I’ve received several questions about which handbags are best for travel, and once again I’m going to fall back on “It Depends.” It depends on your destination, activities, how much you’ll need to carry with you, and what kind of style and functionality you prefer.
My own preference is for a lightweight, dark leather “convertible” bag (both short and long straps) that can be worn cross-body or carried on my arm or in hand. A day spent sightseeing is much easier when you can keep your hands free, and it’s easier on your neck and shoulders too. Unless you need to carry a change of clothing with you, a smallish bag should be sufficient and will keep weight down. Be sure the longer strap is wide enough to wear comfortably, and not too long. When worn cross-body, your hand should be able to reach the bottom of the bag. Too short and it will look and feel awkward. Too long and it will bounce against your leg as you walk. A good cobbler can shorten the cross-body strap if needed. I also prefer bags that have multiple compartments, interior organization, and that aren’t too structured or bulky.
Why leather instead of nylon or fabric if weight is a concern? First, leather will usually (not always) be more impervious to the elements. It will be less likely to get ripped, soiled or stained than fabric. I also like to travel with just one handbag, and a leather bag is often more versatile for day-to-evening wear. For a slightly dressier “smart casual” look, remove the cross-body strap and carry in hand or in the crook of your arm. (Another reason to keep the bag relatively small.) Look for bags with minimal hardware or chains, as these can add considerable weight. While leather is my own preference, if you prefer nylon or fabric there are many good looking and functional options available. (I’ve included some below.)
With today’s smart phones, there’s little need to carry guidebooks or lots of printed materials with you while out sightseeing. If you prefer a “hard copy,” tear out or make a copy of relevant pages from guidebooks and just carry those for the day. Use your smallest, lightest wallet, and leave any cosmetics you won’t need during the day back at the hotel or apartment.
Let’s talk about security for a moment. While some situations may have more inherent danger of pick-pocketing or purse-snatching, I think with a little caution and awareness of surroundings you can minimize your risk. One of the reasons I like a cross-body bag is that it feels more secure; when I get into crowded situations I can keep it close to my body and wear right on the front of my hip, resting my hand over the zipper closure. I don’t recommend any bag for travel that can’t be closed securely either with a zipper or a flap with hardware that fastens shut.
Other security recommendations, no matter where you’re traveling:
- Take only one or two (three at the most) credit and/or debit cards. Make a note of the account number and customer service number(s) of each and keep in the hotel safe and with someone you trust back home.
- Only carry as much cash as you’ll need for a day. Keep the rest in the hotel safe.
- Unless you’re traveling between destinations, keep your passport in the hotel safe. Have a photocopy of your passport to carry with you in case ID is needed.
- Be sure that someone at home has your complete itinerary.
- Be careful about where and when you use your smart phone, as these can also be targets for theft. And be sure to set up a passcode or pin to lock it.
- Men: don’t keep your wallet in a back pocket or open jacket pocket.
- Trust your instincts, and don’t feel that you have to help or even engage with strangers who approach you.
Fanny packs? I know they’re “in” again. I tend not to wear anything belted around my waist, but if you like them and they work for you, they are another alternative. Backpacks? Same thing. With either I’d highly recommend wearing in the front in crowded situations.
Do you have a favorite style or brand of purse or bag for travel?
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