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Handbag or backpack?

I am torn and can't sleep::))
I am going to Switzerland plus Venice in August. I can't decide what to carry with me: my normal handbag seems uncomfortable for all-day moving/sightseeing. I ordered a light backpack from Rick's store; I haven't gotten it yet, but think now that I normally never wear a backpack, tried it but found it very uncomfortable, plus I always have a feeling that someone would get into it and I can't see. During those rare times when I had a backpack on I kept turning around even when I knew there was absolutely nobody around. So I think having a backpack on me in a foreign country would be even worse - well, maybe not in Switzerland, but perhaps in Italy. The only benefit I see with a backpack is having my hands free and my back not getting too tired. So, my question to all of you is - what do you use when travelling? What worked for you best? What didn't? And why? Looking forward to your competent answers and love this site!

Posted by
18 posts

I've had the same dilemma. I've used both on trips and really prefer a hybrid, so that I don't stand out as a "tourist." For my upcoming trip to France, I've purchased the Overland Equipment Donner bag from REI. (You can also purchase from Overland Equimment directly or Zappos.) It's not as big as a backpack, but can easily accomodate handbag gear, small guidebook, camera and water bottle. In fact, the water bottle feature was the selling feature. It easily holds a 750 ml Camelback water bottle.

Posted by
131 posts

I like, and need, a combination of both. I use the RS Civita backpack (usually worn on one shoulder) but don't keep ANYthing important in it. It is so lightweight. I use it for my guidebook pages, sunscreen, water bottle, etc-plus there is room for whatever you pick up during the day. Then I also keep a very small travel wallet "purse" with the strap worn diagonally across my chest and adjusted so that it sits right below my navel. In there is where I keep my money for the day and credit card. The advantage to this is that you never have to fumble for your money/card which I think is a vulnerable moment, theft wise. Then of course the money belt on travel days. Also, I, too, travel in summer and more and more outdoor stores sell lightweight items with hidden pockets. On those days I skip the travel wallet altogether.

Posted by
138 posts

I ordered the money belt, too, and was hoping to use it during the day kind of instead of fannypack/purse. Is it comfortable getting money out of it while you are, let's say, in a store? Or is it a bad idea?

Posted by
1798 posts

Natasha, I use an older model of the Eagle Creek Guide bag. It's big enough for my camera and stuff I need for the day. it carries across my shoulder so when in a subway car, I have it infront of me with one hand on top to protect it from wandering fingers (pickpockets)

this has worked for me for 5 trips. It's the first bag I grab. I've looked at others, but I love this bag.

REI has some great shoulder bags. Daypacks are just too big. I use the daypack on the plane, but once in country, the shoulder bag goes out with me everyday.

Be careful, don't buy too big, make sure you pare down what you think you'll need during the day.

My list is, camera, extra batteries, chapstick, comb, pages from a guide book (if needed). Money is in a money belt, not in the bag.

I don't recommend a purse...but do find a shoulder bag that blends in and doesn't label you "tourist"

Posted by
1003 posts

The whole point of a money belt is that it's like a "safe" attached to your waist. You put your valuables in there, you don't go into it during the day. After much deliberation, I decided upon an over-the shoulder canvas bag made of very heavy in like a brownish/greenish color (made by this company, though i don't see my style there anymore). That way, I can get into it easily but i can keep the part that opens facing to my body. I wouldn't want to walk around with a backpack. Besides how easy it is to be pickpocketed out of a backpack (I'm sure we've all walked around with our backpacks opened and not noticed til a friend told us), it just screams TOURIST. To get used to my bag for my trip this summer I've been using to get used to it - the one I got is about 8x12 and has lots of zip pockets inside for organization too. And an over the shoulder bag will leave your hands free, too. best of both worlds! i'm quite happy with what i decided :)

Posted by
138 posts

Thank you all for your suggestions. The Overland bag looks great, I'll order it and carry it around to get used to it. It looks like a winner to me!

Posted by
53 posts

Here are the items I take:

RS Money Belt - just for "safekeeping" deep items. I hardly ever go into it during the day, and if I do, it's somewhere private like a restroom.

Travelsmith Convertible Security Bag - This thing has been a LIFESAVER!! It is basically my "purse" when I'm out during the day. It's large enough to hold brochures, a journal, etc. and has great pockets for credit cards, your cell phone, iPod & other items. And it has security features built into it - it has zippers AND clasps that make it more deterrent for thieves. It converts from a backpack to a shoulder bag just by zipping the 2 straps together (I do this if I'm in a crowd).

North Face Backpack - I use this as my personal carryon bag to Europe & I stuff my Travelsmith bag & money belt in it, along with my larger items for the flight over (books, sweater, snacks, etc.). It works out great!!

Posted by
73 posts

Natasha, during one of the lectures on travel at Rick's ETBD, a lady suggested keeping a few euros in a small change purse to pay for coffee, gelato etc.
I personally hated opening the money belt as it was tucked inside my pant. But I was too nervous to carry any cards outside. So I wore a neck pouch. It was more comfortable than the money belt and less awkward. I still kept a small amount outside. I reached for the neck pouch only for the bigger purchases or to withdarw cash.

Posted by
3 posts

I have one of Rick's day packs and my husband and I trade off with it- that's not gonna happen with a purse! We almost never put it on our backs but over one shoulder and it's still comfortable. There are 'kidney shaped' bags out there, I borrowed one on my first trip over and it worked really well too over the shoulder. Don't think of a backpack as having to go on your back only, try looping it over one shoulder, but when you really need to it will go on your back, they usually hold a lot more than a handbag and even have outside places for water bottles etc. which I find handy.

Posted by
9 posts

I carry an backpack during the day when I've got guidebooks, maps, waterbottle, etc and want the room to carry the goodies I pick up during the day or to toss a sweater in. My backpack (REI) has a great compartment that can only be accessed from under the straps (ie, you can't get to it while it's on my back) where I carry a little cash and an extra credit card. I carry a little coin purse (w/ debit card, cash, id) that has a clasp on it that I can hook to a belt loop if I'm worried about pickpockets.

I take a purse (that zips closed) that I can use in the evening when I'm going to dinner, cafes, boat cruises, etc, when I want to look a little nicer and don't need to lug around so much.

Posted by
206 posts

I think backpacks shout, "Tourist!" Long ago, I raed the quip, "Why do you Americans have to bring the kitchen sink with you?" LOL! Anyway, I use a zip-top tote bag (subtly safety pin the zipper pull to the bag). It's plain, black, waterproof, and I can carry it on my shoulder (slightly forward) without worrying who is behind me. I got it so long ago, there's no link to post. BTW, it's still going strong, and I use it every day to go to work.

Posted by
334 posts

I use a small crocheted purse that I bought in Europe. I can attach my small camera to the strap from inside and a small wallet with daily cash. It will hold a small guidebook, too. I feel a little less obvious than with a travel backpack, though my husband often wears one. People in Europe wear backpacks, too, but you sure don't see waist packs (fanny packs). Everything important (credit cards, ATMs, etc) need to stay safely out of sight in your money belt. I also have a very light weight neck pouch that I wear underneath and tuck into my waist. I will keep a credit card or ATM there if we'll need it that day, otherwise a little cash in my pocket works best.

Posted by
2000 posts

I always wear a money belt and keep all my valuable documents and larger amounts of money & credit cards plastered on my body at all times.
I bring a nice shoulder bag to wear across my body, that holds a small wallet, containing say $40-60 spending money that I want to be more accessible, and can hold a guidebook, map, small digital camera, a few odds and ends. I don't like big heavy purses or regular backpacks -- though you can get some nice looking, smaller black leather backpack style purses that look nice. I have one and have used it in Europe -- but I don't like the idea of having the zipper opening in back of me where I can't see it.

Posted by
5 posts

I purchased the Metrosafe 200 for my upcoming trip. It is big enough to hold an umbrella, water bottle, travel journal, iPad, phone, and a few other girly essentials, it has several security features. I have been trying it out this week and so far I love it. You wear is slung over your body like a messenger bag. They are available on amazon. I don't know how to post a link!

Posted by
211 posts

I love my Longchamp Le Pliage bag for traveling, as well as using as my handbag in my every day life.

It's super lightweight, expands to fit just about anything, so it works great on the plane as my personal piece of luggage, and it's a very popular bag in Europe (and around the world) so it's less conspicuous.

Posted by
9363 posts

I usually carry a Le Sportsac-type nylon purse when traveling. If I need it, I might use a soft Eddie Bauer lightweight nylon backpack instead. Unlike DW, I don't think backpacks "scream tourist" at all - I have always seen countless locals with them, too.

Posted by
1663 posts

For our recent "walking around Paris" trip, I bought a Baggalini purse, the "around town" model. It doesn't look that large, but it easily held wallet, small camera (in the small cell-phone right hand pocket), a small water bottle, the usual purse items, one of those tiny Chico bags in case we wanted to shop, and even a mini-folding umbrella. There's a zipper pocket on the back side which I kept unzipped and used as the place to stash the map and Michelin guide book. There was still room for more stuff, but I try not to carry too many items. I wore this bag cross-body. We don't use public transportation since we are walkers, but if we needed to do so, it would be secure with my arm and hand resting on it. I bought it from e-bags--I think it was about $50.

I found my shoulder gets stiff from an unpadded strap when the bag is heavy. I have solved this problem for our next trip by buying one of those padded seat-belt protectors they sell at auto-shops. These are a flat nylon pad which wraps around the strap and secures with velcro. They cost about $7.00

I also have a reversible vest I bought from Orvis. It has four safari style pockets on each side and I think it looks less "travel clothes" then most of these items. If it isn't too hot, it can be used instead of the purse and it's also handy for those discount airlines that only allow one carry-on item.

Posted by
988 posts

Have you considered a messenger bag? You can wear it cross body and keep your hands free, which is a must for me. You can get a regular-looking messenger, there are also some verticals that are longer top to bottom than wide. I just ordered RS Veloce shoulder bag (just like a vertical messneger) from Luggage Pros for half the price in Rick's Travel Store

Posted by
842 posts

My wife has always carried/used a backpak for our trips to the EU. She learned many years ago to never a carry a purse or handbag in the EU.

Two years ago I watched as a thief darted out from a sidestreet, and came up behind her with a newspaper covering his hands. Just as he was reaching for her backpak, he turned around, saw me, and then ran off on the next side street.

On our trip to Italy this June she finally upgraded to a Pacsafe Metro Safe 350; a backpak with stainless mesh, to prevent slitting, stainless wires in the straps, and clips that lock the zippers, or can be used to secure it to a table or chair, etc. She said it was easy to carry and was very happy with its lighweight material.

She prefers a backpak, but they have many other styles available; shoulder bags, pouches, etc.

If she gets tired of carrying it, I take over. And everyone carrys backpaks in the EU now. We were surprised last year when we were in Paris to see many of the people on the Metro with backpaks.

Natsha, go to a travel store and look and try all of the offerings. Find a secure product that is comfortable for you!

Posted by
8064 posts

I am going to chime in too, with recommending a Messenger Bag. If you have the kind that zips up, then the flap comes over the top which then also fastens down, I think this is pretty thief-proof. Wearing it cross body, not only distributes the weight evenly, but will also keep it with you. If you just wear it over your shoulder, it becomes too easy to lose and the weight is uncomfortable. Your hands are free and you are less likely to hit people, like I see happen a lot with back-packs. Usually the person doesn't even know they have hit anyone, but I get bumped a lot from peoples bags, when they turn quickly.

When I go to a restaurant, I don't ever take it off, it just kind of sits on my lap, so I never have to worry about leaving it or having someone take it off the back of my chair.