Review | We tested four (more) travel pillows. One ruled them all. – The Washington Post

Unless you’re in business or first class, transit sleep is never going to be your most restful snooze. The atmosphere is too disruptive, and the neighbors too loud. The seats? Not your bed — not even close.
To help make your bad sleep better, there’s the humble travel pillow — or, rather, countless humble travel pillows. The internet is overloaded with options to choose from, from the old-school models with beanbag fillings to the avant-garde. A few years ago, we put four to the test to see which were worth your money and carry-on space, and now we’re running it back with four more.
For this round, I polled my social media followers for their favorites and picked a few of the highest-rated on Amazon (whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post). I gave them a spin on cross-country flights in economy, an hour-long ride to the airport and the way-back seat of a minivan on a six-hour road trip. (Prices listed are from our time of purchase.)
The Snugl came highly recommended by a frequent-flying photographer friend. It’s robust, plush and silky, like a hybrid of the Cabeau Evolution Classic neck pillow and the Cushion Lab ergonomic travel pillow, but shapelier.
It wasn’t an immediate hit, although I did nap a little wearing the Snugl on a car ride. I could have used some more support, and I found it bulky. (One plus is the memory-foam material smushes down for more compact carrying.) Then I got home, and discovered I was missing out on a better way to wear it.
You naturally gravitate toward leaning your head against the Snugl’s higher, rounded side — that way the logo faces up, so it seems right, plus it looks like a little cup for your cheek. But you can actually wear it four different ways, according to its website: conventional, front position, reversed and over the shoulder. Three of those four have the pillow flipped, logo down, with that rounded side against your chest, back or shoulder. That flip is critical to reducing neck bend. It was a whole new pillow.
I was ready to write the Snugl off, and will now give it another chance; it has the potential to be truly great. The lesson is true for many neck pillows: There’s probably another way you could be wearing it that’s more comfortable. We actually often wear neck pillows backward; the fasteners are supposed to go in the back, usually.
The Dot & Dot bendable memory-foam travel pillow, which is kind of like a pool noodle with its malleable spine, is the cheapest of our roundup. You can remove its cotton cover to wash it, just in case you nap too hard and drool a little.
I packed the Dot & Dot for my six-hour trip in the back of the minivan that called for a 5:30 a.m. wake-up but spent most of the ride feeling uncompelled to use it. It was just … fine. Not big enough to add much value, no matter which way I wrangled it.
But I was confused; I chose it for its high ratings on Amazon. So when I got back from the trip, I pulled up the reviews. It turns out, a lot of people also felt “meh” about the pillow but still gave it high ratings anyway. Many people rated the pillow highly for using it in a hotel bed, not upright on a plane or car. Lesson learned: Star ratings do not tell the whole story.
On the glowing recommendations of a few travelers on social media, I ordered the Sunany inflatable neck pillow. Unlike the others, this one promises comfort by way of leaning forward onto a blowup head rest that you place on your lap or tray table, complete with a face hole like a massage table. On a backbreaking long-haul flight, I can see the appeal.
On a medium-haul, however, I felt highly silly inflating my ginormous flotation device. I got a lot of curious looks as the gray mass ballooned. It was too big for me (I’m 5-foot-4), so my head kept creeping deeper into the face hole, leading to some discomfort.
If I were taking a red-eye or international adventure and could find a smaller model, I would be bullish on this pillow. It inflates fast and packs down tiny, and give you a place to lean forward and tuck your arms, blocks out light and relieves back pain.
The most expensive of the bunch, the Trtl has a loyal following of passionate fans. I know this because whenever I’ve mentioned the words “neck pillow” in real life or on social media, people sing its praises. I ignored their hype for years. Made of a bendable piece of plastic stuffed in a fleece cloth that wraps around your neck, the “pillow” is supposed to look like a discreet scarf but reminded me too much of the boho chic vibe of music-festivalgoers in 2013.
Then I put on a Trtl in the back seat of an hour-long Uber ride to the airport and slept for 55 minutes straight. Then I slept again wearing it on a flight. Best yet: It takes up a fraction of the space in my carry-on compared with the other cushiony options.
In our last pillow test, the Cabeau Evolution Classic neck pillow was the winner. However, I found myself taking the Cushion Lab ergonomic travel pillow, which we also tested, on 90 percent of my trips instead. But the Trtl beats them both. It’s simply the smallest option with the best support, period. And if I’m flying to faraway continents, I may throw in a smaller Sunany dupe as well.

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