What is a Travel Pillow?

Mary McMahon

A travel pillow is a pillow which is designed to be carried while traveling. Some people carry travel pillows for the purpose of making trips on public transit more comfortable, while others carry along a personal pillow to ensure that they have the comfort and support they need while sleeping in a strange place. Campers and hikers may also stick travel pillows in their bags for comfort while sleeping. Travel stores often stock travel pillows in a variety of designs, and it is also possible to use a generic pillow as a travel pillow.

Some people used regular-sized pillows as travel pillows, despite their cumbersome size.
Some people used regular-sized pillows as travel pillows, despite their cumbersome size.

Pillows designed for travel are usually travel-sized, meaning that they are small or that they can be compressed, folded, or broken down in some way so that they take up a minimum of space. A classic type of travel pillow is an airplane pillow, which provides support to the head and neck for people who want to sleep on planes. Many airplane pillows are c or u-shaped, ensuring that the head and neck are not contorted while someone attempts to sleep in an airplane seat.

People commonly bring a travel pillow so they can nap during long flights.
People commonly bring a travel pillow so they can nap during long flights.

While a travel pillow may be filled with a stuffing which can vary from firm to soft, many companies make inflatable travel pillows. Inflatable pillows are very convenient because they can be deflated and folded down to a very compact size which fits easily in a purse or carryon. The inflatable pillow can usually be blown up with the use of a small nozzle along the side of the pillow, and some are designed to be fitted to a pump for rapid inflation. For people who like to carry full sized pillows while traveling, an inflatable pillow can be very useful.

Other people adopt a regular pillow from home as a travel pillow. Some people are very attached to specific pillows because they provide an ideal level of comfort and support, or because they like to have something from home when they are in an unfamiliar place. A pillow from home may not be designed as a travel pillow, so it tends to be oversized and cumbersome, but some people feel that the inconvenience is worth having the perfect pillow when it is needed.

In the case of a specialized travel pillow which is purchased before traveling, it is a good idea to test the pillow out first to make sure that it is comfortable and easy to handle. If the pillow is being taken as a carryon item in luggage for a plane, the luggage should be brought to the store to confirm that the pillow will fit inside. Travel pillows can also be strapped to luggage and backpacks in some cases, in the event that they will not fit in luggage.

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Discussion Comments


I have a U-shaped memory foam travel pillow that is wonderful. It's great for flying or riding in a car, too. I've used mine for both. It supports my neck nicely, but doesn't have the weirdness that inflatable pillows do.

It has a wonderful microsuede cover and I wouldn't trade anything for it. I've known people who were really happy with travel pillows that had the buckwheat kernels or something similar inside, but give me the memory foam any day! It’s just so much more comfortable than anything else I’ve tried, and I can lash it to my carry-on or stuff it in my tote because it’s not very big.

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