Travel pillows are a fantastic idea- and not just for those long flights. If you spend a lot of time on the bus or train, a travel pillow should be your closest companion, whether you sleep en route or not.
Travel is however not the only reason to buy a good travel pillow. You can get one if you struggle with morning neck pain, your office chair is uncomfortable, and if your bed or mattress isn’t all that supportive. This u-shaped travel accessory comes in all forms and sizes, and it is incredibly versatile.
What is a Travel Pillow?
You have probably seen your fellow commuters prop them behind their heads on a train or bus ride home. A travel pillow is a u-shaped pillow that provides a natural resting position for your head, maintaining the standard lordotic curve of your cervical spine and providing neck support.
The cervical spine is made up of seven bones in your neck, all cushioned by spongy cervical disks and supported by muscles. The normal shape of this cervical spine is a slight curve called the lordotic cervical curve.
Any activity that can cause you to lose that natural neck position or curve, such as bending your neck for too long or hunching over can cause stress on your spine and result in neck pain. That’s what happens when you’re on a bus or plane, or sleep in the wrong position at night.
The work of a travel pillow therefore is to maintain your neck’s natural curve and support your head so you don’t suffer later. These pillows are usually smaller than your home pillow and are comfortably tucked behind or around your neck, filling that space between your neck and headrest so your neck won’t bend backward.
Benefits of a Travel Pillow
When we talk about travel pillows, in this case, we are not discussing those stiff neck pillows provided by the airline. Those are wrapped with disposable felt, mesh, and a plastic layer for durability and easy sanitization.
A good neck pillow is made of warm, light, and breathable material and covered with a cotton or silk cover for comfort. It’s firm enough to support your neck, but it contours to the shape and movement of your head. The benefits of such a travel pillow go beyond its ability to support your head and neck. Other benefits include;
1. It mimics your home pillow
If your home memory foam pillow makes you feel like you are in cloud 9, you will be glad to know that many travel pillows today are made of memory foam. Other comfortable options are buckwheat and pure fiber. These materials retain the contours of your neck and head and provide stability against motion transfer.
The idea is to choose a travel pillow that feels the same way your home pillow does and mimics that level of comfort. Even if you are sitting up, the pillow will provide you the comfort you need to fall asleep or travel comfortably.
2. It’s warm and breathable
One thing most people hate about travel is the lack of fresh air in whatever means you are traveling with. The air can often feel dry and musky, which causes your skin to feel pasty.
The plastic covers on the seats do not help either, and sleeping comfortably is next to impossible. A nice memory foam pillow is warm, breathable, and clean. You can comfortably lay your head down, and your cheeks and neck area won’t feel dry or sweaty.
3. Prevents fatigue
Travel in itself can be quite exhausting, especially if you are flying or traveling long haul. A good one or two-hour nap en route can help reduce that fatigue, so you arrive feeling refreshed.
Considering how uncomfortable bus and plane seats are, only a good travel pillow can help you catch a quick snooze. Not only will you fall asleep, but you’ll enjoy deep quality sleep because of the comfort.
4. Reduce snoring and sleep apnea
Ever been next to someone who was snoring loudly on the plane? I bet it wasn’t pretty. While snoring is a completely normal occurrence, it can be embarrassing and downright bothersome to your fellow travelers. The good news is that the annoying guy doesn’t have to be you, even if you snore at home.
A travel neck pillow keeps your neck and head upright, meaning your airways are not obstructed, preventing snoring and sleep apnea. Once you prop your head up inside that pillow, you can sleep soundly without bothering your neighbors.
5. It is portable and easy to take care of
Gone are the days when travel pillows were the same size as your home pillow. Today, they are small and incredibly portable, even if you don’t want luggage. Some of the best travel pillows can fold up into very compact sizes, while some are inflatable so you can deflate when not in use.
Another plus on travel pillows is that you can easily toss them in the washing machine after every trip. This will keep them clean and smelling fresh. If you don’t want to wash the whole thing, you can simply remove the cover and have it cleaned.
How to Use a Travel Pillow
Most travel pillows are u-shaped because they are supposed to go around your neck. Some have straps to close the opening and keep it from falling off because it’s facing up. Ideally, you should recline your seat a little bit until you lean back to a comfortable position and then prop the pillow nicely around your neck to keep your head from falling back.
However, recent research shows that we have been doing it wrong all along. Apparently, the travel pillow should stop your neck and head from bobbing side to side, and not necessarily from falling back. According to Dr. Michael Breus, popularly known as The Sleep Doctor, the pillow should be facing up, so that the bottoms are touching the back of your head and not your chin.
Besides keeping your head from bobbing, the ears of the pillow keep your head from going backwards and out of alignment. This could explain why so many people have been claiming that travel pillows don’t work- they have been using it the wrong way.
How to Choose the Right Travel Pillow
With all the benefits of a travel pillow, it’s a shock that everyone is not carrying one. However, all these benefits are not guaranteed unless you buy a high-quality travel pillow. The best travel pillow doesn’t have to be expensive, but there should be a balance between cost and quality, without forgetting preference.
That said, here are a few things you must consider when choosing a travel pillow;
The primary goal of a travel pillow is to support your head and neck. You get this support from the material inside, which is why it shouldn’t be too soft.
Memory foam and buckwheat provide ample support without being too hard. While you don’t want a pillow that is rock hard, you also don’t want too soft, like cotton or polyester inside.
Comfort is vital if you want to sleep well on the bus or plane. Again, comfort is dependent on what the pillow is made out of. Memory foam and buckwheat make extremely comfortable pillows because they are not too hard or too soft.
It must also be warm and breathable to avoid sweating and sticking on your face. Consider also the pillow’s top cover, which should be cotton or any other soft, smooth and breathable material.
Durability and ease of maintenance
A good travel pillow will be your travel companion everywhere you go. It must be tough, easy to maintain, and easy to store. When choosing a travel pillow, invest in good quality so it can last you a long while.
Make sure it’s easy to clean or wipe down, so you always have a fresh pillow. If possible, buy one with a washable zip cover, so you don’t have to wash the pillow every time.
Size and weight
When buying a travel pillow, remember that you’ll be hauling it across bus stations and airport stretches along with your other luggage.
That means it should be lightweight, compact, and highly portable. The best travel pillows have a bag with cords so you can fix it to the outside of your suitcase and have them as one luggage.
How to Maintain a Travel Pillow
Like every other pillow, you should always keep your travel pillow in a clean, dry place. If it’s not dusty outside, air it once in a while to keep it fresh and prevent dust mites and mold.
Unfortunately, most travel pillows are not machine washable, and washing it too much will cause damage. It is better to use a small vacuum cleaner to suck any dust on the pillow and clean the removable cover after every trip.
If you are looking for a good high quality travel pillow, we recommend the Ostrichpillow Go Travel Pillow. It is made of high density memory foam and offer 360º natural ergonomic neck support. Because of the viscolastic sleeve the pillow feels very soft against your skin and it is also machine washable.