Everything You Need to Know to Choose the Best Travel Purse
When it’s time to travel to destinations new and old, you’re an advocate of low-stress, minimalist travel. That includes one-bag, minimalist packing.
But sometimes, a girl just needs a purse. Even if it’s not the most “minimalist” way to travel.
Of course, when you’re traveling, your purse has different requirements than when you’re at home. Since you have to carry more essential items and you can’t dart home if something goes missing, your travel purse needs to be secure.
On the other hand, a purse isn’t a money belt, nor should you approach yours like a money belt (Tortuga writer Shawn Forno explains why that mentality ruins your travel experience). You don’t want to look like a tourist carrying a portable safe.
Here’s what you should look for in a travel purse and a review of some of the best travel purses on the market based on your priorities.
What’s in Your Bag?
Women often choose their purses based solely on looks and price. Sometimes it works out well, but other times, you learn too late that your purse isn’t functional. Trouble is, when you’re Bangkok, Busan, or Bangor instead of your own backyard, you don’t have the luxury of swapping your purse out.
Getting the right purse starts with listing your essential items. This will narrow down your options in terms of size, type, compartments, pockets, and so on.
Here’s a quick checklist of the items you’re most likely to carry on a daily basis:
- Credit cards
- Portable phone battery
- Charging cables
- Water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- Medicine or health devices
You probably don’t carry every item on that list on the regular, but the items you tick on the checklist will dictate the size of your bag. Digital nomads who carry their tablet, for instance, will need a larger bag than someone who only carries their phone, wallet, and keys.
What Type of Travel Purse Should You Get?
Purses are as varied and diverse as the women who carry them. Travel purses are no exception. That said, travel purses have one major difference from a regular purse: it goes wherever you go all day long.
Like a regular purse, a travel purse’s style dictates its utility. Here are some common types and what they’re good for:
- Wristlets (small essentials and day-to-night transitions)
- Crossbody (weight distribution and anti-theft features)
- Shoulder bags (large items and those who are prepared for anything)
- Backpacks (hands-free, convenient, and comfortable weight distribution)
- Anti-theft bags (added features like RFID blocking and steel wire mesh)
A quick note on anti-theft bags: they’re nice for peace of mind, but you don’t need an anti-theft bag to travel safely. As Shawn notes in his philosophical disquisition on money belts, if you approach the world like everyone’s out to rob you, you will be proven right. Get an anti-theft bag if it helps you relax, but don’t feel married to it.
Once you pick your purse type of choice, there are several other features that will narrow down your options:
- Pockets (because pockets, and also, pockets are magic for organizing your stuff)
- Straps (comfort and adjustability are magic words)
- Fabric (look for easy-to-clean fabric in a tougher, slash-resistant fabric)
- Functionality and aesthetics (three words: comfort, style, practicality)
- Trip type (Day trip? Weekend trip? Beach trip? Safari?)
A good way to test your purse is to try it out at home before you travel. Carry it with you everywhere for a week and see how it performs. Try a weekend trip. Just check the return policy in case a purse doesn’t live up to expectations.
What NOT to Use as a Travel Purse
You know those cheap bags you see in tourist areas the world over? The kind that are for sale on every corner? A shapeless bohemian sack situation that’s made of thin, lightweight fabric, usually in a bright color?
Pro tip: do not use this as your travel purse.
First of all, you will get the stinkiest of skunk eyes from locals, especially in chic locales like Italy and New York. It doesn’t matter how well you dress otherwise. This bag shouts tourist from the rooftops.
Second, it’s a magnet for theft. Bags like this are easy to slip a hand in, slash, or just snatch off your shoulder.
If you’re in dire need of a beach bag, this type of bag can get the job done. Otherwise, invest in a good purse ahead of time.
The Best Travel Purses on the Market
Once you have a clear sense of your priorities, you can look for a purse to match them. Here are some of the best travel purses currently on the market, organized by your priorities.
Best All-Around: Baggallini Everywhere Lightweight Crossbody
For a great all-around bag, the Baggallini Everywhere Lightweight Crossbody is a popular travel purse. It’s made of water-resistant nylon and is RFID-blocking to keep your credit cards safe from hackers. But this bag’s foremost feature is the magic word for women: pockets. It has a slew of thoughtfully-designed pockets and sections to keep all your essentials organized.
Our one reservation about this bag is that it’s a functional bag that looks the part. It says practical louder than stylish (to our eyes, at least), which may turn some women away.
Best Lightweight: Travelon Anti-theft Classic Mini Shoulder Bag
The lightweight champion of this roundup is the Travelon Anti-theft Classic Mini Shoulder Bag. It’s surprisingly roomy and lightweight and looks like a stylish crossbody.
As the name implies, this bag is all about anti-theft features. Think RFID-blocking material, anti-slash material, a locking main compartment, and convenient front and rear pockets.
Best Classic Look: Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote
If you’re like the Tortuga team, you invest in items that will serve you well for years to come. The Longchamp Le Pliage is the kind of timeless bag that will still look fabulous decades into the future, and in terms of looks, it’s the purse on this list that looks most like a fashionable shoulder bag.
It offers one large, zippered main compartment with a small internal pocket for your essentials. Like the Baggallini, it’s made of water-resistant nylon, which is also great news for minimalist and one-bag packers—it folds down nicely for easy packing when you no longer need it.
Best Clutch: Dagne Dover Essentials Coated Canvas Clutch/Wallet
The Dagne Dover is a sleek little black bag like your favorite LBD. It’s timeless, stylish, and ready for any adventure, whether you’re checking out nightlife, heading to a business lunch, or taking an Instagram-worthy stroll.
This is the ideal bag for minimalist travelers. It’s essentially a wallet with an attachable wrist strap or crossbody strap, giving you just enough room for your phone, passport, credit cards, and other small necessities. That said, there’s a surprising amount of storage (two zippered compartments and multiple card holders), and the coated canvas material is quite durable.
Best Compact: Lululemon All Night Festival Bag 5L
If you’re looking for a compact bag but aren’t quite ready for the wristlet life, the Lululemon All Night Festival Bag 5L offers an excellent mid-size compromise.
Like the Baggallini, this travel purse gives you the best of both worlds: the roominess of a tote and the lightness of a fanny pack, all in one fashionable package that can serve as a crossbody or shoulder bag. The interior has a long zipper that opens wide, and there’s a zippered front pocket for easy access to your phone.
Best for Quick Trips: Béis The Mini Weekend Convertible Travel Bag
Need a purse for a day trip or a weekend getaway? The Béis The Mini Weekend Convertible Travel Bag is a stylish, adventure-ready option.
It’s a purse designed for convenience and performance with a lot of the features you love in a travel purse: a padded laptop sleeve in the main compartment, a zippered enclosure, water-resistant material, and a detachable shoulder strap.
But the unique feature of this weekender over other purses is actually the bottom compartment, which is detachable and designed to house shoes and other items you don’t want to carry in the main compartment.
A travel purse should be selected based on functionality, not looks or price. Make a checklist of the items you always have in your purse while traveling to figure out your ideal purse size. Choose your purse style based on utility, and don’t limit yourself to anti-theft bags only. Look for a few common features in a great purse:
- Functionality and aesthetics
- Trip type
When in doubt, test your purse before traveling with it. We recommend investing in a timeless purse that will last for years rather than a fast-fashion grab.