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The Art of Choosing Travel Handbags You Will Actually Use
Looks matter, but don't be swayed by a beautiful bag that will gather dust in your closet

Picture this: It's a glorious spring day in Paris. I'm sitting in a café with my friend Susanne. She loops the strap of her handbag over the back of her chair. You know the gesture - you've probably done it a hundred times.

She'll never see that handbag again.

travel handbagsIt's easy to let your mind wander when you're sitting in a Parisian café

Before we get into the how of handbag handling, let's look into the what.

Which is the best travel handbag for you?

If you're in a bit of a rush and don't want to know all the bag-related ins and outs I'm about to share with you, here are my three favorite travel handbags, and you can rush right out to Amazon and get one. (Or click here if you're a daypack hardliner and would rather sip cod liver oil than carry a travel purse around.)

Fossil Morgan Traveler

Fossil bag

Cross-shoulder is the keyword here - and leather. It's a lovely bag for city travel. Lots of pockets!

US   UK  

Bagallini Everywhere

Stylish, light, rainproof, and super practical for travel at a very reasonable price.

US   UK   CA

Pacsafe Citysafe 200 Gii

My all-time favorite. I have two of these, in different colors. Slash-proof, light, roomy, and cross-shoulder.

US   UK   CA

The above three are 'normal-sized' handbags and will carry pretty much anything you need.

BUT - you may need something smaller. If you're flying within Europe or on a discount airline, you may find you're only allowed a single bag, handbag included.

The solution is a small travel handbag: you can slip it into your carry-on if you're not allowed a second bag on the flight.

Travelon Mini

Slashproof and light - lies nice and flat against you. And pockets.


PacSafe Citysafe LS100

Here I go with Pacsafe again - this is a smaller version but just as thief-proof.

US   UK   CA

Tom Bihn Café Bag

Easy to open, and lots of nooks and crannies to hold pens and things.

Tom Bihn

So let's get real: do you REALLY need a handbag when you travel?

Maybe not.

If you're a person who doesn't carry much around, you may not need one. You can always stash your phone, room card and credit card in a money belt or travel pouch, right?

If on the other hand you are a bag person, here are a few simple questions you should ask yourself before you buy:

  • How do you carry your handbag? Across your chest and back, on your shoulder, or slung over your arm (not the best idea for keeping your hands free in an unfamiliar environment, by the way)...
  • How long are you going for? A small bag (or no bag!) might do for a short visit but if you're off for a few weeks you'll need something bigger.
  • What kind of travel is involved? If you're staying in a central hotel or apartment, you can always go back for something and can leave most things in your room.
  • How often will you be using it? Do you need it all day or is it for evening wear or work?
  • What will you carry? If you need your iPad and your iPhone and makeup and clumps of keys, you'll need a different bag than if you're slipping your phone, a pen and a moleskine notebook into something that zips up.
  • How often do you need access to your stuff? I use my iPhone every minute or two so I'm lost without an outside pocket into which it fits.

Answering these questions will help you choose. If you travel often, don't skimp on expense. You're better off paying more now than buying something that will unravel in the middle of nowhere - and that you'll have to replace.

travel handbagsEvery occasion has its handbags. You can always change your mind and buy a new one on your travels

These 7 security tips will help you keep your travel handbag safe

Other than choosing the right model, the most important issue you'll have to deal with is probably security.

1. Don't wear flashy brand name labels on your bag: they make it that much more attractive to steal.

2. Don't be arrogant as in "it won't happen to me because I'm too smart/careful/savvy" - it can happen to you. I'm a seasoned traveler and I've had my belongings lifted. It's almost inevitable after a lifetime of travel. What I do know is without being careful, it would have happened far more often.

3. Make sure your bag is hard to get into. That's why I like the slash-proof straps with all sorts of wire mesh. I can still lose it and it can be stolen - but it won't be slashed and my belongings lifted from under me.

4. Pay attention. The best time for someone to steal your bag is when you're busy taking that ultimate photograph or admiring the view. You're not paying attention and you won't even notice. I sadly speak from experience.

5. Wear your bag in a way that dissuades theft. Most often thieves look for an easy mark. A handbag across your chest (as opposed to hanging loosely over a shoulder) will look more challenging and less appetizing. Yes, there have been instances of women being dragged along by a thief on a scooter BUT seeing a well-protected bag should be pretty dissuasive. But - it's your call.

6. Never leave your bag unattended. Obvious, right? And if you don't want to hang onto to it tightly while trying to eat, tie it to the table. Or get one of those metal cable locks to tie your bag to your table or chair.

7. Don't carry your valuables in your purse unless it is really secure. I do carry it all in my purse but I watch it like a hawk, spread my cash and cards around various clothes pockets, and wear it across my back. If I'm heading to a pickpocket heaven, I'll use a money belt or pouch. 

Whatever I do, I will NOT be hanging my bag on the back of a chair!

Please note that some of the links on this page are affiliate links. If you use them to buy something, you're helping support this website - but you still pay the same.

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(and to say thank you I'll send you the 'list of 9' indispensable items I NEVER travel without!)