Travel Neck Pillows: Top Picks

Traveling for long periods of time can be uncomfortable. You might find a car or a plane to be just comfortable enough for a trip of an hour or two. After that, the discomfort begins to sink in. Car and plane seats are designed to provide the bare minimum of short term comfort, and they don’t have the needs of every passenger in mind. They’re a generalized solution that won’t cater to people who experience neck pain. 

If your neck aches, chronically or occasionally, you’re going to want to bring a neck pillow with you every time you travel as your carry-on. It doesn’t matter your method of transportation—all that matters is the duration. If you’re going to be seated for two or more hours, you need to make sure your body is getting the support it needs to make it through the trip without undue stress.

smiling girl

What Causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain is actually spine pain. There are seven small bones in your neck, called the cervical spine. These bones are the way your head connects to your neck, and they protect crucial parts of your body like the brainstem and the beginning of your nervous system. Each of these bones is padded by a piece of soft tissue called a disc, and they’re held in place by a system of tendons and muscles. 

Your neck is a very fragile part of your body, and a lot of things can go wrong. Some people herniate the disks in their cervical spine, meaning they bulge out of their desired place and cause chronic pain from the bone and nerves touching or becoming misaligned. 

Some people experience chronic neck pain as a result of constantly straining their neck, like from leaning down to look at a computer that sits below eye level or lowering their head to write at a desk or table. Overuse of the muscles and tendons responsible for stabilizing your neck can make them weaker over time, especially if they’re not given adequate time to recover from that use before they’re used that way again. 

Proper posture and neck support are crucially important for preventing neck pain or worsening neck pain that began as a result of an injury. That’s where travel neck pillows come into play.

Why Do You Need a Neck Pillow?

When you sleep or relax deeply, your muscles lose their tension. You can’t doze off if you’re all clenched up. Your head weighs about ten pounds, and it’s your neck responsibility to keep it upright. If your neck muscles have a hard time performing that job while you’re awake due to injury or illness that affects your muscles, it’s going to be even harder for your body to work with the minimal muscle mechanics you reduce to in a sleep state.

Add to that the discomfort you may feel when you’ve been in a seated position for a long time. For whatever reasons, airlines have never been motivated to do anything about the fact that their seats are widely regarded as awful. You never hear people recant the tales of how massively comfortable they were on a plane. Most people, especially those who travel by air frequently, will quickly and unequivocally declare that plane seats are the worst

Car seats are marginally more comfortable, especially since they can be fitted with cushions or padded seat covers to customize them to the preference of the person who will be sitting in them. Even still, if you’re going on a road trip, the novelty and comfort will soon wear off if you haven’t considered the way the seat affects your whole spine, all the way up to your neck. 

Having the best travel pillow for you will help you in a multitude of ways. The first, of course, is that it will support your neck. Muscle aches and strains are reduced when a group of muscles is properly supported. The second way is that it makes it easier to sleep through a long car trip or plane ride. As long as you’re not the driver or pilot, you don’t have to be awake. If you can doze off for a few hours, you’ll be a little less bored. The time will pass by quicker if you're a daydreamer, you'll be much more comfortable that you would be on the headrest, and you’ll reach your destination before you know it.

man driving a car

Will Any Pillow Work?

A traditional rectangular pillow is fine for when you’re lying down, especially if it’s nice and supportive. The weight of your head and gravity will help the pillow conform to your neck, giving you the support you need. Things won’t be the same if you’re sitting up. 

If you use a regular pillow on a plane seat or a car seat in the upright position, you’re not actually relaxing. You’re doing work. You have to fight gravity by applying a constant amount of pressure to keep the pillow where you want it. It will only stay still if you lean into it, which involves using and straining your neck muscles. It’s counterproductive to the purpose of relaxing. 

A u-shaped support pillow sits on your shoulders and hugs about two-thirds of the circumference of your neck. It’s not going to move, and you don’t need to lean into it to keep it where it belongs. It’s designed to provide you with the support you need without any effort on your part, so it's definitely a must to add to your travel accessories.

<h2>The Top Shape For A Neck Pillow</h2>

The foundation of a neck pillow will always be the classic U shape. Some pillows stop there. Other pillows incorporate ergonomic shapes to provide extra support to the back of the head or little supportive ledges that sit against the jaw. Some neck pillows, sometimes called a j-pillow, even wrap around the front for a little bit of extra security and chin support. 

The best pick would be an ergonomically designed neck pillow. Raised side lobes provide extra support in the event that you tilt your neck or your head naturally falls to one side as you fall asleep. Since your neck is supported on either side with this design, that little flop won’t leave you unprotected in the way it would with a normal “U” shaped neck pillow. 

The Top Filling For A Neck Pillow

A neck pillow with the wrong filling can be just as bad as not having a neck pillow at all. The entire purpose of a neck pillow is to provide ergonomic support to your neck. If the filling is too soft or entirely unsupportive, what’s the point of using it?

Some neck pillows are filled with cotton or polyester batting like the kind you might find in an inexpensive couch throw pillow. If you’re ever sat on a couch throw pillow or leaned into one, you know that it flattens immediately. The filling isn’t dense enough to withstand the force being placed against it. Inflatable travel pillows are made from low quality materials and are prone to popping, especially if you try to attach an inflatable neck pillow to a duffel or other bag for transport.

Some neck pillows have microbead fillings, much like a beanbag chair. At first, those may seem like a better option. When you sit in a beanbag chair, it conforms to the shape of your body. It might even feel more comfortable than a normal chair. The problem is that when you move, the filling moves with you. That’s the opposite of what you want in a neck pillow. You want cushioned support. 

Every bump or spot of turbulence you hit on a long haul flight will cause the pellet filling in a neck pillow to shift, changing the way it supports your neck and rendering it less effective. You need a filling that will stand up to potholes or a bumpy plane ride.

That’s why memory foam is the best choice. A memory foam travel pillow is comfortable. It’s supportive without being uncomfortably hard. It conforms well to a surface, and a little bump won’t change the way it conforms to your neck. Memory foam takes a little bit of time to adjust to your movements, so it won’t change up on you too quickly and return to its full size. They're also packable, because this compressible pillow can fit into a drawstring bag without risk of damage.

The Top Neck Pillow Features

Your neck pillow can do more for you than just support your neck. They also provide head support for side sleepers to keep you comfortable. Neck pillows with straps can easily be held in place to keep them from sliding around. If you’re a little bit of an active sleeper, use the adjustable straps. 

Some travel pillows come with full relaxation kits that include things like earplugs and eye masks. If you’re looking for the whole package, grab something all-inclusive. You won’t need or want anything else. 

Some travel neck pillows have ventilation holes, a feature you will undoubtedly appreciate. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night because the pillow got warm and you need to turn it over, pick a breathable memory foam travel neck pillow with ventilation holes. It will allow the heat to escape, rather than letting it accumulate to make your neck sweaty. 

You'll also want to pick a neck pillow with a machine washable, removable pillowcase in a soft material like velour or suede so that you don't have to worry about all the germs that it picks up in your travels. These washable covers will often velcro or zip closed so you can use the ultimate memory foam travel pillow with ease.

Lastly, some neck pillows come with phone pockets. If you sleep better when you play relaxing music on your phone, just slip your phone into the pocket. You won’t have to worry about it falling off of your lap or digging into your hip in your pocket. 


The neck pillow is a tried and true travel companion for all voyages. People might look silly when they use them, but they’re too comfortably fast asleep to care. Those who don’t have a travel pillow will likely envy your ability to sleep through the flight that they can’t wait to get off. You’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and without aching muscles, ready to grab a latte on your way out of the airport and enjoy the best of what the area has to offer.

If neck pain isn't the only problem that you face, consider investing in a lumbar support pillow or another one of our best sellers at Everlasting Comfort so that you can have the best travel experience possible, whether you're flying to New York or Australia.


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