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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.

Italian men love them. Does this guy look like a sissy? I think not.

Still skeptical? Well consider this- who do you think is most likely to be pick pocketed, those guys or these guys:

So don’t hate the ManBag, embrace it. You’ll be less likely to get ripped off, won’t have to check your bag and you’ll look stylish and oh-so-European that you might be mistaken for a local.

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • Kristan says:

    My husband uses PacSafe’s Metro Bag…….but I have been a fan of Ebags Piazza Day bag for years and years…..absolutely wonderful organization comes in lots and lots of colors and at about $40 on sale ($60 otherwise) is really affordable…..very durable, is washable, strong zippers….I can’t say enough about it. I bought it for travel in Europe and now use it as my everyday bag at home

  • mvaden1948 says:

    I also love PacSafe bags and have several of theirs that I use daily….not just for travel. Although I’m coveting the bag you have shown above.And note that you have to take off a backpack on the vaporetto in Venice also! You can keep it with you but you can’t wear it….even on the front.Several years back (probably 10 years ago now that I think of it) I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and was asked to remove my “backpack” which happened to be a tiny backpack style purse that was barely big enough for my wallet and a lip gloss. So yes, anything on your back needs to be removed. Or someone will remove it for you. An acquaintance of mine was pickpocketed at the train station in Milan (on the escalator no less)…the person got close enough to unzip her bag which was hanging behind her(do not let your purse dangle behind you) and took all cash and credit cards (which of course she carried and her husband carried nothing) which were in her wallet. So it does happen. Be safe…and as Rick would say….”wear a money belt”.

  • Jody Huff says:

    Sarah,My husband loves his Civita Day Pack. Will he be asked to check this bag? It isn’t a big bag and he usually just tosses it over a shoulder. Could he carry it in as a pouch?Thanks,Jody Huff

    • Hi Jody, Civita bags are -usually- ok for most museums, but I have had them pulled at San Marci in Venice. The key is to make it look small and purse-like. I think we carry a version of the Civita that can be carried like a purse, check our website to be sure.

  • Peggy says:

    Great advice–great illustrations. Thanks!

  • Carol says:

    Sarah, I am enjoying your blog immensely. Discovered it yesterday,read all of your posts and was so happy to have another to read with my coffee this morning. Do keep it up!

  • Pat says:

    Thank you! For years I have been trying to get my husband to make changes during our travel experiences. I’ll show him the cute Italian pictures; ha, hope it works.Thanks and I look forward to your posts.A faithful fan,Pat

  • Scott says:

    Hello Sarah, My wife sent me a link to this article. I am still having difficulty embracing the idea of carrying a Manbag, and we just had another discussion about it this evening. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, The percentage has just increased the likelyhood of me buying a Manbag for our trip.Regards,Scott

  • Kathi says:

    When I am en route, I use the Rick Steves Veloce backpack as my “purse”: he designed that overflap as a pickpocket deterrent (over closures zipped to far side of the bag), with critical items in the bottom of the bag (or in the internally attached document pouch”). I particularly like the feature of the large strap that can transform the bag into a shoulder bag which one can temporarily position towards the chest (useful in museums). I like the Veloce because during the course of a day, I can add or subtract clothing to it. I cannot do that with a “Man Bag” or a crossbody purse. As a fashion compromise, I sometimes put a medium size cross body purse inside my MapleLeatherBags backpack (side entry) which I might check, thereby honoring the museum policy but having the storage of the pack during the day.

  • Karen says:

    I solved the man bag problem for my husband by buying him a Filson bag. It’s the most “manly” bag I could find. And yes, he carries it, and some of his friends are jealous.

  • Susan says:

    Speaking for women, I love my baggalini backpack, which is lightweight and sturdy. It has zippered straps, so that in museums I just zip the straps together and voila — a shoulder bag. It is large enough to carry my camera and personal stuff, and room for lunch. I used to use a civita bag, but in cities like Paris and Rome, the baggalini is a little more polished, and more like a real accessory. Red, of course.It also carries everything I need on a plane — earphones, kindle, personal stuff and a wool scarf. And being red, it is easy to find in a dark plane or cab.

  • Gary says:

    After touring Italy and having to check my backpack at numerous museums while my wife never had to check her shoulder bag, I decided I needed a shoulder bag too. So this last summer I brought a flimsy, freebie messenger bag to Europe. If it didn’t work out, I could always throw it away. Well, it worked great and survived the trip. I am totally sold on messenger bags. I’ve bought a Rick Steves’ Veloce Guide Bag to replace my old bag. It’s the perfect size for me. Another advantage of a messenger bag over a backpack is that my back doesn’t get sweaty on those hot summer days. I still brought a backpack for longer hikes where I want to carry more stuff, but I didn’t use it often.On airplane flights, I tuck my messenger bag in my backpack for boarding. Once on the plane I pull out the messenger bag and have it handy by my feet while the backpack sits in an overhead bin.

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