For frequent fliers, jet lag is a challenge. For travel writers, it’s our ultimate nemesis. Being able to sleep on the plane helps, but in-flight sleep evades as many as 48% of travelers according to a study by Expedia. As a travel writer, I'm expected to deplane after a 14-hr flight and go straight to a dinner, a tour, or a talk depending on which time zone I land in.
I’m not a nervous flier. I like flying and I’ve mastered making myself as comfortable as possible on an airplane. I know what seat to choose and will pay extra for it. I know that airplane food does not agree with my stomach, so I eat before I fly. I don’t have more than one airplane-sized drink because alcohol dehydrates you (even more so in the air) and I make sure to drink enough water to combat the dehydration (but not too much water because that will lead to standing in line for a bathroom break). I pack high-end noise-canceling headphones and a thick silk eye mask, and I do my best to mimic my before-bed routine from home: washing my face, brushing my teeth, and spritzing on some lavender essential oil for good measure. Despite all this, I don’t sleep. I can’t get comfortable. I can’t find a way to rest my head that works for my body — or couldn’t until I came across the low-tech part-inflatable, part-down-filled pillow that (at long last) helped me achieve my goal: unconsciousness.
I Just Wanted a "Real" Pillow
Before I discovered the Pillowpacker travel pillow (5% off with promo code THEDISCOVERER), I'd tried everything in search of in-flight sleep including the Trtl Pillow that other writers on this site swear by. I researched different positions to arrange my body in the limited space allotted on an economy flight, marveling at the travelers who could make falling asleep while hunched over a tray table look comfortable. I read about travel pillows that inflated and deflated while you slept, acting in response to your (theoretically) sleeping body. I looked into a model that featured slowly dimming, sleep-inducing (yeah, right) lights. All this technology was being harnessed to induce sleep but all I really wanted was something that felt comfortable and comforting — an easy-to-pack, travel-size pillow that replicated the feeling of the one I have at home. I wanted my squishy, fluffy, down-filled pillow on the plane with me. A want that was impractical and not terribly hygienic, either.
And Pillowpacker Delivered
Enter the Pillowpacker, a kind of hybrid inflatable pillow that sits inside a down outer pillow and comes with a removable, washable pillowcase. It looks like a small, regular pillow, and it doesn’t feel like an inflatable travel pillow (my least favorite kind). Instead, the inflatable center allows you to adjust the size and firmness while maintaining the feel of a down-filled pillow thanks to the outer layer. It’s also a key factor in its packability. Deflating the inner pillow allows the whole thing to roll and pack inside its own carrying case. When packed, it takes up less room than a bottle of wine.
Portability aside, the best feature is the down outer shell that comes as close as possible to replicating the experience of sleeping on the kind of high-end pillow you’d use every night at home. When I first got the product, I swapped it out for my regular pillow and tried sleeping on it for a few nights in my own bed. Other than being about one-eighth the size of my (admittedly gigantic) everyday pillow, it provided me with the same solid sleeping experience I usually get.
It Actually Put Me To Sleep!
With that initial hurdle cleared, all that remained was to try it out in the air. On a 7.5 hour overnight trip from Toronto to Frankfurt, I pulled out the Pillowpacker for its inaugural flight. Headphones and eye mask in place, I positioned the pillow vertically against the headrest supporting my head neck and head, and about 45 minutes into an audiobook, I actually fell asleep! This state of slumber lasted until the cabin crew brought the lights up about an hour before we landed.
Rest, of course, requires more than a good pillow. I still follow the in-air regimen that leads up to falling asleep. In my experience, the Pillowpacker was the key element to staying asleep and getting enough sleep to function the following day. This travel pillow has become my airplane pillow, my Airbnb pillow, and my long car-ride pillow. When I had to travel during the pandemic, I even used it at a nice hotel, just for peace of mind. It's joined my eye mask and passport on my list of Do Not Travel Without items. I appreciate its simple design and the feeling of at-home comfort it brings to the travel experience — for me, that’s the key to in-flight slumber.
Top photo by Matej Kastelic