March 20th, 2015

I Take My Handbags Seriously

I don’t think I am alone in my search for the perfect travel bag. For the last 15 years, I have traveled for work and have purchased countless bags to hold my personal essentials plus work needs (laptop, cords, notebook, pens, etc.). And I have never been satisfied. I have tried two bags — one for personal, one for business — the right combination of bags can work, but the wrong combination can be disastrous. Putting everything in one bag was too heavy and the bag typically looked bigger than me (I decided if anyone commented on the large size of my bag, it was decidedly too big for me). Then, different types of travel require different needs from bags: business meetings, day trips, conferences, foreign travel, etc. Through all my purchases, travels, trials, sore shoulders, aching back and foul moods, I can confidently say I am an expert on purses and business bags for women’s travel. I know a little bit about a lot of things, but I know a lot about handbags.

I can look at a bag and tell you if it will be comfortable on your shoulder for a long period of time – rolled vachetta leather is beautiful, but that stitched seam is going to dig into your shoulder eventually. If it will fit underneath an airline seat comfortably — too structured and it won’t slide under, too loose and everything slides around inside. If it will hold a 13″ laptop and all of your personal essentials without having to unpack the entire purse to get to one thing — getting it in can be a work of art, getting it out gracefully is quite another. If it is stylish and feminine. There are a ton of bags that are great for travel, but they are ugly. There are a ton of bags that are stylish, feminine and functional, but they are terrible for travel. It is surprisingly hard to find one that works for both. Many have tried. All have failed.

At this point, you might think I am leading up to revealing my perfect bag. But sadly, that is not the case. I have yet to find my “perfect for everything” bag. Instead, I have found a series of bags that have dedicated use cases. The perfect travel handbag, however, remains elusive.

The biggest challenge in my search for the perfect travel bag is self-inflicted, of course. I take an “always be prepared” approach to life. Which means that I carry a lot with me on a daily basis, and especially when I travel. Through the years, I have managed to cull the items I carry, and technology and innovation have helped as items have gotten smaller, lighter and have multiple functions now.

I am traveling back from Austin, TX as I write this post, so travel bags are top-of-mind. My carry-on bags surround me as I sit in the airport and they are most definitely less than ideal. I am carrying a slim Tumi black nylon backpack for my computer, notebook and purse essentials (this one isn’t exactly what I have, but close). For work travel when I need a separate bag for my computer, I am a big fan of this backpack. But it does not hold a lot.

The second bag I am carrying-on is a bag inside a bag. This is because the bag I chose as my second carry-on could not hold everything I needed, but I wanted it along as my conference bag (and I love it — the Kelly Moore Saratoga — more on it below). So, I put it inside a large canvas Landsend boat tote (and yes, my name is embroidered on it), then threw all the other miscellaneous items in on top. As much as I love the Landsend boat totes, they are not good for airline travel (in my opinion) and I would normally never have carried it this way. But I was desperate, tired from packing for a seven-day trip and it worked.

My requirements for the perfect travel handbag:

  • Big enough to hold a 13″ computer.
  • Structured enough so that things stay approximately where they are placed in the bag.
  • Internal pockets for easy access to phone and keys. And big enough to hold an iPhone 6+ securely.
  • Comfortable straps to wear over my shoulder like a tote. Optional cross-body strap that can really be used as a cross-body strap – strong, slightly padded, long and adjustable.
  • Zip top.
  • Lightweight, but durable.

Things my travel bag must be big enough to hold:

  • 13″ computer and charger
  • iPhone 6+ and charger
  • Wallet
  • Reusable glass water bottle
  • Notebook and pen
  • Snack (granola bar or small bag of nuts)
  • Sunglasses in hard case
  • Glasses in hard case
  • Make-up bag with: pocket-sized Kleenex pack, chapstick, lipstick x3, small powder compact, hand lotion, small pill box, small brush.
  • Kindle e-reader
  • Keys (3 sets: car, house, office)
  • Headphones
  • Mints
  • Koozie
  • Scarf
  • DSLR camera, sometimes
  • Tech accessories, anything from an iPhone tripod, to phone camera lenses, etc.

I will save myself the embarrassment of showing all the bags I have purchased and tried over the years. There are too many and entirely too much money has been spent on these bags. But for the right bag, I would pay more than a reasonable person should. I want a bag that works and get compliments. Is that too much to ask?

One purchase that accompanied me to SXSW and one that really feel good about is the Kelly Moore Saratoga camera bag in grey. I recently made a serious upgrade to my camera game and bought my first DSLR. I was looking for a bag to carry it in that wasn’t an ugly man-ish camera bag. Kelly Moore makes wonderfully designed, feminine and multi-functional camera bags. I love the Saratoga because it looks like a purse, and can actually be used as a purse when you remove the camera padding. The straps are cushioned and comfortable. It has a padded cross-body strap as a carry option. And when I learned that the company is based out of Ruston, Louisiana, I was sold (I am from Shreveport, LA so it felt like I was supporting my hometown because it is close-ish to Ruston!). While the bag wasn’t big enough to hold all my travel essentials, it was the perfect size for a day bag.

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I really can’t say enough good things about the Kelly Moore bags and website. They show pictures of the bags from every angle, being carried different ways by different models, with stuff in them and empty. It is an online bag-buyers dream site. I am seriously considering the Kelly Moore Ponder in black as my next purchase in hopes that it can be my ultimate travel bag.

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