Travel pillows are designed to provide comfort and support for your head and neck while traveling, most especially on long flights, trains, or buses. Travel pillows can help you sleep better, prevent neck pain and stiffness, and reduce fatigue and jet lag. However, not all travel pillows are created equal, and not everyone knows how to use them properly. In this article, we will show you how to use a travel pillow in the best way possible, and provide you with some tips and recommendations on how to choose and care for your travel pillow.

The Types and Features of Travel Pillows

Travel pillows come in various shapes, sizes, materials, and designs, and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most common types and features of travel pillows are:

U-shaped pillows

1. U-shaped pillows: U-shaped pillows are the most popular and widely available type of travel pillows. They fit around the back of your neck, with the opening over your throat, and support your head from falling forward or sideways. U-shaped pillows are usually filled with foam, microbeads, or air, and they may have a snapping mechanism to secure them around your neck. U-shaped pillows are easy to use and carry, but they may not provide enough support for some people, and they may push your head forward and cause neck strain.

Wrap-style pillows

2. Wrap-style pillows: Wrap-style pillows are similar to U-shaped pillows, but they wrap completely around your neck, and have a built-in support that rests on your shoulder. Wrap-style pillows are usually filled with foam or air, and they may have a velcro or zipper closure to adjust the fit. Wrap-style pillows provide more support and stability for your head and neck, but they may be too bulky and warm for some people, and they may limit your movement and vision.

J-shaped pillows

3. J-shaped pillows: J-shaped pillows are a newer and more innovative type of travel pillows. They have a curved shape that resembles the letter J, and they support your head, neck, and chin. J-shaped pillows are usually filled with foam or air, and they may have a strap or a clip to attach them to your seat. J-shaped pillows prevent your head from dropping forward or sideways, and they allow you to sleep in different positions. However, they may be too large and awkward for some people, and they may not fit well in some seats.

Rectangular pillows4. Rectangular pillows: Rectangular pillows are the most traditional and simple type of travel pillows. They are similar to regular pillows, but smaller and more compact. They can be used to support your head, neck, or back, depending on your preference and posture. Rectangular pillows are usually filled with foam, microbeads, or air, and they may have a removable and washable cover. Rectangular pillows are versatile and easy to clean, but they may not provide enough support and contour for some people, and they may slide or shift during your sleep.

How to Use a Travel Pillow Correctly

To use a travel pillow correctly, you need to follow these steps:

A man choosing the right travel pillow

1. Choose the right travel pillow for you, based on the types and features that we discussed above, and your personal preference and sleeping style. You can also consult your doctor or a physical therapist for advice on the best travel pillow for your condition and needs.

A man testing his travel pillow

2. Try your travel pillow before buying it, or keep the receipt and try it before your trip. You should be able to rest your head on it without bending your neck uncomfortably, and the material should not pinch or chafe on your neck. You should also check the size and weight of the travel pillow, and make sure it fits in your luggage and seat.

A man inflating his travel pillow

3. Inflate your travel pillow if necessary. If your travel pillow is inflatable, blow into the air valve until the pillow is round and firm. Seal the air valve once you are done by replacing the cap. Some inflatable pillows self-inflate, which means you just need to turn a valve and wait for the pillow to fill up with air. Check your travel pillow’s instructions to see how it inflates.

Cover your travel pillow with a T-shirt

4. Cover your travel pillow with a T-shirt or a scarf to make it softer. Some travel pillows, especially the inflatable ones, are made of plastic and may not have a very comfortable surface. Use a thin, soft piece of clothing, such as a T-shirt or a light scarf, to cover your travel pillow and make it more cozy.

5. Place the travel pillow around your neck or between your shoulder and head, depending on the type and shape of your travel pillow. If your travel pillow is not U-shaped, it may be designed to fit between your shoulder and head. This type limits which direction you can rest your head in, so it is best for sleepers who do not change position much.

Recline your seat slightly

6. Recline your seat slightly. Most travel pillows are designed to support your head as it falls back or to the side. This position can be very more comfortable if your back is slightly reclined. Gently recline your seat, being careful not to move the seat too quickly or too far towards the passengers behind you, until you can lean back comfortably.

Cover your eyes with an eye mask

7. Cover your eyes with an eye mask or a hat. Even on nighttime flights, the plane is likely to be full of small electronic lights that can make it difficult to sleep. Use an eye mask or a hat to block out the light and create a dark and soothing environment for your sleep. You can also use earplugs or headphones to block out the noise and listen to relaxing music or sounds.

Relax and enjoy your sleep

8. Relax and enjoy your sleep. Once you have set up your travel pillow and your seat, try to relax and calm your mind. Breathe deeply and slowly, and focus on your breathing. You can also use some relaxation techniques, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, to help you fall asleep faster and easier.

How to Choose and Care for Your Travel Pillow

To choose and care for your travel pillow, you should follow these tips and recommendations:

  • Do your research and compare the prices and quality of different travel pillows, and choose the one that offers the best value and service for your travel pillow. You can also ask for referrals and recommendations from your friends, family, or other trusted sources, and check the reviews and ratings of different travel pillows online, and see their quality and reputation.
  • Clean and sanitize your travel pillow regularly. Your travel pillow can get dirty and germy from your sweat, saliva, or dust, and it can cause skin irritation or infection. You should wash your travel pillow or its cover after every trip, or at least once a month, following the instructions on the label. You can also use a disinfectant spray or wipe to sanitize your travel pillow before and after each use.
  • Store and pack your travel pillow properly. Your travel pillow can lose its shape and firmness if you store or pack it incorrectly. You should store your travel pillow in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat. You should also pack your travel pillow in a carrying case or a plastic bag, and squeeze out the air if it is inflatable, to prevent it from getting damaged or dirty.


A travel pillow is a useful and convenient accessory that can make your travel more comfortable and enjoyable. However, you need to know how to use a travel pillow correctly, and choose the right one for your needs and preferences. By following the steps and tips in this article, you can use a travel pillow effectively, and enjoy a more restful and relaxing travel experience.

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