photo by lizzie_g
This is a difficult question and one I see asked quite a lot on blogs and Twitter in the travel-sphere. And basically it comes down to the individual and what they prefer, as well as where you are travelling to and what is more convenient for the location. But I thought I would include some tips and recommendations that could help you make the decision, whether it’s your first trip out or whether you are considering switching!
In the beginning, during my first couple of longer-term trips, I had a huge backpack-I think it was 74L. It was top loading but it did have a zipper at the bottom, although I rarely used it. It had a metal frame and was super sturdy and I still have it somewhere. The pros of this type of backpack was that it could fit a LOT. You didn’t have to be super organized as there was only one way to fit everything in, through the top draw string entrance and since there was so much space, I was able to buy things along my trip, bring books etc. However, the things that made this backpack good were exactly the same reasons it was bad. It was WAY too big. Both for my frame and in capacity. Because it was so big, I filled it with whatever I could. Mostly books. I think at one point, during my first longer term trip I had like, ten books. Pre-Kindle days. It weighed a tonne. Because it was too long for my frame, and because it was too big, it hurt to carry.
Fast forward a couple of years and a couple of journeys and we have invested in higher priced, but better packs. We are currently using the Osprey Farpoint 70
and it seems to be fairly affordable on Amazon. Because we bought it in a smaller town/city, we paid probably paid more. Sometimes buying online can be a lot cheaper! That being said, the bags were fitted for us by the store so we could be sure we were getting the right size. The Farpoint comes in a couple different sizes and it was nice to put a backpack on that actually felt right and to have shop staff adjust the straps and show you how it is supposed to be worn. It turns out I had the straps all wrong and my shoulders were carrying most of the weight, rather than my hips and back. No wonder they always hurt so bad!
There are a few other things we really like about this pack, other than it’s size. It has a detachable daypack. So when we are walking from the aiport or train station or whatever, we can zip the daypack onto the main part of the pack and only have to carry one bag. The daypack serves as our carry on when we are flying, and we check the main part of the bag. The daypack has a little padded insert for a laptop and quite a bit of space. They are super durable and have a lifetime warranty as well, so while your initial investment may be more, they cover all manufacturing defects and problems. Not regular wear and tear stuff of course. A couple of years ago, an airline in Turkey made a small slice in my the main part of this bag, but I had it repaired, which the airline covered and it’s still going just fine. I wouldn’t say they are totally waterproof, but they are definitely water-resistant and the main pack compartment has a spot for a lock on the keys. It’s also side loading instead of top loading which means you don’t have to pull everything out of your bag to get to what you are looking for! Although the bag is called '70' this is actually, as far as I know, referring to the size with the included daypack. The size of the actual main pack is not 70L by itself.
So we are still travelling with backpacks. We often talk about moving to a roller suitcase though and we know that we might not always be able to travel with a pack, depending on our age and fitness level. But as long as we are fit and able, we’ll probably be using a pack for a while.
Choosing which one is best for you is a tough decision and really depends on a number of factors. First off, where are you travelling? I honestly think in the developing world, a backpack is easier. We have seen people trying to navigate a large roller suitcase onto the roof of a transport van or carrying it above their head in waist deep water to get to a boat. Suitcases, especially hard shell cases aren’t very flexible in terms of where they can fit and sometimes you are going to be travelling in small, squishy spaces. Suitcases and beaches also don’t mix. Those wheels don’t roll on sand. And for the record, as much as we see it happening lately, neither do baby strollers. Leave ‘em at home, you look silly.
photo by danka & peter
I think for Europe and other ‘first world’ destinations, a suitcase is practical, though. You’re never going to be navigating particularly difficult terrain and sometimes having something on wheels that you don’t have to lift must be pretty nice! A hard shell suitcase is sturdy when you’re flying, hard to damage and protects your stuff a lot better than a backpack. One might argue they are a bit more secure as well, in terms of not being easy to cut into or steal from your room if it is locked to something. We travel with a Pacsafe Bag Protector and so our daypacks with our electronics are pretty secure and knock on wood this has worked for us so far.
Although we still bring our backpacks everywhere, regardless of destination, there might be a time when we reserve our packs for more off road, developing locations and use a suitcase for areas where infrastructure is a bit simpler. When you are deciding, think about how much weight you think you can physically carry on your back? My small pack can weigh up to 23kg by the time I come home and that makes it quite heavy for me to carry long term. How physically fit are you? How much do you need to bring and how long will you be away for? Can you comfortably carry this much weight on your shoulders and walk to say, your hotel from where you are getting dropped off? Or are you better off with a suitcase? Will you be in a city or beach location? Are you going to be hiking? Camping? Will you always have your bag with you or will it be unattended in a luggage area when you are on a bus or train? How secure is it? In the end, everyone must figure these things out for themselves. How about you? Do you prefer a backpack or a suitcase and why?
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