ask a cool person

What’s the Best Cross-Body Travel Bag?

These people look miserable. Be better. Photo: Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Whether you’re heading to Tokyo for two weeks or simply doing a few days in Montreal, a cross-body bag is a very practical thing to pack for a trip. Unlike a slippery tote, a cross body will stay on your arm while you remove your shoes and simultaneously scramble for your boarding pass at security. And once you reach your destination, a cross body feels a slightly more secure way to carry around important items, like, say, your passport. While the words “cross-body travel bag” might bring to mind a stodgy nylon number with a few too many zippers, that doesn’t have to be the case. We talked to nine travel editors, trip planners, and a documentary photographer to hear about their go-to bags, including an ultra-secure, gorpcore-esque nylon version with plenty of interior pockets, and a structured cylindrical leather option elegant enough to carry from a day spent touring to a nice dinner. Read on for bags that don’t scream tourist, and that you might even consider using once you get home.

Best leather cross-body travel bags

Jacinta O’Halloran, a senior editor at Fodor’s Travel, says she loves this Madewell leather cross body so much that she just bought a second one. “I’ve used it in Thailand, in the Amazon, in Barcelona, in Ireland, and I use it every day in New York,” she says. “I can fit a paperback book, a wallet, passport, glasses case, and a small bottle of water in it.” The bag doesn’t have compartments, so O’Halloran uses smaller pouches (a favorite is Clare V’s leopard print one) to organize her keys, lip gloss, pens, and other small items. And while many traditional travel bags are made of nylon, O’Hallaron says the leather saves her extra packing space: “I used to bring an additional ‘nice’ bag for events and dinners,” she says, “but I find this slim, unfussy, leather design easily takes me from airport to dinner.” The affordable price point is a draw, too: “I don’t have to be precious with it,” she says.

If you prefer a leather bag with built-in compartments, TripSavvy editorial director Laura Ratliff recommends Lo & Sons’ The Pearl bag, which she says is made from “super soft” leather and has a design that makes organizing passports, boarding passes, headphones, a Kindle, and whatever else she’s carrying easy. “It has three different ‘chambers’ for storage inside,” Ratliff says. “Plus, it’s just a sleek bag that looks just as at home at a nice restaurant as it does on the Global Entry line.”

A slightly larger option — big enough to fit a laptop, even — comes to us from Lyndsey Matthews, Destination News editor at AFAR, who says she’s used Everlane’s Form Bag almost every day since she bought it a few years ago. “When I’m in New York, I use it as a shoulder bag for commuting (it can fit my MacBook Air vertically along with my wallet, phone, book, and a water bottle),” says Matthews. “When I travel, I extend the shoulder strap so it can be used as a crossbody and swap my laptop out for my camera and an extra layer in case it gets cold.” The bag has a magnetic top closure, which Matthews has found helps her move from place to place with ease. “The magnetic top closure is strong enough so that your stuff won’t go flying out on the conveyor belt at airport security or under the airplane seat, but easy enough to open when you actually need to get something out of it.” she says. Matthews told us the bag is lighter than other leather bags she’s used, and doesn’t weigh down shoulders during a long day of walking. It’s also a useful day-to-night bag: “While it’s big enough to fit all of the things I need for the day, it doesn’t look gigantic so I can also use it at night when I go out to dinner,” she says.

Rag & Bone’s small messenger bag may be pricier than some of the other picks on this list, but For the Love of Travel founder and CEO Tara Cappel says it’s worth the splurge. “I think it’s a great travel bag for so many reasons,” she says. “The main compartment zips closed and there’s a sneaky back compartment for important items like your passport, credit card, etc. Also, the fact that it’s leather and not nylon means it doesn’t scream ‘tourist’ when you’re walking around foreign cities.” Unlike the other leather bags on this list, this one can become a clutch — the strap is completely removable. And for Coppel it’s the Goldilocks of bag sizes: “It’s big enough to hold all of the essentials but small enough to fit into a backpack or suitcase when not in use — or when you’re trying to comply with the two-item carry-on rule,” she says.

Rachel Coleman, social media lead at Berlin-based travel booking agency GetYourGuide, told us that she’s trying to reduce the number of items that she buys, and hone in on ones that are sustainable. This Nisolo cross body fits the bill — the brand produces their leather goods under fair-trade conditions in Peru, and is the right size and shape for both traveling and everyday use. “It’s big enough to fit all the contents of my purse plus a book, a water bottle and a few bags of snacks,” Coleman says. “And the leather is sturdy enough to stand up on its own so my things don’t spill all over the airplane.” The handle knots differentiate the bag from other shopper-style options, and the classic color options make it ideal to go “from a day of travel to a night out in a new city,” Coleman says.

Best cross-body leather bucket bags

Whether you prefer a bucket bag or something more square really comes down to personal preference — but should you want something a little more cylindrical, Vanessa Montenegro, the head of marketing and partnerships at traveling club Prior, suggests this (on sale) one from WANT Les Essentiels.I love that this bag is structured and polished but functional, which makes it perfect for travel,” she says. “It’s versatile and works for use in-transit and stylish enough to wear out when I get there — whether I’m exploring a new city, headed to meetings, or meeting a dinner date.” Despite its compact size, Montenegro says it fits all of her necessities, including a passport, face mist, wallet, and something to read. The adjustable strap is also removable, should you want to convert the cross body into a handheld style.

Travel + Leisure editor in chief Jacqui Gifford is also a fan of a cylindrical bag for travel — specifically, this petite zippered one from Paravel, a company that Gifford tells us is known for their statement duffels and wheeled carry ons. “There’s something even more appealing to me about the simplicity of this bag: the cylindrical shape, the leather detailing, the gold zipper,” she says.

If all of the neutral-toned bags are starting to feel a little plain, Gifford also likes this colorful number from Tory Burch. “The flower pattern really does work in any destination: Paris, Napa, Marrakesh,” she told us. “It’s destination neutral.” It’s a slightly smaller size than some of the other bags here, but just the right size for the essentials for a night-out on a trip, and goes with the kind of solid-colored basics one might opt for when traveling. “I would wear this with jeans and a white blouse, or a more formal dress in a solid color, or cut off white shorts and a navy t-shirt,” says Gifford.

Best nylon and fabric cross-body bags

Nylon, of course, is lighter than leather — and this classic from LeSportsac is a favorite of Lexie Silverman, who works for the group travel agency Travendly. “It definitely has enough room for a wallet, phone, and extra battery pack,” she says — noting that a water bottle or book might be a bit of a squeeze. The major draw for Silverman is the bag’s zipper pockets, which she says are secure enough to hold your passport during a day exploring. “It’s also super lightweight, and so easy to pack in another bag,” she says. “I’ve also found it to be pretty water resistant in case it rains when you are out and about.”

Silverman also likes this small bag from outdoor gear company Osprey, which she notes is not a traditional crossbody, but can be used as one if you extend the shoulder strap. It’s a bit larger than the LeSportsac and can hold a water bottle in addition to your wallet and phone, and, importantly, it also has a lot of zippered compartments and pockets. “Overall, the amount of pockets in this bag is great — especially for days when I have a lot of things with me,” Silverman says of the gorpcore-ish style. “I also like that one of the pockets folds over — it makes me feel like my valuables are that much more secure.”

Best extra-secure cross-body travel bag

Documentary photographer Maria de la Gaurdia says she has used this Travelon bag for years and highly recommends it. The bag features front pockets that actually lock, and a padded interior pocket that keeps your iPad safe and sound. De la Guardia says that the layout of the bag’s multiple pockets “actually make sense” for organizing sunglasses, iPhones, and notepads. Plus, she says, it’s not bulky, though it can carry a ton — “It hugs your body, has adjustable and even a removable strap, and has two adjustable side pockets for umbrellas or water bottles.” The adjustable strap makes it easy to wear the bag whether you’re in a T-shirt or a winter coat, and de la Guardia notes that the canvas makes it machine washable.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

What’s The Best Cross-body Travel Bag?