Monday, August 21, 2017

Travelling with the TRTL Travel Pillow

Travel can be a real pain in the neck, both figuratively and literally.  Air travel, especially if you're not on a window seat, often makes sleep difficult, especially with airlines cramming in more rows of seats and cutting the reclining distance.

I know I'm not the only one who has tried to nap on a long flight and woken up stiff and sore from having my head canted at a weird angle for several hours.  Travel pillows have tried to address this in the past, but usually I've found that, despite their bulk, they're just not stiff enough to provide support.

All that is to say, I was pretty excited to try out the TRTL Travel Pillow as a new option when I made two round-trip flights from Europe to the States in the last month.

So what is the TRTL Travel Pillow and why did I think this device would be any different?

Unlike traditional travel pillows, the TRTL model does not use any sort of stuffing to provide support. Instead, it's a fleece pocket with a curved, plastic neck support that rests against the side of one's neck to provide support from the shoulder to the head.

The plastic brace is removable for washing the cover. The pillow is secured by a fleece wrap with a hook and loop closure, which forms a sort of scarf wrap around the neck to hold the plastic brace in place. If you are looking for a place to sleep without a place to lay down, you'll be in for a good night's sleep usin the TRTL.

During my flights, my different seating options resulted in three different scenarios.

For my first flight, I was on a window seat.  Traditionally, this is a good spot for sleeping by leaning against the wall of the plane, so I didn't really need the TRTL pillow on the side of my neck.

But there's also the ability to attach the pillow so that the brace is on the front of the neck.  When I did this, I did discover one weak point: I'm tall and the TRTL is designed a little short for my neck, especially when placed in front.

To solve this problem, I took the travel pillow that Delta provides on international flights and placed it under the bottom edge of the TRTL to give it a little more lift.  A travel blanket, coat, or other small clothing item could just have easily met this need.

Once I got used to the feeling of an object being held against my neck (admittedly, you can feel the plastic edges of the brace), I fell asleep and actually managed to get about three hours of restful sleep, woke up to stretch the legs, and then went back to sleep again for another two hours.

No neck pain from my head rolling forward while leaning against the wall of the plane!  I considered this to be a great success.

My next flight was easily my most difficult.  I was stuck in a middle seat that had... issues.  The reclining function was broken, so the seat wouldn't even recline the couple of inches usually available.

Add on to that, the head rest attached to the seat itself was broken and wouldn't stay out when deployed.  It was the worst possible solution for trying to sleep on a nine hour flight... but I was going to try!

In order to get the seat's head rest to stick out at all, I had to wedge it forward with Delta's pillow.  I then put the TRTL Pillow on the side of my neck this time and used a bit of the travel blanket I had rolled up to boost it to the right height.

It was an awkward position (sleeping sitting straight up), but I did manage to doze off and intermittently nap for about two hours.  I can't say I got a lot of rest during that time, but that wasn't the fault of the pillow.

I will, however, say that despite the awkwardness of trying to sleep sitting straight up, I still woke with little to no neck pain thanks to being held in place.  Additionally, without the brace of the TRTL pillow I don't think I'd have gotten any sleep at all.

The third situation I was up against was better, since I was in an aisle seat that could recline and had a functional headrest.

For this case, I actually put the TRTL Pillow diagonally so that it was split between my right shoulder and the front of my neck.

I bolstered it up at the bottom with Delta's pillow, and leaned my head against the seat's headrest.

The TRTL Pillow managed to prevent my head from rolling forward or putting too much weight to the side and collapsing the headrest.

On this flight, I was able to get a fair amount of rest.

As a side note, this flight got a little bit cold, and the neck wrap used to secure the TRTL in place also does a good job of acting like a scarf to lock in warmth.

So what's the verdict?

There's no mac that's going to make sleeping in an economy seat on a flight a comfortable experience.  Legs are going to get stiff, you're going to be sitting up, and sometimes your seat is just going to suck.

But I honestly found that the TRTL Pillow, while unable to turn my seat into a bed, made each flight's sleeping experience a bit better.

I was really pleased with my rest on the flight where I had a window seat, and my aisle seat experience was about the same level of rest I usually get with a window seat.

The nightmare scenario was impossible to save, but the TRTL Pillow at least made it bearable and kept me from waking up in pain.  What seat you choose is still going to matter, but the pillow improved my sleep experience in each case.

I would like to see varied sizes of this product in the future.  If the brace on this model had been about 2 inches taller I feel like I could have gotten by without having to bolster the pillow up at all.
This shortcoming was easily overcome, but would require some planning on a domestic flight (where the airline won't provide a pillow and blanket for use).

Most importantly, even though my review sample was free, I would buy this pillow.  In fact, I'm recommending it to family members who are coming to visit Europe later this year!

The TRTL travel pillow comes in black, grey or red and can be purchased on their website for $29.99 (USD) with free shipping to the US.


  1. Awesome Review Paul,
    I found your article from a blog link party and was thoroughly impressed with you article. The trtl travel pillow sound to be one awesome pillow

  2. I am always looking for a way to be more comfy on a plane. Lovely review.

    xx, Elise

  3. Your points about neck pain especially on flights are spot on, I think any plane passenger can agree. This travel pillow sounds great.

  4. i just bought this pillow, and i'm so glad you are recommending it. i haven't used it yet, but i am hoping that when i am in the dreaded middle seat it will be somewhere i can rest my head so that it's not bobbing around when i fall asleep.

  5. This travel pillow looks so much better than the standard ones that's all big, round, and bulky. I would love to try this on my next flight.


  6. Great review Paul - must get one of these pillows

  7. This travel pillow sounds great. I'm usually asleep before the plane leaves the ground. I'll be checking this one out. Thanks for sharing on Sunday's Best.

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