Choosing a travel purse or briefcase

One of the most important items to have for business travel is the carry-on. I don’t mean your rollaboard (although 1 Tumiof course that is important too!), but your personal item. It holds everything you need for your flight—laptop, files, plus normal purse stuff—it gets stuffed into overhead bins or under plane seats, and acts as a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, and entertainment center all in one.

What exactly do I mean by personal item? The guidelines for American Airlines state that the personal bag is anything that can fit under the seat in front of you. It can be a purse, laptop bag, backpack, tote, or a smaller suitcase.

I love purses (in case you haven’t noticed). In addition to acting as a necessary travel too, you purse should make you happy when you look at it. Just because we are professional women who travel for business does not mean we need a boring purse or briefcase with no style. There are so many fabulous possibilities out there! You can, and should, love your bag.

What makes a great travel purse?

There are several things I look for in my travel purse. Not all of my purses have all of them, but my general guidelines are:

  • Size. Has to fit my laptop and hold all of my carry-on travel items.
  • Multiple interior pockets. I think the best purse has two sections, including a specific space for a laptop and then room for the rest of your stuff. It also needs to have small pockets on the inside to help corral items that could get lost such as keys, cell phone, and lipstick.
  • Exterior pockets. An exterior pocket on the side of your purse is so helpful for things you don’t want in your hands, but need easy access to, such as your boarding pass.
  • Easy to carry. You have to be able to carry your purse on your shoulder or strapped to your suitcase. It would be very difficult to travel with a purse that you had to carry in your hands. I like two straps that are at least an inch wide, which will minimize cutting into your shoulder.
  • Sturdy construction. There shouldn’t be any obvious weak spots or stitching coming loose. Leather is great for travel bags because it is so durable, but fabric bags can work as long as they are strong enough.
  • Comfortable straps. Too-narrow straps will hurt your shoulder, so look for straps that are at least an inch wide. I also like double straps.
  • Looks. It goes without saying: make sure your purse is durable enough for travel and professional enough for the office.


Before deciding on a travel purse, thoughts can swirl in your mind. What should you do with your purse while moving through the airport? Should you have a separate purse and laptop bag? Why do airlines hate women, only allowing two carry-ons? What if your laptop is huge? My laptop bag is not that attractive, I don’t want it to be my purse! And so on.

Take a deep breath!   There are several schools of thought about the travel purse.    Some find their travel bag too bulky to bring along out to dinner, or they would rather have something small with the necessities that they can grab. Here are some options.

  • Get a big purse that fits your laptop. I am a big advocate of getting a purse for travel that is big enough for your laptop. It’s the simplest way to make sure all your stuff fits. For some people, this means you have a really large purse for travel! But there are definitely large, attractive purses (or laptop bags that look like purses) that will fit a LOT of stuff. This works well for me because my laptop is pretty small, and I have found a regular purse that will hold it and my other stuff.
  • Put everything in your laptop bag and pack your purse. I think this one is a little more complicated, but it seems to work for some people.  They simply take all of their purse stuff (wallet, phone, lipstick, etc) and put it in their laptop bag, and then they pack their purse in their big suitcase. This way when they get to their destination they pull out their purse and put all the stuff back in. They still only have two carry-ons, and they have a smaller purse for when they arrive. Best of both worlds!
  • Drop a clutch or wristlet in their laptop bag. The other way to have the best of both worlds. Take your normal laptop bag, and have a wristlet with your wallet, phone, keys, and lipstick that you just drop inside. Especially convenient if you can put this small purse in a pocket or hook it to the inside top of your laptop bag.

See? There are plenty of options when it comes to purses. And of course, the fun part is shopping for the combination that works for you!

What’s In My Purse?

What exactly do I keep in my purse when traveling? I like to keep it simple, and only keep the necessities in my purse. I clean my purse out before every trip so I’m not carrying around receipts, old boarding passes, or other unnecessary junk. This way I can find everything I need when I need it.

  • Normal purse stuff.  Of course I have my wallet, with my ID, credit cards, and money, as well as my lipstick, keys, and sunglasses.
  • Phone. When I first started traveling for work I had a cell phone, a GPS unit, and an MP3 player. Thank goodness for my beloved iPhone!  Sure makes packing easier.
  • Boarding pass.
  • Make-up. I keep my make-up with me so that I can touch up when I arrive, if necessary.
  • Kindle. It used to be a book (or two or three), but now that I have the Kindle my purse is much lighter. And easier to put stuff into. For those of you who haven’t been converted into fans of ebooks, a book or a magazine will work just fine.
  • Electronics. My computer goes in its special pocket, plus I keep a computer charger, phone charger, mini surge protector, and a portable charger in my bag at all times.
  • Pashmina. I often use it as a blanket or pillow on the plane, and a scarf once I arrive. It has also served as a swimsuit cover up and a substitute towel.
  • Knitting. Just because I love to knit! I don’t always feel like working or reading, and knitting is a great way to pass the time.
  • Notepad. I love writing lists, and my little notebook holds them all. I have to keep it around in case I have a stroke of brilliance!
  • Ziploc of teabags, Splenda, and Emergen-C. In case I need a pick-me-up, or the hotel doesn’t have Splenda or a good teabag. Little comforts can make being away from home much easier.

Readers, what do you think is the most important feature in a personal item?

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