Ask a hundred frequent travelers about their favorite handbag or backpack and you’ll probably get a hundred different answers.
Rex Freiberger will tell you about his Cotopaxi Allpa 35 L travel bag. It holds a 15-inch laptop, has an impressive array of organization pockets and weighs just three kilograms.
“It’s a great minimalist backpack option that meets the carry-on requirements of most airlines,” says Freiberger.
Take it from him – he’s a tool review expert.
Carrie Pasquarello won’t go anywhere without a Conmigo Ulti, a messenger bag with a built-in pad that you can use as a seat cushion. She likes the anti-theft design, which includes three discreet compartments to store her valuables.
“This is my favorite feature,” says Pasquarello.
She should know – she’s a travel safety expert.
And if you ask me? I’m glad you did, because as a travel writer, I live out of a suitcase. In the past year, I’ve been to all seven continents and only spent three days in the United States. I’ve tested dozens of bags and backpacks along the way. Here are the best bags and handbags for 2023.
Here are the best handbags of 2023
One of my favorite luggage of the year is Un-carrier On, a joint project of T-Mobile and Samsara Luggage. Once you get over the shock of the color – it’s bright purple – you’ll appreciate its features. There is plenty of room in this luggage and it is extremely strong. How strong? Well, I’ve checked this bag, which holds my liquids and gels, on my last five flights and it’s withstood the rigors with barely a scratch. Wheels glide like a dream. Best of all, the luggage designers at Samsara include a built-in pouch for an Airtag—which, by the way, every piece of checked luggage should have by now. If there’s one bag that’s impossible to lose, it might be the Un-carrier On. (By the way, here’s what to do if your luggage gets lost.)
Maxlite Air Compact
Travelpro’s Maxlite Air Compact Air Expandable Spinner is the right luggage for my photographer, Aren. It’s incredibly light (just 6 pounds), but its polycarbonate exterior is flexible, so it won’t split, crack, or puncture. The Maxlite’s slim design means it meets the published baggage size restrictions for most major domestic airlines. But if you have to check it – and we had to – you don’t need to worry about the wheels coming off. Walking through the airport with the Maxlite is a pleasure; you don’t need to pull it – it just slides in front of you as if pulled by an invisible force.
The Frame Carry-On
My videographer, Iden, swears by Arlo Skye’s Frame Carry-On. It has an aluminum frame and reinforced aluminum corners, so you never have to worry about checking it and sustaining damage (it’s practically unbreakable). Although it’s a relatively small glove, it packs a lot of punch. And there’s another reason why my videographer loves this handbag: A built-in charger with USB C and A ports will power up your phone or camera in no time. The Carry-On Frame is durable and has survived countless tests. It also has an antimicrobial inner lining for the health conscious traveler.
But a handbag is not enough. The perfect combination for long trips is a backpack AND a hand So what are the best backpacks?
Here are the best travel bags of 2023
Series 1 Knack Pack
The Series 1 Knack Pack, designed by Coach and Tumi veteran Chad Mellen, is one of the best travel bags I’ve used. The design is understated – which these days is the most important feature. You don’t want the baggage police to have to check your backpack while you’re boarding your flight. But it’s also comfortable and practical, two other important qualities when you’re traveling long distances. The designers clearly spent a lot of time thinking about where to put the compartments (passport goes here, laptop goes there), and they got it right. The Knack Pack also attaches to our rolling board luggage, so you don’t have to carry it on your back if you don’t want to.
The STM Goods Myth backpack also has a minimalist design (no large pockets or zippers), but this one is designed for tech travelers. It has compartments to remove your cables and a convenient sling design for storage when not in use. Like the Un-Carrier On, it also has a pocket for an Airtag. The myth is really inconspicuous, and my photographer never stopped at the gate to wear his. Plus, it’s roomy enough to fit a change of clothes, a laptop, and toiletries—just in case your airline loses your checked baggage. (Not that you’d check your luggage – you know better than that.)
Advanced Camera² Fast Backpack
OK, technically, the Manfrotto Advanced² Fast backpack camera is a special backpack for professional photographers. But my videographer swears by his Fast backpack, and I doubt he’d carry it with him even if he wasn’t on duty. Let’s get the specs out of the way: It’s meant to house a four-lens DSLR camera and has a front-facing tripod attachment. But there’s also room for a 15-inch laptop, and it attaches to your rolling luggage effortlessly. You don’t need to carry camera gear and it’s easy to reuse this backpack in general purpose luggage. Manfrotto doesn’t mess around when it comes to quality. The backpack is meant to protect thousands of dollars worth of professional electronics, and Manfrotto does it without any drama.
Someday, when I’m done with journalism, I think I’ll pack one of these backpacks with my dream camera—a Hasselblad HD6 with maybe a 50-110 lens—and take pictures of the American West until my kids find me and send me to an assisted living community in Spokane.
One more thing: As you may have noticed from our luggage selection, handbags and backpacks are not fashion statements for us. Indeed, for most of the very frequent travelers I know, it is The last what they want.
Being identified with an expensive brand can paint a target on your back (or, at the very least, puts your checked baggage at risk of being robbed). So if you’re planning to spend a lot of time on the road in 2023, think twice before buying that gorgeous Mont Blanc luggage at the Mall of Qatar.
So what’s your favorite luggage? Comments are open.
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