The Perfect Travel Bag

Every Christmas Eve, my family puts on a talent show. My talent this year? Packing the perfect carry-on.

With a shaking voice (why am I most nervous in front of family?), I gave the demo and fit each item inside like a jigsaw puzzle.

Only when I finished did I realize it wasn’t my packing abilities, but the bag’s qualities that made it seem as roomy as Mary Poppin’s magical satchel.

Before l sing the praises of this bag's particulars, allow me to make a case for messenger bags in general, especially for traveling.


  • Messengers are good for the beach, a museum, or a meeting—they perform on all levels of chill and posh.
  • They are perfect for underneath the seat. If overhead, folks can’t put suitcases on top of them, which often happens with backpacks.


  • Messengers keep your camera, wallet, water, phone, and passport at hand.  No need to dismount a backpack each time you pass through customs.


  • On public transit or in a busy market, you can cradle the bag in front of you to keep pockets safe from sticky fingers.
  • If you hop on a bike, swing it around back for hands-free riding. 

*While you can cradle a purse and backpacks are good for cycling, neither is perfect for both—see “Versatility” above.

If you think a new messenger might make a good travel companion, here’s a list of must-haves in the perfect bag:

Small Inner Pocket with Zipper

  • Keep your passport and wallet extra safe. A small zipped pocket inside the main zipped compartment offers an extra layer of protection.

Soft Removable Dividers

  •  Little cushiony walls protect your camera, extra lens, glasses, thumb drives or anything else fragile.
  • Dividers also keep everything in place so your bag doesn’t become a black hole when searching for your lipgloss.
  • When in-country, remove the dividers to bring groceries home or tote a towel to the beach.

Side Pockets with Buttons or Zippers

  • Keep your phone easily accessible for photos, maps and music.
  • A second side pocket is ideal for a water bottle.


  • A must for rain, but also wet surfaces like the bathroom counter.

Roomy Enough for All Valuables

  • Be sure your laptop will fit, along with everything else you can’t live without. Your checked baggage should only hold clothing and replaceable toiletries.

Wide Strap

  • While a padded strap is nice, I’ve found a wide strap (at least two inches) to be more important.  It distributes the weight across your shoulder so the strap never digs in.

Lightweight Material

  • Your belongings will be heavy enough, so opt for canvas or synthetics over leather.

I hope this list helps as you search the thousands of messenger bags currently available.

This is the bag I used for six months of travel and totally loved it. It wasn’t waterproof, but otherwise has all the qualities listed above.