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.
We found a wide variety of travel-pillow reviews, ranging from comprehensive, multi-brand comparisons to terse, single-product recommendations. The best reviews put travel pillows to the test during extended car, bus or airplane trips, and we found no better source than the British consumer magazine Which?, a publication we often turn to for reliable reviews. For their review, 40 staffers tested 10 assorted travel pillows during a 1,264-mile bus trip from London up to Scotland, and then back to England and on to Wales.
In addition, we found several reliable reviews at major newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, as well as shorter write-ups at USA Today and the Chicago Tribune. Owner reviews also can be useful because they frequently discuss how well products hold up over time, and we found helpful user comments at retail sites such as Amazon.com and Magellans.com, as well as online travel forums like FlyerTalk.com and RickSteves.com. Lastly, we found some useful insight from Canadian travel journalist Reb Stevenson and at Pilot-Pauls-Travel-Acessories.com, which is written by a commercial airline pilot.
Although U-shaped neck pillows are the most common style of travel pillow, they're not the only kind 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.
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.