There’s nothing quite like travel to test the durability, security, and style of a purse. When you’re exploring the world, little details—from slash-proof shoulder straps to padded pockets—can have a huge impact on your confidence and comfort. So what does it take to be a great travel purse? Here are nine key features of the best travel handbags, along with recommended products for each.
Pass-Through Sleeve for Telescoping Handles
Want to give your shoulders a break? Don’t be foolhardy enough to prop your purse on top of your carry-on as you roll your way through the terminal. Instead, consider a bag with a pass-through sleeve for the telescoping handle of your suitcase. Since the bag you carry onboard as your personal item is usually laden with everything breakable, valuable, bulky, and electronic, a secure and sturdy spot to rest it will definitely be appreciated.
Recommended bag: Bluboon’s affordable Canvas Travel Weekender Bag is big enough to be a useful carry-on, has a zipper and plenty of pockets to keep things organized and safe, and comes in a fun variety of colors and patterns.
Do you prefer a backpack for its ergonomic symmetry, but sometimes feel that carrying your valuables on your back is risky? Or are you visiting a museum or attraction that allows purses but not backpacks? Then it’s time to consider a bag with handles and stowable, backpack-style shoulder straps.
Recommended Bag: The Monogram Convertible Backpack Tote from Cathy’s Concepts can be worn as either a tote or a small backpack. It’s got interior and exterior pockets, plus a magnetic closure at the top. You can personalize the bag with an initial or order it plain.
Cut-Proof Straps and Slash-Proof Material
Consider for a moment that most of us carry around money and the keys to our identity (driver’s license, credit cards, etc.) in pouches suspended by thin strings that can easily and discreetly be cut by purse snatchers. A few security-oriented brands—including Pacsafe, Travelon, and VaultPro—feature straps threaded with stainless-steel cables and mesh to create a knife-proof barrier that stymies opportunistic thieves. These travel handbags also are made with slash-proof bottom or side panels.
Recommended Bag: Travelon’s Anti-Theft Classic Cross-Body Bucket Bag is not kidding around. Its cut-proof shoulder strap also has a locking carabiner that allows you to secure the bag to a chair or post so it can’t get snatched if you set it down. The bag has other security features like slash-proof panels and locking compartments.
Padded Pockets for Tech
Offering protection against scratches, minor spills, and impact, padded pockets are key when you’re traveling with a tablet, e-reader, or other fragile items. Long a standard of laptop bags, padded pockets are now making their way into more travel handbags.
Recommended Bag: The Brooklyn Tablet Purse from OGIO has a padded pocket specifically designed for a tablet or e-reader, and the bottom of the purse is also padded for even more protection. The crossbody design makes the bag harder to snatch, and the wide strap is comfortable to wear all day.
Slash-proof fabrics and locking zippers won’t help you if a thief is using a card reader to gather personal information from the RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips in passports and credit cards. And while old-fashioned purse snatching is still far more common than digital pickpocketing, it can still be a good idea to consider a travel purse with RFID-blocking features to prevent on-the-sly transmission of your personal information.
Recommended Bag: eBags’ Piazza Daybag has an RFID-blocking pocket with credit card slots and a spot for your passport. There are other cleverly designed pockets as well, including places to stow a phone, an umbrella, a water bottle, and more.
When you’re traveling, you’re living out of your bags, so keeping everything organized is key. And that’s where a diaper bag—even if you haven’t touched a diaper in decades—can come in particularly handy. Contrary to popular belief, most diaper bags don’t look much different than a typical tote, but they do offer pocketed interiors that can keep any traveler uber-organized.
Recommended Bag: Diaper bags can be made of heavy fabrics, but Skip Hop’s Forma bag is made of lightweight material and has nearly a dozen pockets. The changing pad pocket can hold a tablet or laptop, and the stroller straps, which allow the bag to hang from a stroller handle, can be repurposed and attached to a rolling suitcase at the airport. Bonus: The bag includes two packing cubes, including one that’s insulated to keep food or drink cold.
Locking zippers are handy for travelers because they discourage wandering hands in crowded environments, and a few bags manage to work in security-boosting locking zippers without adding bulk. Note that on most travel handbags with the feature, only one or two—rather than all—of the compartments come equipped with the locking zippers.
Recommended Bag: The Pacsafe Stylesafe Anti-Theft Tote has locking zippers on both the main compartment and an exterior pocket on the back of the bag. It’s also got slash-resistant panels, plus RFID-blocking material to protect credit cards. There’s a detachable crossbody strap so you can wear the bag two different ways.
Straps Designed for Comfort
Whether your day bag feels heavier when you’re traveling because it’s full of more stuff—cameras, water bottles, and other on-the-go vacation necessities—or simply because you’re carrying it longer and farther while you’re out exploring the world, one thing is for sure: You’re going to find out quickly if your bag is comfortable. The comfiest purse and bag straps are not too thin, are made from forgiving materials, and don’t slip off your shoulder constantly.
Recommended Bag: AmeriBag’s Healthy Back Bag is a good low-profile option for travelers looking for back and shoulder comfort. The strap can be worn on one shoulder or across the body without slipping or digging into the skin, and the design of the bag distributes weight evenly across your back. It comes in a variety of colors and has numerous pockets to keep you organized.
A travel handbag that fits your needs is a worthy investment—and it’s an even better value if the bag comes with extra features that improve your trip. For example, some tote bags include a matching clutch that you can use for evenings out.
Recommended Bag: The affordable Zippered Tote Shoulder Bag from Deluxity comes in just about every color and includes a detachable wallet/clutch that you can keep in the bag or carry separately. The tote is large enough to hold just about anything you need for a day out, including a small laptop, and it has several pockets to stow items such as passports and cell phones.
What to Wear with Travel Handbags
Women’s Relaxed Outfit for Hawaii
Men’s Casual Summer Outfit
Women’s Bright, Stylish Outfit
Men’s Outfit to Wear with Travel Sandals (no shoes)
Women’s Comfy Outfit to Wear on a Flight
Men’s Super Comfy Outfit
Women’s Swimsuit with Jean Shorts
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.