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Suitcase or backpack?

What's the best luggage for travelling?
What’s the best luggage for travelling?

One of the things you need to consider when planning your trip is what’s the best luggage for travelling and most importantly what’s the best luggage for the way you’ll be travelling. There’s no simple answer as to what type of luggage you should use. It all depends on what you want from your bags.

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Is a wheeled suitcase the best kind of luggage for travelling?

Quite a few years ago now, I discovered the benefits of wheeled suitcases. No more struggling through airports with my large suitcase looking for a luggage trolley. I could pull up the handle and off I went. The model I settled on was more of a large holdall on wheels and I really loved it. I could fit masses of stuff in it, well the full 23kg airline baggage allowance anyway. Even better, my two young sons could manage their luggage themselves so now I only had to wrestle with my own.

I was very happy with my large wheeled holdall for many years. You used to see a lot of them at airports so I wasn’t the only one who could see the benefits. However, times change and so did my ideal luggage requirements.

So much luggage
So much luggage

Do backpackers need a backpack?

So, what changed? Well, firstly we decided to branch out from our usual 2-3 week holidays and try a longer trip instead. Our plan was to travel right around the world without flying. With a nod to Jules Verne’s famous Around the World in 80 days, we decided that would be our target. It was a serious trip and so, we thought, we needed some serious luggage. I did some research and the verdict was pretty unanimous. Since we’d be carrying our own luggage and travelling by train, bus and ship, essentially a backpacking trip, we needed some rucksacks.

Now, that made perfect sense. We were going to be middle-aged backpackers so of course, we needed rucksacks. I was quite excited at the idea actually, so spent some time visiting the various outdoors shops until we found what we were looking for. We purchased two backpacks, quite large ones because we had lots of stuff.

Whenever I told anyone we’d bought rucksacks the response was always the same. Of course, you need rucksacks if you’re going backpacking. Makes sense, right. Well, maybe it does in theory. Perhaps it’d be different if I were younger and stronger. However, for me, it turned out not to be such a good choice after all.

A rucksack is not always the most practical luggage for travelling

Here’s why. Firstly, my rucksack was quite large. Of course, that means it was very heavy. Far too heavy actually. I think I knew that before I even left home but I only really realised how much effort was needed to pick it up, strap it on my back and carry it around all the time once we got on the road. Just heaving it on my back was hard work but it wasn’t too bad once it was on. Except for every time you’re waiting around, queueing or whatever and you think I’ll just put the bag down for a few minutes rest, you have to heave it off and then heave it back on again.

Also, you can forget running for a bus or a train. Then, there’s lifting it. When you travel by train you have to lift your bag above your head and put it on the luggage rack. Now, this is where I say it’s a personal thing whether the backpack suits you or not.

Can you do the heavy lifting?

Fortunately, Paul was able to lift the bags without too much trouble so for him it wasn’t such a problem. Except he had to lift mine too. That’s ok for a few days but it becomes a pain when you’re travelling for a few months and you can’t even manage your own bag.

Although he could lift the bags ok, Paul agrees with me that he didn’t really enjoy having the rucksack because he found it a strain on his back. On the other hand, my eldest son met us at the station when we got home, picked my rucksack up with one hand and threw it over his shoulder. He loves it and he’s borrowed it several times and thinks it’s the ideal bag.

So, as I said at the beginning. It’s a matter of personal preference but it is essential to be able to pick it up, to carry it for potentially long periods of time, upstairs etc. So think carefully before you choose a backpack, can you really carry it?

Rucksacks are great if you're young and fit and on uneven ground
Rucksacks are great if you’re young and fit and on uneven ground

Looking for the perfect luggage for travelling

You might have guessed by my experience with the rucksack on our round the world trip that I wasn’t keen to do it again You’re absolutely right! When we decided to do around the world trip again, in the opposite direction this time and with some flying, I started looking for a better alternative.

I’d already decided that I wanted to go back to using a case on wheels but I knew the large holdall on wheels wasn’t the answer either. That’s great for getting to the airport, dropping at baggage check-in and forgetting about until you pick it up at your destination. But I couldn’t lift that onto an overhead rack on the train either. In addition, on this trip, we had some flights and we wanted to save baggage fees so we’re planning to travel with hand luggage only.

A small wheeled case is ideal

I did a lot more research. Then I ignored all the advice that told me I couldn’t take a wheeled case on a serious backpacking trip. I put aside large cases on wheels and looked for something cabin baggage size. In the end, I settled on a wheeled carry-on case by Eastpak. The small Eastpak Tranverz is the perfect size for cabin luggage. It’s right on the maximum of most airlines so that it can be taken on the plane thus saving extra fees for checked baggage.

Serious travellers choose wheeled bags too
Serious travellers choose wheeled bags too

It’s very light so most of the weight is whatever I put in it. I can lift it above my head even when full so I have no problems putting it in the overhead bin on the plane or on the rack on the train. Now, I admit this is partly because it is not that big and so my packing is obviously limited. This might sound like a downside and to some, it might well be but I’ve found it rather liberating. I pack carefully, taking only things I know I’ll wear and I managed to spend 2 1/2 months going around the world with my small case without any problems.

Where can I get one?

You can buy the Eastpak Tranverz on Amazon. It comes in lots of different colours and designs. It also comes in lots of different sizes so if you want to use it for cabin baggage then make sure you buy the small one. This is the size I have.

So much easier on the back

But how does it compare in other ways? Well, it’s great if you’re standing in a queue, waiting to board the train on the platform etc as you don’t have to pick it up or put it down you just leave it standing beside you. So, that’s much, much easier than the backpack.

What about when you’re moving around. Well, I think what’s important here is to get one that has a sensible height handle. You don’t want to stoop over it or have to bend to pull it. If you can walk along comfortably then it is no problem at all. I find it goes up and down small kerbs from the road to pavement ok. A good tug will get it up a small step. If you have to walk up or down steps then just pop the extended handle down and pick it up by the strap handle. Since the contents are limited I can carry it quite easily in these situations. Even better, using the subway or metro, it takes up a lot less space and I don’t knock anyone over trying to take it off when I sit down.

I suppose you could say that if I packed less in my rucksack that would save a lot of my problems and you’d be right. However, I’d still argue that the wheeled small case is the overall winner for me.

Pros of the backpack

So, just to summarise. What are the pros of the backpack?

  • Easier if you’re walking over rugged or uneven ground.
  • Works best in situations where you don’t need to take it on and off regularly
  • Are generally quite robust and waterproof so will withstand tough conditions
  • Will squash down or squeeze into odd spaces more easily
  • You look like a serious traveller

Cons of the backpack

What are the cons of the backpack?

  • Can be very heavy so difficult to lift
  • Can be a hassle to take it off / put it on again repeatedly
  • It’s easy to bump into other people with it in crowded places
  • Too big for airline cabin baggage so will incur extra fees
  • Can get damaged or lost as airline checked baggage
  • You need to carry a day pack as well so you feel like a packhorse
  • Can cause back pain and also puts a strain on the rest of your body

Pros of a small wheeled cabin bag

What are the pros of a small wheeled cabin bag sized suitcase?

  • Light and easy to lift above your head onto luggage racks
  • Easy to carry up and down a small flight of stairs
  • Allowed as airline cabin baggage and will go in overhead bins
  • Small enough to fit under seats on sleeper trains
  • Easy to pull along and leave standing when queuing or waiting
  • Robust and waterproof so your stuff is protected
  • Solid enough to use as a footstool or back support if necessary
  • They come in great designs and colours
  • You can carry a small daypack on top of it
  • No back pain, no strain on the rest of your body

Cons of a small wheeled case

What are the cons of using a small wheeled case?

  • You need to pick it up to go up and downstairs
  • It won’t squish very much so you need a space that’s big enough for it
  • Not great over very uneven or rugged ground

So, what is the best luggage for travelling?

This is my luggage for 2 1/2 months travelling
This is my luggage for 2 1/2 months travelling

Get yours here!

So, I’m sure it’s clear from my pros and cons that I’m pro the small wheeled case. If I was hiking across uneven, rough ground all day then I’d take a smaller backpack. In that situation, I think the rucksack wins hands down. In any other situation, I’ll be using my wheeled case. Do I look like a serious traveller? I think I do after all isn’t being a serious traveller recognising what’s best for you and doing it.