Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
→ Buy Now: Trtl Travel Pillow, $50, amazon.com; trtltravel.com
I’m not going to lie—I’m an excellent traveler. I travel frequently and I can sleep on pretty much any form of transportation. Give me a window seat or something to lean against and I’m out from the second the plane ascends or the train leaves the station (or the boat disembarks, or . . .) until I arrive at my destination.
My fiancé, Vinny, on the other hand, is the opposite. He has a serious fear of flying (or as he puts it, “just doesn’t like it that much”), which I learned on our first flight together: a three-hour trip from New York to Miami. He was irritable and antsy leading up to the flight, and in the air he aggressively went through an entire pack of gum, blasted a pump-you-up playlist, squeezed my hand until it went numb, and ultimately wanted my window shade down.
It works out in some respects: Have you ever met anyone who always wants the middle seat? But when we were booking flights to Sicily a couple of years ago (New York to Rome, Rome to Palermo for a grand total of nearly 10 hours on a plane), I was the one who felt fear. I knew I would sleep the whole way. I had secured a window seat and had even bought myself my very first travel pillow on Amazon Prime Day. But how was I supposed to sleep knowing Vinny would be awake the whole time freaking out? And, even if I could sleep, I knew he would be cranky and tired when we got there. I started to think of all the future trips I wanted to take together. Traveling is one of my favorite things, but how would we be able to go all over the world if he’s so uncomfortable flying?
After boarding the plane, I told him to have some wine. Then I offered him my brand new Trtl Travel Pillow, which is more of a soft fleece scarf with a slim neck support frame inside, than a pillow per se. He told me he wouldn’t sleep anyway and that he felt it would look weird. But I appealed to his health-conscious side: It’s supposed to be better for your neck. He reluctantly agreed and secured it around his neck with the Velcro fastening. Soon after drink service, he fell asleep with nothing to lean against except for my Trtl. I was overjoyed—suddenly our future trips came back into the picture as I leaned against the window and drifted off to sleep somewhat uncomfortable, but happy.
He likes to give some credit to the wine, but I can tell you that on the way home from Sicily, I did not have a window seat. I had an aisle, which meant I had nothing to lean on, and when I reminded him that that was in fact my pillow and took it back, I slept. He didn’t. We both had wine again.
Typically, I’m not one for packing lots of special travel gear. I have the earpods that came with my iPhone, a two-wheel roller bag I’ve been using since 2008, and my “airport uniform” of a hoodie, leggings, and big sunglasses. Until recently, the most effort I was making was a reusable water bottle, but now I can’t stop telling everyone I know about the Trtl Travel Pillow. And if I have it with me, I make everyone try it on.
What makes the Trtl pillow different from other travel pillows and worth its price tag?
The Trtl Travel Pillow is mechanically engineered for maximum neck support and comfort. It feels a little strange putting it on the first time (though it gives you instructions of where to put your neck, chin, and jaw) and sort of looks like a neck brace. But who cares how it looks when you’re getting peaceful sleep on an airplane and waking up with zero neck stiffness?
And as an added bonus, the pillow is much more compact than a traditional U-shaped travel pillow. It fits inside carry-on luggage, backpacks, or large purses without taking up much space and weighs just half a pound. Plus, it’s machine washable, and we all know that now is the time to be deep-cleaning all your travel gear.
I have the original Trtl in gray and bought it when there were just a few colors available. Now, there’s a variety of colors, a kids’ version (ages 8+), and the Trtl Pillow Plus, which can be adjusted to different heights and is made with a more breathable fabric. All of them are compact, easy to use, and comfortable.
As soon as we got back from Sicily I bought Vinny his own Trtl Travel Pillow in black. Now that international flights are back, I know we’ll be breaking out our Trtl pillows more than ever. But even if it’s for naps during holiday road trips or whenever I start commuting on the Long Island Railroad again, I know one thing: I’ll never travel without my Trtl ever again.
This article originally appeared online in 2020; it was updated on November 15, 2022, to reflect current pricing information.