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Inflatable travel pillows are customizable and compact

If you've ever taken a long airplane or road trip, you probably know how difficult it can be to nap comfortably. Most plane, bus and car seats aren't designed with good neck support in mind, and sleeping in an upright position can cause the neck to roll uncomfortably, causing cramps or discomfort. That's why a travel pillow comes in handy. These pillows, often shaped like a U or a cervical collar, prevent your neck from hyperextending, allowing you to sleep comfortably while seated. They may look funny, but most travelers who use them say they can make all the difference during a long journey.

U-shaped neck pillows are popular, but they aren't the only kind of travel pillows available. There are pillows that resemble neck braces, pillows that look like barbells, comma-shaped pillows that are worn like a sash and pillows that look like airbags. Some pillows are inflatable, others are filled with grain hulls and some are made of foam. We found positive and negative comments for just about every pillow. When possible, reviewers recommend that you try a new travel pillow at home or as a passenger in a car or bus before you take it on a long trip. There's not much difference in price when it comes to different styles of travel pillows. In general, you can expect to spend between $10 and $40 for a travel pillow of any type.

Comfort aside, some people prefer to use travel pillows because they can't stand the thought of using an airline's pillow. A Wall Street Journal blogger quotes an unnamed airline consultant as saying, "There are no standards for cleaning pillows and blankets. Each airline rotates them based on cabin service maintenance schedules." In the same article, a JetBlue spokeswoman says that pillows and blankets could remain on a plane for four to six flights before being replaced.

Need another reason to consider a travel pillow? Some airlines, including JetBlue and US Airways, now charge for pillows and blankets. Fees are typically less than $10, and the pillow and blanket are yours to keep. Although many travelers are annoyed by such fees that airlines impose, others point out that by purchasing a new pillow you are at least assured that it will be clean.

For this report we consulted dozens of professional reviews at backpacking and camping enthusiast sites like MyBackpackerGuides.com and InfiniteLegroom.com, as well as owner-written reviews on consumer shopping sites such as REI.com, Amazon.com and SkyMall.com. Discussion forum threads at sites like TripAdvisor.com are also useful for gauging opinions on the best travel pillows. We chose the best travel pillows based on comfort levels, features that allow users to customize the firmness (such as inflatable pillows), durability, ease of use and practicality for traveling in various situations. Some travel pillows, for instance, are more suitable for camping or backpacking because they're lighter and more compact but don't have the same support features for travelers sitting upright like travel pillows better suited for flights offer.

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