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Many of us enjoy traveling, whether we do it frequently or on special occasions. But to have a fantastic traveling experience, you need to have the correct travel bags–this is especially true if you are a frequent jetsetter. But not every type of luggage is suitable for every traveler; that’s why there are so many different kinds out there.
Travel bags have evolved from the steamer trunks used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to the more stylish, lightweight, and practical bags that fit modern air travel. However, in some cases, steamer trunks are still relatively fashionable despite being difficult to lug around.
While most bags can be used for travel, not all are travel-appropriate, especially for air travel. This makes choosing the right travel bag a critical exercise. The right bag will give you the freedom to travel without worrying about convenience or the safety of your items.
|Type of Traveler||Best Kind of Luggage||Description|
|Frequent Flyers||Wheeled Suitcase||Durable, lightweight, and easy to maneuver in airports.|
|Carry-On Spinner||Fits in overhead bins, great for short trips.|
|Travel Backpack||Versatile, good for city-hopping or outdoor adventures.|
|Business Traveler||Rolling Laptop Bag||Includes space for a laptop and business essentials.|
|Garment Bag||Keeps clothes wrinkle-free, ideal for formal attire.|
|Adventure Seeker||Duffel Bag||Sturdy and spacious, suitable for rugged adventures.|
|Hiking Backpack||Designed for outdoor activities with gear compartments.|
|Family Traveler||Large Wheeled Suitcase||Roomy for family clothes and essentials.|
|Weekend Getaway||Weekender Bag||Stylish and compact for a short trip’s clothing.|
|Rolling Tote||Ideal for a quick getaway, combining style and function.|
|Budget Traveler||Lightweight Backpack||Affordable and practical for budget-conscious travelers.|
Top 10 Types of Travel Bags for a Jetsetter
While a backpack might not, at first glance, seem to be the best luggage after we spend so many years wearing it in school, these backpacks have changed a lot since our grade school days. Nomatic’s Travel Pack, for example, is my favorite travel backpack. It’s sleek, expandable, and has served me well on many trips so far.
Compared to other types of travel bags, backpacks are more compact. They are ideal for someone who wants to travel light.
Because they are not as big as other travel bags, you are limited in what you can carry. However, some can carry over dozens of pounds of weight.
Some backpacks, like backpacker bags from Osprey, have padded hip belts to help transfer the weight from the shoulders to your hips. Don’t worry; the backpack straps for your shoulders are also heavily padded with these bags. This way, your shoulders won’t strain much, even if you carry heavy luggage.
Travel-specific backpacks also have many compartments that make it easy for you to organize your luggage. There is a main compartment where you can store most of your items. You can also find smaller compartments within the main compartment to keep things such as a laptop, tablet, and notebooks.
- Appropriate for a carry-on bag
- Will fit in the overhead or underseat
- Many are made with water-resistant fabric
- Padded carrying straps
- Gets heavy quickly
- Straps get stinky from wear
Best travel backpack options:
- Nomatic’s Travel Pack
- Osprey Talon Hiking Backpack
- The North Face Base Camp Travel Pack
- Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack
See Related: Best Minimalist Travel Backpacks
2. Rolling Backpacks
Thanks to bag technology innovations, wheeled backpacks are in. A wheeled backpack is fitted with a frame and wheels for easier portability. They combine the compactness of a backpack with the convenience of rolling luggage.
This is a welcome addition to the traditional backpack, especially for those carrying heavy luggage. Wheeled backpacks can carry more items because they are bigger. Some wheeled backpacks can still be adapted when you have to carry them on your shoulder.
For example, you can drag it by the wheels when moving around on foot at a large airport. And in case you come across an escalator or have to maneuver through thick crowds, you can strap it onto your back and keep moving. Just make sure you don’t overstuff the bag to make it easy to carry if need be.
Unlike regular backpacks, wheeled backpacks are made from more rigid materials like canvas, leather, or a combination of different materials. This innovation, however, is not without its downsides.
For example, wheeled backpacks are heavier and bigger because of the additional frame, wheels, and pull handle. They can also be a more expensive option than a regular backpack.
- Usually fit in overhead bins
- Often contain multiple compartments
- Have adjustable straps for shoulder carrying if needed
- Rolling capabilities
- It may need more maintenance because of wheels
- Rolling backpack becomes a heavy bag and difficult to roll with overpacking
Best wheeled backpack options:
- Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Convertible Carry-On
- Osprey Fairview Wheeled Travel Pack
- High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Laptop Backpack
- TUMI Alpha Bravo International
See Related: Best Wheeled Garment Bags for Travel
3. Duffel Bags
Duffel bags are usually long tubular bags with solid zippers and straps for portability. They have a large middle compartment and can be classified under big travel bags. Most traditional duffels range between 30 and 36 inches in height.
The inside of some duffel bags is separated into compartments to allow you to organize your items. Some have internal mesh pockets that can fit extra items. These pockets are suitable for keeping small items that might easily get lost when mixed with others.
They are made of different materials, most commonly canvas and leather. The material is usually thick enough to protect everything that is inside. Duffels have sturdy straps or handles, making it easy to carry or haul them around without sacrificing compatibility with a plane’s overhead compartment
A duffel bag also generally has extra zippered pockets outside where you can store other items, especially those you might need to access easily and quickly, like keys and tickets. Their versatility makes duffels one of those types of luggage that folks can carry for years of travel.
- Fits in the overhead bin
- Great for a weekend getaway or packing light
- Include sturdy zippers
- Durable yet soft material
- Harder to neatly store items
Best duffel bag options:
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel
- Cotopaxi Allpa Duo Duffel Bag
- Thule Aion Duffle Bag
- Osprey Transporter Duffle Bag
See Related: Travel Duffel Bags
4. Wheeled Duffel Bags
Just like backpacks, you can also get a wheeled duffel bag. Although similar in features to a regular duffel bag, this wheeled luggage has heavy-duty wheels and a strong frame that make it easy to pull the bag as you move. This type of luggage is ideal for those travelers who prefer duffel bags to suitcases but want ease of movement.
A wheeled duffel allows you to pack a lot of stuff without worrying about how to move. You can easily haul it around, no matter how heavy it is. Wheeled duffel bags also have side and front handles and clips to attach other bags.
However, most are big and bulky because of the added frame and wheels. Therefore, they can’t be accepted as a carry-on and must be checked.
Also, because of the pull-frame, wheeled duffel bags are not flexible and cannot be squeezed or folded up easily. This can make off-travel storage quite an issue.
So, while this bag won’t be suitable as carry-on luggage, it can still make an excellent addition to your suitcase collection. Sometimes, having different types of luggage around can make travel on a whim a more effortless endeavor.
- More packing space than a regular duffel
- Easy access from multiple grab points off the baggage claim
- Suitable for weekend trips or road trips
- Too big to be a carry-on bag
- Not as durable as hard side luggage
Best wheeled duffle bag options:
- Samsonite Andante 2 Drop Bottom
- Eagle Creek Migrate Wheeled Duffle
- REI Co-op Big Haul Recycled Rolling Duffle
- Amazon Basics Ripstop Wheeled Duffle
See Related: Travel Duffle Bags for Travel
5. Rolling Suitcases
These bags have hard sides, wheels on the base, and a retractable handle that allows you to roll the bag easily. This makes them pretty convenient as you don’t need to carry the weight yourself.
Of the various different types of luggage, these are the ones you’ll most commonly see used as a carry-on. Some rolling bags are also expandable, like the Coolife suitcase pictured above.
Most rolling suitcases have rigid sides that are made from tough tarpaulin, ABS plastic, or a combination of polyester and nylon. This makes them more durable and more weather-resistant than other travel bags. I advise against a soft-sided roller bag because they tend to pop their zippers after a while, so make sure you don’t over-pack it if you have a soft-sided.
Rolling suitcases come in different sizes, too, making them perfect for carry-on-only travelers and checked-bag baddies alike. They have an enormous main compartment that can accommodate different types and quantities of items. There are also other compartments made of mesh on the inside for you to keep your smaller items.
These types of luggage usually come in two categories: two wheels and four spinner wheels. The four-wheelers are also referred to simply as spinner luggage.
However, one of the shortcomings of rolling suitcases is that they aren’t as flexible as other luggage types. Therefore, squeezing them into small spaces like an overhead compartment is not always easy.
- They can work as carry-ons on most major airlines
- Available as durable hard side bags
- Organizational sections and pockets
- Wheels make commuting with this luggage a breeze
- Wheels can break and need maintenance
- It may be too small for long trips
Best rolling suitcase options:
6. Messenger Bags
Messenger bags are also called courier bags. This is because they were designed initially for messengers carrying postal deliveries. This type of bag is also called a shoulder bag since they are carried by strapping them across the shoulder.
They come in different designs. But, the basic design consists of a large main compartment to keep your things, with external pockets for extra items.
These bags have very secure locking mechanisms, including buckles, clasps, or zippers. Besides securing the contents, these locking mechanisms add style to the bag. Others even have extra compartments like a laptop sleeve.
Messenger bags are some of the most compact types of travel bags. Therefore, they are ideal for anyone who can pack light.
Remember, you also need to keep the luggage weight manageable because you will be the one carrying it around. Perhaps this is more suited for a weekend trip rather than an extended vacation.
Since it slings over your shoulder, messenger bags provide on-body access to your items and make for terrific carry-on bags. They are considered more formal than backpacks and are more acceptable in professional environments.
- They are appropriate as personal items since they fit under an airplane seat
- Ideal for tight spaces
- Excellent luggage for business travelers
- Offers easy access to things in a compact size luggage
- Not reasonable as checked luggage
- It can be heavy over the shoulder
Best messenger bag options:
- Chrome Buran III Messenger Bag
- Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
- Chrome Mini Metro Messenger Bike Bag
- Osprey Ozone Carry-On Boarding Bag
See Related: Best Personal Item Bags for Travelers
7. Travel Tote
In recent times, totes have been added to the list of travel bags, though they are carried daily by many folks as day packs. A travel tote usually has one big compartment for keeping your travel essentials together. Some may have smaller compartments for additional items such as your mobile phone, wallet, passport, and other electronics.
However, some travel totes do not have internal organization. They consist of just one single compartment, meaning you might find yourself doing a lot of digging when looking for something. Although not very big, a travel tote bag is spacious enough to fit all your essentials, even if they can hold nothing more.
Totes are, therefore, ideal for short travels, usually single or two-day trips. You can take it with you wherever you go, whether onto the plane or when walking around the airport. They aren’t travel packs suited for over-packers since they are categorized as small travel bags.
Most travel totes have shoulder straps for added convenience when moving around, but be careful not to put too much in them, or carrying them around will be very uncomfortable. Totes are made from different materials, the most common being leather, cloth, canvas, and nylon for durability.
- Carry-on appropriate
- Stylish designs
- Great for travel for everyday use
- It can be unisex luggage
- Hard to carry if made too heavy
- Not optimal for the organization
Best tote bag options:
- Topo Designs Mountain Utility Tote
- Kavu Traveler Tote
- Kroser Laptop Tote
- Baggalini Overnight Expandable Laptop Tote
See related: Travel Purses [Stylish And Affordable Options]
8. Doctor’s Style Travel Bag
The doctor’s travel bag is an adaptation of the traditional practical bag, which doctors famously used to carry their essentials. They are often large and can hold many things. Some are even comparable to duffel bags in terms of their carrying capacity in a smaller size.
Traditionally, since the bags were made for doctors, they were made from high-quality leather. But today, they are made from various materials, including canvas, nylon, and even polyester. These varied materials make the luggage more durable.
One of the features that makes doctor’s bags ideal for travel is the large number of pockets and pouches. This makes it very easy to organize your essentials. There is also an enormous main compartment to organize things like clothes, shoes, gadgets, and documents.
You can use the smaller pockets and even secret pouches to keep other valuable items safe. A doctor’s bag will also have zippered pockets outside for more space to store items. This luggage mostly comes with short grab handles, though you can also get cross-body designs that have adjustable shoulder straps for convenience.
- Most airlines allow this luggage as a carry-on or personal item
- Lots of organizational space
- Durable materials, predominantly leather
- It can come with cross-body straps
- Most only have carrying handles
- Still too small for a lot of packing
Best doctor-style travel bag options:
- Time Resistance Leather Doctor Bag
- Time Resistance Leather Doctor Bag/Briefcase
- Montana West Wrangler Doctor Bag
- Banuce Full Grain Italian Leather Doctor Bag
See Related: Best Camera Bags for Travel
9. Bucket Bag
A bucket bag is aptly named because it usually takes the shape of a bucket. These purses have been popular on and off for the better part of a century.
They are roomy on the inside, with an open top and a wide, flat, and round or oval bottom. Because of its shape, a bucket bag can sit upright without support and not topple over.
Due to their huge size and design, bucket bags have become some of the most popular types of small travel luggage. They are available in different sizes but most are usually large enough to carry all of your bare essentials.
Most bucket bags resemble a tote on the inside. They have one big compartment for keeping your things. Some also have zippered pockets on the inside for holding important things like your wallet, passport, or keys.
Bucket bags usually have a drawstring closure, making it easy to open and close when you want to access something. However, you need to ensure that the drawstring is secure enough so that it does not open unintentionally.
- Terrific as a personal item
- Stylish designs that continue to be fashionable
- Won’t fall over because of design
- Large compartment with some organizational elements
- Not good for a checked bag
- Not suitable for adventure travel
- Can be limiting for how much you can carry
Best bucket bag options:
- Calvin Klein Gabrianna Novelty Bucket Shoulder Bag
- Montana West Wrangler Bucket Handbags
- The Sak Women’s Ivy Leather Drawstring Bucket
- Gladdon Leather Bucket Bag
See Related: Essential Solo Travel Luggage & Accessories
A briefcase is flat and shaped like a box. It originated with lawyers who used it to carry briefs. Because of its professional look, it was later adopted by businessmen and white-collar professionals to carry documents and electronic gadgets like laptops and tablets.
However, they have evolved with time to become the ultimate travel companion. Some briefcases are now big enough for both professional and personal needs. They can carry not just papers and electronic gadgets but also clothes and shoes for short trips.
Usually, a briefcase has one main internal compartment where you can keep most of your items. Most also have smaller accordion sections and small pockets to help in organization.
Some briefcases also have zippered pockets on the outside. There, you can keep things that you might need to access easily like your wallet, glasses, and passport.
They are made from materials such as leather, waxed nylon, vinyl, or cloth. Most of them also include secure locking mechanisms. They have top handles as well as an adjustable shoulder strap for hands-free convenience.
- Professional appearance
- Come in a variety of styles to suit your personal aesthetic
- Terrific storage possibilities
- Durable materials
- Not suitable as checked bags
- Probably not roomy enough for a trip longer than a weekend
Best briefcase options:
- Augus Leather Briefcase
- Targus Laptop Bag/Slim Briefcase
- BAGSMART Laptop Bag/Briefcase
- Kroser Rolling Briefcase
See Related: The Best Travel Bags for Suits
What Kind of Bag Do I Need?
What type of travel bag you have, in many ways, determines the quality of your travel experience. Thus, the importance of choosing suitable types of travel bags cannot be overemphasized. The right bag allows you to carry all your essentials and access them easily and quickly.
Your luggage can match your aesthetic or stand out to make it easy to identify while it’s parading around the baggage claim conveyor belt. It can also have as much or as little organizational capabilities as you want or need as a traveler. There really is so much to choosing luggage beyond what will fit on an airplane.
So, as you go through our list, it is important to master the names for the different types of travel bags. This will be helpful for you the next time you go shopping for luggage.
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Blake is a highly experienced travel writer working for a number of publications providing insights about his experiences around the world.