What Traveling With a Backpack vs a Suitcase, is Really Like

Choosing the Right Backpack… or a Suitcase

If you are thinking about going traveling and being on the road a lot (ie: not just staying at the same hotel the whole time) it’s probably worth it for you to read below what happened to me when I backpacked through Europe before you decide to buy a backpack or suitcase. The suitcase and ultralight travel gear are the two most important things to get before you go. There is a lot of advice on choosing the right backpack before going to Europe, but this leads the prospective traveler to believe that a backpack, carried on your back is the only way to travel for a long time. If you are deciding which backpack to buy read this first and learn from what I experienced. Or if you are already overseas and are having a hard time carrying such a heavy bag, read about what I did to make my travel much more comfortable without throwing away my backpack.

It was a few weeks before my big trip. 75 days traveling through Europe. I was going to live every young traveler’s dream. I would be living in a different city every few days, staying in hostels and surviving with only my backpack full of essentials and by keeping my wits about me. It would be a challenge but I would get around London by navigating all 17 lines of the underground tube, I would out-wit the pick-pockets around the Milano train station and I would find my way to my hostel, even when all the street signs are in German, everyone speaks only German and everything is in German, German, German

All this with my great backpack. Because that’s what backpackers do, it is part of the image and the budget travel concept. So that’s why it caught me a little off guard when I went into a travel shop, told them my plans and asked them for the best backpack for my trip.
“Well, you know, people tend to like this one, they like the flaps, or this one is pretty nice… but you know you can just get luggage.”

What? Backpackers can’t take luggage. I didn’t want to look like a semi-retired traveler who is shuttled to her hotel in a taxi and lives in a tourist bubble. It was more than just the bag, it was the concept. I was traveling because I wanted to live a little, to get my hands dirty, experience the culture and I had to be mobile with my backpack to do it.

Even though I packed ultra-light, by the time I had taken my flight and arrived at my hotel in London, carrying that bag was enough to give me major pain and tightness in my shoulders and upper back. I was feeling it after just the first day and I had another 74 days to go. I was getting pretty envious of the people whose luggage had wheels and they could just roll it around.

Something had to be done. So, instead of throwing away my $100 backpack, or shipping it back to Canada for almost the same price, I bought a little cart with wheels and a retractable handle and strapped my backpack to it. I now had faux luggage.
cart-for-backpack-europe backpack-on-cart-backpacking-europe

It’s pretty comical looking back at it, but I was the envy of many of the backpackers I ran into at the hostels. They’d ask me where I got the “wheeley-bag” and tell me how much they wished they had one. It worked pretty well other than being a little less stable than a suitcase would have been because the wheels were a little too close, and taking a little more time when I had to pack up because I had to redo the straps that attached the cart to the bag every time. However, since I was already overseas with my backpack, it allowed me to keep the bag without having to carry it.

Well, now that I’ve done it, I don’t think luggage would have been such a bad idea but this is only because I pack light and can fit everything into one of the smaller suitcases. First, luggage is a lot easier to get into because of the way the front unzips and comes right off, instead of having to dig around in a backpack. Secondly, I only carried my backpack to wherever I was staying and would just drop it off when I got there. A small suitcase is just as easy to take between the train station and my accommodation. During the day I would walk around with my lighter day pack. When I go again, I’ll probably just take a small suitcase because it’s a little easier to roll around.



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