backpack as a personal item

Best Women’s Backpack for Travel -The Perfect Personal Item

Name a bag, and I’ve bought it. Ebags. Osprey. Patagonia. Cotopaxi. Baboon. I go for function over fashion. While it’s fun to find the cutest bag to throw over your arm – after running from terminal to terminal on a short connection, having a backpack instead of a large, albeit cute, bag makes my life so much easier. I have a lot of favorite bags, but for my personal item, this is my baby.

On most trips, I am team carry-on only; on some trips, I’m taking my 24″ wheeled suitcase. Once or twice, I’ve tried the Osprey backpack as my main luggage—that’s a hard pass from me. Most of the time, I will travel with a wheeled suitcase and a backpack. Regardless of your set-up, hear me out—this is the best women’s backpack for travel and personal use.

You might be asking yourself: Can I even take a backpack as a personal item? On most larger airlines, yes. I’ll get into that more below. Hang with me.

First, let’s talk about luggage definitions.

There are three main types of luggage. The way these are defined and the sizes allowed vary airline by airline, especially if you are traveling outside of the United States. So be sure to read the requirements for paying for bags, bag dimensions, and bag max weight for every airline you will travel with.

Checked luggage is luggage that you pay to check in, and that travels under the plane. You check it with your airline before you go through security, and you will see it again at your final destination—unless it gets lost, but that’s another topic.

Carry-on luggage (or hand luggage) is typically a smaller rolling suitcase, duffel bag, or large backpack that typically doesn’t exceed 21 – 22″ tall (again, check the dimensions for each airline). This goes in the overhead bin when you are on the plane.

Your personal item is the item you can keep with you at your seat, that must fit under the seat in front of you. Typically this will be a purse, small rolling bag, tote bag, computer bag or backpack. Any of these items must meet the dimension requirements.

You can not take two personal items. If you travel with a smaller item, it will have to fit inside your larger item, at least until you are on the plane.

Has it been a while since you’ve flown? Check out Must Know Tips for Flying.

Now, back to the best women backpack for travel.

I have been using this Northface Recon Backpack for several years now. I have tried others, but nothing compares to the comfort and sheer volume of items I can carry in this and still meet airline requirements.

This backpack is the perfect personal item for carry-on-only travel, hands down.

Here, I am going to tell you what I love about it, why a backpack makes sense as a personal item, and how to pick the best bag for you!

If you aspire to travel carry-on only check out this Easy Carry-On Only Packing Guide and our Packing Clothes For Travel – Keep It Simple blogs.

Why use a travel backpack as a personal item?

The top two reasons – It’s practical and it’s comfortable.

Comfort: I carry 15-20 pounds of gear in my backpack. Since I travel carry-on only most of the time, half of what I bring on a trip is in my personal item. Having a backpack evenly distributes the weight across my back and shoulders. With the addition of the chest strap and hip strap, even when I am carrying a heavy pack long distances I can manage the weight much easier than with a duffel or tote bag. Ever run from one side of O’Hare to the other? – Do that with a cute tote bag.

Practicality: Backpacks are set up to organize your items by their very design. Everything has its place, and it’s easy to stay organized when everything simply goes back in its designated spot. Easier said than done, but the more I travel, the more organized I get. If you create a system that works and replicates it every trip, things go much smoother. While I change things by trip, and I continue to experiment with the best systems, how I pack my backpack has remained consistent for a few years.

How to pick the right backpack as a personal item:

Comfort is key! Here is what I look for in a backpack – and what I love about the Recon.

Straps: Straps should have good padding. What I like about the Recon is the CURVED straps. The top of the strap near the shoulder is around 3” across. The straps taper down to 2”, making them much more comfortable near your chest (breasts). I have had so many backpacks that dug in and were uncomfortable. 

Padded back and venting: My pack is heavy! A nicely padded back keeps my equipment, such as my laptops, cords and camera gear, from digging into my back. The venting keeps me from completely overheating when moving around a warmer climate.

Laptop protection: I always have at least one laptop, sometimes two! I have a work-issued laptop that I carry when I am traveling and working. I also have my personal Macbook for my Journey Here work. Having a bag that is specifically designed with a laptop sleeve that doesn’t allow the laptop to hit the ground is key. I have accidentally dropped my bag so many times with my laptop in it and, thankfully, never damaged it! However, this prevents the bag from standing upright on its own.

Organization: I have a favorite pocket. It’s at the top front of the bag. This stash pocket is designed with a lined interior to keep your sunglasses from scratching, and that is great. But I use it for so much! It’s great to stash anything I want quick access to without digging through the rest of the bag. On the plane, I can easily access this, and often it contains earbuds, chapstick, ibuprofen, mints, my phone, a small wallet, etc. 

I like having compartments. Each compartment has its own use. The middle compartment is big enough to hold my camera bag, my large toiletry bag and my purse. 

But won’t I look like a tourist using a backpack as a personal item?

First, you probably already do. Secondly, backpacks might be quite common depending on where you are traveling. I have never felt out of place with my backpack on my back. What’s more important is maintaining good backpack etiquette. 

What is backpack etiquette?

This is your list of do’s and don’ts!

Do: Wear it on your front in crowded spaces like subways or trains. This keeps you from accidentally bumping other passengers and also allows you to keep a close eye on your pockets.

Keep your pockets zipped and use a lock if you are going to be in an area at risk for pickpockets. I can not tell you how many people I see walking around airports with their bags unzipped. 

Don’t: Your backpack does not get a seat. It is not a person. On subways, trains, in restaurants, on benches and seats, it stays on your lap, on your body, or on the floor. The end. 

How I use my backpack as a personal item:

My backpack gets my items from one place to another. I do not use it when I am out exploring. I carry a smaller, lighter backpack when I am out touring and taking photos. I have used this one for several years, and it holds an astronomical amount of items and is pick-pocket proof. 

If I am biking or hiking, I use my Eddie Bauer Stowaway backpack. It’s super packable and lightweight. 

I carry this small cross-body bag if I am going to dinner or not using my good camera.

For me, using a backpack as my personal item makes sense from a comfort and practical standpoint!

If you decide to start using a backpack as a personal item, do your research and try several styles and types. Pack them to the max and wear them around your home to get an idea of what it feels like, and continue to search until you find the perfect bag. For me, it’s the North Face Racon Bag.

Nitty gritty details

For reference, I am 5’2” and the backpack is 19” x 13” x 7”

Need help knowing where to pack all of your things? I have a handy packing list.

This is an abridged version:

Front pocket: Hat/lightweight hoodie

Top Handle: Racon Headphones, I slide them over the handle.

Top pocket: glasses, sunglasses, ibuprofen, chapstick or lipstick, mints, passport, phone, earbuds. (not all of those at the same time; pick 5) 

Front zip pocket: Technology bag, Pen. Sharpie. House keys. Kindle Paperwhite.

Laptop sleeve: MacBook Air, power cord

Middle compartment:  Camera bag with Fuji AX-7 and two lenses, Insta360 camera. Toiletry bag: makeup, liquids, microfiber towel and washcloth, hair wrap, hair brush, hair ties, Q-tips, cotton balls, tweezers, a small amount of medications, bandaids, blister strips, nail clippers

Side pockets: packable down jacket, Mira water bottle, flashlight

If you have questions shoot me an email, I am always happy to chat!

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