The lone wanderer with their life on their back makes for a romantic image, but increasingly – especially now that dreadlock-sporting backpackers are finding themselves outnumbered by their more clean-cut cousins, the flashpackers – the wheelie suitcase is being seen as a valid alternative for travelers.
Nowadays each trip can pose the question: should I take a backpack or a suitcase?
This is exactly the question my mum asked me the other day – she’s about to retire, and is planning her first trip outside of Europe. As someone who’s never done the “travelling” thing before, except on short holidays, it’s a good question, and it got me thinking.
There are pros and cons to each option. For example, a backpack is less precious than a suitcase; it’s its rough-and-ready, slightly grimy cousin who can take a bash and a tumble and won’t balk at the sight of stairs. It’s also got an iconic sense of status that the wussy wheelie suitcase will just never achieve: can you really claim to be a proper backpacker without actually having a, um, backpacker?
However, the backpack isn’t perfect. I for one hate having to constantly unpack and repack all of my earthly belongings every time I get on a bus and realize that my passport is at the bottom of my bag. They can also be a pain to carry around – literally. A badly fitting or oversized backpack can be at best an inconvenience, and at worst can cause serious back problems. And the sweaty patches they leave on your back after a long walk from the train station leaves a lot to be desired.
A wheelie suitcase is easier for getting around urban areas and developed countries, and you can carry more stuff in a wheelie suitcase then you ever could on your back. This means that if you simply have to bring a lot of stuff – say you’re required to bring an array of technical equipment with you on your travels for work – a suitcase might be right for you.
However, suitcases do have their drawbacks too. They’re often too bulky to sit on your knee if you’re on a crowded bus, and if you’re going further afield than developed towns and cities then they you’ll probably find yourself wishing for the freedom of dashing across grass and cobbles with just a backpack rather than lugging this four-wheeled 20kg monstrosity behind you.
That’s the great appeal of a good backpack: rather than encumbering you, it gives you a sense of freedom that a suitcase simply can’t. The important thing is to get the right backpack for you. This means don’t just hijack that scruffy one that’s been gathering dust in the garage ever since your kooky uncle took it round India in the ‘70s, but find one that fits you properly instead.
Backpacks are generally designed to fit male rather than female frames, and often straps won’t be designed to fit smaller shoulders and clasp over curves. Instead, try and find a backpack designed specifically for women, and make sure everything fits comfortably before committing. Some of these backpacks even come with cleverly-designed zips that mean that the whole thing can be opened up like a suitcase, which makes accessing your stuff and packing everything efficiently a lot easier. With a suitcase like that the world is your oyster!
Of course, different trips have different requirements. Take a careful look at your trip and your needs before making a decision. Where are you going? How much stuff do you need to take? How much will you need to be moving your bag around?
In my mum’s case, I’d be inclined to recommend the trusty old backpack – it’s for an extended trip around Asia, so I think that extra bit of freedom will come in handy. And also, undeniably, I do just want my mum to get to enjoy that feeling of freedom that being a bona fide backpacker gives you!
Do you prefer to travel with a backpack or a suitcase? Do you have any good tips for picking the perfect bag? Let us know!