Best Backpack For Europe: My Top Pick (& 4 Runner-Ups)

I’ve spent the majority of the last two and a half years backpacking, living, and traveling around Europe.

I’ve visited about 80% of the countries that make up this big and diverse continent and travel around Europe since I’m based in Bulgaria and it’s quite easy to hop around for cheap from Sofia (I love you, Wizz Air).

I have a lot of opinions on what makes the best backpack for backpacking Europe: lightweight and optimized for travel rather than hiking. Unless, of course, you plan to use your backpack for multi-day treks — then by all means, you want a proper hiking backpack (and I’ve included one in this list).

My #1 Pick: Tortuga Setout Backpack

Best backpack for: long-term Europe travelers who want a hyper-organized backpack that can still fit most carry-on restrictions

I’ve had a Tortuga backpack since winter 2015, and its inaugural trip was to the far northern reaches of Swedish Lapland, chasing the Northern lights. It was my first time traveling with a proper backpack and my mind was blown.

Whereas my friend I was traveling with had a heavy, enormous nearly 50-lb. suitcase for a 1-week trip, I felt basically invincible (even when I got stuck in a massive snowbank and had to throw myself chest-first down a pile of snow like a penguin in order to not miss the only train of the day)….

Fast forward to 2018 and it’s held up remarkably well – it lost a few stitches here and there but it’s still in good shape and I’ve now gifted it to my boyfriend, who is ridiculously happy with it. Since I’ve been recommending Tortuga to travelers for the last few years, Tortuga offered to send me a complimentary version of their new backpack so I can see the improvements they’ve made. Let me tell you – as someone who loved the original Tortuga, this is a big upgrade!

Why do I love it so much? Let me count the ways!

  • 45L capacity with three equally useful main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to
  • Water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside
  • Comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.

Runner Up: Osprey Farpoint 40

Best backpack for: Europe travelers who want to hike with their travel backpack

Osprey is a much-loved brand by outdoorsy types, and the Farpoint 40 is also the perfect size for carry-on travel and city breakers. I especially like that it opens from the side like a suitcase like the Tortuga does, rather than packing from the top like most hiking bags do. Honestly, top-loading backpacks are the worst possible way to pack for backpackers. Yes, they fit a ton of stuff, but it also means that you’ll find yourself disemboweling your entire backpack nearly every time you’re looking for a specific shirt. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen in basically every dorm room I’ve stayed in and it’s never pretty.

The main reason that I prefer Tortuga to the Osprey is that it has more pouches and creative places for pockets. On the other hand, the Osprey is specifically designed for hiking, so it’s less about organization and more about ergonomics. It has some handy things like load lifters (the small straps at the top of your backpack straps) which help you adjust the weight distribution of your bag, great for hiking. The mesh back of the Farpoint is great for sweaty hiking days, as it lets your backpack “breathe” more against your back.

Here are the best features of the Osprey backpack: 

  • LightWire frame suspension: This is a fancy way of saying the Osprey is really ergonomically designed, and the harness transfers the bulk of the weight to your hip belt, which is the easiest place to carry weight.
  • Mesh back panels: These prevent sweating on your back, but there are also mesh panels on the hip belt, which helps reduce chafing and sweating.
  • Stow-away straps: If you want to use your Osprey handheld like a duffel bag for transport, you can easily store all the suspension straps under a zippered panel. There are top and side panels which make it easy for you to handle.
  • Front compression straps: To help you squeeze in that last bit of stuff without going over your carry-on limit!

If I wanted my main Europe travel backpack to also double as a hiking backpack, it’d be a hard call between the Tortuga and the Osprey but I’d give the point to Osprey for being better suited for hiking. Otherwise, if you’re just staying in cities with maybe a few small day hikes thrown in, I’d opt for the Tortuga for its far superior organization system.

Runner Up: Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45

Best backpack for: Europe travel if you’re more concerned about pickpockets and theft than ergonomics and weight

My travel daypack is a Pacsafe, and I use it in conjunction with my Tortuga backpack as my home-away-from-home when I’m on the road. I pile all my electronics and valuables in my Pacsafe Citysafe Backpack and wear that on my front where I can keep an eye on it, while my Tortuga backpack holds all my clothes and other random bits. I usually buy Priority boarding for a few dollars extra when flying Ryanair or Wizzair and use that bag as my personal item and my Tortuga as my carry-on.

However, if you just want one carry-on travel backpack for Europe that also has some kickass security features baked in, this is the bag for you. The Venturesafe has the following security features:

  • eXomesh Slashguard: A flexible steel wire mesh concealed and built into the bag to prevent slash-and-run would-be thieves
  • ToughZip Zipper: An endurant zipper that prevents tampering and breaking
  • Roobar Anti-Theft Anchor Lock: A head-scratching anchor lock that lets you lock up your zippers or even attach to cable to make your bag even harder to get into. You can even add a padlock for added security. My CItysafe backpack has something similar and I absolutely love it – it makes me feel really safe from thieves.
  • Interlocking Zippers: Zippers that slide in neatly to lock together, making it virtually impossible for any but the most nimble-fingered thieves to tamper with without your knowledge.

Basically, the Venturesafe backpack makes it so cumbersome to pick your pocket that no thief would bother – they’d move onto another, far easier target.

However, there is a disadvantage – all of these security features make the bag a bit heavy – about 1.8 kg or 3.9 pounds without anything inside it. Amazon reviewers have rated it not quite as comfortable as other bags due to the fact there are no load lifters and the shoulder straps aren’t the most comfortable. So this is a bag more about security than functionality or comfort. 

For me, I’m a huge fan of Pacsafe, but I’d probably get a smaller Pacsafe daypack or purse rather than have my entire backpack (which is mostly just clothes and random tidbits, none of which are that valuable) be protected.

Runner Up: Kelty Redwing 40L Backpack

Best backpack for: Europe travel if you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend too much

Unfortunately, buying a backpack for Europe travel can be quite expensive, with most decent backpacks costing from $125-300 USD or more. On the other hand, the backpacks that are in the $50-ish range don’t have things that I consider absolute necessities like waist and shoulder straps.

Trust me – I tried using a Cabin Zero bag which was cute but didn’t have these, and I had so much pain in my shoulders from the poor weight distribution that I promptly ditched it the first chance I got. Especially if you’re traveling on an extended trip, you need these things for your comfort and back health.

Technically, this is a woman’s backpack – if you are after a men’s backpack or a unisex version of this backpack, check the Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack instead.

The best features are below:

  • The most affordable backpack suited for Europe travel I could find
  • Back and shoulder straps and load lifters to help with weight distribution and alignment
  • 40L capacity makes it easy to take as a carry-on bag on budget flights

Runner Up: Osprey Volt 60L Backpack

Best backpack for: long-term European travelers who don’t mind checking their bags, who value capacity over organization

If you mostly travel overland (taking few flights) and really want a heavy-duty backpack that can fit a lot of stuff in it, an Osprey 60L backpack is what you need.

It’s not too big to be totally unwieldy, but it’s also able to fit all your creature comforts in it.

Osprey bags are also designed to distribute weight evenly for hiking, so if you have a lot of multi-day treks planned this is a fantastically ergonomic bag.

Best Underseat Luggage: My Top Pick & 5 Runner Ups

With airlines constantly adjusting their compact carry-on size requirements and implementing higher fees for checked luggage, travelers have been forced to adjust and pack smarter.

Many U.S. airlines are following in the footsteps of ultra-low budget carriers like WOW and Spirit, introducing free “basic economy” fares that charge extra for carry-on bags. As a result, the most budget-conscious travelers have started taking packing light a step further and have managed to travel using only lightweight under seat luggage on their ultra-budget flights.

Even if not flying on a basic fare, many people have started avoiding checking luggage together through the combination of a personal item and a carry-on bag or travel backpack. Others have gotten tired of the Hunger Games-esque Battle Royale for overhead bin space every time that ensues every time they board a plane and now prefer to just pack carry on luggage that fits under the seat.

Whether you’re looking to avoid baggage fees or you’re just trying to make it home for the holidays without playing the terrifying game of dibs that is trying to nab space in a crowded overhead compartment, I’ve picked the best underseat luggage options for light-packing, savvy travelers who are tired of taking s(@* from airlines.

One important note on the dimensions of underseat carry on luggage: every airline has their own rules about what constitutes a “personal item” and what you can bring on an economy or basic economy fare. Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to the question “how big is the space under an airplane seat” (that would be too easy, apparently) therefore the best place to start is by checking with the airline itself.

While I’ve done my best to pick only bags that fit under airplane seats, it may not necessarily pass the requirements of the most intensely strict airlines (WOW and Spirit are notoriously more strict than other airlines). Compare the specs of the bag with what your airline allows before deciding on what to buy, as every airline’s under seat size is different.

Winner: Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB Port

Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB

The sleekest and most ergonomic of all the luggage on the list, this is the best under seat bag for the aesthetics-focused traveler who wants to travel comfortably and stylishly. Their colors are really rich and beautiful, especially the Majolica Blue, so if design and aesthetics are important to you, I think this is one of the nicest-looking options.

Another awesome perk is that it has a USB port… however, it doesn’t come with the battery, so you will have to buy an external battery pack such as this Lumina charger to actually take advantage of that functionality.

One of my favorite things about this bag, though, is that it is actually a spinner underseat carry on with four wheels! That means this bag can actually glide ahead of you or alongside you and you’ll feel like a supercool airport ninja while you stride through the airport at it, laughing at all the folish mortals with two-wheel bags (or is that just how I felt when I finally got a four-wheel spinner?)

Another plus is that the maximum extended height on the 3-height adjustable handle is designed to be longer for taller travelers, which is sometimes missing on other small underseat carry ons. Other perks include exterior side pockets perfect for storing your important documents within an easy reach, and the front zipper also has some additional slots for credit cards and change if you don’t want to carry another bag.

Finally, this is one of the few bags on this list that has both a highly organized interior as well as a separate laptop pocket. It seemed that most lightweight underseat luggage out there offered one or the other, but not both: Samsonite definitely fixed that with this bag, which is why I’m naming it the best underseat carry on luggage choice.

One point to keep in mind is that Samsonite has a 10 year warranty period, so if anything malfunctions with this bag, you can rest assured that you’ll get your money back.

However, there are a few negatives to note. For one, while this is one of the few rolling laptop bags that fit under your seat, the laptop compartment is still rather small. Some people with a 15″ laptop have reported having trouble getting their computers to fit. If you have a Macbook Air or similar smaller laptop or tablet, you will be fine.

A big negative is that this bag won’t necessarily fit on every single airline – one reviewer noted that it didn’t pass Spirit Airlines’ new standards and they were forced to check it for $65 — yeow. It’s also one of the pricier options on this list due to its extra features (4 spinning wheels, USB port) so if you are on a tight budget this may not be your bag.

If you are buying a wheeled underseat bag to avoid baggage fees, be sure to do your research on the specific airline that you are flying and their size limits, as you may not be able to do so with this bag. Unfortunately, airlines are constantly changing their requirements, and each airline’s dimensions are different from the next, so there is no one universal best under seat bag.

Best for: tall travelers, aesthetics-focused travelers, techie travelers, business travelers

Worst for: some budget airlines (Spirit) as it won’t fit their tightened restrictions on under seat bags

Specs:

Dimensions: 9 x 16.5 x 13.5 inches

Weight: 5 pounds

Check out the Samsonite Underseater with USB Port here!

Runner Up: Delsey Luggage Cruise Lite Hardside 2 Wheel Underseater

Delsey Luggage Cruise Lite Hardside 2 Wheel Underseater

If you’re looking for the best under seat carry on luggage with hardside construction, the Delsey Cruise Lite Hardside is perfect. This underseater bag has an extending handle and smooth double-spinner inline wheels, which makes it easy to transport — perfect for traveling through the airport quickly to make your connection without having to carry a heavy bag with you.

This two-wheel rolling underseat carry on bag is specifically designed to fit under an airplane seat on anything from 2 x 2 configuration regional jets to the traditional 3 x 3 jets. It comes in three colors so it has some opportunities for personalization if that kind of thing is important to you!

The great thing about this underseat bag is that despite its small size, it offers some decent organizational features, with the front pocket and the two-side 90-10 construction. The front pocket is designed to fit laptops up to 14 inches in the widest dimension, so it’s well-suited for business travelers as the hard side ensures your important electronics will stay safe during the flight.

Inside, you’ll find a lined interior with tie-down straps that keep your clothes separate from your other odds and ends in your bag, keeping them in place and preventing wrinkling. This is another feature that makes it one of the better underseat bags for business travelers.

Made of 100% polycarbonate, which is impact-resistant and scratch-resistant without adding too much weight, this bag is in it for the long haul (pun definitely intended – I can’t help myself).

A few downsides worth mentioning: it has two wheels, not four, so you will have to drag it behind you rather than having the ability to push it in front of you or to your side, like you would with a four-wheel spinner. However, that’s one of the sacrifices you usually will have to make with even the best under the seat luggage choices – I was only able to find one (the Samsonite) with four wheels.

Another feature this bag is lacking is an organizer insert in the larger component, as all it has are the elastic straps that hold your clothing in place. More pockets would be welcome, or you could supplement it with travel organizers like an electronics organizer or toiletry hanging case.

It also doesn’t have a trolley strap, so that if you were trying to travel with this in additional to another suitcase, you would have to carry both. However, if you are looking for a hardside bag that can work as your only piece of rolling underseat luggage, this is a great option.

Best for: business travelers, weekend trips

Worst for: travelers looking for lots of organization, longer trips

Specs:

Dimensions: 12.2 x 14.8 x 9.2 inches

Weight: 5.25 pounds

Check out the Delsey Luggage Cruise Lite now!

Runner Up: Samsonite Wheeled Underseater Small

Samsonite Wheeled Underseater Small

Made of a combination of polyester and nylon, this Samsonite wheeled underseater bag offers the flexibility of soft-shell luggage with the durability of a hard-side suitcase.

With superior pockets, organizers, and compartments to any other underseater out there, this is clearly the best under seat roller bag option for maximizing space and neatness. The coolest thing about this underseat bag in particular is that one of the zippered compartments can be unsnapped from the rest of the luggage. Then, it can be hung in a closet or on the back of the door, which is pretty freaking awesome news for girly girls like me who travel with a metric #(*ton of toiletries.

Some other positives are that the wheels glide easily and if you have a larger suitcase that you are bringing as well, it fits on top using the trolley sleeve, giving you a free hand. Reviewers have said this bag fits even on budget airlines like Spirit, so it’s wonderful to use as your only bag as well if you are traveling light and want to avoid baggage fees entirely.

For a bag of its size, there is a good amount of interior organization, including WetPak lined pockets for toiletries and mesh pockets for loose items. Still, packing cubes would be ideal for maximizing your packing abilities in the main internal packing compartment. Using packing cubes plus picking lightweight clothing materials means that you can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes as well as travel-sized toiletries and more in this sleek underseat bag!

However, there is no separate laptop compartment, which is a downside for many travelers. For me, I use a simple neoprene laptop sleeve like this one, so it is not a dealbreaker, but others may prefer a separate laptop compartment, especially if they are traveling with a lot of liquid toiletries.

Another downside is that this is probably not the best under seat luggage option for tall people, as the bag is quite small and the handle height doesn’t extend that far. However, it does have handles, which means you can easily lift it up to carry it if you don’t want to lug it behind you.

Also, some people have complained about the fabric fraying, as even the sturdiest nylon can’t compete with polycarbonate that you’ll find in hard-side luggage. It does come with the standard Samsonite 10-year warranty against defects, though, so you can rest easy knowing that your bag will last or be replaced. Additionally, a benefit of the soft-side nylon is that you have a little more flexibility in making it fit in a tight spot versus hard-side luggage. One final con is that it’s also slightly on the heavy side, weighing in at over 6 pounds, mostly due to the organizational features.

Best for: female travelers with lots of toiletries, longer trips, highly organized people

Worst for: business travelers, taller travelers

Specs:

Dimensions: 6.5 x 13 x 13 inches

Weight: 6.25 pounds

Check out the Samsonite Wheeled Underseater now!

Runner Up: Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On with Back-Up Bag

Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On

Another highly organized bag better for longer trips, this bag from Travelon is thoughtfully designed like you’d expect from one of the leaders in the travel accessory industry. While generally Travelon bags have a lot of security features, this one is more stripped-down in order to maximize room in the underseat bag.

The bag has a large main compartment which you can maximize using packing cubes and the elasticized pockets, as well as a front organizer compartment that’s part of the main compartment. There’s also a separate zippered front pocket. The front pockets are well-organized and a great place to put things you need quick access to like plane tickets, identification, chapstick and toiletries, etc. There’s also a handy side pocket for a water bottle, a touch that I always appreciate but is often missing from underseat luggage.

In case you need to pack a little more than expected, there is a large “back-up bag” that takes up very little room but is rather roomy when it needs to be. You can easily strap the back-up bag to the main wheeled mini suitcase to make it easier to travel through the airport with both bags.

There is also a strap on the main mini suitcase, so that you could strap that to a larger, check-in size wheeled suitcase as well, which is really handy if you plan on checking a large bag but just want an underseat bag for the plane.

Note though that on airlines which require you to only have one bag or pay baggage fees, like Spirit, this will likely not work as they would be considered two separate bags.

If you pack smartly with lightweight materials, you could use this as your primary bag for a trip of up to one week, though you’d be more comfortable using it for shorter trips. Packing cubes would definitely come in handy if you are traveling for more than a few days with this bag, enabling you to compress. Hint: get the smaller packing cubes so you can better Tetris-cram them into your luggage.

One great thing about the design is that the sloped top makes the main compartment very accessible when placed under the seat, so you can get out what you need without too much trouble.

However, there is no separate laptop compartment, and the handlebars inside the bag are not padded, meaning that it could potentially scrape against a tablet or laptop if not contained in a protective neoprene sleeve like this one. This is one major con for me that keeps me from being able to name it as the best under seat rolling carry on.

Also, the add-on bag seems like a nice idea, but since the whole point of the underseat bag is to minimize what you pack and avoid baggage fees, it just feels unnecessary. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the quilted look, but others may enjoy it.

Best for: traveling with another large suitcase, highly organized travelers, use with packing cubes

Worst for: business travel

Specs:

Dimensions: 12 x 8.5 x 14 inches

Weight: 5.2 pounds

Check out the Travelon Wheeled Underseat Carry-On now!

Runner Up: 5Cities Carry On Hand Luggage Flight Duffel Bags

5Cities Underseat Duffel

So far, all the bags on this list have been wheeled suitcases, but perhaps you want something a little different, such as a duffel bag that you can carry through the airport. While not the most ergonomic option for long term travel, if you just want a simple bag that was specifically designed to fit personal item restrictions on American budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, this may be a great choice.

The duffel bag has a trolley strap on the back, so that you can conveniently slide it down the handles of your larger suitcase if you are traveling with multiple pieces of luggage. This is a great perk if you have a main carry-on size spinner suitcase and want to also have an underseat bag without needing to use two hands to lug both around.

The bag has a dual zip design and mini padlock so you can lock it together for extra security if needed. You can adjust the strap so that it is either a. shoulder strap like a traditional duffel or you can use the top tug handles, or place it on another piece of luggage so that you don’t have to carry it at all.

It’s very lightweight so if weight is an issue this bag will come to your rescue at only 1 pound. It meets the strictest size requirements so if you are traveling on an underseat luggage only ultra-low cost ticket, this bag should be sufficient, so long as you don’t pack it completely bursting full.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this is the cheapest option!

It has some fun colors and patterns as well if you are looking for a little bit of personality and flash to your luggage and don’t want just another boring old black suitcase.

One big flaw in the bag is that it is not at all organized or protected: it is literally just one big open space, no padding or protection for your belongings. As a result, it’s not a good bag if you are traveling with anything that could be damaged easily, like a laptop or camera.

It’s best for clothes (add packing cubes to make up for the lack of organizational features) if you are really trying to maximize your clothing options. But other than that, it has pretty minimal features, especially when compared to other underseat bags on the list.

Reviewers have had trouble with the straps breaking and zippers coming undone, so the cheapness definitely can work against you. If you are looking for a long-term bag, this isn’t it. However, if you not a frequent traveler and are just looking for a cheap one-time solution to a problem, this should likely be the best underseat carry on bag for you.

Best for: people who want a no-nonsense bag that will meet all airline requirements, ultra budget travelers, minimal use

Worst for: people who need organizational features, people traveling with electronics, frequent travelers

Specs:

Dimensions: 15 x 7.8 x 21 inches

Weight: 1 pound

Check the 5Cities Underseat Duffel now!

Runner Up: Rustic Town Leather Travel Duffel Bag

Rustic Town Underseat Duffel

If the idea of a duffel bag is appealing but you want something better constructed, more beautiful and more durable than the 5Cities duffel above, this may be the best underseat bag for you.

Made of genuine buffalo hide leather, it’s not a cheap option, but that’s because this bag is designed to last through the demands of air travel. The best part of leather is that it takes a beating quite well, getting softer and suppler with each use and gaining a beautiful wear over time, whereas other materials such as nylon end up looking ratty and worn over time.

The leather is handcrafted from buffalo hide by Indian artisans in accordance with Fair Trade practices. Buffalo hide produces a high quality thick leather then gets softer over time yet is much cheaper than other full-grain leather products. The bag also has break-resistant YKK zippers and a thick cloth lining to protect your clothes and valuables.

Whereas most duffel bags lack on the organizational front, this one has packing efficiency at the forefront of thinking, with 2 exterior zipping pockets, 1 interior zipper pocket, 4 card slots, 2 pen loops, and a mobile pocket. There is no dedicated laptop pocket, but it should fit a laptop of up to 15″.

A few negative things to consider: the bag isn’t the most ergonomic, so if you get shoulder pain from having weight distributed unevenly, this is not a good fit for you. If that’s a concern, you will be better off with one of the wheeled underseat bags mentioned above.

It has some organizational features like zippered pockets and card holders, but you would probably want to supplement it with packing cubes or other travel organizers if using this as your main bag over a long period of time.

Finally, many people avoid leather for environmental or ethical purposes. While this bag is made from buffalo hide from animals who are used for food and is therefore made with sustainable and traditional leather-making practices in mind, I understand that many people find leather to be a no-go.

Best for: Aesthetically-minded travelers, frequent travelers, male and female travelers with a timeless sense of style, people who want to support Fair Trade practices

Worst for: Vegans and people who avoid leather, budget travelers, people with back or shoulder issues who need a rolling bag that fits under an airplane seat

Specs:

Dimensions: 20” x 11.5” x 8.25”

Weight: 3 pounds

Check out the Rustic Town Underseat Duffel here!


9 Stylish & Comfortable Women’s Travel Shoes You’ll Love

Before donating and selling basically my entire life to travel the world like the clichéd blogger that I am, I had some 40 or 50-odd pairs of shoes cluttering up my New York City apartment closet.

You could say that I had a bit of a problem.

Since I was a teacher before I was a traveler, I often spent 6+ hours of my day actively on my feet, and so finding shoes that were comfortable yet not dowdy was one of my favorite treasure hunts. I may have had an obsession with shoes, but I was not about to sacrifice comfort for style points.

When I started traveling full-time, I had the problem of condensing my massive shoe collection down to just a few travel-friendly shoes. I’ve gone through a few iterations of my shoes – cycling some out and adding some new ones to my collection. Here are my top favorite women’s travel shoes broken down by category.

Best Women’s Travel Sandals

#1 Pick: Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals

Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals

I was resistant to Birkenstocks for so long. I thought they were a clichéd stereotype, perfect for people who smell like patchouli and make their own granola. Turns out I was dead wrong. Birkenstocks simply makes one of the best women’s travel shoes — and one of the most comfortable walking shoes, period.

I can’t express enough how necessary it is for a women’s travel sandal to have appropriate arch support. I was driving myself miserable with flip flops that looked cute but offered no support. While my shoes didn’t actively hurt my feet the way heels do, after 5 hours of walking around I’d feel like I needed my feet amputated.

My friend suggested I borrow her pair — and I hated them. They felt insanely uncomfortable and I had no idea why people raved about Birkenstocks. Then she explained to me that Birkenstocks come stiff and the heat from your foot ends up “melting” the arch until it perfectly forms to your foot (I’m great at explaining science things, I know – can you believe I was a teacher?). So borrowing hers felt like trash, but if I owned my own, I’d fall in love.

After beating the pavement for 6 hours in a pair of shoddy flip flops in Budapest one summer afternoon, I decided I had had enough — it was time to invest and try out a pair of Birkenstocks. After a day or so of breaking them in, I was in love. And I’ll probably never go back. These shoes are so form-fitting and so comfortable, and they go with literally everything. I wear them with jeans, I wear them with dresses, I wear them with shorts. I have the taupe-brown color and they are just so versatile that I can’t think of a single thing I own that they actually look bad with.

And isn’t that the dream travel shoe?

To recap, here are the top perks of my Birks (sorry, I couldn’t help myself):

  • Form to fit your foot’s arch: Birkenstocks core warms up under the heat of your foot and “melts” to form the exact shape of your foot. Which basically means that you are getting a custom-quality fit for a mass-production price, which is pretty freaking awesome.
  • Insanely versatile and surprisingly stylish: Honestly, my Birks go with just about everything. I wear them with dresses with leggings, dresses without leggings, skirts or shorts, jeans or loose pants. Birks come in lots of fun colors but I prefer something in a neutral shade of brown if it’s your primary travel shoe. However, I do like the black and the silver pairs as well.
  • Hold up well in rain and bad weather: Birkenstocks aren’t technically waterproof but I’ve worn mine through some pretty gross surprising flash floods and they hold up well and don’t get messed up in the water. I bring mine to the beach and rinse them off afterward. I wouldn’t completely submerge them in water or like, walk through a river in them, but every surprise bit of water I’ve thrown at them – which has been a surprisingly high amount – they’ve taken in stride (HA)

Check out my favorite travel sandals, the Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals, on Amazon

Runner Up: Easy Spirit Ramanda Comfort Slingback Sandals

These aren’t the exact Easy Spirits I own because they have been discontinued but they are pretty damn close. The main difference is that the ones I had before had a complete back whereas these have a strap back, but the style is the same and it’s the same brand.

Basically, I like having a pair of shoes that I can dress up, but are still decidedly sandal-y and insanely comfortable. That’s where comfort brands like Teva, Aerosoles, Easy Spirit, Clarks, etc. come in. While 90% of their selection will be too orthopedic and ugly for my tastes, there’s always at least one or two surprisingly cute options that will offer supreme comfort and awesome arch support while also not being aesthetically hideous.

Best Women’s Travel Boots

#1 Pick (Ankle): Dansko Maria Boots

Dansko Maria Boots

I discovered these ankle boots in 2015 and have worn them obsessively for the last three years. They were fantastic when I was teaching and running around on my feet all day. I could literally run in these – which was important in my past life as a special ed teacher who was always corralling hyperactive kids.

I wear these shoes nearly all winter long, alternating them with my other top pick, the Blondo waterproof riding boot below. They’re so comfortable and low-key cute that I actually get a bit excited at the end of summer each year because it means ankle boot season is back.

These shoes have a slight heel (2″) but it’s offset by the 1/2″ inch platform so it’s not really much of an incline. The cushioning in the Danskos is so comfortable however that I never get that feeling like I’m standing on my toes like I do with most heeled ankle boots.

I wear these with black tights or leggings and dresses, black or blue jeans and a sweater, or occasionally on their own with bare legs in the transition between summer and fall for a chunky ankle boot look. They are super versatile and I actually used to own the taupe pair as well but I gave those to a friend when I started traveling full-time.

My top favorite features of these boots:

  • They’re scuff-proof and super easy to clean: Nubuck leather is amazing, ultra-soft and nearly impossible to scuff. They’re treated with a stain resistant material so they hold up well over time. They do occasionally collect dust and particles from all the walking around, but I simply brush it off with a lightly damp paper towel and they are looking good as new.
  • Rubber sole with a wooden look: I wanted a pair of Swedish Hasbeen clogs for years but couldn’t justify the expense – especially since when I tried it on, I found the wooden sole really clunky and unforgiving. The Dansko sole is made of forgiving, cushy rubber but has the look of a wooden sole which I think is super cute.
  • Insanely comfortable: The Maria boots literally have the American Podiatric Seal of Acceptance for being good for foot health. There’s a reason why Dansko clogs are beloved by teachers and nurses everywhere — basically, they’re shoes designed for people who live on their feet. I really liked how these are stylish and polished too, whereas their standard clog design is a little too orthopedic/medical looking for my personal taste.

Check out my favorite travel ankle boots, the Dansko Maria Boots, on Amazon!

Runner Up: Lucky Brand Women’s Basel Ankle Bootie

Lucky Brand Basel Ankle Bootie

While not quite as cushiony and pillow-soft feeling as the Dansko Maria boots, I’m equally obsessed with my Lucky Brand Basel Ankle Booties. These are another pre-travel shoe that I loved enough to bring with me on my first backpacking trip, and I wore them countless times in the 5-odd months I spend traveling through Europe.

They are roomy which is good for me as my feet tend to be wide and I often find the toebox of shoes to feel too tight. If you have super narrow feet these may not be for you. They have a padded insole and a rubber flex sole, two important features that increase the comfort of these shoes while they are still quite cute.

One word of warning, though – these don’t hold up that well in rain unless you waterproof them, so either treat them with a waterproofing spray or only wear them on dry days.

Check out one of my favorite travel shoes, the Lucky Brand Basel Ankle Bootie, here on Amazon!

#1 Pick (Tall): Blondo Vassa Waterproof Riding Boot

Blondo Vassa Waterproof Boot

I don’t think I’ve ever loved any pair of shoes as much as my Blondo boots. I bought these for the first time in 2008, when I was new to New York City and desperately needed a stylish boot that was durable, waterproof, but sleek enough to not make me feel like a total loser in a city with a cruelly high number of models per capita.

I splurged on these Blondo boots in 2008 and it is probably one of my best clothing investments ever. I wore these boots nearly every day in winter for years and years, and despite all the abuse — all the long walks, all the rainy days, all the questionable slush puddles — I have only gotten the boots resoled once and they still are in fantastic condition. We’ve survived 10 years together and I imagine we’ll go another 5 or 10 more, easily.

The quality of the leather means that the boots age fantastically, weathering the leather without making it look scratchy or scuffed the way cheaper imitation leather often does.

These shoes are great for traveling in Europe in winter – I brought mine to the Arctic Circle, no joke, because I wasn’t about to invest in a brand new pair of snow boots for a weeklong trip.

Yes, I even went dog-sledding in them (though you can’t see it well in this picture – this was taken before I was a dedicated Instagrammer).

Their waterproofing is excellent and the soles are really grippy, making them great for walking on slippy surfaces and through snow (to a reasonable degree). The lining is thin which I personally like because I can wear them in fall and spring as well, but in peak winter, I pair them with a pair of warm wool socks otherwise they can let a bit of cold in.

A few of the best perks of these boots:

  • They’re sleek and classic: I hate feeling like a garbage monster when I travel, so having cute black boots that will never go out of style
  • They go with everything: Black leather is a classic combination for a reason. These boots go great with leggings (thin cotton ones in spring, warm fuzzy fleece-lined ones in winter), jeans, or just socks and a dress for lighter spring and fall days.
  • They’re comfortable as hell: Blondo boots have a fancy activated carbon foam insole (yeah, I don’t know what that means either) and a gel pad heel, adding cushioning and comfort so that you really won’t notice that you’ve been walking all day long
  • They withstand basically everything: My boots have seen it all: giant salty, slushy ice puddles every New York winter, bog-shoeing in the Estonian wilderness, dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle. They’ve withstood pretty much everything I’ve thrown at them with almost no maintenance (I did get them re-soled as a preventative measure about 6 years into owning them – for $60, it’ll at least double the life of my favorite shoes, so it’s worth it)

Check out one of my favorite travel boots, the Blondo Vassa Waterproof Boot, on Amazon here!

Best Women’s Hiking Boots for Travel

#1 Pick: Ahnu Women’s Montara Waterproof Boot

Ahnu Montara Waterproof Hiking Boot

I used to hike in sneakers all the time and always had aching ankles and knees at the end of the day. I finally got a pair of hiking boots before my trip to Central America in 2017 and did a ton of research before settling on Ahnus.

I tested them pretty seriously with some volcano hikes in Nicaragua (one of the most annoying terrains to hike because of all the slippery gravel) and mountain hiking in the Balkans and they’ve always stood up well, basically eliminating my ankle pain and taking a lot of strain off my knees in the process.

If you do a lot of hiking, here are some of the perks of having these vs. another pair of shoes.

  • They’re waterproof: I’ve done too many slogs on what I thought would be dry hikes that end up being total mud pits. When your sneakers get wet and muddy, they become well and truly miserable to hike in and it pretty much ruins the rest of the hike for me. If you want to do outdoorsy things on your trip, it’s best to invest in a pair of waterproof boots, trust me.
  • The ankle support is clutch: I never knew that I needed ankle support until I tried it. It truly brings your hikin to the next level and makes you feel like a superhuman. I do a lot of hikes on loose scree and rocks that wobble under your feet – having your ankles be supported is a true gamechanger, trust me. Especially if you are doing volcano hikes like I did – you’ll want a pair of hiking boots, sneakers just won’t do the trick (plus it’s too easy for rocks to get stuck inside your sneakers, which is no fun)
  • Ahnus come in some fun colors: This is silly but I really love my combination of navy blue and magenta details – they make my hiking boots feel less “serious” and more fun and even perhaps a tad bit cute?
  • Ahnus are owned by Teva: Teva is one of the #1 travel shoe companies in the world, so you know they take comfort serious. Ahnu is a Teva brand so the same comfort you can expect in your sandals you can expect from these! They use Vibram soles which are some of the most comfortable in the hiking world (yes, Vibram makes those creepy toe-shoes, but truly, the soles they produce for hiking boots are awesome)

Check out my top pick for travel hiking boots, the Ahnu Montara Waterproof Hiking Boot, here on Amazon

Runner Up: KEEN Women’s Targhee II Hiking Boot

I usually don’t recommend products I haven’t personally tried but as I’ve only had one pair of hiking boots in my life –  I’m going to borrow a recommendation from a friend. I’ve traveled with two friends who swear by Keen for their hiking boots, so I feel comfortable suggesting these as a runner-up with the caveat that I haven’t personally used them!

Best Women’s Travel Sneakers

#1 Pick: Nike Women’s Flex Experience Running Shoe

Nike Flex Experience Sneakers

I love having a pair of black Nikes with me at all times – they’re great for light hikes where I don’t need my proper running boots, but they’re also just great city shoes. On any given day, there’s a 90% chance I’m wearing either my Birkenstocks or my Nikes when I’m traipsing around the city.

They’re so comfortable that I can wear them for hours upon hours while walking around a city and never once think about my feet. And my favorite thing about these sneakers is just how well they go with everything. I have a lot of dresses and skirts in my travel wardrobe and these sneakers actually play surprisingly nicely even with my girlier outfits.

Top perks of these shoes:

  • Super lightweight and easy to pack: These sneakers take up barely any space – they squash up to fit super well in my backpack without ruining their structure
  • Insanely comfortable and go with everything: These shoes can be worn for hours with just about anything – I even pair these with dresses, skirts, etc. because they’re just that versatile and give a nice city/urban vibe to girlier clothing.
  • Hiking-friendly: I summited a 2,600-meter mountain in these so they’re pretty badass. While they don’t have any ankle support, they’re great on your arches and lightweight so they’re actually a pretty good choice for light day hikes if you don’t have room in your bag for a traditional hiking shoe

Check out my favorite travel sneakesr, the Nike Flex Experience Sneakers, here on Amazon!

Runner Up: Red Skechers You-Shine Sneaker

Skechers You-Shine Sneakers

So, funny story with these shoes. Greyhound had lost my luggage with my black Nikes inside it, and I had just come from the Nike store in Vegas where I had bought basically an exact replacement for the above shoes.

I then wandered into a Skechers with my friend Janet, not feeling particularly hopeful – I remember Skechers from my 13-year-old wandering around the mall with a flip phone days. But then I found these adorable red sneakers and pretty much fell in love immediately with how cute they were.

I tried them on and instantly fell in love – it was like I was wearing a sock, not a sneaker. The fabric was super soft and breathable and it hugged my foot in a super comfortable way. The sole is thick and sturdy but super bendy (again, how great at words am I? #crushingit), which makes it actually surprisingly great for hiking – and I should know as I took these shoes on quite a few surprise hikes, as I was road tripping around the Southwest at the time. They even took me up Angel’s Landing, one of the most notorious hikes in the U.S.

Sadly, I have since lost these shoes on a trip around Ireland – RIP – but they performed so well while I had them that I’m quite tempted to replace them. Also, I found that red shoes worked surprisingly well as a ‘neutral’ and I actually didn’t have that much trouble working my red shoes into my outfits, and I really liked the pop of color they gave my travel photos.

So, to recap, here’s why these shoes are the freaking greatest.

  • Colorful yet surprisingly neutral: I had underestimated how well red integrates with most wardrobes. It played nicely with maroon, purple, black, brown, navy – pretty much every color I threw at it.
  • Sock-like comfort: As someone whose favorite feeling at the end of the day is peeling off her shoes and throwing them dramatically across the room, having ultra-comfortable shoes that feel like socks while I’m wearing them was a delight.
  • Surprisingly ready for hikes: I did a handful of hikes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks while wearing these sneakers and they held up to the challenge. While they are not hiking shoes in any way, shape, or form, they did the trick when Greyhound lost my proper hiking shoes and I needed to stock up on the road, and I never had any issues walking in these even on longer hike days.
  • Flexible and sturdy sole: These shoes can bend like crazy which means that they go with your foot,  not against it. It’s pretty great.

Check out my other favorite travel sneakers, the Skechers You-Shine Sneakers, here on Amazon!

Best Personal Item Bag: My Tried & Tested Bag + 5 Runner Ups

I’ve been an avowed carry on traveler for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what I hate more, paying extra for my baggage or the extra steps of checking it in and then waiting what feels like an hour at baggage claim after my flight is over. That said… I’m not exactly the lightest packer. I have too many little items on my packing list that all feel so essential to bring.

The way that I’m able to get around carry-on baggage restrictions is by picking the best possible personal item bag. The trick is to find something that is roomy enough to fit all your in-flight necessities while still being compact enough to fitting under the seat.

The best personal item bag will be suitable for use both on and off the plane – I use mine as my daily travel daypack as well. This means, for me, I look for security features, comfort, and a sleek aesthetic in addition to the practical concerns of size and shape.

In this post, I’ve included my top favorite personal item backpack that I’ve used every day for the last year and a half of travel spanning multiple continents and 30+ countries — plus 5 runner up options in case my top pick doesn’t suit you.

Me and my trusty personal item bag in a Bulgarian junk shop – clearly Instagram gold.

What To Look For When Picking a Personal Item Bag

There are a few considerations you should have when picking the best personal travel bag. Obviously, because many airlines have size restrictions and can sometimes charge large fees for items that need to be checked at the last moment, size is the number one consideration.

But there are other things that should be considered, such as shape/style as well as aesthetics and design. Here, I break down a few of the things you should consider when picking your personal item

Size

Consider what airline you fly the most often and their regulations. You’ll want to ensure your personal item bag is small enough to meet their restrictions. Generally, budget European airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair will have the tightest restrictions. If you fly budget airlines often, you will want to make sure your personal item meets these standards. If you tend to only fly on domestic flights in the U.S. or on larger international airlines, you can opt for a slightly roomier bag.

Here are a few airlines and their size restrictions for personal items, which must fit under the seat in front of them.

  • United:  9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm)
  • American: 8 inches x 14 inches x 18 inches (20 cm x 35 cm x 45 cm )
  • Ryanair: 8 inches x 8 inches x 14 inches (20 cm x 20cm x 35 cm)
  • Norwegian: 10 inches x 8 inches x 13 inches (25 cm x 20 cm x 33  cm)

Shape

Shape is another factor that should not be discounted when picking a personal item for carry on travel. My top tip is that the bag you pick should not be hard-sided, but rather soft-sided and malleable.

This helps in the event that you need to shove it under the seat in front of you and you’re in one of those unfortunate seats that have a strange configuration that takes away from your legroom. So skip the hard-sided mini-suitcase and go for something more like a backpack or duffel bag that can be squished to fit if necessary.

Double-Duty

One more thing to note when picking a personal item bag is that it should be something that is actually useful for carrying around in your day-to-day travels, not just for flying. There is no point bringing both a daypack and a separate personal item bag –  pick something that does both and does it well.

My personal item for the plane also doubles as a daypack for short hikes!

I prefer a personal item backpack as I can use it as my main travel bag when I’m out and about after the flight is over. For this reason, I prefer a bag that has some security features such as lockable zippers and slash-proof material, so that it is effective as both my plane personal item and my travel daypack. If you don’t carry backpacks when you travel, then I would opt for a large carry on purse or something similar.

However, you can also pick an underseat wheeled bag or larger duffel if you are truly packing light and want to only have one bag with you, or if you are flying on a basic economy or low cost fare. I’ve reviewed the best underseat bags here.

Best Personal Item: Backpacks I Love for Travel

My #1 Pick: Pacsafe 17L Anti-Theft Backpack

Check out the Pacsafe 17L Anti-Theft Backpack here!

With dimensions of 15 by 11 by 6 inches, this backpack will do the trick for nearly all airlines. While technically, it exceeds the size limitation of Ryanair and Norwegian Airlines, I’ve taken this personal item backpack on Ryanair, Wizz Air, Norwegian, easyJet, Level, and several other budget airlines without ever having to check it or worry about it not fitting under the seat. It has always slid under the seat easily with no problems as long as I didn’t overstuff it.

This backpack is pretty much the Mary Poppins bag: it looks tiny, but I can fit an incomprehensible amount of stuff in it. At any given time when I am flying, this backpack usually contains my 13″ Macbook Air laptop, chargers, my Mavic drone, my camera and all its lenses, my carry-on toiletries, and a few other odds and ends that I ended up needing at the last minute. I’ve also used it as my only bag when traveling to London and Berlin for one week of conferences, where it fit my laptop, camera, mini toiletries, and 6 days of clothes for conferences.

But the most important thing: it’s actually a nice backpack that you don’t mind being seen with. For some reason, Amazon bills it as a “men’s backpack” but I actually think it looks quite trendy and feminine. I actually use this as my everyday bag for bringing my laptop to coffee shops and walking around a city with all my photo gear or on short day hikes.

How much do I love this backpack? Well, I’ve owned it for nearly two years and have taken it to over 30 countries with barely more than a scratch to the bag — despite generally being a careless, terrible excuse for an adult. Any bag that can last even a year with me is something special.

My personal item bag doubles as my everyday bag and I bring it everywhere — even the coffee shop I’m writing this article from.

Even better, the bag has several security features that are awesome without looking like an actual security bag. The zippers lock together, and then you can loop the locked zippers through the clasp on the front of the bag for double security. It was hard for me to figure out how to open the clasp when I first got the bag — so imagine if a thief was trying! There is no way a thief could break into the main compartment of the bag without you noticing (the outer pocket even has a loop that the zipper can go through that makes it difficult to open, too).

Check out more features of my favorite personal item backpack here!

The bag also has nice water-resistant material. While you certainly can’t submerge it under water, I have gotten caught in the rain in it several times and my stuff inside, including my laptop, haven’t gotten wet. I still recommend taking precautions if you carry electronics in it, but I’ve never gotten the insides soaked when I’ve been walking in the rain.

I do recommend bringing an additional laptop sleeve for your laptop as there isn’t a lot of padding in the backpack itself.  I have never come close to breaking my laptop using this bag but I have had some close calls where my backpack has fallen and given me a bit of a scare. A simple laptop sleeve like this one will give you some peace of mind.

I’ve owned this bag for nearly 2 years and have put it through nearly daily abuse and have had no problems – not even a single stitch unraveling – so I can definitely vouch for the quality of the bag.

Runner Up: Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 Anti-Theft 15L Backpack

Check out the 15L Metrosafe LS350 here!

No, this post isn’t sponsored by Pacsafe, I just have been a paying customer of theirs for over two years and really love their products! I have never used this backpack, but if I wanted a slightly cheaper backpack that still fit nearly as much, I’d pick their 15L Metrosafe LS350. With dimensions of 5 x 11.6 x 16.5 inches, it will fit most airlines’ size rules (technically it is over Ryanair’s limits but I have brought the similarly sized 17L Pacsafe without issue on budget airlines several times).

This bag has a more standard backpack construction with a more unisex/masculine look, so if the other Pacsafe was too “girly” or trendy this may be a better fit aesthetically. It still shares a lot of the same perks, such as slash-proof straps and construction, lockable zippers, RFID blockers, etc.

With all the security features, it still manages to look like a normal backpack so it doesn’t arouse suspicion or make it look like you’re carrying a lot of expensive gear the way certain branded camera bags look.

Runner Up: Hynes Eagle Lightweight 18L Travel Bag

Check out the Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack here!

This personal item backpack is super cute and comes in a fun variety of colors, plus it’s one of the cheaper options on this page. However, it is cheaper because it is lacking some of the security features of the other bags, so you are offsetting a bit of security for the lowered price.

Personally, I use my personal item as my main travel bag when I am going around big cities that have issues with pickpocketing like London, Lisbon, and Rome – so I enjoy having the security features of Pacsafe or other anti-theft travel brands like Travelon. This bag doesn’t have lockable zippers or anti-slash construction so it’s a no for me, but other people not require those features.

But if you just plan to use this bag for the flight, it’s a great option as it’s inexpensive and fits a lot of stuff. However, it doesn’t have a laptop compartment, so bring your own laptop sleeve if needed. There is only one internal pocket for things like keys and your phone, but other than that there is minimal interior organization — which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you prefer your bag to be. Check out more details and specs on the backpack here.

Overall, it’s a good option for aesthetics-conscious people who prefer a budget-friendly bag with minimal security or organizational features.

Best Personal Item: Purses I Love for Travel

#1 Pick for Purses: Pacsafe Slingsafe LX250 or LX200 City Tote

Check out the Pacsafe LX250 City Tote here!

Another Pacsafe, this time in purse edition! While I don’t have this tote personally, I can vouch for the quality of Pacsafe products as a paying customer who has used them for years. I have a Pacsafe backpack RFID-blocking wallet and slash-proof camera strap and all have served me well and held up to the abuse I put them through.

I much prefer to carry backpacks to purses due to the fact that I have crappy shoulders and prefer the weight to be distributed evenly, but if you prefer to carry a purse when you travel then I highly recommend the Pacsafe LX250. At 12 inches x 16 inches x 4 inches, this bag has a capacity of 18L and generally fits all but the most stringent airline restrictions.

If space is a concern and you want 100% peace of mind when flying ultra-low cost carriers like Ryanair, you will be better off with the smaller 14L Pacsafe LX200 which fits basically every airline with dimensions of 13 inches by 11 inches by 4 inches.

While Pacsafe products are generally a little pricey due to their quality construction and security features, this is one of the cheaper Pacsafe options as it’s made of canvas rather than their typical nylon-like water-resistent material. Both totes have the standard Pacsafe security features of RFID blockers, mesh slashguard construction, security buckles, and lockable zippers.

Runner Up: Bluboon Canvas Weekender Bag

Check out the Bluboon Weekender Bag here!

If you want a personal item bag that you can be sure will pass even the most eagle-eyed of budget airlines, opt for this Bluboon Canvas Weekender bag. At only 10 inches by 8 inches by 3 inches, this fits even Ryan Air and Norwegian’s stricter limits so long as you don’t completely overstuff it.

It has handles as well as a shoulder strap so you can carry it in different ways depending on the situation and what is most comfortable for you. I personally like to use a longer strap when in the airport but would prefer to carry it like a regular purse outside the airport; having flexibility of options is great in this instance. Another perk is that it has internal and external pockets so you can organize it to your liking; however, there is no laptop sleeve (but most weekender bags tend not to have this feature, anyway). It also has a trolley sleeve so that you can place it on your rolling suitcase flight-attendant style.

However, keep in mind that it is a budget bag. While it generally has quite positive reviews, a few people have complained that the zippers and fabric don’t hold up over time, so be prepared to replace it eventually.

Runner Up: Lily & Drew Carry On Weekender Travel Bag

Check out the Lily & Drew Weekender Bag here!

For a sleek but versatile travel bag, this Lily & Drew weekender is a solid pick. This personal item purse is also convertible into a shoulder bag, which is nice because you can toggle between the two configurations depending on what is more comfortable and convenient for the situation.  The bag also has a trolley sleeve so that if you are traveling as well with a rolling suitcase (either carry-on or to check) you can place it on the suitcase so that you can roll rather than carry it – the trick that many flight attendants use!

It is 18″ wide by 14″ tall by 8″ deep (20 cm x 35 cm x 45 cm) so it is the perfect size personal item purse for domestic U.S. carriers like American and Spirit; it is a little too large for United’s specifications, but I’ve often found that as long as I don’t over-stuff my personal item I can usually squeeze it under the seat anyway. However, it would be a little too big for European low-cost carriers so if you plan to do a lot of Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air etc. flights with this bag, it is a bit of a risk in terms of fit.

While it doesn’t have all the security features of my favorite travel backpack or purse, it does have a laptop sleeve, water-resistant canvas-esque material, several internal and external pockets. If you prefer to carry a big purse when you travel, this could be an option, but one thing that subtracts from its usefulness to me is that the bag itself weighs 3 pounds so I wouldn’t want to carry it around the city I was visiting – it’s more of a ‘flying only’ bag. If that works for you it could be a good option but I prefer my bags to do double duty.

5 Best Travel Coffee Makers, Compared by a Former Barista

If you’re a coffee fanatic like I am, it’s probably important to you that you’re never far away from a good cup of coffee while you’re traveling.

There are some places around the world with fantastic coffee: I’ve been especially impressed with the coffee in Australia and Scandinavia. However, it’s also true that certain countries consider hot water and instant Nescafé to be an appropriate replacement for your morning cup of joe — I’m looking at you, Mexico.

As a former barista, I’m pretty particular about my coffee, and that’s no different when I’m traveling. Sometimes, I don’t bring a travel coffee maker with me and instead, I just enjoy the local brews, especially when I’m traveling to places with great, affordable coffee cultures like in the Balkans. But if I know I’m traveling somewhere pricy, like Sweden or Western Europe, I usually turn to my trusty Aeropress, which is far and away the best travel coffee maker in my book.

I’ve also reviewed a few other portable coffee making devices as I know we all have different ways we like our coffees (I, for one, can’t stand Turkish style coffee, and I’m not a huge fan of the French press) that would work well for digital nomads, frequent travelers, or anyone else in need of a portable coffee maker.

Drink up!

If you’re the kind of person whose morning just isn’t right without a perfect cup of coffee (same), a portable coffee maker will improve your travels tenfold. I’m just a bit obsessed with coffee, so I’ve compiled this comparative review of all the best travel coffee makers on the market. I’ve focused on affordable options (nothing is over $50 and most are under $30). All my picks are also entirely sustainable and don’t produce plastic waste (I’m looking at you, K-cups!). Be assured that you won’t break the bank or the planet with these options.

What to Look for in a Travel Coffee Maker

Sure, the world’s best coffee will come from a 200 pound La Marzocco, but that’s not the kind of coffee maker you’re going to bring with you when you travel. You want a blend of convenience, durability, portability, and quality — otherwise, your travel coffee maker will be more of a burden than a treat.

Durability

This should be obvious, but it’s best to avoid breakable materials when it comes to picking a travel coffee maker. This means that metal and plastic options are generally a better bet. Avoid glass by all means – this is not the time for a Chemex or a fancy glass French press. If you don’t want to use plastic, ceramic is better than glass but is still quite breakable so you’ll have to wrap up your travel coffee maker in a scarf or sweater during transit.

Portability

Obviously, this is one of the most important factors when it comes to picking a coffee maker for travel. Ideally, you are looking for a small coffee maker no bigger than a bottle of water or coffee mug. It should also be lightweight and hopefully not have that many separate parts – if one gets lost during travel, you probably won’t be able to replace it and may just end up throwing out the whole thing.

Quality of Coffee

Of course, what’s it worth bringing around a coffee maker if it makes crappy coffee? Whether you prefer espresso or filtered coffee, you want the best possible brew if you’re going through all the trouble of purchasing and bringing along a portable coffee maker. The best choice will be a blend of all three factors.

Tips for Picking a Travel Coffee Maker

Set realistic expectations

Some types of coffee are easier to replicate when traveling than others. For example, it’s not so hard to make a simple cup of filtered coffee on the go. However, if you’re the kind of person who needs a perfectly foamy cappuccino, you’re not going to be able to achieve that in a hotel room — you’re better off just buying coffee on the road if that’s the case. Take it from a former barista – milk frothers don’t even come close to what a proper steam wand can do, so don’t even try.

Learn how to use it before you travel

Most of these are pretty simple to use (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen them) but still, give them a test spin before you take it out traveling with you. Trust me, the last thing you want to do when you’re jet-lagged and desperate for a cup of coffee is to be crying as you try to figure out how to work an Aeropress. It took me a few times using my Aeropress to get comfortable with pulling a good shot from it. Other devices are a little simpler but still, it’s always best to learn first and perfect on the road.

Bring beans from home (unless you’re going to a great coffee destination!)

No point in working hard to make a good cup of coffee if the beans you’re starting with are crummy. I personally bring some of my favorite beans with me, pre-ground because I don’t want to waste space on a grinder in addition to my travel coffee maker (true coffee enthusiasts here will thumb their noses at me for this). Though you definitely could pack your own coffee grinder if you are a coffee purist! The exception to this would be unless you are going somewhere where you know you can get excellent fresh coffee beans, like Nicaragua, Indonesia, Colombia, etc.

My Top 5 Travel Coffee Maker Picks

Aeropress Coffee Maker- My #1 Overall Pick

The Aeropress is just short of magic. Honest to goodness, I used one as my primary coffee maker for 2 years while living in a small NYC apartment where counter space was at a premium. It makes delicious coffee and espresso and takes up virtually no room. Once you learn how to use it, it’s quite simple and is more than worth the slight extra bit of effort as compared to a French press.

When I travel with the Aeropress, I don’t bring all the parts pictured – just the Aeropress chamber itself and some filters. I find that all the other parts aren’t really necessary if you have a spoon and a kettle (electric or stovetop both work great).

Dimensions:
– 4.8 by 4.5 by 11.8 inches
– 6.4 ounces

Pros:
– Makes the best tasting coffee and espresso
– Affordable, especially given the quality of espresso made
– Incredibly easy to use – watch one quick video to get the hang of it
– Cleans up very easily. Just pop the compressed coffee disk straight in the garbage and rinse out the Aeropress
– Can make anywhere up to an espresso shot to a full pot of coffee
– Can be used back to back with no waiting time

Cons:
– The filters are impossible to restock on the road, so make sure you have enough or buy a metal reuseable filter. Also, if you’re really into the crema on top of an espresso, it’s worth investing in this, as the paper filter will just absorb the oils that make up the crema.
– It’s easy, but it’s still not the easiest option


Bialetti Moka Express

This was my default coffee setup before I replaced it with the Aeropress. In my opinion, the Aeropress is way better, but whenever I stay somewhere with a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker, I’m happy to use it.

It’s easy to use, makes great quality espresso (unless you really need a crema – in which case I recommend getting the Aeropress + mesh filter combo), and can be made directly on the stovetop so there’s no need to boil water.

Dimensions:
– 4.3 by 3.7 by 5.8 inches
– 1.1 pounds

Pros:
– Super simple to use and clean up
– Makes delicious espresso
– No extra pieces to lose

Cons:
– Needs stovetop or direct heat – can’t use with an electric kettle
– Need to watch it carefully or espresso can burn. Be especially careful not to let all the water overboil or the pot can overheat!
– Makes a limited amount of espresso and you need to let it cool down between uses
– It’s a bit heavier than other options


Espro Travel Coffee Press

This wouldn’t be my first pick, but for some people it will be perfect. If you’re the kind of person who needs coffee in the morning but then wants to immediately get going – this is exactly what you need. (Those who prefer a more leisurely morning coffee will be better suited with one of the above or below options).

This basically combines a French press and a stainless steel portable coffee mug in one go. But its strength is also its downfall – this means that if you don’t drink it quickly, the coffee grounds sitting in the French press will cause your coffee to get over-extracted and bitter. I’m not a huge fan of French press coffee for this reason, but if drinking coffee quickly is not a problem, this may be right for you.

Dimensions:
– 2.8 by 2.8 by 8.1 inches
– 7.2 ounces

Pros:
– Coffee mug and maker all in one
– Insulated so that coffee will stay hot longer
– Better mesh than most French presses to reduce grit
– Doesn’t require a stove, just hot water
– Easy to clean

Cons:
– Can only make one cup at a time
– If you take too long to drink your coffee, it will get bitter


OXO Travel French Press

If you love French press-style coffee, you’re in luck as this is one of the easiest types of coffee to brew on the road. The main thing is finding a French press that is unbreakable and produces enough coffee for your needs while taking up as little room as possible.

This travel coffee machine is perfect for two people traveling together, although it also works for one if you’re a huge coffee lover like me.

Dimensions:
– 7 by 7 by 9 inches
– 1.2 pounds

Pros:
– Shatterproof construction
– Makes coffee for at least two at a time
– Easy to clean
– Doesn’t require a stove, just hot water

Cons:
– Bigger and heavier than other options
– Handle is not so ergonomic for packing


Silicone Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Maker

If you’re a super light packer, I can’t really think of a better option than this. Collapsible so that you can pack it even in the smallest of bags, this little guy can still churn out a reliable cup of coffee. They even come with a carabiner so you can clip it onto the outside of your pack – making it a great camping coffee maker.

Keep in mind that with any pour over coffee maker you’ll also need to bring some paper filters (#2 only). They won’t take up much space but it is one extra thing to keep track of.

Dimensions:
– 4 by 0.5 by 4 inches
– 4 ounces

Pros:
– Easily the smallest and lightest option
– Most affordable option
– Produces a quality cup of pourover coffee

Cons:
– Not the prettiest or most high tech option
– Can only make one cup at a time
– Must bring paper filters (#2) with you also – these are not the easiest kind of filter to find when you travel

I hope this guide has been helpful to you when it comes to prepping your coffee on the go! If you have any favorite travel coffee makers you’ve tested, feel free to share them with me below.

27 Actually Useful Travel Gifts for Female Travelers (& Everyone, Really)

For someone who loves making lists far in advance of when it’s appropriate to, it’s kind of weird that I haven’t already made a mega-post of travel gift ideas yet.

That’s probably because I’m a bit of a self-admitted Grinch. The stress of Christmas gets me every year – I hate the obligation of buying presents and often wait until noon on the 24th to run out to the department stores, grab a few scarves, and call it a day.

But you’re probably a better person than I am, and maybe you’ve decided that you’re looking for some unique yet useful travel gifts that your intrepid traveling friend, daughter, or sister could use. So, without more of my needless rambling, here are my top ideas for gifts for female travelers that they’ll actually use (written by a former carry-on only traveler – so I know how much usefulness and portability matters).

NOTE: This list was created by a female traveler with women & femme travelers in mind — but I’m sure men and nonbinary people will enjoy the majority of items on this list as well!

Useful Travel Gifts & Stocking Stuffers (Budget)

Lush Seanik shampoo

I’m a huge fan of LUSH solid shampoo and have tried a few different ones (Seanik wins out, though). I have fine hair that easily gets greasy: LUSH shampoos are not only great for travel, they’re just great period — I’d use them even if I wasn’t traveling all the time.

Plus, they’re packaging-free, and any reduction in plastic is a great thing in my book. Don’t forget to grab a reusable metal tin!

Note: I have to mention that if you buy this in-store at your nearest LUSH it’s almost half the price – this Amazon link is for convenience.


 

Tiger Balm

Tiger balm is basically the traveler’s cure-all.

Whether it’s sore muscles from lugging around a backpack, mosquito bites from leaving the windows open on a muggy night without AC, a persistent cold, or a wicked headache from last night’s ill-advised drinks, tiger balm will always help out with aches and pains.


 

Contoured sleep mask

Guys. This sleep mask is seriously a game-changer. I’m actually on my third one because I keep leaving them behind but can’t imagine living without one anymore.

It’s contoured, meaning that the sleep mask doesn’t press down on your eyes while still shutting out all the light. It’s perfect for anyone who has trouble sleeping or is light sensitive. A good night’s sleep is one of the most useful travel gifts you can give!


 

Cute laundry bag

Let’s talk realness: having a place to store your dirty laundry while you’re on the road, while not exactly sexy, is super important.

You don’t want your loved one to resort to doing the sniff test on everything, right? Uh, not that I ever do that. A cute laundry bag keeps dirty clothes separate and will be used basically every day on the road, which is what you’re aiming for when you’re picking out a practical travel gift!


 

Rollable down jacket

An ultra-light down jacket is one of my top picks – I had one from Uniqlo that lasted me several years and I recommend that one as well (but it’s a bit steep at $70).

This one

is a bit cheaper but still super useful.


 

Travel pillow

Adorable? Yes. Ridiculous? Maybe. Useful? Undoubtedly.

While I’m a fan of just your average U-shaped travel pillow that you’d find overpriced at any airport store, it doesn’t exactly make the most thoughtful travel gift. This adorable travel pillow, though, actually converts from a stuffed animal to a neck pillow! It’s unique while still being a useful travel present.


 

Universal travel adapter

This is a great gift to give a first-time international traveler or even a frequent traveler. After all, we’ve all lost an adapter from time to time — it never hurts to have a spare, especially when they’re compact like this one.

This adapter will cover virtually every country. I especially love having multiple USBs so I can charge 3 devices simultaneously (#bloggerproblems).


Power bank

I need three things from my power bank — lightweight, more than one USB port, and can hold several charges in a row because I’m horrible at remembering to charge my power bank.

The Anker does all that and at under $25 to boot.


Travel Between the Lines

Note: my friends Katie and Geoff over at Wandertooth created this, so I may be a bit biased!

If your traveling friend or relative is into adult coloring books, I can’t think of a better gift than this coloring book. Each page was hand-drawn from a photo they took along their travels, so this makes a great and unique present.


LensPen

If your friend has a DSLR, mirrorless, or any kind of nice travel camera — you’ll want to grab them this cheap and super useful gift. Even if they already have one, it’s useful to have a spare so you can keep one in every bag.

I’ve seen firsthand how smudges and bits of dust can ruin otherwise beautiful travel photos and videos. A LensPen is a great way to keep that from happening.


Useful Travel Gifts (Mid-Range)

Filter water bottle

Thinking of what to get an eco-conscious traveler or someone’s who traveling a bit off the beaten path?

There are now reusable filtered water bottles which get rid of nasties (bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals) in tap or standing water. This lets you drink the water in places like Mexico, Thailand, etc. where you normally have to rely on bottled water. Multiple clinical trials guarantee this gets rid of over 99.99% of parasites and bacteria. It can be used 1,000 times before the filter needs to be replaced and can save a fortune on bottled water.


 

JOBY Tripod

This is the perfect gift for a solo traveler or really any traveler who’s getting serious about their photography. Good for “selfies” or long-exposure photography.

This tripod is great because it’s extremely small and easy to fit in most bags while still being versatile enough to help you get the shots you need. It’s rugged and great for taking photos on unsteady terrains (traditional tripods need flat ground), and you can set the JOBY to grip trees, railings, etc. if you want a different perspective.


 

Packing cubes

If you’re looking for a good gift for a light or first-time traveler, one of the best gifts you can give is the gift of organization. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your clothes be a jumbled mess when you’re trying to pack or get dressed quickly.

Packing cubes

keep everything sleek and organized and save a ton of space, plus they come in all sorts of different colors for personalization. Here’s a guide to some of the best packing cubes.


 

External hard drive

An external hard drive is essential for travelers, especially those who like to take lots of photos. But it’s not exactly the most thoughtful or sexy of gifts.

What I’d recommend is buying an external hard drive, then finding a few movies, albums, e-books, photos, etc. to stick on it so that there’s a sweet little surprise when they open it. Both thoughtful and super useful!


Aeropress coffee maker

For the discerning coffee snob and travel fiend in your life, there’s probably no better gift than the Aeropress.

This isn’t just a “travel coffee maker” – the Aeropress was my primary coffee maker when I lived in my tiny NYC apartment, because the quality of the coffee it makes is first-rate. It’s also super compact and easy to travel with, and I’ve brought it with me on many a trip.

Not quite the right gift? Check out these other gifts for coffee lovers.


Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura

is one of my favorite resources for looking up quirky, little-known gems even in the most well-traveled places.

While I usually surf online, there’s no denying that if I had a long-term home this would be one of my favorite coffee table books for browsing for new and undiscovered places.


Scratch-off map

For the country counter in your life who loves to document and track their travels, a scratch-off map is the perfect travel gift for them to decorate their home with.


Infinity scarf with hidden pocket

Goodbye, ugly money belts that should have never been a thing.

This cute infinity scarf – created by a travel blogger, so you know its useful – will hold things like your keys, money, ID, and a few essentials near and dear to you where it’s almost impossible to lose. Great if you’re worried about pickpockets or theft, or if you just don’t want to carry a purse.


Diva Cup

Okay, this present might be a bit personal for some, so it depends on the closeness of your relationship.

However, my little sister got me a Diva Cup for Christmas two years back and I’ve never looked back since. The Diva Cup is AMAZING for travelers (and pretty much everyone, in my opinion). It severely cuts back on waste, saves you money, and can come in handy when you’re trying to find tampons in places where they are hard to find, like Southeast Asia.


Theftproof but stylish backpack

While a small backpack is one of the most convenient ways to carry around your daily essentials while you travel, the fact that you can’t keep your eye directly on it means that you are at an increased risk of theft.

After nearly getting pickpocketed (pick-backpacked?) in Hanoi — luckily my savvy friend noticed what the man was doing and slapped his hand away — I swore to not wear a daypack unless it had some theftproof features, like locking zippers. Mine is from Pacsafe but it’s out of stock. This backpack from Travelon has RFID blockers, locking zippers, and slash-resistant materials.


Useful Travel Gifts (Splurge)

Tinggly Gift Experiences

One of the best gifts you can give a picky travel-lover is the opportunity to treat themselves to any one of a variety of adventures on their next journey! From tasty food tours to cave kayaking, there’s a Tinggly gift experience for every type of traveler.

Their Superwoman package lets your favorite female traveler pick from one of 560+ experiences in over a hundred countries — and you don’t have to worry about it expiring, because your gift recipient has five whole years to redeem their experience. Check out experiences & buy your gift box here!


Kindle Paperwhite

If you know someone who’s a huge reader, but hasn’t invested in a Kindle yet — this is a super useful travel gift.

I used to think that I’d never want an e-reader, that I loved books too much to help contribute to the death of print culture. Then I backpacked around Europe for 5 months and changed my mind entirely. No matter how much you like physical books, it can be hard to find a good variety of English-language options in other countries (plus, books are heavy). Load up the Kindle with one or two favorite travel-related (or not related) reads, or perhaps a PDF of a Lonely Planet to whereever they’re going on their next trip, to make the gift a little more personal.


Instax mini

The Polaroid for the Instagram generation.

Perfect for travelers who love candids and in-the-moment snaps, the Instax mini is a portable and affordable addition to their travel gear.


Noise-cancelling headphones

If the thought of shelling out for a pair of Bose headphones makes you want to weep, these headphones are a great alternative.

They nearly saved my life on the bus ride from hell — the noise-cancelling factor is quite good, and they’re way more comfortable than your standard in-ear buds.


Ultra-light yoga mat

If you know a yoga-lover who’s also a frequent traveler, a portable yoga mat is a great idea. This one literally folds up to the size of a newspaper!

Of course, the YOGO mat won’t replace a perfectly squishy roll out mat, but it’s great for yoga on the go. I’ve used it personally and the mat is “sticky” like you want it to be, and is a big improvement over doing yoga without a mat – though it doesn’t provide the most cushioning.


Useful Travel Gifts (The Big Bucks)

DJI Spark

I personally bought the DJI Spark and it’s a fantastic starter drone.

The Mavic is wayyy more powerful and to be honest, I’ll likely upgrade in the future. But if you’re looking for a powerful yet compact and affordable drone, nothing can beat the DJI Spark at this price point, or for a bit more, the Fly More combomore than doubles the range of the Spark.


Sony A6000

Easily one of the most powerful cameras in this price range, the Sony A6000 is the only camera I personally use (though I’ve upgraded from the kit lens).

It takes super detail-rich photos and performs great in low light. It has all the power of a DSLR camera in a camera that weighs less than a pound. Plus, you can upgrade it as you go with different lenses, meaning it’s the kind of camera that can grow with you for years. I personally don’t like fixed-lens cameras — their usefulness is limited and I got rid of my Fujifilm X20 after less than a year.


DJI Osmo Mobile

Great for the video lovers in your life, the DJI Osmo Mobile is one of my favorite pieces of equipment.

It elevates standard iPhone footage to a professional quality — I’ve made some fantastic travel videos using just an iPhone and the Osmo.

Note: This post contains sponsored content from Tinggly, who reached out to me about their Tinggly gift experiences. I genuinely think it is an awesome gift for female travelers, which is why I included it, but I’m disclosing this for transparency.