I’m fortunate enough that I get to travel a ton for my job. And, I’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of a sturdy, easy-to-carry, trip appropriate travel bag. Sometimes that means packing a rolling suitcase, and sometimes it means relying on a backpack. There are many different types of travel bags and the best one you choose depends on your trip.
Here’s why: If you’re traveling to NYC, you’ll quickly discover there’s nothing worse than lugging a 50-pound suitcase up and down subway steps, only to realize you’re on the wrong side of the tracks and have to do it all over again. How are you supposed to take hot pics of yourself in front of an old church looking like you just fell into a swamp?
Below, I’ll share with you the 14 different types of luggage you could bring with you so you can pick the best travel companion for your journey. We’ll never let you be that girl lugging a travel trunk up that charming hostel with a six-story walkup again.
Types of Travel Bags
- Travel pack (Backpack)
- Wheeled Backpack
- Travel Totes
- Duffel Bags / Weekender
- Rolling Duffel Bags
- Rolling Luggage
- Hardside Luggage with Spinner Wheels
- Messenger Bag
- Laptop Bag
- Dopp Kitt
- Garment Bag
- Fanny Pack
- Vintage Suitcase
- Travel Trunk
1. Travel Pack / Backpack
Think of a travel pack like your school backpack… if your school was in the Himalayas and you had to hike ten miles then catch two planes to make first period.
Pros: They’re durable, easy to carry, and fit in the overhead compartment so you don’t have to worry about checking a bag.
Cons: When full, a backpack can be tough on your shoulders, so make sure you find one with padded shoulder straps. It can also be harder to find items in a backpack, which is why I prefer built-in organized backpacks like this one from Tortuga. It’ll help prevent you from pulling out your dirty underwear in the middle of the airport to find your flip flops.
Best for: Backpacking, camping, road trips, and places without roads.
2. Wheeled Backpack
If you’re like me, backpacks make you feel like a sad turtle.
Pros: A wheeled backpack, on the other hand, gives you the compact ease of a traditional backpack but you get the option to roll it around like a suitcase. (You can also throw a rolling backpack on your back if you’re on a dirt road or roaming around the forest like some kind of wanderlust meerkat).
Cons: Rolling backpacks are not as flexible as a traditional backpack. It can feel uncomfortable if you’re lugging it up a cliff or mountain.
Best for: A trip where you’ll be mostly in the city but you might spend a few days in the country discovering yourself.
3. Travel Tote
A travel tote is the perfect carryall for your essentials. It’s like a sexy shopping bag you can customize for your daily needs.
Pros: They’re oversized enough to take all your necessities (wallet, change of clothes, sunscreen, snacks, snacks, snacks), but small enough that you’re not rolling up to your out-of-town work meeting holding a small horse.
Cons: Most totes lack internal organization, so you might be doing a lot of digging for treasure. Ooh look, a mint!t
Best for: Short trips, the gym, a day trip, or even a weekend trip if you’re a light packer.
4. Duffel Bag / Weekender
Duffel bags are typically made of leather or canvas, and are large, cylinder shaped bags with zip closures and carrying straps. — They’re sometimes called Weekender bags when they’re on the smaller side because they’re essentially a stylish gym bag you can use for your weekend getaway.
Pros: As a carry-on, duffel bags are a lot more convenient than lugging around a clunky suitcase (especially if you’re going to be walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestone).
Cons: Many don’t lock, which can be a downside if you’re going to be staying in public places like a hostel. They can easily become disorganized, and they’re also a bit difficult to carry for long distances.
Best for: A weekend trip, day trip, short trip, or a type of trip rolling luggage would be a pain to use. They’re also spacious and open if you have oddly shaped belongings to transport, like shoes, sports equipment, or a dead body.
5. Rolling Duffel Bags
Rolling duffel bags are great for people who like the sizing and spaciousness of a duffel, but hate carrying bags by hand and want the convenience of wheeled luggage. Plus, they look way more stylish than a traditional duffel, and being pretty is all that matters.
Pros: Rolling duffel bags are more spacious than duffel bags and you can roll them all over town. Particularly so if “town” is really an airport.
Cons: They’re more expensive than traditional duffels, and can be annoying to transport up and down stairs.
Best for: People who hate carrying things! Or if you have tense shoulders, a bad back, or strained anything.
6. Rolling Luggage
These wheeled travel bags are the most traditional form of luggage. Most rolling luggage has two fixed wheels and is pulled by a telescoping top handle that’s guaranteed to work at all times except when you want it to.
Cons: Pulling a bag behind you can put pressure on your joints and wrists, and be pretty uncomfortable if you’ve got to haul it a long distance.
Best for: Rugged trips and different types of terrain. Because the wheels are fixed, it’s probably not going to get caught on rocks or cracks. You can practically pull a roller bag over anything.
7. Hardside Bags with Spinner Wheels
Hardside bags have a hard shell made from polycarbonate and four spinner wheels. They’re known for being more rigid, durable, and weather-resistant than almost any other type of bag.
Pros: The spinner wheels are great for easy transport that’s softer on your joints and muscles, and usually feel way lighter than pulling soft luggage. No, that’s not a euphemism.
Cons: Hardside bags aren’t as flexible as soft luggage, and some people don’t like that you have to pack the two halves individually. They also don’t stack easily or squish into small spaces.
Best for: Staying organized, protecting sensitive and fragile items, and rainy and snowy weather!
8. Messenger Bag
Messenger bags (also called courier bags) are satchels with a cross body strap meant to carry work or school-related items, though many people wear them as a fashion purse. It’s a look that says, “yeah, I read.”
Pros: Messenger bags are great for easily accessing your items since they lay across your lower back or side, and are usually secured with a buckle, clasp, or zipper.
Cons: They don’t distribute weight across your body as well as traditional backpacks, which can be tiresome if you’re shlepping a bunch of textbooks.
Best for: People who bike or want a less pretentious briefcase. They’re also great if you work on the Pony Express and like to drink out of old glass milk bottles.
9. Laptop Bags
Laptop bags are bags to keep your laptop, iPads, and other electronic devices safe and scratch-free. You can sometimes use a messenger bag for the same purpose. But, designated laptop bags usually include a zippered inner compartment for your laptop and additional interior compartments for your phone or computer accessories.
Pros: Laptop bags make it easy to carry all your necessities and your laptop to the coffeeshop so you can get away from your roommates and get some work done.
Cons: It’s another thing to carry if you’re also traveling with a suitcase. If you need a travel bag with a protective laptop sleeve, I like the Away Bigger Carry-On with Pocket.
Best for: Work trips or taking your computer around town.
10. Dopp Kit
A Dopp kit is a portable case for your toiletry items. It’s usually a soft pouch with an open compartment, though it can include internal compartments for things like your toothbrush, soap, mini shampoo, or whatever else you need so you don’t smell like a bridge troll.
Pros: It looks a lot slicker than that quart-sized plastic bag you’ve been using.
Cons: Sometimes things can leak or spill everywhere. (We’re looking at you, glitter eyeshadow.) Make sure you choose a waterproof Dopp kit like this one.
Best for: All types of travel. You need to floss wherever you go. Your dentist always knows when you haven’t been flossing and she is scary and has access to sharp tools.
11. Garment Bag
Garment bags are made from soft material with a long zipper down the middle. They’re used to transport nicer clothing, suits, jackets, and dresses so they don’t get wrinkled or dirty. They’re great if you’re bougie and only travel in style, or if you won’t have time to iron your clothes before your work conference.
Pros: Using a garment bag is also a lot classier than holding up your meeting because you’re trying to get the wrinkles out of your pencil skirt using the shower steam in the hotel bathroom.
Cons: They can be quite annoying to carry around, and often aren’t long enough for long dresses or coats. Make sure it fits the airline’s carry-on requirements so you don’t risk having the bag guy throwing your wedding dress under Fido’s cage.
Best for: Work trips, event trips like weddings or reunions, and protecting finer clothes from wrinkling, dust, dirt, and odors.
12. Fanny Pack
A fanny pack is a small, lightweight pouch connected to a belt that you wear around your waist or hips like it’s 1999! They are used to store money and other small items.
Pros: Fanny packs are awesome and anyone who tells you otherwise hates joy.
Drawbacks: Some people think they look stupid and to those people I say, “who hurt you?”
Best for: Protecting your valuables. That thief is gonna have to come awfully close to your nether region in order to steal your wallet, so they’re a lot more reliable than pockets or even purses. They also leave your hands free so you can enjoy all the street food snacks you want.
13. Vintage Suitcase
Want to feel like some kind of rich European poet? Get a vintage suitcase like a steamer trunk, hatbox, or a luxe leather briefcase.
Cons: They’re easier to damage (and usually already come with some damage, which I’m sure you can’t relate to at all). You probably wouldn’t want to take this suitcase with you on long trips or up, like, Mount Fuji.
Best for: Those more interested in style, looks, and fashion over durability and functionality. It’s like having a portable antique that’ll make your journey feel a little extra special. Oh, who are we kidding? This is really just best for your Instagram.
14. Travel Trunk
A travel trunk is a rectangular container designed for extended stays like college, long trips abroad, or moving. They’re hard-shelled and durable, and can withstand some banging around.
Pros: It looks like you’re opening up a treasure chest full of riches every time you use it. Only in this case your riches are your old 7th grade journals and a retainer.
Cons: Some trunks can be quite large, bulky, and clunky to move on your own. You might need help carrying it.
Best for: If you’re studying or working abroad for a while, a travel trunk is one way to transport all your valuables and clothes with ease. Plus, many can be padlocked shut if need to protect your valuables or are obsessed with Houdini.
Chelsea has traveled to over 50 countries and has had every major third-world disease (but like, in a hot way). Follow her on Instagram and Twitter!
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