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Do You Really Need a Neck Pillow for Travel?

Woman sits and waits while wearing a travel pillow.

When it comes to travel, neck pillows have become a popular accessory. Whether you’re embarking on a long flight, road trip, or train ride and need some extra support while napping, neck pillows claim to provide the relief you need and prevent discomfort.

But do they actually work? Are they necessary for comfortable travel?

We reached out to the American Chiropractic Association to get their expert take on neck pillows, their effectiveness, and what you should look for when shopping for one. Robert A. Hayden, DC, Ph.D., provided some insightful advice, so let’s dive right in and get some answers.

Do Neck Pillows Work?

It should be noted that not all neck pillows are created equal, so not all of them work as well as they should. However, a high-quality neck pillow that’s doing its job properly works wonders. Depending on your preferences, you can find different sizes, shapes, materials, and levels of softness.

“The job of a neck pillow is to support the bony structures of the head and neck while one rests,” said Hayden.

Hayden explained that while you sleep, your muscles relax, leaving the curve of your neck vulnerable to misalignments. A neck pillow can give you the extra support you need, helping you avoid injury and get some sleep while you travel.

How Does a Neck Pillow Work?

Two gray neck pillows rest on a suitcase handle.

Neck pillows are specifically designed to support the natural curvature of your neck and maintain proper alignment while sitting or lying down. They are typically made with memory foam, microbeads, or inflatable materials that conform to the shape of your neck.

Hayden explained that a quality neck pillow supports your body’s spine and the “muscular structures of the head and neck in a state of complete relaxation.”

Essentially, the primary function of a neck pillow is to cradle your neck and provide support to prevent strain, misalignments, and muscle tension while you relax.

By keeping your head in a neutral position during long drives, plane rides, or train travels, neck pillows aim to reduce the risk of neck pain, stiffness, and discomfort that can arise from prolonged periods of sitting or strange sleeping positions.

What to Look for in a Travel Neck Pillow

Finding the right neck pillow can transform your level of comfort throughout all sorts of travel. For the highest level of comfort, Hayden encouraged travelers to choose one that feels right to them.

Just like people have different preferences for the best bed pillows, it’s normal to have a unique preference for your travel pillow. Feel free to test some out until you find your favorite…but there are a few things to consider while you shop, according to Hayden.

“Consider the covering material,” said Hayden. “Some of these are breathable cotton, while some are synthetic materials. Different materials may reflect or dissipate body heat.”

You also have to think about the filling material. Hayden suggested you choose something that offers enough support without too much stiffness.

“It needs to be comfortable to your skin while giving enough support to keep your head and neck properly positioned for rest,” said Hayden.

It’s also worth considering what type of travel you have planned since size and storage are factors. Hayden explained that if you need a pillow for a plane ride, you need to think about the convenience of the size and shape. The last thing you want is for your travel pillow to become a nuisance.

Lastly, you want to make sure you choose a pillow that’s easy to clean.

“The covering material and the filler should be machine washable for maximum convenience. Keeping it clean and fluffy will add to your comfort,” said Hayden.

The Best Neck Pillows

Man sits and waits while wearing a travel pillow and propping his feet up on a suitcase.

So do neck pillows work? According to Hayden, yes, they do. Neck pillows can help keep your neck and spine aligned while supporting your head. All of this leads to less stiffness and better rest while traveling.

If you’ve got a trip coming up and need a new neck pillow, here are a few options to consider.

Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow

This popular neck pillow features memory foam construction, providing excellent support and comfort. It also includes an adjustable clasp to ensure a secure fit. The classic horseshoe design will be suitable for road trips, plane rides, train travel, and more.

Cabeau Evolution Classic Travel Neck Pillow

You can't go wrong with comfortable memory foam and a classic U-shape for a travel pillow.

Trtl Pillow

Designed with a unique wrap-around shape, the Trtl Pillow offers ergonomic support for the neck. Its lightweight and compact design makes it a perfect choice for travelers of all kinds. This is a great option if you don’t enjoy the typical U-shape travel pillow.

trtl Travel Pillow for Neck Support

This travel wrap pillow is designed with neck support specifically in mind.

J-Pillow Travel Pillow

The J-Pillow stands out with its “J” shape, offering support to the chin, neck, and head. It provides lateral head support, making it ideal for those struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position while sitting upright.

J-Pillow Travel Pillow

This inventive neck pillow shape may be perfect for your unique needs.

Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow

This inflatable pillow is designed to support both the neck and the entire upper body. It can be adjusted to different positions, allowing you to find the perfect level of comfort for your trips.

TRAVELREST Ultimate Travel Pillow & Neck Pillow

This inflatable pillow is perfect for head support and cramming into suitcases.

BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow

The BCOZZY pillow provides excellent chin and neck support with its unique overlapping design. It offers versatility and can be adjusted to fit various sleeping positions. If classic travel pillows leave your head slouching forward, this option will help keep you upright.

BCOZZY Neck Pillow for Travel

Finally! There's a pillow that supports your chin for plane, train, and car trips.

Remember, finding the best neck pillow is a matter of personal preference. Consider your specific needs and comfort requirements before making a final decision. Look for high-quality materials, a level of firmness that suits your needs, and be sure to consider what type of traveling you’ll be doing so you choose one that fits your travel priorities. Safe travels!

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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