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Women on the Road

Travel Handbags: The 7 Best Travel Purses (2019)

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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 abroadRelaxing 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. What follows are the best travel bags for women (at least, I think so!)

The best travel purse for women - 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”

Several, based on the size

7.87" x 20.08" x 13.78"(largesize)

Dozens

Codura nylon, cotton canvas

$$

Fits the largest laptops

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”

Image

Pockets

Several, depending on size

Size (in inches)

7.87" x 20.08" x 13.78" (largesize)

Colors

Dozens

Style

Codura nylon, cotton canvas

Price

$$

Room for laptop

Fits the largest laptops

Cross body bags for travel

The table above lists the best travelling handbags for ladies – 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 it and which are the best travel handbags for you?

Fossil Morgan Traveler

For fashionistas (or if you're simply looking for a fashionable travel purse), this beautiful leather travel handbag is spacious and durable, features tons of pockets to hide away all your essentials. I've had one for years and if I'm going on a slightly dressier or more business-oriented trip, this is the one purse I take with me.

The crossbody strap makes it easy to walk around hands-free and the slim look makes it elegant but not too noticeable – which is perfect if you're trying to blend in and not call too much attention to yourself. It's one of the best leather travel purses around. It's not cheap, but I've had mine for years and it only looks the better for wear. And it holds everything I need for a day of sightseeing.

Buy from Amazon or eBags

Bagallini Everywhere

Don’t let the rain keep you from exploring. This Baggallini crossbody is also a stylish travel purse, 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 you can pull out of the middle of the bag. For me, this feels safer than having an outside zippered pocket for my cards.

It has oodles of pockets (including one for a water bottle or umbrella), and wonderful color options if you happen to be tired of basic black, brown and grey. That all makes it one of the best purses for traveling in Europe (or anywhere else) when you're looking for more of an urban vibe.

Buy from Amazon or eBags

Pacsafe Citysafe CS200

Anything I say about this bag is going to be heavily biased... because this is my all-time favorite of all crossbody purses – my best purse for international travel! 

I have two of these, in different colors and sizes (one is the slightly larger 200 Gii model, which seems harder to find). This slightly more compact version has a few extra goodies, like a front zipper that secures under a little loop, a feature I love.

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.

My iPad fits perfectly in the CS200, but the Gii is much roomier: if you have a DSLR,  it will easily fit. I carry my Macbook Air in it. So I use the CS200 for daily sightseeing, but the Gii if I'm working. The bag itself is a lightweight travel purse: you can fill it without feeling like you overpacked.

Buy from Amazon

Timbuk2 Classic 2014 Messenger Bag

I'm not sure I would normally include this among shoulder bags for women – it is more of a messenger bag than an anti-theft purse but... I've added it to the list because I bought one recently (small size) and used it for a month as I traveled through Eastern Europe. Had I gone for the large I might have even used it as a carry-on.

It has a waterproof flap (rain-tested in Romania by me), enough pockets to keep me happy, especially the external one. The key strap was also useful given the two cavernous main compartments. Plus compartments for pens, and an internal water bottle.

I absolutely loved this bag! The wide shoulder strap is so comfortable I loaded the Timbuk2 with plenty – but my back was fine at the end of each day.

Buy from Amazon

Small travel handbags - 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!

Travelon Mini

Travelon bags are much-loved for their anti-theft properties and their affordable price. This is one of the more popular small travel bags: it holds everything you really need (passport, phone, credit cards), and encourages (or maybe forces) you to leave the extras at the hotel. This makes it a great purse for Europe travel

Both the strap and purse body are made of slashproof mesh, 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. This is an ideal lightweight travel handbag to slip into your luggage or use for the basics - passport, money, cards, phone...

Buy from Amazon or eBags

PacSafe Citysafe LS100 

Here I go with Pacsafe again! The Citysafe LS100 is a popular antitheft bag and among the best travel purses for Europe, safe and stylish.

It's smaller and more compact than its counterparts, but you still get all the great anti-theft features (RFID-blocking pocket, locking zippers, and slashproof fabric) Pacsafe is famous for.

The only problem is that the adjustable crossbody strap tends to loosen to its full length, so it might require occasional adjustments. And, of course, it's not large – but then, that's the point, right?

Buy from Amazon

And here's one that isn't quite a travel purse...

Pacsafe Citysafe CS300 Anti-Theft Compact Backpack

This is more of a 'purse backpack – a sleek, frills-free anti theft backpack that will fit everything you need for a day trip and comes in red, teal and black. It features a couple of pockets and a padded electronic sleeve: just be aware that laptops larger than 13” likely won’t fit inside it. It’s not particularly stylish, but you’d be able to wear it around both urban and rural areas without raising eyebrows. 

And it has the usual Pacsafe safety features, including the stainless steel wire mesh in the fabric and the wire-reinforced straps, turn and lock security hooks on zippers, and an RFID blocking pocket and main compartment. If you're keen on a theft-proof backpack, this is probably as close as you're going to get.

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 good travel purses as opposed to just blah ones:

  • 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.
  • 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. I need to be able to carry my 13" Macbook Air most places.
  • 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 of shoddily made purses that can fall apart after a single trip. The best handbags for travelling abroad 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 it around otherwise...
  • 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 (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 travelling 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.

How essential are good travel handbags for travelling abroad? 

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.

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: 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 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 the best purse for traveling abroad

7 tips to keep your travel handbag and its contents safe

Other than deciding on the best handbag for travelling, 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 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 travelling. 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!

Pin these pictures and save for later!

Perfect travel purses - pin 1
Best travel purse - pin 2
Travel handbags you can use - pin 3