Please sign in to post.

Shoulder bag or back pack


Looking at a month long trip to Europe this summer, our first, so being international travel virgins, we are trying to be safety conscious and space saving. I am looking at using my day pack as my purse so I am just not sure how secure a back pack is vs a day pack? Any thoughts or advice?


Posted by
335 posts

My feeling is that a backpack is only good for things you won't miss if they're stolen/lost. Putting something on your back, where you can't see it, is just asking for trouble, IMO. I use a crossbody front-pack or purse/bag (I use the Baggalini hobo sak or messenger bag) and I wear them with the bag part slightly under my arm and I always have my hand/arm on it. You can also get ones other places with locking zippers and/or cut-resistant straps/material, but I haven't gone to that extreme. Welcome to the wonderful world of international travel!

Posted by
1452 posts

museums will make you check a back pack (no matter even if its just half full)
I prefer a smallish messenger bag.....for days we move locations, it goes in side my day pack, (I also have a suitcase)
some folks here will swear by Ricks veloce, or something similair

Posted by
507 posts

Whichever you use, don't hang it on the back of your chair when you are eating. That goes for eating in the States, also.

It is too easy for a thief to lift it & run no matter how close you think you are paying attention to it.

I personally use a backpack b/c of the items I carry in it. A light jacket, small first aid kit (which I also carry in my car in the US), water bottle, & a small camera when it is not on my wrist. I have not been the target of a pickpocket to date.

{Edit: One can always carry a backpack on the front of them.}

My ID, credit & debit cards, money (enough for the day) are in a neck pouch.

In general, the choice is yours to make.

Posted by
2081 posts


i dont carry a purse or a man-purse.

but i do use a backpack/bag for 90% of the stuff. I find it nice to be able to use it as a "backpack" when i have a long walk. It keeps my hands free. I can also use it as a "bag" when i want to.

as far as using one for carrying around the city, i try to keep my stuff to "on my body". I know that females are wired differently too. but what i do to is to "plan" my shopping days/times so i dont have to carry stuff all day. But if it came down to it, id choose a daypack since I'm more use to them and find them easier to carry over the shoulder than in my hand.

one comment. you may want to think about how likely you would be to leave your pack behind vs your purse. I know that some women will feel naked without a purse at their side, but a pack may not give off that feeling.

happy trails.

Posted by
1994 posts

For a number of years, I've used the healthy back bag by Ameribag. The small size will hold an umbrella, hat, sunscreen, water bottle, guide book, camera, phone, wallet, and the normal miscellanea that go in a purse. However, I usually carry the medium size because it allows me also to carry small purchases. I have chronic arm and shoulder injuries from too many years working as a writer, and I would never be able to carry that amount of weight with a regular purse. I carry it towards the front of my body so that I can keep my arm on it for security.

One thing I particularly like... I have never been asked to check it in a museum, even when backpacks a fraction of the size had to be checked.

Posted by
1976 posts

My sister likes the healthy-back bag by Ameribag too.

I use a LeSportSac messenger bag (this style: for my purse/day bag. It's strong and lightweight and compact, yet large enough to hold everything I need on a daily basis: water bottle, camera, wallet with day money, small souvenirs, phone, map, umbrella if it rains. The valuable stuff (credit cards, most of my cash, passport) go in my money belt. To reiterate: keep a hand on it in crowds and on public transit. Whenever you sit down in public, put it in your lap, never on the floor/ground or hanging from your chair. There's no reason to be paranoid about it; just use common sense.

If you decide to use a backpack, do as another posted mentioned and put nothing in it that you wouldn't mind losing.

Posted by
10344 posts

In my opinion, it's not a good idea to put anything you can't afford to lose (debit/credit cards, passport, etc) in a back pack. Back packs are behind you and are known to attract pick pockets.

Posted by
333 posts

When I went to Europe I got a pacsafe backpack, and I felt my camera and money and such were very, VERY secure. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a mugging on the Paris metro. Fortunately, my things were safe. The couple ahead of me, not so much. So unless you leave the backpack hanging around (such as on a restaurant chair), your things will be secure. They'd have to rip it off of your body to get inside of it. The backpack was big enough to hold my jacket, a large camera, my daughters jacket and things and whatever else I needed. I called my backpack Fort Knox. It was worth the cost.

For my next trip to Europe in May, Since I'm on my own, I downsized to a daypack and a pacsafe crossbody bag (which is purse sized). I can keep my jacket and bulker stuff in the daypack, and my camera and money in the bag (I strongly dislike the feel of money belts).

As someone else said, you gotta do what's right for you. Consider your needs and decide from there.

Posted by
507 posts


I need to add on to your comment.

Should the OP & friend carry a backpack, one does not need to be mugged to lose their possessions. My daughter's Spanish class while visiting Barcelona used backpacks for carrying "stuff" around. They used a train to get them from point A to B & back. The class was split into 2 groups on the way back. The group in the (train) car my daughter was not in found at least three expensive cameras had been lifted from backpacks.

To the OP:
You probably have heard this at sometime in your life. Stay aware of your surroundings.

Posted by
16143 posts

You carry whatever is comfortable for you but which will keep anything you can't afford to lose from light fingers.There are many different ways of doing this, and not everyone will agree with what that is.

We have one Pacsafe bag (shoulder version), and only really use it for valuables when we move from country to country. Otherwise, we carry what we need for the day in some sort of secure arrangement beneath our clothes (no, we don't use moneybelts) and leave the rest in the hotel safe. The Pacsafe doubles as a day bag for The Husband, and I carry a different shoulder bag for camera, guidebooks, jacket, etc.

Posted by
139 posts

For Rome/Paris last spring I took a Travelon cross body. I really liked the locking zippers when I was on the metro or in crowds or distracted by the Sistine ceiling. The bag was surprisingly lightweight. I got a deal on Amazon. My teen son carried a packable backpack that held our jackets, map, snacks. I carried the money and camera.

There are ingenious ways to secure backpack zippers ( carabiners, metal split rings for keys, actual locks). Don't know if they're convenient when you need your camera, or how much of a deterrent they really are. I was so glad to have a secure bag when standing on a crammed subway train in Rome during rush hour.

Posted by
9046 posts

The biggest problem with a back pack other than not being able to put anything valuable in it, is the fact that you have to constantly take it off all day long to get anything out of it. If you ride a train, you have to take it off unless you like sitting there on the edge of your seat. Once you take it off, you have to sit it down to get your items out, then close it and put it back on again. Do this about 50 times a day. Do you really want your bag sitting on that gross dirty pavement or train floor and then put it back onto your back? What do you do with it in a restaurant? Those that recommend putting little locks on the zippers are adding even more time to getting anything out of the bag. What a hassle!

If you were wearing a cross body messenger bag/satchel, you would never have to take it off, even on a train or in a cafe, it just sits on your lap. It is hands free, yet all of your items are near at hand when you want them to be. Get a bag that zips at the top and that has a flap that will then close over the top and fasten at the bottom.

I wear a cross body messenger bag everywhere I go, 365 days a year.

Posted by
10403 posts

I agree with Jo too. And to reiterate, I never take my crossbody bag off from the time I leave where I'm staying in the morning until the time I return at night. You need to be concerned with more than theft. It's far too easy to get distracted while traveling and it's possible to leave something behind. It happened to me in Barcelona. I had made a couple of purchases and I set my bag down next to my feet while eating dinner. I totally forgot about it when we left. I returned the next day, but of course my items were gone. Oh fault for being distracted and leaving without it. Thankfully I didn't lose anything important.

Posted by
1922 posts

We take a RS Civita bag for sweaters, kleenex, hand sanitizer, guide book, etc. We wear a money belt for our cash and credit cards and then I also wear a fanny pack (hey, I already look like a tourist- it's very convenient) and in there I keep my point and shoot camera and video camera. I guess I'm a safety fanatic, but I loop the fanny pack through my pant belt loops. I use twist ties from the produce section of my grocery store to fasten my zippers together for the Civita bag and my fanny pack. It is very secure and you can see the brightly colored green twist ties, so I doubt anyone would even attempt to open them, they'd go for an easier target. On trains, some museums, we hold the Civita bag in front.

The Civita bag is thin cloth that rolls up into nothing in your suitcase if you are not using it, but then in use it can hold a lot of things. Look it up on the RS shop online. We have been really happy traveling with this set up.

Posted by
9363 posts

You will mostly see European women carrying crossbody, messenger-style bags (men, too). And of course, to me it depends on where you are and who you are with. I often use a small daypack from Eddie Bauer as a "purse" when traveling, but I am usually in a rental car, with friends in their car, or at some outlying location, not on a crowded city street or public transportation. In the city, particularly alone, I use a crossbody bag. My daypack is very thin, ripstop nylon and folds up to nothing in my suitcase. And despite the pronouncement that "museums will make you check a back pack ", that hasn't been true of my little bag. I carry it on one shoulder into museums and have never had to check it.

Posted by
3941 posts

Another vote for Jo - and I'll say, on really hot days, you're going to get so sweaty with a backpack on...ugh...I always use a cross-body...

Posted by
32273 posts

I also definitely agree with Jo. A Backpack is not the best type of luggage to use for the purposes you describe. A few points to add, some of which have already been mentioned.....

  • Some museums won't allow any Backpacks, so you'll have to check them during the visit.
  • Backpacks are a darn nuisance if you have to retrieve things frequently. If your wallet is there, you'll have to access the pack every time you want to stop for coffee, buy lunch, pay for museum admissions or whatever. Pickpockets WILL be watching you retrieve your money!
  • Backpacks are a target for pickpockets, as described in THIS video. There are "theft resistant" Backpacks that can be locked, but it's even more of a nuisance to retrieve items from those.

You could use something like the RS Veloce bag or something like the Café Bag or Side Effect on this website.

Posted by
2635 posts

While en route I use my regular cross-body leather purse that zips shut, but for when I'm out and about at my destination I use a canvas messenger bag that holds all the things I might need like map, sweater, camera, book, water bottle, snack, etc. My purse never leaves my body--when I sit down it either goes on my lap or against the wall on my side. LeSportsac makes some great light-weight but incredibly sturdy cross-body bags in a variety of styles and prints.

Posted by
3824 posts

Jo is right. I use a cross body messenger bag. It's great. Holds everything I need and I keep it on all day. I have my arm over the front flap which is buckled and zipped down anyway. So, not much chance of someone taking anything out of it. But it's handy for me to get into it. I don't take it off to eat.

Posted by
143 posts

This Saturday at 10 at the Panera's at Aspen Grove shopping Center there is a Rick Steves Denver group meeting. Is off of Santa Fe and Mineral. The meeting Is posted under the General Europe forum if you would like more info from Lee. If you are located near Denver please come. A lot of info available from everyone to help make your trip a success.

Posted by
139 posts

Jenny, Here's the bag I took last March. I wasn't thrilled with the interior mesh pockets, but really liked the locking features on the outer pocket and main pocket. I only used the shoulder strap "tether" a couple times. It was a fairly roomy bag for its size & low profile. Hope you'll like yours too. -- Sherry

Posted by
10344 posts

"I plan on carrying my life in this bag and do NOT want it on my back."
You have figured it out.
Don't let anyone here talk you out of that.

Posted by
4411 posts

Jenny, I usually use the Civita backpack, but 99.8% of the time I carry it on one shoulder like a purse. I, too, don't want anything to happen to my bag. It stays safe under my arm. Plus, I can put it on my back if I want/need to (when I don't want to take the chance of it swinging free - such as bending over frequently while reading plaques, shopping, etc.).

Either is as secure as the other one. Since there are at least two of you, you watch each other's back literally. When in very tight quarters such as packed metro cars, busy street markets, etc., put it under your arm like a shoulder purse or hold it in front of you. Keep an eye on your zippers. Keep a low profile when accessing your wallet. Keep the 'goodies' in the deepest and hardest-to-reach area of your bag.

Mainly, just be vigilant and watch each other's backs at all times.

Things that belong in a moneybelt are in my moneybelt.

But as Kent said, you've already answered your own question ;-)

Posted by
796 posts

I have a medium sized pacsafe cross body purse; for the plane trip, it gets packed into my shoulder tote that sits on top of the rollaboard. Also, I have a very thin backpack that I might carry with a raincoat, market purchases, nothing of great value. I have tried a very thin shoulder bag, if It ends up full of purchases, it can be uncomfortable. I am a bit of a shopper, so i need the extra. I have a small point & shoot camera, which if not around my neck and under my coat, is in the secure portion of the purse.

That is what works for me.