Suitcases vs. Backpacks: The Great Packing Debate

I used to be a backpack or nothing person. There’s a weird romance to the words backpacker. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a packing implement. Some of us, no matter what we choose, won’t immediately become a free-spirited hippie the minute we put two straps on our shoulders. Of all the decisions you have to make before a big trip the thought of whether to bring a suitcase or a backpack is a pretty big one. Unfortunately, like most things in travel, the answer isn’t simple.

Really Think About Your Trip

My last trip to London and Paris presented me with a new challenge. My trusty backpack had snapped for the final time and I hadn’t got my new one yet. For the first time, I had to experience Europe with a suitcase. I had used a suitcase before for family trips, I knew the drill. You get off at the airport and head straight to your destination. Usually, my Dad would load up a luggage trolley and carry my stuff into a hotel or family member’s house. This trip was different. My friend had found an Airbnb in London and we were staying in a hostel in Montmartre in Paris. As I lugged an admittedly overpacked suitcase around train stations that hadn’t progressed past the stairs part of technology my memory of spryly jumping through crowds with an awesome backpack haunted me.

Be critical and think about what you’re doing on a trip. Packing for an intense hike is different than packing for a month’s train journey in Europe, which is different than staying at a gorgeous all-inclusive resort in the Carribean. Do you have lots of transfers? Are you taking public transit and walking to your accommodation? Think about every scenario you might have your luggage.

Remember That Stuff Can Go Wrong

I was working in Brindisi while my cousin was travelling through Rome. I went to meet him for the weekend and while I was trying to figure out the electronic check-in I heard a thud, immediately followed by the sensation of a much lighter shoulder. My weekend bag, and only carry on for another month had broken. I ended up fixing it with athletic tape and by some miracle that lasted for the rest of the trip.

It’s naive to think that our stuff will be in good repair forever, and this is the only place a backpack shines. Sure, straps break, zippers can get mangled, but both of those things are a lot easier to get to good enough than say, a wheel blowing out on cobblestone. No matter what you choose make sure you have enough cash to do a quick repair, and always, always pack a roll of duct tape.

Packing is All About Personal Preference

There’s a common idea that you should invest in a piece of luggage. It’s not a bad idea, I have an awesome hand-me-down suitcase that, while on it’s last legs, still functions perfectly fine. My other suitcase is, well, huge. I got it at Winners for under a hundred dollars. The front zip has already broken. I got my Elephant Stripes carry-on backpack from their Kickstarter campaign, and while I got a good deal it wasn’t cheap. I needed suitcases for this trip. I’m moving, and there’s some stuff I wanted to take with me. However, I decided to put more money into a backpack because after using both, I like a backpack better.

I wouldn’t recommend dropping that much money on your first piece of luggage.

Go to a thrift shop or a discount shop. Pick up a backpack and a suitcase for as cheap as you can get it. Use them on short trips. Experience which one feels easier, better. Notice which one you reach for first. When that piece, whether it’s the backpack or suitcase, wears out, invest in a good one.

Do you like suitcases or backpacks better? How did you figure out your favourite luggage? Let me know in the comments!

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