Travel Handbags: 7 Best Travel Purses

Picture 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 café - women carrying their best purse for travel abroad
Relaxing in a café… the last thing you’re thinking about is your handbag, right?

There are things you do with your traveling hand ba – 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. What follows are the best travel handbags for women (at least, I think so!)



The table above lists the best traveling handbags for women – but it’s just an outline. I’ve expanded on a few individual models below because yes, you need the best travel purse ever. 

How do you find great ladies travel handbags and which is the best travel handbag for you?

Standard-sized travel purse for women

If you need something to fit all of the essentials in but isn’t cumbersome to carry around on your travels then I’ve got some excellent options for you. These travel purses are the ideal size, have nifty pockets, and are anti-theft.

Small travel purse options – the best travel handbags for Europe

The above four are ‘normal-sized’ travel shoulder bags and will carry pretty much anything you need, even though some bags are smaller than others.

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 best handbag for flying is a small travel handbag: you can slip it into your carry-on if you’re not allowed a second bag on the flight.

The best small travel purse is the one you’re allowed to take with you on the plane!



Not all handbags for traveling abroad are made equal and there are a number of features that make good travel purses as opposed to just blah ones. When looking for the best women’s travel handbags, here’s what you should consider:

  • Pockets. Most women have suffered with a “too big” purse that seemed to devour all the contents. Good purses for travel include pockets – zippered, mesh, credit card slots – that allow you to organize and actually find everything that fits. Click here for a really super travel handbag with compartments!
  • Space for electronics. We need space for our gadgets, including cameras, cell phones, tablets and laptops/notebooks. The perfect handbag for travel has plenty of room for all these. I need to be able to carry my 13″ Macbook Air to most places. Click here for the perfect big travel handbag (the larger sizes).
  • 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 styles – 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 of shoddily made purses that can fall apart after a single trip. The best handbag 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 anti-theft bag with safety features like anti-slash mesh or locking zippers can bring some peace of mind. The one thing travel handbags for women must deliver is safety for your belongings. There’s little point in carrying it around otherwise… See the best anti theft travel hand bags for ladies.
  • Carrying options. The best purses for travel are those which you can carry multiple ways, including over-the-shoulder, across-the-body and even backpack-style (I like cross-body purses best).
  • Comfort: Since you’ll probably be toting it around with you most of the day, a good purse for traveling 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 the best handbags for travel should be weather-friendly, both for esthetics and because you want to keep your contents dry. See more waterproof travelling hand bags for ladies


Maybe not that essential. It depends.

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.

But with so many women’s travel handbags on the market, how do you know which one to get?

If 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 a bigger handbag to travel with.
  • 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: the best purse for travel abroad needs to fit what you intend to carry.
  • 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 to slip it into.

Answering these questions will help you choose.

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

See my recommendation for the best handbag for travelling overseas!

leather travel handbags
My eye was caught by the muted colors and soft leather of these handbags in Fez, Morocco – but not every bag is the best purse for traveling abroad


Other than deciding on the best handbag for travlling, the most important issue you’ll have to deal with is probably security.

1. Don’t wear flashy brand name labels on your travel hand 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 for women 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: there goes your perfect handbag for traveling. 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: someone else might want that perfect travel handbag you just bought. I simply keep mine on – the strap is long enough to do that comfortably.

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!


There are some incredible travel handbags to choose from. From stylish travel handbags and durable purses to functional bags with all the pockets you could ever need — you’re bound to find your next favorite travel accessory. 

Remember, don’t keep all of your valuables in one place, and never leave your handbag unattended!

— Originally published on 26 January 2016


Perfect travel purses - pin 1
Travel handbags you can use - pin 3

Have you subscribed yet?
Join 10,000+ other solo travelers over 50 and get your newsletter every other Tuesday, with special goodies in your Inbox!