neck pillow
Inflatable, memory foam filling or wearable - there's a travel pillow out there for every snoozer on the plane. Check out your options below. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A lolling head throughout a very long flight is the last thing you need to create a holiday mood. Trust the awkwardly angled neck and spine to gift you with bleary eyes upon touchdown. What's missing from your travel essentials is a supportive pillow for uninterrupted snoozes and rest in-flight.

Neck or travel pillows keep the back straight and provide enough cushioning for a chin tuck. Without it, travellers may feel soreness and pain in the muscles, says Ajmal Sheriff, a specialist physiotherapist with the Dubai-based Emirates Health Services (EHS).

Our expert carries a neck pillow to all long-haul flights, where there's a high possibility of dozing off. "A travel pillow supports the head from the chin and the sides, and it allows the neck muscles to maintain a neutral position that's neither over-stretched nor contracted," said Sheriff.

Sleeping upright without sufficient neck support could affect soft tissues (muscles), rather than pose serious injury to the bones. Sheriff says that this strain in muscles is akin to sleeping in an awkward position in bed. A good-quality travel pillow, preferably with memory foam stuffing, can prevent such soreness.

neck pillow
If the neck padding makes your head stick out uncomfortably, try rotating the pillow to support the chin instead. Image Credit: Shutterstock

"Go for a pillow that is neither too soft nor too hard. If it's hard, it'll cause discomfort, and if it's soft, it won't support the weight of your head. Some experts also advise rotating the pillow so that the base of the 'U' is under the chin, to stop any fluctuation of the neck. When I'm awake on flights, though, I rotate it back around because I need to move my head to talk and look around," advised Sheriff.

Another tip to get some movement going is to engage in stretches in your seat. Basic neck motions, like moving your head from side to side, and up and down, during sleep breaks can "prevent tightness and relax the muscles". 

Yaseen Tayyab, the founder of travelling community UAE Backpackers, oversees a group of hikers to international summits. On his frequent trips, Tayyab's backpackers sometimes opt for an inflatable pillow, one that packs small into their bags. "It helps keep your neck straight while taking a nap and prevents you from leaning on a stranger's shoulder. You can even walk around the airport with the pillow on," he told us.

The aeroplane is not the only place where the pillow comes in handy. Count in bumpy car rides, bus commutes, as well as budget train trips - they all benefit from an ergonomic travel pillow that offers the neck some relief.

We list the best-rated travel pillows found on Amazon, below. Make sure to add these in-flight essentials to the cart, for an even smoother journey. With a Prime subscription, you'll get free, fast delivery on some of these products.

1. Best Overall: Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow

Our Dubai-based travel expert, Parikshit Balochi, previously shared that a travel pillow was an underrated essential for sleepers on the plane. Balochi has travelled to over 100 destinations, with his Cabeau memory foam pillow in tow. What immediately stands out about this item are the attachment straps at the back to secure the pillow, and in turn your head, in place. At the front, an adjustable clasp lets you choose the best gap for your chin support. All of this memory foam compresses down to half of its size and packs lightly in the included carry bag that can be clipped to your luggage. Long-haul travellers in the reviews owe hours of uninterrupted sleep to the Evolution S3 pillow. Some do find using headphones with it around the neck, to be a difficult task, since the pillow is quite high.

Bonus: Redeem an extra 10% discount with Citibank by entering the code ‘CB10JUN’ at checkout.

2. Best Versatile U-Shaped Pillow: Snugl Travel Pillow

If you can't give up the tunes to drown out a noisy flight, opt for a headphones-friendly design. The Snugl travel pillow does just that, with a smart shape that accounts for any ear coverings. Its undulating design hugs the contours of your neck and shoulders, with dual adjustable buckle straps at the ends. We love how it suits every kind of sleeper, whether you like to rest your head to the side, prefer a high chin support or nap better without a headrest. The Snugl pillow is reversible and can be worn in every which way. And, if most pillows tend to get your neck sweaty, the skin-friendly elastic cationic fabric on this helps you stay dry. Like our Cabeau pick, it rolls down by 70 per cent of its original size and stores in a small bag that comes with a carabiner clip. Reviewers who've flown on multiple flights in a row say they've never slept better on the plane. Though it's bulkier than most options, its versatility and fabric quality are indisputable.

3. Best Inflatable Pillow: Sunany Neck Pillow 

Say you're a minimalist traveller who cannot have a pillow hanging from their only luggage. The only solution is to fold it flat and tuck it into the backpack. Sunany's H-shaped neck pillow inflates in three breaths, reviews note, and deflates completely in three seconds. Extremely light, space-saving and leak-proof, the pillow has a flat back with elevated wings to cushion the top of your head from both sides. If you were to rotate it, the neck support will catch your chin from dipping too low. Buyers are able to adjust the thickness to their liking, and they make good use of the bonus accessories included, such as the eye mask, ear plugs and a hood. Don't worry about the hollow centre - travellers attest to its no-bounce factor.

4. Best Firm Pillow: Travelrest CURL Therapeutic Memory Foam Travel and Neck Pillow

In search of a no-frills, traditional neck pillow? Your best bet is the Travelrest Curl. It's the smallest pillow on our list, but still offers a thermally regulated memory foam filling. The plush microfibre cover feels soft and cooling against the face, and is removable for a quick wash. The Curl is firmer than most travel pillows, according to reviews, so it's great for those who prefer a less pliable shape. With this feature, you don't have to keep breaking into your pillow every time you travel, since it retains all your unique dents and crevices. Our only qualm is the lack of storage options.

Bonus: Redeem an extra 10% discount with Citibank by entering the code ‘CB10JUN’ at checkout.

Warranty: The manufacturer offers a two-year warranty.

5. Best Soft Pillow: Huzi Infinity Pillow

On the other end of the spectrum is this soft, shapeless pillow that looks more like a neck-support scarf than anything else. The infinity design lets you hook your hands into the second loop, cocooning the neck and shoulders in a fluffy embrace. Its high-quality bamboo fabric and microfibre layers offer more breathability than cotton, always ensuring that the pillow is cool to the touch. Twist it to cushion your head against the window, over your back for some lumbar support or around the ears to muffle noise as you sleep. Even though the cover doesn't peel off, the pillow is still washable. Reviewers love that the pillow is always cold and find it much more versatile than its conventional U-shaped counterparts. It packs into a lightweight ball, but do expect to clear some space in the bag for this.

Bonus: Redeem an extra 10% discount with Citibank by entering the code ‘CB10JUN’ at checkout.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.