When we left the US in 2012, we considered ourselves backpackers or at least flashpackers. But even back then we knew that we didn’t need hiking packs. They are a pain for our type of travel. Over the years, as our type of travel has changed so has our choice for the best travel backpack for Europe. Not only do we need the best travel pack when we are on the road for a month or more, but we also need one that can be used for European city breaks and everything in between.
In this post, we talk about the differences between traditional hiking backpacks and travel backpacks. We offer advice on what to consider when purchasing the best travel backpack for you. Then, we go through a series of travel backpack reviews, offering different options for different scenarios.
The Best Luggage for Europe for Non-Backpackers
Buying the right travel backpack for Europe can make or break your trip. It’s one thing to choose a large travel backpack if you are going hiking. But, if you are city-hoping between Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels, or exploring the cities of Spain or Italy, you need the best travel bag for Europe, not for hiking.
Since our first round the world trip in 2009, and since we left the US in 2012, we’ve gone through a number of different travel packs. We’ve read numerous travel backpack reviews and searched for the best luggage for Europe. Now that we try to travel Europe (and elsewhere) in a bit more style than we used to, we thought it was about time to provide some tips on how to choose the best travel pack for non-backpackers.
If you are looking for something particular, or have a specific question, feel free to use the table of contents above to jump right to the part of this post that answers your questions.
Also, if you are short on time, use the handy table below for all of our top recommendations for the best travel backpack for Europe. Although I do walk through individual reviews of each of the recommended bags. Each of these bags can be purchased on Amazon, and most of them can be purchased using Amazon Prime. This means free, or at least quick, shipping on items purchased when you have a Prime membership. Last, most of the photos in the chart below show all neutral colors but many of these daypacks come in a variety of colors.
The Best Travel Packs for Europe – 2019
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
What is the Difference Between a Travel Pack and a Traditional Rucksack Backpack?
I am not a “backpacker” nor have I been for quite some time. That’s why this post doesn’t cover traditional backpacking backpacks. It used to be that most backpacks were made for backpacking trips, which could mean either a trip that would involve hiking and outdoor activity or a budget backpacking trip through Europe.
Companies started to finally develop and design backpack bags specifically for more urban travel. This means that people traveling to Europe aren’t stuck with a travel rucksack designed for hiking. This is a great thing for travelers because now a backpack travel bag is more convenient for people who are city-hopping, using trains, planes, and buses. But, what is the difference?
- Opens Like a Suitcase: The biggest difference is that all of these travel pack options are a travel backpack that opens like a suitcase rather than a top-loading backpack. I always hated the concept of backpacks that were top loading, which to me always seemed like nonsense. That is so inconvenient for traveling around Europe where you might be stopping only one or two nights and then moving to the next city.
- A Travelers Backpack is Boxier: Whereas most quality backpacks are narrow and tall, a travel backpack is more square, and boxier. This distributes the weight across your bag rather than from your tailbone to the top of your head. This kind of Europe travel bag is meant to be more like a suitcase.
- Fewer Annoying Straps: Whereas traditional backpacks require all sorts of straps for compression, attaching boots or water bottles or sleeping bags, the best travel bags for Europe don’t need all of those extras. Fewer straps mean it is safer to check the bag on an airplane and it’s easier to move around town with it.
- No Suspension System: Good backpacks are normally worn for hours at a time or even all day and need a good suspension system. Travel backpacks are made to be worn for maybe an hour at a time, enough time to get you from your airplane to hotel or train station to hotel. This is plenty of time for typical European city-hopping. Similarly, a travel backpack probably won’t have a hip belt, or it might be a small one.
Looking for other packing and travel tips?Check out the Best Travel Daypack Reviews
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How to Choose the Perfect Backpack for Traveling Europe
There are so many options out there, but there are few factors to consider when choosing the best backpack for traveling Europe.
- Carry On Backpack or Checked Bag? Even if you plan on checking your travel pack, consider choosing one that could, maybe, be a carry on backpack size. Why? It might save on checked bag fees. And, most important, it will force you to pack less!
- Size: Whenever possible, chose a small travel backpack! I cannot stress this enough. Expect to walk a lot in Europe. Expect to walk up and down stairs with no elevator or escalator options. And, expect to have to lift your own bag on and off a European train. Keep things as small as you can, even if you plan on checking your travel pack to avoid the stress and pain of lugging a large travel backpack around. Also, the lighter the bag the more comfortable it will be to carry.
- Laptop Compartment: A separate padded laptop compartment might be of interest. For me, I prefer to carry my laptop in my daypack, or smaller carry on bag, with other important items. This always keeps it close to me. If you keep your laptop in your main, larger backpack, you might need to put it in the trunk of a car or taxi, or underneath a bus in the luggage hold. This stresses me out.
- Cost: It’s not necessary to buy the most expensive backpack in order to ensure a quality backpack. Focus more on the lightest, smartest, and most convenient for your trip to Europe.
Other Things to Consider: Many travel backpack reviews focus on rain resistant travel packs. To me, this is a nice to have but not a must-have. We’ve never traveled with a rain cover and have always been fine. But, that is also because we are not budget travelers. If it’s raining, we take a taxi and stay dry! Also, perhaps look for lockable zippers, good carry handles for when you don’t have your bag on your back, and compression straps to keep the bag tight and organized.
What are the Sizes for Good Travel Backpacks
We understand that travel packing is not always easy, particularly if you are not a frequent traveler. Throughout this post, though, I will continue to admonish you to pack as light as possible when traveling in Europe. The best rucksack for traveling is one that you feel comfortable carrying, and that means packing light! It’s always possible to send out laundry or even to wash your laundry in your sink. We’ve done both! You can buy the best backpack in the world for your Europe trip, but if you want to cry every time you lift it, it will ruin your trip!
Smaller Travel Pack Sizes
Backpack sizes are usually expressed in liters in reference to the volume that can carry. A tourist backpack that is between 15L and 30L is probably too small for a trip to Europe. These are better sizes for travel daypacks or for an overnight trip. The best travel backpacks for Europe, in my opinion, range between 35L and 45L. I’ve used my 46L for month-long trips and nomadic travel, sometimes with extra space left over. This is especially true if you are traveling in one climate and don’t need bulky clothing. A 40L-45L bag is also the best backpack for air travel because it could be a carry on backpack.
Larger Travel Pack Sizes
If you need a little more space or are traveling where you need several sweaters and cold weather clothing, a 50L-65L travel backpack might be needed. I understand that not everyone packs as light as we do (and, no, size is no excuse as Eric is a giant). A 50L-65L travel backpack will not be a carry on size but will give you more space for bulkier items, or souvenirs. Anything larger is seriously not needed! No! Never! There is no reason for a 70L or 75L travel backpack for Europe. This should be reserved only for hardcore trekking. For reference, in the photo above, Eric’s bag is 65L and mine is 46L. Check out this post if you need tips on what to pack for Europe.
A Note About Carry On Backpack Size for Europe
It’s important to check your airline’s rules about carry-on size limits, both for maximum weight and dimensions. In general, many European airlines are more stingy than in the US. What could be deemed a carry on bag in a US airline might not cut it in Europe. I’ve found it easier to get away with a carry on backpack rather than a suitcase because overall they are squishier. You can always take out a jacket or sweater last minute and compress the bag down.
What could get you into trouble is the weight. Many airlines in Europe limit carry on size to 7 kilograms or 10 kilograms. I will note below what bags have not been a problem for us, even on European discount carriers like RyanAir. But, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I don’t recommend any hand luggage backpack to go over 46L.
Best Travel Backpack Carry On
If you travel a lot, or if you are planning a big trip, try to choose a travel backpack that is light and versatile. This is super important if your goal is the find the best carry on backpack. I discussed carry on size rules above but I cannot stress this enough. Think functional, compact, and lightweight.
Travel Backpack Carry On – Osprey Porter 46L Travel Backpack
We bought two Osprey Porter backpacks years ago, one large (the Osprey Packs Porter 65 Travel Backpack) and one small. My Osprey Porter 46 is probably the largest you can go for a carry on luggage backpack. What I like about the Osprey Porter is that you can pack a ton in it because there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles. Everything is functional.
I would probably venture that the Osprey Porter 46 is the best carry on backpack for international travel, and this is why it shows up frequently on a lot of travel backpack reviews. Although I had to replace this bag with a wheeled suitcase because of problems I was having with my back, we still have this bag and use it frequently. Now, Eric carries it!
The Osprey Porter 46 has a zip pocket in the back to zip away the straps when checking it. Newer versions have a padded back pocket to secure a laptop or iPad. There is a convenient small section at the top, near the handle, for wet items, or to stuff a small jacket. There is an outside pocket that I have used for sandals or flipflops. The inside is cavernous. You can fit so much into a small space. Although the travel pack is gender neutral, it is a great small backpack for women because it is wide instead of tall, and fits well on the hips. I love this bag!
Check out all the features of the Osprey Porter Travel Backpack Series:
Convertible Travel Backpack Carry-On – Eagle Creek Gear Hauler Luggage
I often find myself continuing to recommend Osprey and Eagle Creek bags and there are a few reasons for this. First, because we are not backpackers we don’t need the heavy duty, outdoorsy backpacks that other brands produce, like Kelty or Deuter. Those bags tend to have too many bells and whistles, which increases the cost. Second, these brands offer great value for what they are – travel backpacks. The Convertible Eagle Creek Gear Hauler definitely fits this bill.
The bag is 51L and is in compliance with most carry-on rules. I’ve not tried to take this bag on a Ryan Air flight, but to test it out, I might suggest using the compression straps as much as possible. Regardless, the bag is slick and compact. It’s convertible, meaning it can be carried as a backpack and with a shoulder strap. The outside pocket is super-organized too, with room for a laptop, iPad, and other electronics. This means that the main compartment holds a little less than the Osprey Porter, but might give you more flexibility for a second bag, meaning one that doesn’t have an electronics sleeve. It only comes in one color, black and grey, making it a bit more masculine, but certainly stylish enough for Europe.
Best Carry-On Travel BackpackCheck the best prices for the Osprey Packs Porter 46 Travel Backpack from Amazon now. Check the best prices for the Eagle Creek Gear Hauler Luggage on Amazon now. Other Options for the Best Osprey Backpack for Travel: I’ve talked to a lot of full-time travelers, and many of them swear by Osprey packs, including the Porter. Other popular Osprey travel backpacks for Europe include the Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack and the Osprey Packs Fairview 40 Women’s Travel Backpack, each of which is just a little bit smaller.
Best Wheeled Backpack for Travel in Europe
If you ask some full-time travelers or frequent travelers to Europe, people may decry the idea of rolling backpacks for Europe. Here’s why: Stairs. Cobblestone. Trains. No one wants to carry their backpack with wheels up the stairs in a European train station. Or listen to a backpack with wheels on the cobblestone streets of Europe. I used the think the same. Then, I turned 40 and had problems with a compressed disc. I’m sure I am not alone. The doctor told me I needed to use a travel backpack with wheels or some other type of wheeled luggage. I don’t think this would be the case if I were an occasional traveler, but I am not.
The great thing about a wheeled backpack for travel in Europe is that you can wheel it when you want, and you can carry it on your back when you want. The most important thing here is don’t go too big! It just gets heavy, particularly with the wheels. So, just go light! That also means that the most popular rolling backpacks tend to be smaller, more as daypacks, more to hold laptops and camera equipment. It’s actually hard to find a larger backpack that works as a main travel pack, with wheels, that is not too big.
Best Rolling Backpack for Travel – High Sierra Adventure Access Carry On Wheeled Backpack
I like this bag because it is a good size and can be used as a carry on backpack with wheels, and it has a detachable daypack. The High Sierra Adventure Access Carry On Wheeled Backpack can be used as a wheeled bag, as a backpack, and as a daypack, all in one. We used to own several High Sierra wheeled bags and we always had a good experience with them (until we realized the ones we owned were way too big!). The High Sierra 22 Inch Outdoor Rolling Backpack is another option that looks a little more stylish but has a lot of the same features.
One more note, if you decide on a bag with wheels, watch the weight of your bag if you are trying to comply with the carry on backpack size for European airlines. The wheels do add weight.
Best Rolling Backpack for Travel (Non-Carry On) – Osprey Ozone Convertible
I know I probably sound like an Osprey brand ambassador, but I swear they are not paying me to say this. I just love the Osprey products and find them to be one of the best travel backpack brands! The Osprey Ozone Convertible 22″/50L Wheeled Travel Pack is not suitable for carry on in Europe. But, the convertible travel backpack is a great bag. A 22″ bag is still carry on compliant in the US, but I think this is really pushing the limit for Europe. But, this bag holds a lot in its 50L, but the 50L is split between the main travel pack and the detachable daypack. It can be wheeled and carried as a backpack.
Best Wheeled Carry On Travel Pack for Europe – Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22 Inch Travel Pack
I’m going to squeeze this one in. It’s not technically a wheeled backpack, but it’s my primary bag, and I love it for travel to Europe. Let me tell you why. The Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22 Inch Carry-On Travel Pack is the perfect alternative to a travel backpack for Europe. We can use it as a carry on bag, even in Europe, and even on Ryan Air. The interior of the bag is bigger than you think. Eric has the same bag and uses it for week-long trips, even when he needs to pack dress shoes and a blazer. It’s lightweight. Even fully loaded I can carry it up the stairs in a train station in Europe. We’ve even used this bag as a carry on in Europe for a month-long trip. I just love this bag.
I’ve had it for a few years now, so the version available on Amazon is a little fancier looking, but has all of the same features. There is a small pocket at the top for wet stuff or a light jacket. There is a larger zip pocket on the front, which I use for shoes and toiletries. And it’s expandable to provide extra space while also having compression straps to make the bag seem smaller if trying to get around stingy carry on airline restrictions. I just can’t say enough about this bag!
The Best Lightweight Backpack for Europe
Obviously, I’ve been focused on weight in every recommendation I’ve given so far. But if you want to focus on a light travel backpack that would work well for travel in Europe, the Gonex brand is a great option. They specialize in hiking backpacks and travel daypacks, but they also offer a few that can work for longer European trips.
Best Lightweight Travel Backpack – The Gonex 45L Lightweight Travel Backpack
The Gonex 45L Travel Backpack is the perfect option for a lightweight backpack for Europe. It’s top loading, which makes it more like a traditional backpack, but is still lightweight and slick making it more stylish for Europe. It’s a good compromise for people who might want a bag for a weekend or week-long European trip, but to also use it for hiking as well.
Here’s a recap of the travel packs included above for easy reference:
The Best Travel Daypack For EuropeIn addition to choosing the best backpack for Europe, it’s important to choose the best city backpack to use during the day. We reviewed a bunch of day backpacks to help you make the right choice in our Travel Daypack Reviews.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.