What is a Travel Neck Pillow?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A travel neck pillow is a pillow which is designed to create support for the head and neck while someone is traveling. In addition to reducing the risk of injury, these pillows can also increase comfort and safety. There are several different ways in which a travel neck pillow can be used, along with a wide array of designs and styles which can be obtained at travel stores and directly through suppliers of travel products.

Using a foam neck pillow can alleviate neck stress and discomfort from sleeping in a strange position.
Using a foam neck pillow can alleviate neck stress and discomfort from sleeping in a strange position.

The classic neck pillow for traveling is a U-shaped pillow which is designed to be looped around the neck. This design prevents the head from falling too far to the side or back, providing firm support. Contoured pillows which cradle the head and neck are also available, along with small rectangular pillows which provide basic support for the neck. In all cases, the pillow tends to be firm, and it may come with a removable slipcover which can be washed for hygienic reasons.

Microfiber neck pillow for travel.
Microfiber neck pillow for travel.

In the car, a travel neck pillow can be used to provide support to a driver or a passenger, ensuring that the head and neck do not tire on a long drive. For drivers, using proper neck support can reduce the development of fatigue, making driving much safer in addition to more comfortable. Passengers can also adjust the pillow for comfortable sleep. Travel neck pillows may be used for this purpose on planes, with the pillow supporting a passenger's head or neck while awake, and providing comfort for sleep.

An airplane travel kit may include a blow up neck pillow, ear plugs and a sleeping mask.
An airplane travel kit may include a blow up neck pillow, ear plugs and a sleeping mask.

Other travel neck pillows are designed to provide support when someone sleeps in a strange bed. For people with established neck and back problems, these pillows can reduce the risk of injury and discomfort while traveling. Individuals without existing problems may also benefit from carrying their own neck pillow for comfort, familiarity, and security. Since the pillow offerings in guest rooms and hotels can be quite variable, carrying a travel neck pillow can ensure that the head will be properly supported during sleep.

There are some interesting variations on the basic travel neck pillow design. Some are designed to be heated, cooled, or both to provide relief for a sore or tired neck. A few companies make neck pillows which are inflatable, so that the pillow can be packed down when it is not needed. Designs customized for people with specific neck and head issues can also be obtained through doctors and chiropractors.

Neck pillows may be used in all kinds of travel situations including planes, cars, and trains.
Neck pillows may be used in all kinds of travel situations including planes, cars, and trains.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@StarJo – The label on my travel neck pillow says to wipe it with a damp cloth to clean it, but I usually have mine dry cleaned. Since I don't go on trips but once or twice a year, I don't have to worry about the expense of frequent dry cleaning. I feel it's worth it to have a fresh pillow each time.

My friend put hers in the washer on the gentle cycle, and it did okay the first couple of times. By the third time, the pillow started to lose some of its shape. I had a feeling that washing it, even on a low setting, was a bad idea.


It's strange how very heavy your head can suddenly become when driving for long distances! When I was young, I thought that travel neck pillows were just for the elderly and disabled. Now that I'm in my early thirties, I own one!

I took a trip with my husband last month that required us to drive over a thousand miles round trip. When we were about halfway through the first day of driving, I felt my head beginning to tilt. My neck was tired of holding it up, and my mind was ready to doze off.

During our stay, I went to a travel center and bought a travel neck pillow. It was the best thing I could have done. That pillow helped keep me alert and comfortable on the way home, and as my husband and I took turns driving, we borrowed the pillow from each other.


My husband finds it difficult to sleep without his memory foam pillow, but he often forgets to bring it on trips. So, for Christmas last year, I got him a travel neck pillow, which he keeps in his luggage all the time.

I remember the year before that when we had to spend seven nights in different hotels while visiting family in different locations. He had the worst trouble sleeping, but at home, where he has his pillow, he is the deepest sleeper I know.

We just got back from a long trip, and we had to call a hotel home for nine nights in a row. He brought his travel pillow, and he slept better than I did! I'm thinking of asking for one myself this Christmas.


There are ways to clean your travel neck pillows if you don't have a case for them. While throwing the whole pillow in the washer is out of the question if you want it to last, you can use products on the exterior that will remove dirt.

I like to use a spray foam cleaner made especially for fabrics and upholstery. It's the same cleaner that I use to clean my car seats, and it comes with a hard bristle brush attached to the top.

I spray the foam on the pillow and let it set for thirty seconds. Then, I rub the foam in with the brush, using a circular motion. Next, I wipe the pillow with a moist cloth. Finally, I let it air dry.

After I clean it with this stuff, it smells fresh and looks more like new. It gets rid of any stains, and it penetrates the fibers to clean more deeply than wiping with a cloth would.


I received a matching blanket and foam travel neck pillow as a gift from my sister. I travel quite a bit and am known to always carry my own blanket and pillow with me.

This was a perfect gift for me and I use it all the time. My pillow is a neck pillow that does have a removable case. I can just unzip it and throw it in the washing machine.

I do this after every trip so I know it is clean and ready to use the next time. Not only do I take these with me when I fly, but when I travel in the car too.

My husband likes to keep it much cooler in the car than I do, and it is nice to have the blanket for extra warmth. The neck pillow is great when taking a nap and takes up a lot less room than a standard size pillow.


@manykitties2 - I have a microbead travel pillow and a memory foam travel neck pillow, and my personal preference is the foam pillow. It seems to give my neck more support than the microbeads do.

Most of the travel pillows I have seen that have washable covers are the smaller square travel pillows. I have never seen any for the neck pillows, which is what I like to travel with most often.

It would be really nice to find one with a removable, washable cover. I like to travel with my own pillow but also like to be able to keep it clean.

It makes me wonder how many people use the airplane pillows before they ever get cleaned.


Can anyone recommend a really good neck support travel pillow?

I am planning on going on a series of trips over the next year and would really like to get the best travel neck pillow.

I have read that memory foam pills are pretty good, with the microbead travel neck pillows getting good reviews too. I don't really care what the price is, I just want to make sure that the pillow actually helps me get some quality sleep on my flights.

Also, does anyone know if you buy washable cases for your travel pillows? I have seen a few people carrying ones around that look pretty dirty.


I travel quite a bit and always bring my own neck pillow for travel. I find that the travel neck support pillows provided by most airlines are a bit too soft to be of much real use.

For myself I used to have an inflatable pillow I would bring with me on vacations, but it wasn't the most comfortable. I think if you are getting an inflatable travel neck pillow you need to make sure it is high quality as the cheap ones feel like fuzz-coated rubber. Plus, the plastic seams can really cut into you which makes it hard to get a good rest in an already uncomfortable position.

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