I can’t be the only person who feels they need a different bag for different days – or even different parts of the day – on a trip. Do I need a jacket, umbrella, my good camera? Then I want a bigger bag. Am I just running out for dinner? My small crossbody will do! I could easily carry four different bags on a trip, and I often do, even if I am traveling carry-on only.
I’ve been on enough trips now to have road-tested various travel bags. Every trip is a little different and often requires a slightly different setup. It took me a lot of trial and error to find the right combination of bags for each type of trip.
To save you both time and money, I have created a list of my favorite travel bags and broken down the uses for each travel bag so you can decide what will suit you best for your next trip.
Travel bags for my flight
I often fly COO (carry-on only), which is defined as one carry-on piece of luggage and a personal item. My COO setup is a 20” wheeled suitcase, and my North Face Recon Backpack as my personal item. This pack truly maximizes my carry-on space and is so well put together. If you are wanting to try COO for your next trip I’d recommend reading my easy COO packing guide.
I love the North Face Recon as my personal item. This backpack is the perfect travel bag. The laptop compartment has a protective edge that keeps my laptop from hitting the ground, even if my bag makes a surprise drop — like that time I hung it on a bathroom door hook, and the hook broke! There are multiple compartments, and I know exactly where everything is since I’ve used it so much. When I’m using it as a personal item, it has to be stowed under the seat in front of me, and it fits perfectly with a little room on each side for my feet.
It will easily hold my camera equipment, battery packs and other tech, liquids bag, cosmetics, scarf, umbrella, water bottle, hat, light jacket, wallet and even my smaller crossbody bag or purse. It’s a beast and yet so comfortable to wear! Ventilated back, comfortable straps designed for a woman’s body, and they don’t dig uncomfortably into my shoulders or breasts.
North Face has updated this bag. The link above is to the version I have. I may try the updated version on my next trip and will update here if I like it better.
Key features: Shoulder straps that are shaped for a woman’s body, smart design and compartmentalization while still being incredibly roomy.
I am currently using the Level 8 Voyager 20″ and I LOVE it. The square corners give you just a little more interior room, and the flat top makes it easier to stack your bags. It rolls amazingly well on uneven terrain and carpet. I’ll keep this updated, but I’m really happy so far!
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I have a 24” Samsonite suitcase I use when I check a bag, and I have had it since 2019. It’s a good size for a checked bag as it’s easy to maneuver and carry when packed full.
Travel bags for sightseeing
I have recommended this daypack to so many people! I use this bag on almost every trip. It has a nice, clean look, and I feel comfortable wearing it around as I explore cities. If I am heading out for a day of tours and exploring, I will pack this bag with everything I might need for the day. This can include an umbrella, light jacket, water bottle, snacks, camera, lens, battery packs and more. I even put my small crossbody inside of it so I can take it out and carry it across my chest if I want to stash my phone somewhere quickly or have easy access to my wallet if I’m in a busy area or shopping. What makes this bag theft-proof is the main compartment design that keeps the zipper to your back while you are wearing it. There are also two zipped side compartments that are not theft-proof. I pack this bag in my carry-on suitcase when I am traveling COO, and if I check a bag, I use it as my personal item. I prefer the even weight distribution of a backpack to a large cross-body bag or satchel; it’s easier on my back and shoulders. This bag is also very durable. After every trip, I have washed it in the washing machine, and it has held up well!
This bag has some drawbacks, but the pros outweigh the cons. When it is packed full, it can be awkward to find items in it, and it could use a few more zipped compartments inside. In warm weather, if you are wearing a tank top, the nylon straps can cause a bit of chafing to your bare skin.
Key features: Theftproof, water resistant, machine washable, even weight distribution.
If I am going on a trip that is going to include hiking, biking, kayaking or any other outdoorsy adventure, I am going to pack this daypack. Made of rip-stop nylon, this daypack not only holds a lot and is comfortable to wear but also folds into a 4” x 4” square I can easily pack in my suitcase. It’s not waterproof but water resistant and perfect for dragging around on an adventure. I pack a medium-lightweight dry bag inside if I am going on water adventures. These are almost always on sale! I have had mine for several years, and it’s been all over the world. It’s machine washable and has held up well!
Key features: Rip-stop nylon for rugged adventures, machine washable.
Crossbody/Hip Pack/Fanny Pack/Bum Bag/Belt Bag
Whatever your favorite term is, these are great travel bags when you don’t need to carry much.
I recently purchased this crossbody, and I am obsessed with it. I just used it for a weeklong trip to Budapest, and it was perfect. I love that it is sleek-looking and dressy enough to wear to dinner but also perfectly fine for sightseeing during the day. It’s not large, but it held my credit cards, ID, passport, lipgloss, hand sanitizer spray, iPhone 14 Pro, battery pack and cash. This was the perfect bag when I was stepping out for a short time, heading to dinner, or didn’t need to carry much. I have started using this at home as my go-to bag as well. I just ordered this in white and gold for next summer’s adventures!
I will opt for this bag if my trip is primarily an outdoor adventure. When my son and I took our road trip out west, I used this as my daily bag instead of a purse. It’s easy to sling on, holds plenty of necessities, and because I have a bright yellow version, it was always easy to keep track of when we had a full car of stuff! I would opt for a darker color if I were buying this again. The bright yellow picks up dirt pretty easily, but I have machine-washed this pack multiple times, and it is holding up really well.
Travel bags that did not work for me
Not every travel bag is the perfect fit, and I’ve spent a fair amount of money trying out different ones. I wanted to be someone who just traveled with a suitcase-style backpack. I have tried the Osprey Fairview, Tortuga Travel Backpack and the eBags Motherload. I tested them all on weeklong trips, and they were too heavy and bulky for me. I am 5’ 2″, and the packs overwhelm my frame and get too heavy too quickly. While I don’t love wheeling my suitcase over cobblestones, it’s much easier on my back! I can carry my wheeled suitcase up and down many stairs and then roll it when I’m on flat ground. It’s just easier for me. I know many people love the backpack-only lifestyle, but I would have to really cut back the amount of stuff I take to make it work and I’m just not ready to make that sacrifice. These are well-respected bags and brands; they just weren’t for me!
I hope this helps you a little bit in your search for the perfect travel bag. It takes some trial and error, but I may have saved you a little time and money steering you toward some of my favorites! Happy travels!
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