Travel Neck Pillow

I envy people who have no trouble sleeping on planes and long car rides. I, on the other hand, never know where to put my head. It just kind of rolls around.

Going to sleep is no problem for me when I’m lying down, but snoozing while sitting up is beyond me. On a plane, I’ll start to nod off, but as gravity pulls my head downward I tend to snap back awake. Then the pattern repeats over and over—nod and snap, nod and snap—until I finally give up and watch old Modern Family episodes on the seat-back screen.

I suspect my inability to doze in transit is a punishment inflicted on me by God for laughing at my Grandma Jewel when she would fall asleep on car trips. She’d go chin to chest, looking for all the world like Sesame Street’s Big Bird at bedtime, albeit without the strangled-poultry snoring.

One time when I was very young and my parents were driving Grandma to see her brother Bill in Arizona, she fell asleep in her customary pose, but with a Dum-Dum stick protruding from her lips. It dangled precariously, but the sucker never fell from her mouth. My older sister and I giggled about it across the entire American Southwest.

Returning from a recent trip to Egypt, I had to change planes in Frankfurt, Germany. While I was waiting around for my flight to Boston I decided to buy one of those U-shaped neck pillows.

I hadn’t had much luck with those in the past but this one looked promising because it had a little plastic buckle on the front that would secure the two arms of the U firmly around my neck, thus holding my bobbing noggin up to prevent the nod-and-snap issue.

Basically I bought a neck brace.

Unfortunately, the pillow’s memory foam retained body heat to an uncomfortable degree. And the plastic buckle made the pillow’s embrace so tight that it felt like I was being ineffectively strangled—I say “ineffectively” because if I was actually being strangled at least I would presumably lose consciousness at some point.

Instead, I remained awake the whole flight.

Following a long plane ride, I can usually count on a day or two of near delirium on account of the sleep deprivation. During a vacation, though, I can’t afford the luxury of padding the itinerary to accommodate jet lag recovery, so I just have to power through.

At least, that’s the strategy I always follow. I’m not so sure it’s effective, considering some of the zombified sightseeing I have undertaken over the years.

On a trip to Vienna with my spouse, for example, it seems like we went straight from the airport to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a famous collection of art about which I remember next to nothing because I was so tired while dragging myself through the institution.

I do, however, recall curling up afterward on a grassy spot on the grounds of the Hofburg palace and begging my spouse to let me take a quick catnap of, say, 4 hours or so.  

Barring that, I suggested he bring me a “Hofburger with cheese”—a remark that struck me in my exhausted state as brilliantly funny.

I mean like Grandma-falling-asleep-with-a-sucker-in-her-mouth funny.

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