“Ew, I don’t want your butt pillow,” is what I wanted to say when my dad eagerly pushed his deflated Therm-a-Rest Travel Cushion on me before a long-haul flight to Indonesia last year. I was at my parents’ house in California for a day to reap the financial benefits of flying from LAX, and they did that coddling thing parents do whenever you come home after moving a sufficient number of states away. But an extra four ounces of weight is a small price to pay for unlimited free nights at the Earnest residence, so I sucked it up (and sucked the last bit of air out), stuffing the cushion into my backpack.
A few hours later, I was boarding for the first leg of the trip, from Los Angeles to Manila, in the Philippines. Settling into my seat, I prepared for the 15-plus-hour slog ahead with my usual in-flight ritual of unpacking half my belongings: my holy grail of a toiletry kit (complete with moisturizing face sheets), a blackout sleeping mask, a neck pillow, headphones, my Kindle, lunch from home, and a selection of expensive airport magazines. I was about to zip up my bag and toss it into the overhead bin when a flash of nautical blue caught my eye: the tush cush. I sighed but thought of my dad and figured it couldn’t hurt to try. Plus, the elderly couple next to me was already so bewildered at my high-maintenance setup that one more creature comfort was definitively not surprising. I slid the flat polyester rectangle out, and, to the pure disdain of said neighbors, spent the next several minutes noisily inflating it with my mouth, then standing up and sitting down in an attempt to find the perfect air fill. (I landed on about 80 percent full, enough for my back and booty to be supported without sliding forward.)
Like the old saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Midway into the flight, I wasn’t convinced the pad was doing anything for me, so I lent it to my partner for a few hours. Those 180-odd minutes are still one of my life’s biggest regrets. I became painfully aware of how bony my butt was, and no position relieved me of that nagging thought except simply standing up. The way my relationship goes is: when I’m miserable, everyone’s miserable, so on the 20-hour journey home, the cushion was all mine.
Now, chances are, unless you love the butt feel of economy seats, you will still have some soreness after a long haul, even if you don’t have to share the tush cush with anyone else. But the extra comfort the pillow provided has ruined me for pillowless flights and cemented my need to include it in my bougie travel kit for any flight over five hours long.
When I landed at LAX, my dad asked for his travel pillow back. I was waiting for my next big trip to purchase it for myself, but now that I’m working from home and spending eight-plus hours a day in a stiff Ikea rolling chair, I decided to invest the 30 bucks to buy one. It’s saved my ass—literally.
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