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The Art of Choosing Travel Handbags You Will Actually Use

Updated 3 November 2017 - 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.

Historical photograph of a Paris caféRelaxing in a café... the last thing you're thinking about is your handbag, right?

There are things you do with your handbag — and then there are things you don't do, like loop it over the back of your chair.

But before we get into the how of handbag handling, let's look at the what — the best travel bags for women.

The best travel purse - a buyer's guide and comparison chart

Name

Image

Pockets

Size (in inches)

Colors

Style

Price

Room for laptop

6-7, plus main compartment

10.24" X 10.24" X 2.76”

Black, Espresso

Leather Crossbody

$$$

Room for small tablets

5 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

12" X 10.5" X 2”

Apple, Peach, Portobello + 9

Synthetic Crossbody

$$

Room for most tablets

6 and main compartment

16.5” x 14.3” x 2.8”

Midnight Blue

Nylon Crossbody

$$

Room for laptops up to 13”

6 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

9.5” X 8.5” X 2”

Black, Brown, Chocolate + 14

Synthetic Crossbody

$

Room for small tablets

4 and main compartment

7.9” X 11.5” X 3.1”

Black, Rosemary

Polyester

$$

Room for small tablets

4 plus main compartment

11.5" x 11" x 1.25"

Grey, Black

Polyester Crossbody

$$

Room for 9” tablet

2 exterior plus main compartment

10" x 11" x .5”

A number of floral, tribal and geometric patterns

Polyester Crossbody

$

Room for most tablets

3 exterior and main compartment

10-1/2" H x 10-1/2" W x 3"

Black, Beige, Cayenne + 6

Synthetic Crossbody

$$

Room for most tablets

6 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

11.6” x 10.4” x 2.68”

Coffee, Dark Grey, Grey

Canva Crossbody

$

Room for some smaller tablets

4 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

14.5” x 11” x 4”

Beige, Dark Brown, Mouse, Olive Green

Canvas and Oiled Leather Crossbody

$$

Room for laptop up to 15”

10 and main compartment

11.22" X 6.49" X 12.59"

Black, Brown, Grey, Purple, Red

Synthetic Washed Leather

$

Room for tablet up to 12.9”

Image

Pockets

6-7, plus main compartment

Size (in inches)

10.24" X 10.24" X 2.76”

Colors

Black, Espresso

Style

Leather Crossbody

Price

$$$

Room for laptop

Room for small tablets

Image

Pockets

5 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

Size (in inches)

12" X 10.5" X 2”

Colors

Apple, Peach, Portobello + 9

Style

Synthetic Crossbody

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for most tablets

Image

Pockets

6 and main compartment

Size (in inches)

16.5” x 14.3” x 2.8”

Colors

Midnight Blue

Style

Nylon Crossbody

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for laptops up to 13”

Image

Pockets

6 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

Size (in inches)

9.5” X 8.5” X 2”

Colors

Black, Brown, Chocolate + 14

Style

Synthetic Crossbody

Price

$

Room for laptop

Room for small tablets

Image

Pockets

4 and main compartment

Size (in inches)

7.9” X 11.5” X 3.1”

Colors

Black, Rosemary

Style

Polyester

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for small tablets

Image

Pockets

4 plus main compartment

Size (in inches)

11.5" x 11" x 1.25"

Colors

Grey, Black

Style

Polyester Crossbody

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for 9” tablet

Image

Pockets

2 exterior plus main compartment

Size (in inches)

10" x 11" x .5”

Colors

A number of floral, tribal and geometric patterns

Style

Polyester Crossbody

Price

$

Room for laptop

Room for most tablets

Image

Pockets

3 exterior and main compartment

Size (in inches)

10-1/2" H x 10-1/2" W x 3"

Colors

Black, Beige, Cayenne + 6

Style

Synthetic Crossbody

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for most tablets

Image

Pockets

6 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

Size (in inches)

11.6” x 10.4” x 2.68”

Colors

Coffee, Dark Grey, Grey

Style

Canva Crossbody

Price

$

Room for laptop

Room for some smaller tablets

Image

Pockets

4 and main compartment (plus credit card slots)

Size (in inches)

14.5” x 11” x 4”

Colors

Beige, Dark Brown, Mouse, Olive Green

Style

Canvas and Oiled Leather Crossbody

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Room for laptop up to 15”

Image

Pockets

10 and main compartment

Size (in inches)

11.22" X 6.49" X 12.59"

Colors

Black, Brown, Grey, Purple, Red

Style

Synthetic Washed Leather

Price

$

Room for laptop

Room for tablet up to 12.9”

Travel handbag reviews

The table above lists the best travel handbags for women in a convenient list — but it's just an outline. Here's what you need to know about each individual model in your search for the best travel purse ever. 

How do you find it and which are the best travel handbags for you?

Fossil Morgan Traveler

For the fashionista, this beautiful leather travel handbag is spacious and durable, featuring tons of pockets to hide away all your essentials. The crossbody strap lets you walk around handsfree and the slim profile makes it an accessory rather than a statement piece — which is great if your goal is to blend in and enjoy trouble-free travel. The only real downside is the price, but it goes on sale frequently. 

Buy from Amazon or eBags


Bagallini Everywhere

Don’t let the rain keep you from exploring. This bag is stylish travel purse is light and water-resistant, so you can take advantage of wet travel days without worrying about your valuables and electronics getting drenched. It comes with a removable RFID-resistant wallet that you can pull out of the middle of the bag, which I prefer to having cards accessible by an outer zipper. Oodles of pockets (including one for a water bottle or umbrella), and amazing color options for anyone tired of basic black, brown and grey.

Buy from Amazon or eBags


Pacsafe Citysafe 200 Gii

My all-time favorite — my best purse for international travel! I have two of these, in different colors. Like most Pacsafe bags, it’s slash-proof, which gives me extra peace of mind in busy city centers, and the pocket with credit card slots features RFID-blocking technology. I absolutely love how roomy it is. If you have a DSLR,  it will easily fit. I carry my Macbook Air in it. The bag itself is lightweight you can fill it without feeling like you overpacked.

Buy from Amazon


The above three are 'normal-sized' travel shoulder bags 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 carry-on, 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. Your best small travel purse may well be one of these!

Travelon Mini

This is one of the more popular small travel bags: it holds what you really need (passport, phone, credit cards), and encourages (or maybe forces) you to leave the extras at the hotel. Both the strap and purse body feature slashproof mesh to keep your valuables safe, the straps and zippers lock, and the inner compartment blocks RFID thieves. And I know you could buy an LED light anywhere, but I love that this purse comes with one attached.  

Buy from Amazon or eBags


PacSafe Citysafe LS100  my top pick for European travel

Here I go with Pacsafe again — this is a smaller version of the popular antitheft bag but just as thief-proof — among the best travel purses for Europe, safe and stylish. This is essentially the bag featured above but smaller and more compact. You still get all the great anti-theft features (RFID-blocking pocket, locking zippers, and slashproof fabric), but in a burden-free package. It’s possibly the best travel purse for Europe, safe and stylish. The only problem is that the adjustable crossbody strap tends to loosen to its full length, so it might require frequent adjustments. 

Buy from Amazon


Travel bags for women: the features that really matter

Not all bags for travel are made equal and there are a number of features that make a good travel purse:

  • Pockets. Most women have suffered with a “too big” purse that seemed to devour all its contents. Pockets — zippered, mesh, credit card slots — allow you to organize and find everything that fits into your bag.
  • Space for electronics. We need space for our gadgets, including cameras, cell phones, tablets and laptops/notebooks. The perfect travel purse has plenty of room for all these - and more.
  • Style. A bag with some semblance of “everyday” style will help you look more local and not scream "tourist" too loudly. Designer travel bags may be a bit pricey but you'll find plenty of cheap travel bags with lots of style — different colors, shapes, materials, sizes.
  • Durability. Frequent travel requires a bag that will withstand all sorts of wear and tear. It doesn’t have to be leather, but it does need to be made with strong material and sturdy fasteners. Beware shoddily made purses that can fall apart after a single trip. The best handbags for travel should last and last and last — first because they're well made but second because the style is perennial and never becomes old.
  • Safety features. Being a solo female traveler comes with some risks, so having an antitheft bag with safety features like anti-slash mesh or locking zippers can bring some peace of mind. the one thing travel purses for women must deliver is safety for your belongings. There's little point in carrying something around if it doesn't keep your belongings from disappearing.
  • Carrying options. The best travel bags are those which you can carry multiple ways, including over-the-shoulder, across-the-body and even backpack-style.
  • Comfort: Since you'll probably be carrying it around with you most of the day, a good travel purse needs to be comfortable — think wide strap that doesn't slip off, bag that doesn't slap across your middle...
  • Water-resistance: This isn't essential but good travel purses should be weather-friendly, both for esthetics and because you want to keep your contents dry.

Do you REALLY need handbags for travelling abroad?

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? Or if you hate the idea of a traveling handbag, consider a travel daypack instead.

If on the other hand you are a handbag 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 purse for traveling (or no purse at all!) 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 leave things in your room and go back for something if you need to (nothing too valuable though).

  • 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.

And if you travel often, don't skimp on expense. You're better off investing in the best purse for travel now rather than buying something that will unravel in the middle of nowhere — and that you'll have to replace.

travel handbagsMy eye was caught by the muted colors and soft leather of these handbags in Fez, Morocco - but not every bag is a good travel handbag

7 tips to keep your travel handbag and its contents safe

Other than deciding on the best handbag for travel, 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. Even the best travel purses can be stolen. That's why I like the slash-proof straps with all sorts of wire mesh. I can still lose it and it can disappear — but it won't be slashed while I'm wearing it and my belongings lifted from under my nose.

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.  Keep your bag on the inside rather than on the street side. 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. If this worries you, use a pashmina or a scarf over your shoulder. It won't hide your bag completely but it makes it more complicated for thieves - and they like to keep things simple.

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 all your valuables in your purse. Split your things up by using a money belt or pouch and spread your cash around various clothes pockets.

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