First off, I’d like to express my surprise and gratitude for the incredible response to my blog, the huge number of readers from all over the world is just amazing. I appreciate all of your kind and encouraging comments, it keeps me fired up about writing! Promise I’ll keep it up if you keep reading. On to today’s topic.
Choosing a good suitcase that suits you is important. But I’d argue that choosing a perfect bag for everyday use is actually more important. It’s a search that even experienced tour guides have trouble succeeding at. Over the last 20 years, I’ve tried a huge variety of bags and observed hundreds if not thousands of tour clients with their bags of choice. Here’s what I’ve learned….
Right off the top, I’d suggest that you not buy a backpack for everyday sightseeing. The obvious reason is that pickpocketing happens, and if you have all of your possessions on your back, you are vulnerable. It’s so easy for someone to bump you in a crowd and suddenly your camera is gone. It’s not uncommon for me to stroll through crowded squares in Europe and see people with unzipped backpacks who are so distracted that they don’t even realize it. If you really must use a backpack, you should carry it in front of you, which isn’t comfortable and makes you look a little like a turtle who’s shell is askew.
Another reason that you should not choose a backpack as a daybag is a new museum rule. At most important museums such as the Uffizi, backpacks are forbidden in the galleries. Even some churches such as San Marco in Venice won’t allow them. If you think about it, it makes sense. With a bag on your back, you are less aware of the space your body takes up, meaning that it is really easy to turn around and smack other people or even fine art with your backpack. You’ll be required to check your backpack often. But not a purse.
I’m not much of a girly girl, I don’t carry a purse at home. But I need one at work for all of my tour guiding supplies. After much trial and error, I’ve settled on a unisex messenger-style bag. The one I carry every day is from Tom Bihn, it’s built to carry my IPad and have a little room left over for a few other things.
It’s a little over designed, but I’m really hard on bags. The strap that comes with the bag is adjustable and very comfortable. A similar, more affordable version is one I have found many tour members to use, from Travelon, which is nicely unisex and stylish yet neutral.
I often demonstrate bags in my packing videos, and I still recommend the Veloce, which comes in two sizes from Rick Steves. The smaller one gets high praise from my son who calls it his “Adventure Bag”. The larger one is great for the undecided, it has hidden straps and can be worn as a backpack or messenger bag.
The key here is the way I wear my bag, over my head and across my back. This way, my bag is really strapped to me and sits in front where my eyes are always on it. I like to project the vibe “If you want it you’ll have to take me with it”. I typically walk with one hand resting on top. This is an effective theft deterrent, just this simple gesture of walking with my hand on my bag. There are so many good pickpocketing targets in the tourist world, even a tiny gesture will put off a thief because there are easy pickings everywhere.
If you really love your backpack, I suggest bringing a lightweight shoulder sack for museum and church days, something simple that can hold your books and water. I use a shopping bag that I found in Germany by a brand called Reisenthel that is super sturdy and also helps schlep extra things. I keep it in my car at home too.
Now, I’m sure the men who are reading this post are deeply skeptical of carrying a bag rather than a backpack. Maybe it doesn’t seem….manly or something. But that is an American way of looking at it. Here in Italy, ManBags are all the rage and it isn’t a fad. They’ve been on to the practicality of it for years.