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How to buy the best travel pillow


Whether flying, catching the train or driving, which support will help you arrive rested?

three travel pillows

Ready for take-off...


Hitting the road or flying high in the sky for your next holiday? Getting to and from Australia, and even driving across the country, can be a long journey so if you want to catch some zzzs en route, a travel pillow might just be the perfect travel accessory.

Travel pillows are small, usually u-shaped pillows that cradle the neck to assist in sleeping in an upright or reclined position. Not everyone can afford a ticket for the pointy end of the plane where seats recline 180 degrees, so a travel pillow can help ease the pain of being stuck in a small, upright seat for up to 14 hours.

Heading overseas? Check out our destination guides for the best tips for your next adventure.

Types of travel pillows

Inflatable

Inflatable travel pillows are generally u-shaped and can be blown up to your desired level of firmness. They are extremely compact and lightweight and are a good option for light packers as they can be deflated and folded down to a very small size. They sometimes come with a fabric cover for the inflated pillow to maximise comfort.

Inflatable pillows were certainly the most convenient type of pillow we trialled due to their small size when deflated and the ability to inflate to the desired firmness. You'll need to make sure the seal is firmly closed or you'll wake up to a deflated pillow. They are also the cheapest style on the market making this a good choice for budget travellers.

Microbead

Microbead pillows are lightweight u-shaped pillows filled with small polystyrene beads that change shape with your neck to provide support and comfort while travelling.

This was the least comfortable style we trialled. These pillows don't sit up very high on the neck and can have uncomfortable dips (often just where you need the support) due to the memory beads filling out the pillow. Fabric may stretch over the course of its life meaning beads will push out towards the unpressurised sections of the pillow, removing support from your neck. They are also the least portable style of pillow, making them an awkward choice for light packers.

Memory foam

These pillows are made from high-density memory foam and provide the firmest, most consistent neck support. They can be compressed up to half of their original size, handy for stashing away in the bottom of your luggage. Some can be clipped together at the front to stop the pillow sliding out of position while sleeping.

This was the most comfortable design we tested, with the firm memory foam moulding to the shape of your neck while remaining firm and high on the neck. One pillow even had a clip to stop the pillow sliding, supporting sleepers who like to tilt slightly forward. We got excellent sleep with both memory foam pillows we tried!

This was the most expensive style on the market, but if you're a frequent traveller it would be a worthwhile investment.

Other designs

A number of innovative, patented designs have recently emerged on the market. Styles that wrap across the front of the body to support sleepers who like to lean forward are popular, as are styles that are similar to a neck brace, usually including a wrap-around scarf (like the 'Trtl').

The Trtl, a wrap-around neck brace model, is made of a warm fleece material so it's best suited to cooler travel, and it looks just like a scarf. The neck brace provides good support but may not be comfortable if you are irritated by pressure to the neck.

What to look for

Fabric

Are you going to be travelling in a hot or cold environment? Fleece materials are excellent for chilly flights or a winter Trans Siberian adventure, but not so great for bumpy, humid roads in Southeast Asia. Some fabrics can be irritating on the skin; aim for a fleece style for flights and cold climates or a smooth plastic or cotton for hot climate travel.

Neck support

Think about how you sleep while travelling. Tend to tilt forward? Try a neck brace style or a pillow that clips up at the front. If you need firm support for your neck, a memory foam or inflatable pillow might work best.

Durability

If you're going to be on the road for a while, think about spending a few extra dollars for a travel pillow that will go the distance. Minor gashes or damage won't affect a memory foam pillow. However, if you tear or rip a microbead pillow, you'll need to replace it. If you tear an inflatable pillow you may be able to repair it with a patch or you may have to discard it.

Size

Light travellers will want to stick to a lightweight, small pillow. Inflatable pillows fold down into a small square and can fit into small side pockets. While not as small, memory foam pillows will compress down to half or even a third of their size. Microbead pillows won't reduce in size and can be quite bulky.

Weight

All the pillows we tested were lightweight and suitable for carrying on an aircraft, bus or train.

Cost

Travel pillows cost from $5 to $65. The cheapest pillows we tested were $15.95 microbead and inflatable pillows. The most expensive pillow was the Cabeau memory foam "Evolution" travel pillow.

Handy tips

It's not as easy as packing a travel pillow and getting a perfect night's sleep. We've compiled some handy tips to beat jetlag and you can maximise sleep on your flight by choosing the best plane seat at Seat Guru.

  • Remember to leave room in your luggage for your travel pillow. You'll have it out of your luggage for the start of your journey, but you'll want some space to tuck it away when you've arrived at your destination (as well as space for souvenirs!). 
  • Don't get stung by expensive airport shop prices – decide which pillow you want and purchase online or at a special travel store before you leave. If you buy before you fly, you'll also know how much room to leave in your luggage for the pillow. 
  • For peace of mind that will help you sleep en route, make sure you've got adequate travel insurance. You can find our free travel insurance reviews here

Travel pillow reviews

We tried out a range of travel pillows – here's what we found. 

(Note: These pillows were trialled in 2017, so some may no longer be available).

Cabeau – Memory foam evolution travel pillow

Price: $49.95
Pillow type: Memory foam
Material: Exterior: 80% cotton, 20% polyester. Interior: 100% polyurethane
Accessories: Attachable travel bag, memory foam earplugs, mobile phone pouch
Warning label (for microbead): NA
Portability out of 40: 34
Comfort out of 40: 40
Look out of 10: 7
Price out of 10: 5
Overall score (%): 86
Notes: Compresses to small size; clips around neck

Go Travel pillow

Price: $15.95
Pillow type: Inflatable
Material: PVC pillow/polycotton jacket
Accessories: Washable polycotten cover
Warning label (for microbead): NA
Portability out of 40: 40
Comfort out of 40: 24
Look out of 10: 7
Price out of 10: 8.5
Overall score (%): 79.5
Notes: Has washable cover for better comfort; packs to very small size; can be inflated to desired firmness

Korjo Snooze Cushion SC70

Price: $15.99
Pillow type: Inflatable
Material: Not listed
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead): NA
Portability out of 40: 40
Comfort out of 40: 22
Look out of 10: 7
Price out of 10: 8.5
Overall score (%): 77.5
Notes: Packs to very small size; can be inflated to desired firmness

Go Travel Memory pillow

Price: $39.95
Pillow type: Memory foam
Material: Exterior: cotton/polyester. Interior: polyurethane
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead):NA
Portability out of 40: 28
Comfort out of 40: 35
Look out of 10: 7
Price out of 10: 6
Overall score (%):76
Notes: Clips to bag; can compress in bottom of suitcase; no clip to hold around neck; cover can be removed for washing

Go Travel Bean sleeper

Price: $15.95
Pillow type: Microbead
Material: Exterior: 93% polyester, 7% elastane/fleece. Interior: polystyrene beads
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead):Yes
Portability out of 40: 20
Comfort out of 40: 18
Look out of 10: 8
Price out of 10: 8.5
Overall score (%):54.5
Notes: Clips to bag and/or around neck; fleece can be hot in warmer travel environments

Korjo Squinchy pillow SQ006

Price: $19.99
Pillow type: Microbead
Material: Exterior: 92% polyester, 8% spandex (front), 100% polyester (back). Interior: polystyrene beads
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead): Yes
Portability out of 40: 16
Comfort out of 40: 16
Look out of 10: 5.5
Price out of 10: 8
Overall score (%):45.5
Notes: Fleece can be hot in warmer travel environments; loop for attaching to bag

Kathmandu – Hoody travel pillow

Price: $29.99
Pillow type: Microbead
Material: Exterior: 60% cotton, 40% polyester. Interior: polystyrene beads
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead): Yes
Portability out of 40: 8
Comfort out of 40: 20
Look out of 10: 3
Price out of 10: 7
Overall score (%): 38
Notes: Hood does not cover eyes; very bulky; loop for attaching to bag

Trtl Travel pillow

Price: $54..95
Pillow type: Neck brace
Material: Exterior: 100% polyester/velcro. Interior: polyurethane foam, plastic
Accessories: NA
Warning label (for microbead): NA
Portability out of 40: 32
Comfort out of 40: 20
Look out of 10: 8
Price out of 10: 4.5
Overall score (%): 64.5
Notes: Machine washable and wraps tightly around your neck

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