At some point in our lives, we’ve all seen a travel pillow in some form. Whether as an ironic joke, or in use by someone who swears by them, these U-shaped neck cushions are a deeply engrained part of travel culture.
Even so, many people have never tried them, or outright refuse to due to how they think they look. But in actuality, travel pillows exist for a reason, and a very good one at that: they help make travel easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.
While traveling, especially for business, the opportunity to get rest is at a premium, and when you’re stuck in a plane, train car, or the back seat of a vehicle for hours on end, that downtime is the perfect opportunity to catch up on the sleep you may not have the opportunity (or even desire) to get later in your trip. But while sleeping on the plane is far from uncommon, it is often accompanied by stiff necks, tight shoulders, and back aches, since an upright sitting position does nothing to offer the support your body normally gets while sleeping in a reclined position. And as your transportation speeds up, slows down, and turns, your head will roll out of position, into one that creates tension and soreness upon waking. Seat cushions can make a difference when traveling as well: take a look at our post here for more on the topic!
What the travel pillow provides is support in a seated position you otherwise wouldn’t have. Most of these pillows follow the traditional U-shape, being placed behind the neck, and extending forward on either side. This design offers benefits in multiple ways.
Firstly, the padding behind the neck helps you maintain the alignment of the upper spine and cervical area. Without it, a head resting against a headrest will typically hit at the base of the skull, with your chin dropped toward the chest. This forward angle is a killer for neck tension and agitation that can last for days. With the cushioning behind the neck, its curve is maintained, your head rests closer to the crown, and your face remains looking forward. When we fall asleep, we can’t actively maintain this posture in most cases, so travel pillows help ensure that alignment for us.
The other benefit is the side padding. To prevent your head from rolling to a side and straining your neck and shoulder muscles, the extended side padding offers what is essentially a stabilizing bumper to keep your head straight up. This relieves side-to-side tension, and also means you won’t wake up to a stranger poking you, asking that you stop snoring on their shoulder. These days, pillows even offer options for how far those side cushions extend, whether you want shorter, low-profile ones, or extended wrap-style pads that ensure total stability.
Travel pillows are also made with multiple filling materials. Foam Factory, Inc. alone offers travel and neck pillows in solid foam, shredded foam, and polyester fiberfill varieties. Depending on your comfort preferences, you can have maximum support, a gentle cushion, or anything in between.
The other thing great about travel pillows is that many of the filling materials – shredded foam and fiberfill pillow styles included – are very compressible, meaning they take up very little space in your pack. Given that every inch seems to count (and cost) these days, travel pillows taking up a minimal amount of space means you can carry comfort with you on any trip.
Just because travel pillows, along with eye masks, headphones, and even slippers have become the satirical stereotype of the road-weary traveler, that doesn’t mean they aren’t used for a reason. Travel and neck pillows provide comfort and a proactive approach to reliving discomfort, which makes them incredibly useful and valuable on any extended trip!