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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.

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