Innovative travel pillows that will change how you sleep on planes for good

Julianne Ross, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue June 18, 2019

Story highlights

  • Innovative designs have made travel pillows comfier and more convenient than ever
  • We're rounded up five of the most innovative travel pillows out there to help you get some shut-eye

Airplanes aren't exactly known for offering a good night's sleep, but the right travel pillow can help. Your options aren't limited to the lackluster neck pillows of years past; these days, innovative designs have made travel pillows comfier and more convenient than ever.

There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a travel pillow — namely support, weight, and size. There's definitely a bit of a tradeoff between comfort and portability, so the right pillow for you will depend on how important it is to pack light.

Because travel pillows come in contact with a lot of surfaces of questionable cleanliness, it's also important to be able to clean them easily after trips. That means you'll want to look for pillows that are machine-washable or come with removable covers.

We're rounded up five of the most innovative travel pillows out there to help you get some shut-eye, whether you're lounging in business class or cramped in coach. Shop our picks for pillows and arrive at your destination well-rested and ready to go.

1. Cabeau Evolution pillow ($39.95; amazon.com)

You've likely already seen the Cabeau Evolution pillow in the wild, given that it's often sold in airports alongside less expensive (and less comfy) microbead-filled neck pillows. The Cabeau Evolution is a popular pick because it strikes an elusive balance between comfort and portability. The pillow's memory foam core offers genuine support, while the pillow itself compresses down to a quarter of its size for ease of carry.

Cabeau boasts full "360-degree support," achieved via front drawstrings that let you tie the two sides of the pillow together to cradle your chin if your head slouches forward. The back of the pillow is flat so that it rests flush against your seat, while the elevated sides offer extra neck support.

This definitely isn't the lightest pillow on the market — that'd be impossible with material as dense as memory foam — but at less than a pound, it's not egregiously heavy. You essentially roll it up like a cinnamon bun to fit it into the included carrying sack — a process that admittedly has a bit of a learning curve, but certainly makes it easier to stash the pillow away when it's not in use. You can loop the carry case's drawstring around your bag for easy access to the pillow on the go. The soft zippered cover is removable and machine-washable, and even includes a little pocket for earplugs or headphones.

2. Turtl pillow ($29.99; amazon.com)

The Turtl combines extreme portability with an extra-high level of neck support. We use the word "pillow" loosely here, as the Turtl is really more like a scarf with a built-in brace. You wrap the Turtl around your neck like a scarf, allowing the internal frame to settle between your face and shoulder. The company claims that this unique design actually provides a better ergonomic position than standard U-shaped pillows, and the Turtl has indeed converted many travel-pillow skeptics. That's because, for some people, even the best U-shaped pillows simply aren't tall enough to adequately support their heads while they're sleeping upright. The Turtl's design makes it taller than most other pillows, propping the head up at a comfy angle and making you less likely to wake up with a stiff neck.

The Turtl's internal support system is wrapped in a layer of foam and covered with hypoallergenic polyester fleece that feels soft. The pillow weighs just half a pound and folds down flat, making it easy to toss in your luggage when you're not using it. It's also machine-washable.

Do note that this might not be the best option if you plan to use it back on the ground in warmer climates, as it's effectively like having a fuzzy blanket around your neck. But for chilly airplanes or buses with over-enthusiastic AC, it's an excellent, lightweight choice that won't feel like a travel pillow at all.

3. AirComfy Daydreamer inflatable pillow ($21.95; amazon.com)

For ultimate portability, you can't beat an inflatable pillow. This highly rated option from AirComfy — which boasts 4.3 stars from 1200 reviews — isn't as plush and squishy as some of the other pillows on our list, but it still offers a solid level of neck support in an extremely convenient package.

AirComfy's contoured neck design rests flat against the seat while cradling your head, and the pillow comes with a satin-lined travel case that clips to your luggage. You don't have to worry about actually blowing this up before your inflight bedtime either: a built-in, push-button inflation pump fills the pillow in 30 to 60 seconds. The pillow's cover is velvety soft, which should help combat any feeling that you're sleeping on a balloon.

Best of all, the AirComfy weighs just 8.8 ounces and is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand when deflated — making it an excellent pick for folks want to travel ultralight.

4. Travelrest inflatable pillow ($23.95; amazon.com)

First things first: Yes, this pillow looks ridiculous. But if you can get past the potential for side-eye from your fellow passengers, this has proven to be a game-changer for many a restless traveler.

The Travelrest pillow resembles a sling and can be positioned either across your torso or down your side for "full lateral support." This patented shape may look a bit odd, but it's won raves across the internet for its stability and unique method of ergonomic support. Many reviewers deem it the best travel pillow they've ever used: "If you're having sleeping issues during long travel and nothing's cutting it, get this immediately and remedy it. Worth every penny," one happy customer writes. Another: "I am over 70 and highly recommend this product and company. I am not ready to stop traveling and this pillow keeps me going. Love it."

Like the AirComfy, the Travelrest pillow is inflatable and thus particularly suitable for those who value keeping things light above all else: It weighs a mere 7 ounces, and when not in use rolls up into a croissant-looking ball that easily clips to your luggage handle.

5. BCozzy chin supporting pillow ($29.97; amazon.com)

A lot of travel pillows make it uncomfortable, it not outright impossible, to wear over-ear headphones at the same time. If you're dead set on canceling out plane noise or queuing up some soothing nature tracks while you nap, BCozzy's chin supporting pillow is a great pick.

This pillow has a lower vertical profile than something like the Cabeau or AirComfy Daydream, meaning it's less likely to interfere with headphone-wearing. Because the BCozzy wraps fully around your chin, it's an especially solid choice for those whose heads tend to bob forward when they sleep upright.

The BCozzy features a built-in strap to attach it to your luggage (though do note that this pillow doesn't deflate or compress into a smaller package) and comes in three sizes — child, adult, and XL; all are lightweight and machine-washable. All of this has earned the Bcozzy 4.2 stars from more than 4,400 reviews.