Messenger Bag vs Backpack for Travel

Written by: Chris Richardson

When you start planning for a trip abroad, one of the first big items you’ll buy will be your bags to carry everything. You’ll have a bigger bag or suitcase for your clothes and then a smaller one to use as a daypack for when you are out and about. It’s at this point you may be deciding between a messenger bag vs a backpack for this task.

Choosing the right bag is so important that it’s worth spending some time looking around and doing your research. What you might have used in school or university to carry a few books isn’t going to cut it when you are travelling.

Messenger Bag vs Backpack? Which is better for you?

Ultimately it comes down to what will be most comfortable to carry for hours at a time. How you plan to travel, and what you plan to put in the bag.

So let’s look at the good and bad of both options, shall we?

Messenger Bags

Choosing a messenger bag for your travel daypack vs a backpack.

On face value, messenger bags look perfect for travel. You most likely used one during your schooling, and they just look stylish when compared to a backpack.

The Good

What are the pros of a messenger bag, then? Other than looking trendy, there’s a lot of love about using this as your day bag for travel.

  • The single strap design makes them easy to sling over your shoulder and feel secure, so you won’t worry about the bag being stolen.
  • Messenger bags are less bulky than a backpack.
  • Given their single strap design, you can easily swing it forward to access the contents inside.
  • The internal design usually has a simple setup to divide your computer or tablet from other items.
  • They look good.
  • When boarding a bus or train, they are easy to hold when walking between the seats.
  • You don’t overfill the bag since their size is less than a backpack

The Bad

It’s not all great though, there are some cons to choosing a messenger bag for your everyday travel bag.

  • Theives aren’t as silly as you think and can slice your single strap of the bag quickly and then it falls right off you.
  • If you overfill your messenger bag the weight hanging over one shoulder can become difficult to carry. Especially if the weight in the bag shifts to one side.
  • While looking good, protection wise they won’t keep your laptop or iPad as safe as a backpack will.
  • Given their smaller size, if you get to hot walking around and want to stuff a jacket or coat in there they often just don’t fit.
  • You cannot padlock your messenger bag to keep the contents safe as most fasten with a buckle.


Choosing a backpack for your travel daypack vs a messenger bag.

A tried and true bag if ever there was one. Build to hold just about anything and then swung around onto your back to carry. How could you not pick a backpack for your daypack to travel with?

The Good

The pros of a backpack to travel with are pretty good.

  • You’ll have more pockets and hooks to stash just about anything. Have a water bottle? No problem, there’s a spot for that, oh and your laptop or tablet too.
  • Backpackers are made of a more durable material than messenger bags, so you’ll not fear breaking anything inside if you drop them down on the ground.
  • Backpack straps have got better for travel as well. Not only do you have the two shoulder straps, but you’ll usually have a clip to connect over your chest and even around your waist on some models. This can significantly reduce the weight of the bag on your shoulders.
  • If you are anything like me, you’ll buy a souvenir or two while out and about. Your backpack will have plenty of room for those too.
  • As backpacks have zips, you can put a padlock on them to help keep your belongings safe while walking around. Nobody can just unzip it and steal your stuff.

The Bad

There is sadly some cos as well to choosing a backpack as your preferred daypack.

  • if you’ve ever carried a backpack for any length of time, you’ll know your back can get rather sweaty over time. Even with the best breathable options.
  • Given the extra space a backpack offers, they can get very heavy without realising.
  • No matter what brand you buy, they’ll always be uglier than a messenger bag.
  • They are bulky so fitting them in your seat on the bus or train is difficult.

Which is Best Then?

Choosing between a messenger bag or a backpack to take on your travels does depend on the way you’ll travel and what you are most comfortable with.

If you often overpack or like to have a lot of options, then a backpack will be the best daypack for you. If, however, you want the fashionable feel a messenger bag gives you and don’t plan to carry too much, then go with it instead.

Speaking from personal experience, I started backpacking Europe using a messenger bag for travel and day-to-day exploring. I carried my laptop with me (as I didn’t feel safe leaving it in the hostel locker) along with a guidebook and a few other things. I HATED it.

The bag was always too heavy after walking around for a few hours and did not feel comfortable at all.

About halfway into my trip, I upgraded to a mid-sized backpack that clipped onto my main backpack for ease of carrying when moving between hostels and never looked back.

Sure I always had a sweaty back after walking around all day, but the comfort level of having the weight on my back was so much more convenient to carry. The key was not to buy a huge backpack. Look at the smaller ones labelled as daypacks.

Whichever you opt to buy, be it a messenger bag or backpack. Pick what will work best for you. Not because someone else said it was the right option. You will be the one carrying it around after all.