The Definitive Guide to Travel Pillows: Finding the Perfect Size

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Traveling can often be exhausting, especially when it comes to longer flights or road trips. The hours of being stuck in a less-than-comfortable seat are enough to make anyone cringe. Fortunately, with the right-sized travel pillow, you can turn that coach seat into a slice of paradise, the middle seat into an oasis of calm, and at least ease some of the discomfort.

But what exactly is the right size for a travel pillow? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the world of travel pillows, shedding light on the importance of size and what factors you should consider to find the perfect match for your journeys.

Anatomy of a Travel Pillow: The Importance of Size

Just like Goldilocks and her quest for the perfect chair, finding a travel pillow that’s just right often comes down to size. It’s too big, and you should lug around a bean bag chair.

Too small, and you’ve got a glorified scarf. The right size, however, can provide the essential support and comfort that makes those long hours bearable.

Why Size Matters

The size of a travel pillow predominantly dictates its comfort and effectiveness. Your ideal travel pillow is a Goldilocks scenario that perfectly fits the contours of your neck, is neither too high nor too low, and offers just the right amount of cushioning. A pillow that’s too large can lead to a stiff neck, while a too-small one may not provide enough support.

Considering Your Needs

Your physical build, preferred sleeping position, and specific mode of travel are all critical considerations when determining the right size for your travel pillow. It’s about finding a pillow tailored to your comfort needs, ensuring it’s a companion, not a burden, on your travels.

Types of Travel Pillows and Their Corresponding Size

Travel pillows come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes, each catering to different needs and preferences. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular types and the sizes they generally come in.

Inflatable Pillows

Inflatable travel pillows are perfect for those looking to save space. The size of these pillows varies wildly, depending on how much air you inflate them with – which means they can be customized to fit your needs. They are often compact when deflated, making them a favorite for minimalist packers.

U-Shaped Pillows

The ubiquitous U-shaped pillow is a travel classic. With its ergonomic design, it offers neck support and can be extremely comfortable for dozing off. However, not all necks are created equal, and the one-size-fits-all approach may leave some travelers wanting.

Memory Foam Pillows

These plush favorites offer an alternative to the U-shaped variety. They come in various shapes, from standard pillows to those contoured to wrap around your neck. Ensure that the dimensions of the memory foam pillow you choose align with your body to prevent discomfort.

How to Measure Up Your Travel Pillow

Finding the right travel pillow is akin to solving a comfort puzzle. Here’s how to measure up and find the right match.

Step 1: Measure Your Neck

Use a soft tape measure to measure the circumference of your neck. This will give you a good starting point for the pillow width you need. Be sure to hold the tape measure snugly but not too tightly for an accurate measurement.

Step 2: Determine Your Preferred Height

Do you typically sleep with multiple pillows? If so, measure the combined height of those pillows to find the ideal thickness for your travel pillow. This step is vital for finding a pillow that is neither too high nor too low.

Step 3: Consider Travel Restrictions

If you’re a frequent flyer, make sure that the size of your travel pillow still allows you to pack light. Check the airline’s carry-on restrictions to ensure your chosen pillow will fit without wasting valuable space in your luggage.

Customizing Your Comfort with Additional Features

Beyond the initial size, many travel pillows have additional features that enhance comfort. From built-in hoods to side pockets for your phone, these extras might be just what you need to transform your travel experience.

Adjustable Straps

Pillows with adjustable straps can be tailored to fit around any seat, whether a plane, train, or automobile. They provide added security and customized support, reducing the possibility of it slipping off at inopportune moments.


If you get hot while you sleep, look for a travel pillow with breathable materials or mesh panels. This can reduce the likelihood of overheating and ensure you stay comfortable throughout the trip.


The ability to wash your travel pillow is a massive bonus, especially after long journeys where spills or general wear and tear occur every day. Check for pillows with removable, washable covers to keep things fresh and hygienic.

Where to Find Your Perfect-Sized Pillow

Once you have a good idea of the size and features you’re looking for, it’s time to go shopping. Here are some of the best places to find your ideal travel pillow.

Specialty Outlets

Specialty travel stores often have a wide selection of travel pillows in all shapes and sizes. The advantage of shopping here is that the staff usually offers personalized advice on which pillow best suits your needs.

Online Retailers

Online retailers like Amazon offer an immense range of travel pillows, often at competitive prices. Customer reviews can be a goldmine of information to help you decide, and you can easily compare different options.

Traditional Stores

Don’t count out brick-and-mortar stores. Chains such as Target and Walmart have large travel sections that sometimes yield hidden gems in travel comfort equipment.

Custom Options

Some companies offer custom-sized travel pillows for those who are particularly picky or have unique requirements. While this might come at a premium, the result is a pillow made just for you.

Final Thoughts on the Right-Size Travel Pillow

While travel pillows may seem like a small accouterment in the grand scheme of your adventures, their impact can be huge, particularly if you find the right size for your needs. The perfect travel pillow – one tailored to your size, sleeping style, and mode of travel – can make all the difference in how refreshed and ready you are to take on the world at the end of your journey.

Armed with the knowledge from this guide, you’re well on your way to selecting a travel pillow that will have you saying goodbye to the aches and pains of travel and hello to a good night’s sleep, no matter where your adventures take you.

Finding the right size is just the start, though. Remember to take care of your travel pillow, whether cleaning it regularly or storing it properly between trips. Your travel pillow should be as resilient and well-prepared for travels as you are. After all, it’s not just a travel essential; it’s a comfort commitment. So go forth, and rest easy on your next journey! Keep exploring, and happy travels! 

Remember to check the material of your travel pillow as well. Different materials may affect its comfort level, durability, and ease of maintenance. For example, memory foam pillows are known for their softness and support, while inflatable pillows are lightweight and easy to pack.

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