-eye. A travel companion pretended not to know me.”

Weighted Score: 4.6/5

Further Comment: “I loved how versatile it is. You can use it across your body to hug it, or you can deflate it and use the adjustable strap to kind of turn it into more of a standard neck pillow. It rolls down to nothing or can inflate to something the size of a life preserver.”

To buy: amazon.com, from $26

No. 3: Trtl Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: an overnight flight from New York City to Madrid; aisle seat
Support: 4; “I put 4, but it's really more like a 4.5 or 4.75. I am the type of person for whom a travel pillow is never really going to be comfortable, no matter how good it is. I would say that, all things considered, this is the best travel pillow I have ever used. It's basically a fabric scarf that wraps around your neck, secures with Velcro, and has a wire frame inside for head support. The wires are bouncy enough to not feel like you're wearing a neck brace, but still sturdy enough that you don't get that feeling of overextension that you get from most neck pillows.” 
Comfort: 5; “The fleecy material is nice and soft, and even though you have to wrap it fairly snugly around your neck, the contraption doesn't feel restrictive or uncomfortable at all. You can feel the wires through the fleece but it's not a big deal.”
Portability: 5; “This thing basically lies flat, which makes sense considering it's mostly fabric and wires. It won't fit in a small purse, but should be easy to slip into most carry-ons, and it's easily a third of the size of most travel pillows.”
Public Shame Potential: 5; “Very subtle. Especially considering it was the same color as the complimentary Iberia Airlines blankets... which meant I inevitably left it behind on the plane. Maybe that's the one downside: it's so inconspicuous that it's easy to lose track of it when you're not using it.”

Weighted Score: 4.65/5

To buy: amazon.com, $30

No. 2: Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight; middle seat
Support: 5; “I loved that the design lifts up higher in the middle; that's exactly where I need more support. And the headrest attachment straps worked well for me because I could actually position the pillow a bit above my shoulders.”
Comfort: 5; “The fabric is breathable and memory foam is dreamy soft.”
Portability: 4; “It can be compressed to half its size, but it's still a lot of pillow.”
Public Shame Potential: 4; “I didn't realize the front toggle can come apart, so trying to get myself out of it to go to the bathroom was kind of a spectacle.”

Weighted Score: 4.7/5

Further Comment: “There's a thoughtful, little zip pocket on the side that's perfect for storing a pair of ear plugs and my sleep mask!”

To buy: amazon.com, $40

No. 1: AirComfy Ease Travel Pillow

Courtesy of Amazon

Tested on: a flight from New York to Barcelona; window seat
Support: 5; “Because it's inflatable, you can adjust the support according to your preference.”
Comfort: 5; “The plush velvet cover made it a pleasure to sleep on.”
Portability: 5; “Once deflated, the pillow rolls up into a bag that's about the size of a toilet paper roll.”
Public Shame Potential: 5; “No shame! I'm pretty sure my seatmate was giving it some envious looks, actually.”

Weighted Score: 5/5

Further Comment: “The classy teal color and on-trend velvet finish made it far more attractive than any travel pillows I've encountered before.”

To buy: amazon.com, $19

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