You’ve done all of the hard work, you’ve planned the perfect vacation , now you’re in the airport and ready to start enjoying the fruits of your labor. The problem is, now you have to navigate the toughest part of the trip…baggage! Waiting in baggage check lines, paying too much for oversized and overweight items. Dragging your’s and the kid’s luggage across the airport, stopping to grab a snack and having to leave someone next tho the pile of bags. Finally getting to the plane and your carry-on doesn’t fit in the overhead bin as it should. Then there’s the added stress of dragging your baggage to your destinations. Pulling wheeled bags along cobblestone streets or having to carry them up and down stairs at subways or train stations. All of this stress, then you come to realize halfway through the trip that you aren’t even using everything you packed. There has to be a better way! 

Last year, my family of five challenged ourselves to pack differently. We wanted to focus on the experience and not the things we had with us. We took a five week long trip through Europe with only a travel backpack each. This was such a great experience for us all! We traveled seamlessly through airports, train stations, subways, and multiple destinations. The kids developed a new sense of responsibility and my husband and I were able to be hands-free for the first time in a very long while. After this experience, I wanted make sure that I shared this information with all of you, so that you too can vacation with the same ease we did.

Since our trip to Europe, I have reviewed the bags we took on our trip and then I researched new travel backpacks that we could optimize our next trip with. I have carefully analyzed and have chosen five different backpacks that I feel were best suited for us. Keep reading to see my quick review of each, which ones were a good contenders, and which one I ultimately chose for our #22AdventuresIn2022

My Packing Strategy

One of the keys to traveling light is having a versatile bag. That’s is why, for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica, I searched and searched for the best travel backpack. It’s not just about the bag, there are some other strategies that go along with it. For more on how to pack and maximize packing in just one travel backpack, see my packing post

packing in a backpack

How to pick the best travel backpack

After researching for the best travel backpack I narrowed down my list to the top 5. Here are the things that were important to me when finding the best bag.

  • Size – I wanted to make sure they could pass as a personal item for most airlines. This would save me from paying all those added bag fees (multiplied by 5 for my whole family)
  • Versatility – I wanted to make sure the bag had well thought out pockets so I could maximize every bit of space.
  • Cost – My budget was around $100 or less
  • Weight – I didn’t want anything too heavy. I was going to have to carry it on my back so I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be hurting myself
  • Comfort – This might be the most important qualification. I wanted to make sure I was not torturing myself with an uncomfortable bag on my back.

All of the bags I included below fit different degrees of these qualifications.

I bought all 5 of the bags below to put them through the true test and put them into a mock packing situation. Because this was a beach vacation, my travel backpack was being packed with 5 swimsuits (hey, you have to have options). 5 coverups to be matched with the different suits and that can also be dressed up if I want to wear them for another occasion. 9 Versatile neutral items that can all be interchanged to make different outfits. Then still have enough room in the travel backpack to fit in extras like sandals, water shoes and toiletries. A vacation wouldn’t be complete without my GoPro and some easy snacks and water bottles for the kids. 

Here is how they did:

The best travel backpacks

The 5 best travel backpacks

I had to make the decision between 5 different travel backpacks of all different sizes, all with their own pros and cons. These travel backpacks ranged in price from $49.99 to $119.00. Here’s the scoop…

The first backpack I looked at was $59.99 from Amazon and was the smallest of the group, measuring in at 19.7” height 12.6 “ width and 8.3” in depth. I loved that it had pockets galore and came with its own packing cubes (you know how much I love packing cubes). The biggest downside for me was that the laptop storage compartment was in the front of the backpack, which I found to be inconvenient for non-business trips. Another thing that weighed in the decision was the size, as this was the smallest backpack of the group.

The second travel backpack was from Target All-In Motion at $39.99. This bag was measuring 19” Height 13” Width and 7.5” Depth. My favorite thing about this travel backpack is number of exterior and interior zip pockets help separate and organize your items. The biggest concern for me, was also one of the pros. As spacious as this bag was, I’m worried that it didn’t allow enough space for clothing and packing cubes.

Backpack number three was also from Open Story and was $49.99 This 35L bag measured in at 19.25” in height 13” width and 8.25” in depth. This travel backpack was my favorite style out of them all. It had a chic design and just looked really sharp on my back, especially in the Heather Gray. Although one of the cons for me was the trolly strap configuration. I did not like that style, but it has now become Scott’s favorite for travel.

Travel backpack number four was almost identical to option three in many ways and was my favorite overall style. This was the cheapest of the bunch at $39.99 from Target. The measurements were a little smaller, at 17” in height, 12.6” in width and 7.9” in depth but was a pretty good size and weight.

The fifth and final backpack was the most expensive, $119 from Target. Almost double the other bags. The best thing about this traveling bag was all the small details. It had almost double the amount of pockets compared to the others. It also had extra cushioning in the back and on the straps, which made for a comfy carry. My biggest concerns were the high price and the size, but there were many positives. 

The Big Decision 

After looking at every travel backpack through and through. Packing them with a weeks worth of gear, carrying them around, and simulating travel, I decided on backpack number five. Although it had the highest price, I felt that the organization it provided and the versatility it had just won me over. I could easily bring it for my week-long vacation, have everything I needed and still have room to bring back some souvenirs. 

A few backpacks that are great for traveling that did not make the list were the Bang 40L and the Mother Lode. The Bang was a bit different from the other backpacks in that it was smaller but came in at $59.99 on amazon and came in many different color options. The Mother Lode Travel Backpack was very similar to the backpack style but was also at the top of the price from amazon for $80. 

I hope this post has helped you to see the pro’s and con’s of each travel backpack. And that it has inspired you to decide or consider packing light when traveling. 

Watch my full video review of each of the 5 backpacks

If you found this interesting and are wanting to learn more, check out my post about our 5 weeks in Europe with just a backpack each. 

If you need help deciding what to pack for yourself my post about my Europe capsule wardrobe might help.

Be sure to check out my TikTok and Instagram account to follow along with our “backpacking vacation” and more details on how I’m able to fit all of my items in these travel backpacks.