Why you should travel with your own pillow

When you’re away from home, it’s the little things that matter, so why not bring a little bit of home with you while you travel?

We like to judge hotels on a lot of things, but they are, first and foremost, a place to lay your head. And I mean that in the most literal sense of the word because right now I want to talk about the humble pillow. You’ve spent most of your life picking through the swathes of venerable headrests to find the one that works for you – the one that’s not too hard, not too soft, not too narrow or too noisy. So when you head away on holidays, it’s important to think about your pillow, and maybe even take your own. Because a lot of the time, a hotel pillow just won’t cut it.

For most pillow packers, hygiene is the biggest motivator. And when you think about it, that makes sense: the average hotel pillow spends between two and three years in circulation. Just think about all those people who have laid their head on your pillow before you. Doing the maths based on a pretty conservative average stay of three nights, and… actually, you know what? That’s information I never wanted to know, so I won’t subject you to it*. Suffice to say, it’s pretty disgusting.

And if you suffer from allergies, the picture is even bleaker. While most hotels use some kind of pillow protector, they’re rarely sealed with protectors that keep out dust and microorganisms. This can mean that your hotel pillow isn’t just home to your head – but also colonies of sneeze-inducing dust mites. And if you use a hypoallergenic pillow at home to avoid all that, it’s worth bringing with you.

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Hotel bed

The other point here is comfort. You often don’t notice your pillow until it’s uncomfortable. It might be lumpy, scratchy or just a tad higher or lower than you’re used to, but you’ll notice. Particularly at the pointy end of the market, some hotels have realised that their guests have different pillow tastes and have begun offering pillow menus. These are just what they sound like: a list of different brands and sizes of pillows, so you can pick out just the one you need. Unfortunately, these offerings are far from standard across hotels and most places are yet to implement this godsend for the picky traveller. So once again, we reach the point where if you really want a good night’s sleep, the only option is to pack your own.

But while they’re exceedingly comfy, and perfect once you reach the hotel, pillows aren’t known for their travelability (yes, that’s a new word I just invented – you can have it for free). But there are still ways to get from A to B with your pillow. The most obvious is to save room in your bag by just carrying the pillow under your arm, sleepover style, but if you’ve got a checked bag and hand luggage, you may struggle to juggle it all.

Alternatively, just stuff it in and use it as padding for anything fragile. I’m talking breakable holiday gifts, cosmetics bottles, your favourite tech or even just a special book – fold the pillow around it and even the most aggressive baggage handler won’t be able to touch it.

The other option is a product like SleepKeeper, a water- and dirt-resistant rollable bag which promises to compact your pillow to a third of its original size. You can then either carry the bag separate from your luggage or, if you’re a light packer, cram it in with the rest of your kit. At the other end, just unroll it and you’re set for a good night’s sleep.

And that’s potentially the biggest benefit of the BYO pillow strategy: a good night’s sleep. Not just having a good sleep, but knowing that when you get to your hotel for the night, you’ll sleep well. Travel is full of uncertainties: transport delays, translation issues and just plain old getting lost are the norm. So for a bit of extra bag space, that certainty is worth it.

*If you truly want to know, the average hotel pillow has had between 243 and 365 heads sleep on it.

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Sleeping in a hotel room

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