Choosing the Right Travel Bag: 3 Options that Really Work

Every woman faces this same dilemma when we’re doing our final packing for a big trip. What’s the right travel bag to take, and do I need more than one? I’m a pretty savvy packer, and I think I’ve found the perfect balance.


Every woman needs a travel bag that acts as a catchall for all the stuff we think we need to take on the plane. Personally, I take crossword puzzles, a Kindle, a laptop, lip gloss, an old-school iPod, pens, notebooks, hand sanitizer, a snack, extra socks, and playing cards—ridiculous since I only know how to play Go Fish. Anyway, I need a bag that allows me to easily access all of these goodies while on board the plane. I also want it to be large enough to pop a few fragile souvenirs inside on the flight back if necessary. But it can’t be so large it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of me. I also like something that can double as a beach or day bag during my trip.

1. The Tote Bag

Travel Bag

Longchamp Le Pliage has some amazing travel options in just about every size, color, and style you could ever desire. They’re a bit pricey, but they are amazing quality and super fashionable. If you travel a lot or want to make sure your travel bag lasts the test of time, they’re worth the splurge.

I like the medium to large size Le Pliage bag because it’s manageable. Any larger, and I tend to overfill will useless items (like the playing cards), or I can’t find what I’m looking for at the bottom of the bag. The best part about these bags is that when they’re not in use, you can fold them up super small. I pop mine in my handbag and use it for shopping.

If Le Pliage is out of your budget, check ebay or Amazon to see if you can find one for a deal. I got mine at a fraction of the price from an authorized retailer. But a word to the wise, no matter how good the deal, pass it up if it’s for the bag with the short strap. Get the long strap so you can toss it over your shoulder when you’re running from one terminal to the next. Trust me, it’s worth the few extra bucks. I made the mistake of getting the short strap, and I’m still sorry I did.

Another option I love is the quilted tote bag from Roots. At under $80 it’s a great deal and very durable. It’s got a lot of pockets to help keep all of your odds and ends neatly organized. I found mine at Marshall’s for a fraction of the full price. Discount retail chains are a great place to find the right tote bag in a range of prices, styles, sizes, and brands. But remember, you want a bag that:

  • Has a long strap
  • Fits under the seat
  • Can double as a beach or day bag
  • Has a bit of extra room for souvenirs
  • Has pockets or other organizers
2. The Satchel

Travel Bag

A tote bag is great to get you there, but what do you carry when you arrive? I like to take a smallish satchel to haul around things I think I may need during the day. My favorite destination travel bag is a canvas cross-body bag that measures about 1 square foot. It stays fairly dry in rain—or on water rides—and can hold a lot. It never shows dirt, is super durable, and thanks to the wide shoulder strap, never feels heavy.

I’ve had my canvas cross-body bag for nearly a decade, and I take it on most trips. It easily holds a small umbrella, sunscreen, light jacket or sweater, wallet, camera, phone, hand sanitizer, tissues, lip gloss, and more. I can usually even squish a few purchases inside to keep my hands free.

If I plan to take both a carry-on suitcase and a carry-on tote bag, I toss my satchel and its contents inside one of them for the flight. Then I pull it out and pack it full once I arrive. For smaller trips, I don’t even need a tote bag—my satchel does the trick.

3. The Wristlet

Travel bag

Call it what you want—wristlet, pouch, clutch—it’s a small wallet-like purse that contains just the bare necessities. I use one of these in my daily life since I hate carrying a lot of stuff if I don’t have to, a necessity when you leave the hotel at 9 a.m. and return at midnight.

I often don’t have a lot of use for a wristlets when I travel except for evenings out. They are perfect to pair with a pretty dress or dark jeans and a nice blouse if you’re heading to an upscale restaurant or out dancing. I often pop my bank cards, ID, and a lip gloss inside a small wristlet to use as my wallet during the day. I keep it inside my satchel during the day, and I carry it as a purse for a night out.

Pro tip: For those times you forget to pack a little something that goes with your evening wear, I’ve got the perfect solution. Dump the contents of your makeup bag and put everything you need for the night inside it. If you’ve got a traditional camera with a wrist strap, you can use it to make a handle for your makeup bag. Simply loop the strap through the zipper. Alternately, you can use a hairband for a handle—we’ve always got those looped around our wrists anyway.

With these three simple styles, you’ll have just the travel bag you need for just about any type of activity. And the best part is that they all fit inside one another.

The Great Carry-on Debate: 7 Packing Tips You Need Now

Preparing for a vacation is hard work. Consider these packing tips to help you decide if you need the big bag or the carry-on.


To carry on or not to carry on? That seems to be the question of the hour. And it’s one I consider often—not daily but close.

Almost every time I open the cover of a travel magazine, the featured story offers some sort of packing tips or tricks for fitting everything into a smaller suitcase or putting together more outfits with fewer pieces.

mary-poppins-bagNow, I’m a little like Mary Poppins. I can cram copious clothing options into the tiniest bag. But I’m far from practically perfect, particularly at packing. I’ve traveled enough to know that just because I can fit something into my bag doesn’t mean I should, especially with airlines imposing loftier fees for exceeding weight restrictions. But it doesn’t mean I follow that rule all the time.

So, I as I sit here reading another review of the ultimate capsule wardrobe for a 10-day Canary Islands cruise or how to fit 40 pieces of clothing into a pint-sized shoulder bag, I can’t help but wonder…why? Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely times when size matters. But I often read comments from people stressing out because they just can’t make it work. And I’m one of them.

Travel can be stressful enough without the added packing pressure. I’m on the side of traveling light whenever it makes sense. But that’s the key—knowing when it makes sense. Here are my packing tips for figuring out when it’s best to take the bare bones and when it’s most ideal to indulge.

run1. Are you going to be moving from one place to another? And how often?

If you are moving around a lot, a carry-on is the way to go. No one wants to lug around a hefty bag to multiple locations, which many include various flight connections or plans to travel by train to several destinations. Not to mention, without a home base you can’t unpack. Digging through layers of clothes inside a suitcase just isn’t practical. Pare it down to the minimum.

clock2. Are you short on time?

If you have a tight layover, waiting for checked baggage can be a deal breaker. Pack a carry-on so you can dash from one gate to another without worrying about your checked baggage.

ship3. Do you have a captive audience?
Cruising and touring offer a creative challenge to the fashion conscious, especially if you’re like me and have a particularly unique wardrobe. Other women will notice if you wear the same thing over and over again. I find it difficult to leave home without a few extra outfits for trips where I know I’ll run into the same people often.

journal4. What’s your budget?

I’m cheap, so if I’m traveling within North America, I’m not likely going to spend the extra $25 each way to check a bag. But for overseas travel, I’ll take advantage of the free baggage allowance and check a bag if I’m not moving around a lot or short on time between flights. Why not?

woman5. How do you feel about laundry?

If you hate doing laundry, do you really want to do it on vacation? Smaller bags mean less room for the basics—socks and undies—so you’ll need to wash them throughout your trip. On the flip side, if you don’t want to be bogged down with piles of laundry when you return home, pack light and look for a laundromat. I hate unpacking. In fact, I often don’t fully unpack until I need an item that was last seen in my suitcase or until my next trip when I need to use the bag again.

bike6. What types of activities will you be doing?
If you have a lot of different types of activities planned, packing light simply may not be an option. If you’re going to climb mountains, swim with sharks, take walking tours, and enjoy the local nightlife, it might be worth the extra few bucks to check a bag that can carry everything from hiking boots and sneakers to flip-flops and stilettos.

world7. What makes you happy?

Finally, if it’s going to cause you nothing but angst to try to fit everything into a tiny bag or give you hives because you can’t take that extra sweater, just do it. Forget the hype—I know it’s trendy right now, but do what makes you happy, whether it’s delighting in the joys of fitting everything in that one small bag or throwing everything but the kitchen sink in a good old-fashioned full-sized bag.

Try these helpful packing tips to decide if you should take a big bag or a carry-on for your next trip.