Stylish Travel Bags for Hand Luggage, Carry On And On The Ground Personal recommendations from someone who travels a LOT

By Abi King | Travel Tips

Apr 12
Updated 2015

The last few years of careering around the globe have transformed me from the world’s worst packer into a lean, mean travel machine. Well, OK, a slim enough, friendly enough woman powered by chocolate, a list and a desk full of post-it notes.

It’s taken time, not to mention sub-acromial bursitis, to find the right bags for the professional travel lifestyle and to finally realise that it’s worth getting the right kit in order to avoid wrecking either your body or your business prospects.

I’ve updated the list over the years as security measures and my degrees of style and fitness have changed!

Also, I’ve realised that the kind of bag you need when flying is very different to the best kind of bag for being out and about on the ground. So, in the latest update, I’ve split those into two different categories.

Stylish Travel Bags for Flying

When it comes to hand luggage, cabin luggage, carry-on or whatever you call it I have three main strategies.

The Sleek Wheelie

Rimowa Hand Luggage Suitcase
Tough as nails yet stylish and easy to manoeuvre, this fits and protects everything I need to have with me on the flight.

Ah, how I’ve had a few wheelies in my time. But this silver Rowina is my favourite by far.

The four wheels means it rolls easily, there’s an integrated luggage tag, sturdy handles and, well, it looks good! It comes with packing dividers on the inside that are completely removable. I tend to keep one in to keep all the soft and small things in place and take one out so that I can fit those pesky big lenses in OK.

It fits all but the sneakiest budget airlines’ cabin luggage guidelines and is very stable when standing so that you can rest items on there or hang your coat on it for a moment to give yourself a free hand.

The tough outer shell protects delicate lenses from smashing during the dubious journey-every-suitcase-has and the combination locks protects against opportunistic thieves. It’s also large enough that if you’re a light packer, you can travel for up to five days with all you need in this case (longer, perhaps, if you’re not carrying all this camera and computer equipment.)

The only snag is that you need quite a lot of floor space to open it because of the clam-shell design. Plus, on smaller planes, it will be confiscated and put into the hold.

The Army Kit Belts n Braces Approach

Lowepro Travel Bag

A protective bag that contains my laptop, camera gear and lenses and that still manages to slide beneath an airline seat so that they’ll never make me send it to the hold.

Lowepro Fastpack 250 Backpack for SLR Kit, 15.4″ Notebook and General Gear – Black

To be honest, though, while this used to be my airline work staple, over the years I’ve found it harder and harder on my shoulders and neck. These days I tend to use a smaller suitcase on wheels when I fly. But if you’re young or built like a bull then this covers you for everything.

The padding protects your electronics, you can slide a water bottle in the side (with easy disposal at airport security.) Travel documents go into the handy flap at the front and a wallet and phone go into the front zip section. Then, al the other bits and pieces you need fit nicely into the top main section. There’s even a waterproof cover and a top hook if you daren’t put it on the floor in the toilet and need to hang it from the back of the door…

The Teeny-Tiny Wheelie and a Collapsible Over the Shoulder Combo

Every time I fly, I pack a foldable, zippable bag in my hand luggage – just in case. Sometimes it’s cold when I set out but warm when I’m in transit so the hat, gloves, scarf, jumpers etc go right into that bag (and with the UK as my home base, this happens a lot.)

Sometimes, while everything fits into my main cabin bag, it’s just easier to get the things I’ll actually need for the flight out beforehand and stash them in there. That way, when I board the plane, I can just quickly side into my seat.

I have a minuscule suitcase on wheels I bought at the end of the road that can carry my heavy camera gear and chargers yet still slide under most plane seats. This has been the greatest discovery yet for my aching travel bones!

I’m still working out a way to find a picture for this one – it was an impulse purchase borne out of necessity. But hang on in there, I will be back with info!

Stylish Travel Bags for On The Ground

This is easier to deal with. Most of the time, if I need my main DSLR, then I need a specialist camera bag. You CAN theoretically convert any bag into a camera one with enough removable padding but I’ve tried it enough times to know that it’s never quite as good.

So, I have a smart (US – stylish) option and a survive anything option. And then, just to be thorough, I have a mini over the shoulder fabric bag which fits an iPhone and hotel key card for lighter occasions.

Stylish Camera Bags

I LOVE Jo Totes. Love them. Love them. Love them.

Guys, you can probably get away with the bag I mention below, but for women in a professional scene, it still just doesn’t feel right to wear a cocktail dress and a scuffed grey and fluo bag to a black tie event.

Jo Totes have a range of “day” and “night” camera bags and I (shamelessly) have one of each.

The silver Rose one, however, was a treat. It doesn’t squash down easily which limits its usefulness when going on long trips.

The Betsy one, though, is AMAZING. I have one in teal and it’s rarely out of my sight – both away and at home.

Betsy Chocolate Camera Bag

It has a flap with a zip for my notebook and pen. A zipped back pocket for my iphone and iphone lenses. Two magnet closing pockets in the front – one for my keys or hotel card, the other for headphones and a mini lapel mic. The DSLR goes into the main section, my laptop if needs be in its own slot and there’s still room to spare for tissues, wallet and what have you. Ta da!

The material is water resistant enough yet the leather still looks chic. The ONLY thing I would wish for is an external spot for water. I hate putting it inside the bag as I don’t want condensation to form there.

You can adjust the strap and there’s padding available to protect those bony old shoulders.

Adventurous Camera Bags

This is the one I use for crowds. For festivals and snow-shoeing and going behind the scenes at the rodeo and clinging on for dear life while walking on a wire.

Like the Jo Totes, it has quick access to the camera so that I don’t miss a good shot. It has a separate zipped area for keys and things that need to stay safe until the end of the day. It has a quick-access zipped area for my iphone and iphone lenses and enough space in the main compartment for tissues and the like.

Unlike the Jo Totes, it has the added advantage of an external water bottle holder and a third strap to steady the whole thing. This is vital when clinging on aforementioned ice and wire…

The Barely There Bag

This fabric beauty was given to me years ago and I just slip it into the case if ever I think there’s a chance of a smart dinner when I won’t want to take the Adventurous Bag but don’t have space to pack the Stylish Bag.


So there you have it. The travel bags that help make my world go around as I go around the world.

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