Purse or Backpack: Do you need both?

People often get so caught up in “which backpacking backpack is the best” that they completely forget about their day-to-day needs.  Don’t make this mistake!  Your day bag matters.


Whats better: purse or backpack?

Daypacks, Day Bags & Purses/Handbags

A daypack is what you will take with you every day when you leave the hostel to carry your phone, camera, hostel key, wallet, maps, tickets for events/trains, water, snacks, umbrella, jacket, etc.  I generally associate daypack with backpack.

A day bag is another term for either a daypack or a purse/handbag.  These terms are used interchangeably.

A purse/handbag is a fashion item and hopefully self explanatory.

With so many choices, how do you know which day bag is best for you?  Should you bring a backpack and a purse?  What’s best for everyday use?  What’s best for traveling?

Here’s what worked for me as well as things to think about when selecting a bag for you.

What Worked For Me

On my first backing trip to Europe in 2013…

Small Crossbody Purse: I wore a small crossbody purse and my travel companion wore a backpack (hehe).  If I was traveling alone, I would’ve needed either a larger purse or a backpack.

Backpack:  We had an old Jansport backpack from high school to hold all of our stuff.  The backpack worked perfectly and also rolled up small (or flat) to easily pack into our big backpack.  

On my solo backpacking trip to Europe in 2016…

I used a daypack backpack, a large crossbody purse, and a small crossbody purse.  

Backpack: I used a backpack when I was wearing athletic clothing or doing anything outdoorsy.  I found this amazing backpack that folds up super tiny, takes up virtually no room in my backpack, weighs practically nothing (every ounce counts), unfolds into the perfect size, and is waterproof.  I love it!  This might be my all-time favorite travel bag!

Large Crossbody Purse: I used a large crossbody purse on travel days and whenever I was sightseeing and needed to carry more items such as a jacket or water bottle.  The reason I used this on travel days as opposed to the backpack is because a backpack must be worn on your front (which looks silly) and it also gets in the way.  A crossbody bag easily slips over your shoulder and stays in place without having to worry it will fall off your shoulder.  ← A crossbody bag is highly recommended over a tote bag.  Also, make sure this bag has a zipper closure to secure your items.  Note: Now that I carry a laptop and GoPro (plus accessories), I need a front backpack to hold all my stuff. 

Small Crossbody Purse: I used a small crossbody purse when I was sightseeing and didn’t have much to carry or if I was going out at night.  Make sure this zips shut too!

On my solo backpacking trip to South America in 2016…

I used a small hiking-style backpack, daypack backpack, large crossbody purse, and small crossbody purse.

Hiking-Style Backpack:  This was the only addition I had to the above day bags and it was because I was going to be hiking and camping throughout my trip and I wanted a backpack that was supportive and comfortable while hiking.  My hiking-style backpack had special features for hiking such as a place to hold my water bladder and outside clips to attach my gear.  I chose the Osprey Daylite backpack because it attached to the outside of my main backpack and made traveling easier since I did not need to carry it on my front.  Note: I still brought the small, packable daypack backpack I mentioned above because I am in love with it and I would wear it whenever I was doing daytime activities or anything outdoorsy that did not involve hiking or camping.  I found it to be easier to carry around and less bulky.

On my solo backpacking trip to SE Asia in 2016…

I somehow acquired 10 backpacks/purses within my first month… yikes!  Each served a specific purpose but did I really need 9 bags?!  Most days I carried as little as possible, depending on the activity.  I quickly learned that whoever had the biggest bag is asked to hold random people’s belongings.  Not fun!

Backpack: If I was on a motorbike, doing anything active, working/needed my computer, or if I was traveling from city to city.  [4 bags: I currently have a big backpack and a travel-sized foldable backpack.  I originally packed a laptop bag which broke and then I replaced it with a backpack from Thailand that also broke.]

Dry bag: If I needed to keep my belongings dry (e.g., boating, swimming, rain, etc.).  [1 bag: I purchased one of these while I was away.  Everything you need shows up at exactly the right time.]

Small Crossbody Purse: Any time I was leaving the hostel and just needed a “few” items (e.g., key, cell phone, camera, backup battery, chapstick, etc.).  [5 bags: I packed 2 small crossbody purses, acquired 1 small crossbody purse after visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, and I brought 1 large purse.]

On my solo backpacking trip to SE Asia in 2018 (2 years later)…

You think I’d be getting better at this by now, right?!  I finally think I am!

Backpack: Foldable travel backpack

Dry bag: Purchased abroad and its 5 liters large and folds flat.

1 Small Crossbody Handbag: Purchased Forever21 years ago and its still going strong!

1 Fanny Pack / Bum Bag: Perfect for the scooter (since I don’t have pockets) or crazy nights partying on the beach (true story). Hands-free is really helpful sometimes!

1 EXTRA BACKPACK: I have one large backpack that I use to carry my electronics on travel days. I wear this on the front of my body.


What To Look For In A Daypack / Day Bag


Is it cute?  Will you wear it?  If the answer is no, pass on the bag.  Also, what kind of bag do you need?  Is it for hiking?  It is for everyday use?  Do you need one of each?  Note: My foldable travel backpack isn’t the cutest but it does the job for me. Lots of people have stylish backpacks too!


This is a personal preference but I like my hiking backpack to be between 13L – 25L.  My Osprey Daylite 13L is a little small, but I was able to fit 3 days worth of clothes and camping necessities into it with the help of some packing cubes and outside attachments.

My everyday foldable travel backpack is 20L and I think its the perfect size to hold my belongings (phone, camera, hostel key, wallet, maps, tickets for events/trains, water, snacks, jacket, etc.).

My large crossbody purse isn’t measured in liters but I have a picture below to show you the size.  I tested it to make sure it would fit all my “carry on necessities” since I knew I would be using this on travel days.  Note: Now that I travel with a laptop, I no longer use this bag.

Just remember, the bigger the bag, the heavier it will be.


Will it withstand constant use?  While you can’t really control this feature, you can read the reviews.


Is this easy to pack into your larger backpack?  Does it take up too much space?  Does it weigh too much?  Simple questions, simple answers.  For me, the Osprey Daylite attached to my big backpack so that was perfect.  If it didn’t, then I would say this daypack may be too bulky to pack.  My foldable travel backpack is easy to pack since it folds super tiny.  My purse is not “structured” so it can lay out flat or even be folded up and shoved in an empty space.


Most of the backpacks will be comfortable but triple check that your purses are.  Fill the purse will the contents you plan on bringing and test it out.  They feel great at the store but can be really heavy and uncomfortable once packed.  If you think it is going to destroy your shoulder, get a different bag.  Note: My purse killed my shoulder for the first few days and I realized it was because I was putting my crossbody purse on and then my big backpack on top.  For some reason when I switched the order, it felt instantly better and I haven’t had a problem since.


You can opt to purchase a super safe backpack or purse made especially for traveling.  These are usually not that cute and I doubt you’d be excited to wear it.  If you’re like me, you’re going to pick a “normal” bag.  Backpacks are usually pretty safe.  Make sure your purse is crossbody so someone can’t walk by and swipe it off your shoulder.  Also make sure the main compartment zips shut to avoid potential pickpockets.  Tip: When I am in crowded areas, I always put my hand on top of my purse and hold it close to my body.  Note that pickpocketers hide out in common places such as the metro/subway or near street performers where everyone is distracted.

Peek Inside My Day Bag

I usually bring my main big backpack, a daypack backpack (the one that folds up super tiny), a reusable shopping bag that folds flat, a big crossbody purse, and a small crossbody purse.  I use my large crossbody purse on travel days and usually have a bottle of water shoved in there too.  See below.  

Ignore my awkwardness and the airport bathroom in the background.


Inside my daypack…


What’s your favorite day bag?

Max Heart Signature

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