The Perfect Shoulder Bag

Anyone who has traveled enough has faced the problem of how to manage the documents, gadgets and cables of modern travel life.  We love our stuff!  And while there is no perfect solution to this problem, there are certainly some options that come pretty darn close.

In the past few years bag designers catering to travelers have focused a good deal of attention and thought on this issue, and the results are impressive.  In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that there is a nearly perfect travel shoulder bag out there for everyone.

I know.  Pretty bold assertion.  But I can back it up.

First, a definition.  A shoulder bag is one that you carry on your shoulder.  It’s not a backpack.  There are thousands of options if you want one of those.  A shoulder bag is a bit more stylish option, and usually more compact.  Messenger bag, cross body bag, shoulder bag and man bag (when a guy is carrying it) are all versions of the same things.  The reason they are so great, is that they not only help organize your electronics and keep critical documents close-by while en route via plane or train, but they are the perfect size to carry your stuff during a day of shopping and touring once you’ve reached your destination.  They hit that elusive sweet spot…not too big, and not too small.

So sit back and relax, as we review some of the best options for taking your travel world along on your shoulder.  This is not an exhaustive list.  There are hundreds of options out there.  But it should point you in the right direction when you go looking for your perfect travel companion, that isn’t your spouse or significant other.

Small to medium size:

In this category, pockets and top-notch organization are everything.  Every square inch (ok, centimeter) has to be well-planned, and everything has to have a purpose.  And, yes, I have a favorite.

Our Favorite: Swissgear Vertical Boarding Bag

 This classic has been my go to for quite a few years.  It is small, but has pockets for everything.  It has the room for a book for two, an e-reader, a tablet up to 10 inches, and places to stash cell phones, action cameras, and travel documents.  I could go on and on, but you get the

picture.  About the only thing this little beauty doesn’t do is book your seat and order a drink.  But use this on an upcoming trip and you’ll be in a mood to buy drinks for the whole row.  I especially like the cushioned pockets into which I slip my Sony Action Cam and cell phone.  And it has enough room to carry quite a bit of extra gear like mini tripods, a selfie stick, and the occasional packable jacket. One of the wonders of this size bag is how much it can carry.  It’s really quite phenomenal.  But on the other hand, another plus is that it’s small enough that there is a definite limit to its load.  You will not end up worn out because your backpack could carry 50 pounds, and so you loaded it up for the day.

This bag comes in quite a few different versions, but they are all very similar in size and function.  They are called vertical bags because they carry their load vertically, and can slide nicely under a seat, or alongside your body as you’re scooting through the line for say, the Duomo in Florence (see how I did that?)  Anyway, the best advice I can give is to just get one of these.  I like Swissgear because they’re made to last, and have durable bottoms and reinforced stress points. But there are a lot of good ones out there in a price range from 20-50 dollars.  Just do it!

Large Size:

This category includes the heavyweights of the group.  The messenger bags. They can carry all that a medium backpack or rolling carry-on can, but we would argue do it more stylishly, and with a certain panache.  What can you say?  We love the look, feel and function of these bags.  And for men, they provide that rarity; a workable and good-looking alternative to less desirable solutions like rolling bags and backpacks.

There are literally dozens of bags in this category, with varying materials, finishes, and functions.  But the key here is that they all must carry a laptop, various other electronics, and have enough pockets to handle a change of clothes or two, travel documents, and other flotsam and jetsam.  The distinction between these and the smaller bags discussed above is largely that one can handle laptops, and the other smaller electronics like tablets.  You should have one of each!

Our Favorite: Mobile Edge Messenger Bag

 Check this bag out on Amazon and you’ll find over a thousand glowing reviews.  And for very good reason.  Great form, stylish good looks, and the kind of well thought out function that we always pursue but don’t always find.  The straps are tough and built to last, the compartments are large, the bag has a dedicated and padded spot for a large laptop, and it has many hidden extras. Among

those are velcro straps that hold items in the interior pockets (think books and laptops) and don’t let them slide outward when the bag is on its back.  We also like the solid plastic buckles that snap tight with a loud click and withstand years of travel and on the road punishment.   Take a look inside.  Those are serious pockets, and even though they are not visible here, they straps we mentioned secure each one shut, should you need the extra security.  And did we mention all of this comes at less than $40?

Now, we know, this bag is stylish, but where is the leather trim?  Well if you need a bit more of that continental panache, we have you covered. There are lots of options when you want a more gussied up bag.  And most of those have many of the same features as our favorite laptop bag.  Here is a very good one.

The Geartronic Canvas Messenger Bag calls itself a men’s satchel, and that’s what it is.  It boasts many of the features any great satchel should have, including a place for your laptop, ample pockets, secure closures, and for those who want it, a bit of leather trim.  Ok, at this price (under $40) it’s faux leather, but we can tell you it wears well, and looks great.  And the canvas is a tough material that will certainly give you many years of valiant service.  This bag is available in a great variety of colors and trims from a variety of sellers.  However all share a few common traits. Snap or magnetic flap closures, big interior pockets and some great hidden pockets.  Most will have a beefy shoulder strap, and many a top handle.  There is one thing you should look out for, especially if you’re prone to overloading your bags (and who isn’t occasionally)?  The magnetic closures on a few of the bag may look like real buckles, but they’re not.  And when push comes to shove, these will certainly give way earlier under load than a more secure buckled closure, or hard plastic snap lock closure.  But, man, they do look good.  And you can find a model you like with all of the features you like, including the look, fairly easily.  The modern messenger, satchel, cross body, laptop and rugged man-bag.  As you can see, its time has come!


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