If you’re on the go, nothing slows you down faster than a clumsy travel bag. Rushing off to the airport? Trying to pack for an extended, multi-city business trip? Or maybe you just like putting your organizational skills to use? A good travel bag—sturdy, efficient, stylish—can be worth its weight in gold, more as a necessity than a mere accessory. Travel + Leisure editors deliberate carefully over which luggage sets are ideal for bringing on a vacation, and make sure to feature only the best that money can buy.
I leave all of my “nice” jewelry at home. I wear a simple wedding band that if taken or lost will not make me cry. While in Buenos Aires a few years ago, my sister in law almost had her arm taken off when someone tried to take her Rolex watch off of her wrist. A guy ran by her, grabbed her wrist and attempted to unlatch the watch. My niece quickly realized what was happening and hit him in the face with her fist. His accomplice drove by on a motorcycle out of nowhere and he hopped on and sped off. My sister in law was bruised and a local shop owner gave her a bag of ice for her arm. All of this happened in a matter of seconds and we were in broad daylight among people! So now ALL jewelry stays at home except for a simple pair of unassuming earrings and my simple gold wedding band.
If you traveled to far-flung destinations (or even sometimes not very far-flung), you've probably seen your luggage be attached to some form of transportation. If you are more commonly just looking at luggage options for catching buses, trains, and more typical commercial airplanes, then this isn't a super important factor for you. If you plan to travel to exotic locations or climb (or anything else) in remote parts of the world, you will undoubtedly need to strap your baggage to any number of things (and there can be a lot of different things and ways they will be attached).
Large tote bags for travel are crucial for carrying everything you need while on the go. This one’s spacious enough to hold just about anything — neck pillow, tablet, laptop, baby accessories, gym wear, you name it — but light as a feather so it won’t weigh you down in transit. The quilting adds a bit of signature flair to an otherwise highly utilitarian tote: it’s easily packable, washable, and holds up to wear and tear. It also comes with detachable interior zip pouches that are great for organizing knick-knacks, or to use as a clutch when you don’t want the take the whole bag.
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We love this bag from Issara — a small, socially conscious leather goods company in London — because of all the thoughtful, functional details for travel. It's got a full zipper closure to keep everything secure (and for stowing under the airplane seat without your belongings spilling onto the floor), multiple interior and exterior pockets to keep you organized, a roomy and sturdy interior (no collapsing in on itself while searching for an item), and a structured bottom with metal feet. As a major bonus, you can feel great about your purchase: the artisans Issara works with in India and Indonesia receive fair living wages, healthcare, and safe work environments, and all of the materials and processes used to produce the leather products are environmentally friendly.
Durability. Frequent travel requires a bag that will withstand all sorts of wear and tear. It doesn’t have to be leather, but it does need to be made with strong material and sturdy fasteners. Beware of shoddily made purses that can fall apart after a single trip. The best handbags for travelling abroad should last and last and last – first, because they're well made but second, because the style is perennial and never becomes old.
For a travel duffel bag that looks less like a gym bag and more like a fashionable carry-on, the Dakine EQ Bag is a popular option. With several print designs, including turquoise with hibiscus flowers and white and black Aztec prints, the duffel is the perfect travel accessory. Measuring 15.5 x 9 x 10 inches and with a volume of 31 liters, the Dakine bag makes a great carry on for weekend getaways. When not in use, the polyester fabric can be folded for easy storage. Some features buyers appreciate are the carry handles and shoulder strap, zippered side pocket for small items such as phones and wallets and “U-Shaped” interior storage area.
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Best travel tip: DO IT! Posts like this might make some think it’s better to stay at home, but it’s really meant to encourage you to travel. If you’ve wanted to travel, but just never figured out how to fit it into your life, get ready. If you want to go, there’s a way to do it. You might not be the most stylish (but you could!) or stay at the most luxurious hotels, etc, but you’ll be THERE! Wherever you want to be! Just Do it! (And read TFG for all the tips, not just the fashion ones!)
More traditional duffels are also easier to carry anytime you are not on a smooth surface. While the wheels help on the pavement, they are a down-right hassle when the going gets rough. Wheeled bags typically offer limited, or no other carrying options (for instance, no bags we tested have wheels and backpack shoulder straps. We're working on testing products that do both), making traveling with them difficult in remote or exotic locations. It is often far easier to deal with non-wheel luggage when you are strapping your bag to jeeps, yaks, sleds, snowmobiles, llamas, rafts, or anything else that your adventure might require. Lastly, we've experienced flying in small 2-5 person "commercial" planes in both Africa and Alaska that wouldn't let us bring hard-sided luggage along.
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Of the full-sized duffels, the Patagonia Black Hole is impressive for its size. At three pounds three ounces, this proved to be the lightest model in the larger volume range. Comparatively the The North Face Base Camp was the heaviest, ringing in at four pounds one ounce for the 90-liter size. One pound more for the greater organizational and durability attributes of the Editors' Choice winner is well worth it.
Great for carrying sporting equipment and gear to a game or practice, our assortment of duffel bags includes a variety of different sizes, from small gym duffel bags for holding shoes and clothes to large equipment bags that can hold gear for an entire team. Look for options made of strong and sturdy materials with high deniers if you often use your duffel bag outdoors, or choose duffel bags with multiple carrying options, like shoulder straps or carry handles, if you know you'll be carrying heavy gear for long periods of time. Sport bags with additional exterior and interior pockets help keep your gear organized and easily accessible. For more sports and fitness gear and accessories, check out our vast fitness assortment.
Duffels that are 75 liters or larger are heavy haulers for longer trips, multiple people, and outdoor equipment (boots, backpacks, tents, etc.). When we fly to go backpacking, we love our 100-liter REI Co-op Roadtripper duffel: it can fit multiple empty backpacks, bulky footwear, and all of our extras. It’s worth noting that these bags can get heavy fast depending on what you stow inside of them, so keep an eye out for total weight as you’re packing. Clothing and most regular items should keep you below the 50-pound checked bag limit, but if you’re packing anything particularly heavy, it can be an issue. And for serious outdoor and expedition use, duffels like The North Face Base Camp are made all the way up to 150 liters.
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Keep in mind that the Hyperlite Dyneema Duffel truly is a specialty bag. The 140-liter capacity is excellent for hauling bulky outdoor gear in tough conditions, and this is one of the biggest duffels in this market in terms of interior space. But it notably lacks backpack straps, which would be a nice touch for those instances where you do actually have to walk with the bag over a good distance. In addition, the $525 price tag is by far the highest on this list—Dyneema is an ultra-premium and very expensive fabric. Travelers and urban backpackers should look elsewhere, but for the right people and uses, the Hyperlite is a serious, expedition-ready duffel.
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If you’re in the market for basic storage and protection for your gear, the REI Co-op Roadtripper is one of the best values on this list. At just $60, this bag is made from burly 610D water-resistant Cordura and sports a large detachable shoulder strap and handles (no backpack-style straps here, which is notable for those who plan on carrying their bag long distances). We also love the minimal weight, which at just 1 pound 8 ounces makes it one of the lightest duffels on this list.
“I look for a bag that can sit on top of my carry-on, fit a lot of items, and that’s easy to store when not in use,” said Daniela Velasco, creative director of Drift and Ambrosia magazines. She likes Longchamp’s Le Pliage totes because they carry her camera, laptop, chargers, and more, and are water-resistant, so she doesn’t have to worry about rain damaging her expensive gear. This duffel version is made of the same durable nylon and fits everything you’ll need for a few days away.