Whether you’re going solo or with friends, the right bag is one of the first steps for a good trip. You’d be amazed at how one piece of kit can help you feel more confident, and even safer, while out and about. Having to turn a bag upside down just to find your passport, constantly worrying about thieves getting into your pockets, or opening your case to find something’s broken (and emptied its contents all over your clothes) are travel issues that look small on paper but feel massive in real life. But a great bag can solve all of these problems.
To help you find yours, we asked 12 intrepid women who love to travel — including an international events manager, a British Red Cross worker, and two travel writers — about the bags and cases that make their journeys that little bit easier. Whether you’re looking for something lightweight, stylish, or anti-theft, they’ve got something that will suit.
Best money belt
“As a female traveller, especially a solo female traveller, it’s easy to feel vulnerable,” says Katherine Squires, a dancer and event manager who travels extensively for work. She swears by this slim, lightweight money belt. You wear it under your clothes and it’s made from a durable nylon that’s both water-resistant and anti-tear, making it incredibly difficult for would-be pickpockets or thieves to get into it. “I most recently wore it around the souks in Marrakech and felt so much more secure with my valuables concealed close to my body,” says Squires. “It fits your cash, cards, and passport, as well as any other small valuables like jewellery.”
“I spent so long looking for a good travel backpack that was big enough to cram a weekend’s worth of clothes and toiletries in, but wasn’t too big that it caused me to topple over like an upended turtle,” says Alicia Melville-Smith, who works for the British Red Cross, “and this was the answer.” The backpack, which has a generous 28-litre capacity, has been “perfect” both for her commute into London from Sheffield and on work trips abroad. “It has a great number of compartments and pockets to keep all my things organised, it’s made of recycled materials, and generally Fjallraven are a really ethical company, which is important to me.” Though it’s not a “cheap” bag, Melville-Smith says it was worth the investment: “It’s so well made, I know it will last me years.”
We named Fjallraven the best overall bag in our roundup on the best carry-on bags — it fits each one of Europe’s four major budget airlines’ (EasyJet, Wizz Air, Norwegian, and Ryanair) stringent under-seat size requirements at 36 by 25 by 3 cm. It’s recommended by Squires as her favourite option for hopping on and off short-haul flights for shows and events. “You can completely open the front flap,” she says, “so if you’re looking for something at the bottom you don’t have to pull everything out.” It also has a super-secure padded back pocket and “a removable pad you can use as a seat if you end up sitting on the floor in the airport.” The bag fits 18 litres inside, which is just enough for a weekend away if you’re a light packer.
This bag has detachable and adjustable shoulder straps, so you can wear it as either a backpack or handbag, and comes recommended by digital travel creator Rebecca Selkirk: “It’s great as a carry-on for long-haul flights and it can easily go between a city break, a beachy vacation, or a business trip.” It fits laptops up to 15.6 inches wide, is made from smooth vegan leather, and is incredibly stylish to look at too.
Fleur Anderson, a lifestyle influencer, bought her Herschel backpack a few years ago when her old one broke during rush hour on the tube, and “it’s still serving me well on my travels as well as my commute.” She recently took it on a five-day trip to Paris alongside a suitcase: “It was perfect when I was on the Eurostar and wanted my camera and my phone on me for safekeeping.” The top handles are also “comfy to use whenever you don’t want the bag on your back,” and the multiple pockets mean she knows where everything is. “I find it never gets too heavy, either; it’s just a really handy bag to have in my collection.”
“I’ve never really been one for a handbag when I’m travelling,” says editor of the Curious Explorer, Tilly Milnes, “and all of the travel backpacks I’d seen were too chunky for my taste, but Kapten and Sons provides the best of both.” The brand has “slim, feminine backpacks that look great, but still fit everything you need inside.” In real terms, the bag fits eight litres and measures 40 by 35 by 12 cm, which is just about small enough to squeeze under the seat in front of you if you’re flying. Milnes loves the Umea style so much, she bought them in two different colours to match different outfits. “I use it to commute to work, as well as for travelling — it has a laptop sleeve, inside pocket, and a small outside zipped pocket, so there’s plenty of space to pack all that you need.”
Sevda Seyidova, a digital travel creator, also rates Kapten and Son’s convertible backpacks — she’s had hers (the Bergen in Dusty Rose) for three years. “It’s so handy to use,” she says. “Spacious, safe, practical, but still utterly Instagrammable.”
Slow travel columnist at Suitcase magazine and Gourmet Traveller Anna Hart says she recently rediscovered Freitag, “the 1990s Euro classic bag brand that repurposes accessories from lorry tarpaulins.” The Zurich-born label was “focused on sustainability years before it was a fashion buzzword,” and Hart’s noticed its totes, backpacks, and travel bags are now having “a major resurgence in Europe.” Hart has the Julien tote, which she calls both a “compact yet virtually indestructible carry-on that can be converted into a comfortable backpack with a simple clip-on strap.” They also come in a huge range of colourful styles that are a dead ringer for “the luxury Marni and Celine two-tone totes of recent seasons.”
Travel influencer Tola Balogun loves this jumbo tote from Lily and Bean “because it’s lightweight, has enough space for everything you need on a weekend trip (it’s a roomy 47 cm wide), and can also be personalised!” The canvas bag has the option of adding your initials or name onto it and comes in a range of colours, though Balogun’s pick is the sophisticated soft fawn shade.
Travel content creator Rosie Providence “considers a Tumi backpack the ultimate bag for female travellers.” It’s incredibly beautiful to look at and has “compartments galore”. There’s pockets for a 15-inch laptop and a tablet, a water-resistant pouch for a water bottle, and a quick-access phone pocket with magnetic snap. It can also be personalised and has a built-in “Tumi tracer,” a metal plate with a unique 20-digit registration number that will help you retrieve your bag if you lose it.
“If I’m travelling with a low-fare airline where my bag needs to fit under the seat, I always use my soft Mulberry travel bag,” says Instagrammer Bea Mosdal. It’s a hefty investment, but Mosdal’s had hers “for over ten years and it’s still looking great.” The most recent edition is made out of truly high-quality materials, with a textured eco-scotchgrain body, brushed leather interior, and solid brass hardware. There’s a detachable and adjustable strap so it can be handheld or worn across the body and a hidden padlock in a leather pouch, so you can keep your belongings secure too.
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