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Should I… Carry a Purse?

Should I Carry a Purse on My Travels?

As a female, my purse serves as an all encompassing bag for every knick knack, from my day planner to gum to my wallet and keys. When I travel, I need a bag to keep even more essential items, like my passport and digital camera. But carrying a purse while traveling has its own set of worries. What if it gets stolen? What if I need more room? What can I use instead of a purse?

girl with purse
*photo by boogy_man

We’ve got all your questions answered.

Stylish travelers choose to carry a purse because it fits their everyday style as well as their travel style. It can keep you from looking like a tourist, much so more than those carrying fanny packs or neck pouches. Purses aren’t as cumbersome as daypacks, so they don’t take up as much space at cafe tables. You also don’t have to check them at museums like you do backpacks and shopping bags.

>> Check out a list of our top 5 travel purses. Or how about these non-travel handbags that also prove useful for travel?

But on the other hand, purses are a target for theft. Straps are slashed with razors or just plain snatched off your arm. They don’t have room for your large camera and other valuables or offer the support to prevent electronics from breaking. If you put too much in your purse, your shoulder can get sore because the weight isn’t evenly distributed.

So if not a purse, what should female travelers carry?

Heather's camera bad / purse.
Heather’s camera bag / purse.

Heather introduced us to her camera bag that looks similar to a purse and has extra pockets for other items. While two-in-one camera bags will protect your camera from getting knocked around, it doesn’t have the security of other bags.

bag love compilation
Brooke’s Pacsafe Slingsafe 300 GII as worn in the Forbidden City, crossing the border from K-stan to China, in Urumqi, and hiking in Cappadocia.

Brooke had great experiences with the PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GII daypack, which is sewn with metal mesh within the fabric, which means it can’t be slashed. The zipper clips make it more difficult for a pickpocket to unzip. It’s also smaller in size than many daypacks. Normal daypacks can also serve as replacements for purses, but are also prone to theft. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.

money beltSome travelers may prefer to have their belongings closer than their backs or shoulders, but instead attached to their bodies. Michele Herrmann raved about the Eagle Creek Undercover Belt as her substitute for a purse, but travelers might feel self conscious about having to reach into the belt to take out money or other essential items. The bra stash, introduced to us by Gray Cargill, is another product that keeps you from needing a purse, but instead holds your credit card and room key in a pocket in your bra.

But what if the idea of pulling up your shirt to retrieve your items sounds uncomfortable and awkward?

There won’t always be a place to discreetly take out your money belt.  Some brands make clothing that you can use to store essentials instead of carrying a purse. Cargo pants, like the ExOfficio Nio Amphi pants, have plenty of external pockets and a few secret ones thrown in for added security. ScottEVest is known for their vests, jackets, dresses and shirts that have enough pockets that you will forget all about your purse.

>> Check out our podcast episode on how to hide money when you travel.

Do you carry a purse when you travel? What do you use instead?

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

HPL Packing Method – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing course by HPL founder, Brooke.

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe.

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. mary says

    I use a cross body purse with a sewn in wire mesh. The whole purse has mesh all the way through it. It isn’t all that big, but I can cram a whole lot of stuff into it. I don’t need a wallet because it has a built in change purse, slots for credit cards and ID, and paper money. It has a pen holder, I carry my passport, guide book, sunglasses, reading glasses, keys, and even snacks, sometimes. The only trouble is, trying to remember where I put what because of all the little hidden pockets. It is genius. I got it at a travel shop in Toronto called Europe Bound. I never go anywhere without it.
    Holds my camera too!!

  2. Paige Conner Totaro says

    I ditched my purse entirely on this trip and have been using a travel vest with lots of inside zippered pockets. It is so much more comfortable than wearing a purse, and I don’t worry about pickpockets at all!

  3. Paige Conner Totaro says

    I bought it directly from the Scottevest website. I also bought a travel dress, with several pockets. I found the fit of the latter to be a little odd, and the vest has a couple of design issues (zipper unzips at will, scratchy bit at the collar), but overall I have loved it.

  4. Abby says

    I use a crossbody bag and keep it on the front of my body (with a hand over it) or sometimes I just use a wristlet.

  5. Michele says

    When in an area I don’t want to carry my cross body bag (zippers to the inside of the body) then I have what looks like a hair scrunchie flattened out thats maybe 2″wide that holds my iPhone, drivers license, a key, debit card and a cash. Sahalie.com for $20, great for concerts, hiking,

  6. Brazil Nut says

    In 2010 I did a long trip across India i used a purse large enough for my camera, small medikit, cell phone, cereal bars and small bottle of water whenever we went sightseeing. I felt the purse called less attention than a camera bag would.
    When traveling between cities, I wore cargo pants, and the passport and most of the money went into hidden zippered compartments. I kept a small amount of money, and alternative ID (driver´s license) in a wallet in an outer pocket. The purse folded and traveled in the backpack.

  7. Nani Allen says

    I generally use two bags – I’ll explain. The first one is a Bagallini crossbody bag, similar to their “Big zipper bagg” model. It has three zippered pockets outside and an open one in the back plus internal pockets including credit card slots. It’s lightweight strong nylon, water-resistant and easy to clean (black one). I can fit my iPad in it, sunglasses, cellphone, camera (DSLR), etc and it doesn’t look overstuffed. The other is the REI Stuff Travel bag. This nifty little 22L backback folds small into a built-in pocket, has pockets for water bottles, weighs next to nothing, has a zippered pocket too and can fit a lot of stuff.

    If going shopping or on a long daytrip, my day usually starts out with the folded backpack inside the crossbody. As I buy souvenirs, snacks, water bottles, etc I unfold the backpack and put the purse in it along with eveything else I’ve purchased. If only going to dinner and/or drinks, the crossbody. If only going hiking, bycicling, to the beach, etc. then I only take the backpack. I only keep and ID and a bit of money in shirt or pant pockets. Passport, money and other valuables always remain hidden in my money belt unless going swimming. In the latter case, I use a watertight bag.

  8. Lyndsey says

    I have a crossbody bag from Roots that is great for travelling. Its meant to actually look like Indiana Jones’ satchel.
    It’s made of leather, so it would be virtually impossible for anyone to slice through the thick straps. It also has a zipper top and a HUGE flap (the same size as the face of the bag) that goes over said zipper. Again, this would make it very difficult for anyone to get their hands into.
    It has a zipper compartment inside where you could store very important items, such as your passport or wallet. And two small compartments on the other side, for your phone or snacks. I personally have ordered a small organizer from eBay for about $5 that I’m waiting to come in for my next trip. The bag is large, so it is easy for things to get lost.
    I’m also looking into making my own camera caddy, if you will, with padded dividers, so as to remove the need for carrying a camera bag in addition to this purse.
    If it means anything to you at all, this is the purse I always carry and on the past few trips I’ve taken, I’ve often had people stopping and asking me for directions or information as they had mistaken me for a local!


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