As lockdown in the UK begins to ease and the days get lighter and longer, it’s hard not to start thinking ahead to spring and summer plans. Although we may not be able to book far flung travels with any certainty right now, we do still have the staycation to look forward to, and at this point we’ll take what we can get.
If the last year has taught us anything about travel, it’s how much there is to explore right here in front of us, from the vast expanses of the Lake District to the frankly tropical beaches of Cornwall’s coast. And the best bit is that it’s all so accessible; there’s something pleasingly simplistic about throwing all your essentials in an overnight bag and hopping in the car or train for an adventure.
Luggage brands are feeling this shift too. SteamLine luggage saw its 30 per cent handheld luggage to 70 per cent large luggage sales ratio flipped on its head last year. Cuan Hanly, chief design officer at Away, says that “with travellers leaning into shorter haul trips closer to home, we’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for our soft goods, including our coveted weekender bag”.
It’s never hurt to have a dependable weekend travel bag in your arsenal, but now we’re getting so much use out of them, it seems there’s never been a better time to invest in a great one.
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So, what is it that makes the perfect short-haul travel companion? Well, that will depend on the type of trips you like to take, and how light a packer you are (be honest with yourself here).
For country escapes you’ll likely need a durable weekender, with space for boots and a raincoat, and for overnight city breaks you may only need something sleek and compact. Either way you’ll want it to look great and be easy and light to carry, with plenty of compartments to keep your belongings organised.
To find the best of the best, we tried, tested and lugged around as many as we could find and came up with this shortlist to simplify your search. We’ve covered all needs and budgets but the general rule with classic luggage is, if you spend a bit more now, you won’t find yourself buying twice.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Away the weekender
Away calls this the “ultimate travel bag”, and after testing we simply have to agree.
The brand has been topping the market for chic yet practical luggage pretty much since its launch in 2015, and there’s a reason why. Thoughtfully designed, timeless and hard-wearing, these are bags you’ll keep forever. There’s two main short-stay bags in its collection: the everywhere bag (£145, Awaytravel.com) which is slightly smaller, perfect if you’re a light packer, and the weekender, our favourite. Not only does it look beautiful (perfect for those holiday ‘grams) but it’s designed beautifully too, in durable canvas with luxury leather accents (there are other colourways too) and intuitive pockets that you didn’t even know you needed.
It has plenty of basic zip and slip pockets, but also a separate waterproof compartment for dirty shoes (great for muddy trips to the country), a clip to keep keys safe, a large padded laptop pocket and external sleeve to attach it to a trolley suitcase with ease. The top handles are long enough to throw over your shoulder but there’s also a detachable padded long shoulder strap if you prefer.
Size wise, it’s roomy and you could fit in everything for a long weekend without making any omissions. Given that it’s not bulky or heavy, it doesn’t feel like too much to take for just one night either. Bonus: it fits in the overhead of most major airlines so it’ll take you from the Cotswolds to cabin baggage when we eventually get to fly.
Paravel net sustain fold-up leather and grosgrain-trimmed recycled shell weekend bag
It’s not often you get a mix of practical and luxury done well, at least not at the affordable end of the scale. Paravel’s eco-friendly luggage is an exception. Functional and chic, the weekend bag comes in a double layered durable nylon shell (made from 22 recycled plastic bottles, did you know) that feels like it could withstand a British rainstorm or two with no problems. We found it to be super lightweight but the leather details, understated logo and monochrome grosgrain handles means you don’t compromise on style points. The duffel design is a great size for overnight trips, but you can also slip the back panel over the handle of a suitcase and use it as hand luggage when needed. The best part? No need to stress about storage, the design folds in on itself and zips into a handy kindle-sized pouch when not in use. Versatile or what? We love this for being a great example of investing in quality without spending hundreds of pounds.
Seasalt idless bag
If you’re looking for a multitasking bag that you can just as easily use in your day to day as your travels, we highly recommend Seasalt’s idless bag. Coming in a casual yet hard-wearing cotton canvas, this is a bag that will get used a lot. From beach days, to mini breaks, and even work if you’re someone who needs to carry a lot around with you. We liked that it was spacious but not cumbersome and the top handles fit comfortably over the shoulder. There’s also a handy detachable, adjustable long strap too for crossbody carrying if needed.
Next chocolate Emma Willis leather weekender holdall
If you were to ask your dad to lend you a weekend bag, this is probably the kind of style he’d give you— and we don’t say that as a bad thing. There’s something so classic about a suede holdall that transcends time and gender, and we’d happily take it (and try and keep it) if our father offered us this one. One for the traditionalists, this luxe leather design fared well with bumps and knocks, and if anything we think it’ll only get better with age. It has a stiff base (great for the practicalities of packing) and metal studs to protect it while on the floor, so you know it’s hardy. The leather does mean it’s heavier than other lightweight options though, and it does have some bulk to it. It will easily fit in all you need for a weekend away however, and we really liked that it had the adjustable poppers on the sides for when you do or don’t need that extra bit of space. All in all, we loved the vintage luxury feel, and were very impressed with the quality for the high street price (it even comes with a fancy dustbag for safe storage).
Antler chelsea overnight bag
Antler has over 100 years of experience designing luggage, and you can tell when it comes to this sleek little overnight bag. It’s perfectly compact but fits a surprising amount given the handy pockets, including a zip up laptop pouch. Being made of hardy water-resistant nylon, it’s practical and very light, but still felt feminine with the luxe leather finishes and cute colour palette options. We loved the smaller size for a quick trip and it would also easily fit neatly under an airplane seat (it has the back sleeve to slide over trolley handles too) or even for the gym on a day to day basis. If you’re an overpacker though, you may want to opt for the similar Chelsea Weekender which has the same functionalities but more space. It was slightly frustrating that the top handles don’t fit over your shoulder, but it does come with a longer detachable strap for hands-free carrying. If you’ve invested in any more of the band’s popular luggage, this would be a lovely little addition to a set, or if not, a great to start to anyone’s Antler collection.
Ted Baker immenyy softside holdall
Ted Baker may not be known for its luggage over its dresses, but our tester has owned a wheelie case of theirs that has lasted for years in great condition, so can vouch for the surprisingly impressive quality. This roomy holdall is also one of the smartest travel bags we could find, and it would be perfect for those who need something to travel for work with. Otherwise it’s great if you’re after that polished traveller look (who knows, it could even land you an upgrade one day— don’t quote us on that). It’s not all about looks though, this style has its practicalities as well. From small touches that will prolong its lifespan like a tough base and protective studs, to the thoughtful design features. We particularly loved the large front section (which even has pockets inside the pocket) which helps you keep essentials close to hand and avoid any frustrating rummaging around for your purse or documents, which can often be the let down of large holdalls. Despite feeling comfortably large (there was plenty of room for our tester’s multiple pairs of shoes, jumpers and full washbag), it is cabin-sized so great for travelling further afield when we can.
Longchamp Boxford travel bag L
If our tester could have kept hold of any bag they tried, it probably would have been this one. That’s not to say it’s necessarily the most practical (there’s only one inner pocket for example) but it certainly feels like the most timeless. The fact that the le pilage style that this bag is based on has been one of the brand’s bestsellers for nearly 20 years proves this point. This updated version seems to be better tailored towards travel, with leather corners to avoid any scuffing over time, a detachable long strap and a more hard-wearing canvas fabric. This also felt like the most luxurious bag in our list which makes sense with it being the most expensive (although only by a slim margin). The selling point of the pilage is its origami style folding when not in use, and although this Boxford doesn’t tuck away quite as small, it still folds flat and neatly in on itself which is a nice bonus feature if you’re short on space.
Oliver Bonas zebra brown and black weekend bag
After a bit more flair than the basic leather number? This zebra print version from Oliver Bonas could be perfect. You’ll find it on the more affordable end of the scale, but you won’t have to sacrifice quality too much. The thick woven cotton is tough but light, as well as being great for hiding any inevitable marks when you start taking this everywhere with you. The bag itself is spacious with room for a couple of changes of outfit, spare pair of shoes and washbag. There’s not many bells and whistles here but it does the job well. Tick, tick, tick.
Katie Loxton Kensington bag
Katie Loxton is all about life’s little luxuries. A great brand for gifts (to yourself counts) and coming in around the mid-range price point, it’s accessible but still feels like a treat. This rich khaki green leather-look travel bag is no exception, and one of the brand’s particular highlights. The style comes in lots of colours to suit your style (personalisation is available on some), but this one in particular is eco-friendly (made from recycled plastic bottles) so you can feel good about it too. It’s more structured than other styles on this list which gives it a more sophisticated look if that’s something you’re after. There’s plenty of room inside too — whether you’re off for a long weekend or just an evening you’ll be able to throw this over your shoulder without a worry.
The verdict: Overnight bags for women
Plenty of these bags have worthy top spot qualities but Away’s weekender beats them all, for us, as the best all rounder. Roomy enough to fit everything you might need for any short excursion, but still light; practical and versatile with its many pocket options, without sacrificing on style. Although it has a higher price tag, this is a forever bag that will happily join you on many adventures to come, near or far
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