Backpack or Suitcase? 10 reasons why you don’t need a backpack to go backpacking

Backpacking is a style of travelling where you travel on a budget, usually for a couple of months or longer, with a very loose itinerary but often without any fixed plans or schedules.

Backpacking is awesome. I’m more of a flashpacker these days but my heart still lies in this carefree travel style.

But I have a little secret I’d like to share today.

I HATE backpacks.

I always have. I always will. Even when I spent two years backpacking, I hated my backpack. Each morning I packed it up to move on to my next destination I hated it. I hated everything about it and I was so jealous when I saw my fellow travellers breezing around with wheeled suitcases.

In theory, backpacks are awesome. You just stuff all your stuff inside, swing it on your back and you’re good to go. You have freedom and mobility and they’re just so easy.

But they’re only that easy when you don’t actually have much/anything in them.

If you’re only away for a couple of days or you’ve 100% mastered the tricky art of packing light then backpacks are perfect. But if, like most people, you’re going to be travelling with a fair bit of stuff, backpacks are actually a bit of a nightmare.

If you’re not convinced, here are 10 reasons why backpacks suck.

Backpack

1. You have to carry them

Come on guys, it’s the 21st century and wheels were invented for a very good reason. Let’s use the incredible invention of the wheel and stop carrying heavy things!

 

2. They’re awkward to carry and they hurt

I’m sure Action Man doesn’t have any problem swinging his backpack onto his back but I do. I really do.

 

3. You barely ever need to carry your luggage

Admittedly, there are times when you need to carry your luggage but these times are few and far between. Everyone likes to think they’re going on an adventure and getting off the beaten track but 9 times out of 10 you’ll be able to wheel a suitcase everywhere.

 

4. Creased clothes

I have never mastered the art of packing a backpack and not getting totally crumpled clothes. I always roll my clothes and I often use packing cubes. Everything is fine for 2-3 days but anything longer than this and I have a chaotic pile of crumpled clothes.

 

5. Day packs

While I hate backpacks, I am a fan of the day pack. Basically, just a mini backpack you use for days out. If you’re going trekking for a couple of days, you’d take a small day pack rather than the large backpack.

Travelling with a backpack

6. It’s difficult to find stuff in them

If you have a top opening backpack then you can say goodbye to anything that slips to the bottom. You won’t be seeing that for a long time.

 

7. They’re difficult to organise

Lots of backpacks have one large, main compartment which makes it difficult to organise anything and your belongings get muddled and lost.

 

8. Things get broken

The soft fabric of a backpack won’t protect your belongings against the bag being thrown around. I’m not suggesting anyone travels with a china tea set but you won’t want anything breakable in there.

Paddington Bear

If it’s good enough for Paddington… 

9. Odd Sized Baggage

Backpacks usually have to go to a special ‘Odd Sized Baggage’ conveyor belt at the airport to avoid the straps getting caught in any machinery. This can often take longer and be located in a weird place. It’s not the end of the world but it’s an extra stress and hassle if you’re running late.

 

10. They’re not waterproof or easy to clean

Hard-shelled suitcases are both waterproof and easy to clean. Some people like having a dirty backpack because it makes them look like ‘a real traveller’. I don’t.

 

My tips for backpacking with a suitcase

If you’re convinced that backpacks suck and you’d like to go travelling with a suitcase, there are a few things you need to remember.

 

You still need to pack light

I never travel with a bag I can’t lift. This is mainly because I don’t want to be that girl who has to pitifully ask a man to carry my bag for me. I’m not going to get all feminist on you but, ladies, if you can’t carry your own bag, it’s too heavy.

You still need a small, lightweight case that you can easily carry up a flight of stairs.

 

Caribee Fast TrackConsider a wheeled backpack

I’m a massive fan of the Caribee Fast Track Wheeled Backpack. I can’t recommend this bag enough if you’re not quite ready to hang up your backpack but you realise backpacks suck.

What’s your opinion on the backpack vs suitcase debate? 

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (27)
  1. I love the idea of wheeled backpacks.
    I don’t actually mind backpacks because the ease of use trumps the inconvenience but even if you pack light by day three your shoulders want a break so the wheeled option is perfect! x

  2. YESSSSSS!!!! I backpacked for 14 months with a suitcase and loved every.single.time I didn’t have to heave a huge pack on my bag. In fact, I only needed to convert my suitcase to backpack twice on the whole trip. I have Eaglecreek Flipswitch – it works well because the wheels end up in the front, rather than the back, of the backpack version. However, because of the very few times I needed to convert I am thinking of switching to a rolled duffle…

  3. I have both and I think in some ways a backpack is better than a suitcase. For example backpacking in some parts in Asia. The roads are not as we’re used to and traveling with a bus or a train is much easier with a backpack instead of a big suitcase. But for trips to ‘Western’ countries, I think a suitcase is better.

  4. I completely agree! I have never been able to get on with the backpack! But a day backpack is my best friend whilst traveling!
    Glad I’m not the only one that thinks this!

  5. I couldn’t agree more! I’ve never been a huge fan of backpacks from the get-go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worried about my tech stuff being damaged in my backpack while I traipsed around Italy this summer! This has completely sold me into the idea of investing in a wheeled version.

  6. One year in to a two year trip and I’m about ready to throw my backpack into the ocean! Top-loading is proving a nightmare – every time I think I’ve got a packing system sorted I go to a new place with a different climate and all my organisation goes to shit. That rolling backpack looks like a MUCH better idea!

  7. I am totally in love with my wheeled backpack, there’s no way I would travel without it now. Best of both worlds in that you hardly every have to carry it but on the odd occasion when you really can’t wheel it you’re sorted.

  8. Ah, I’ve definitely felt that bag envy, when I’m carrying a backpack and my travel bud has a wheel bag. But that leaves the moment we need to walk up and down stairs continually. I find train stations, in every country, have countless stairs. And I’m the type of person who prefers to walk the stairs than search and wait for the elevator.

    I adore my backpack. It makes me feel like a nomad (lame?).

    If someone is interested in a backpack, I’d recommend them to find the right size and maximum litre weight for their body type (all travel shop assistants will help with that). I can say from experience, you can’t carry more than your body will allow you. Once you’ve got the right size and weight, it’s a breeze! But there’s definitely a time and a place for a wheeled suitcase!

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

  9. I hate backpacks too!! If I’m only going away for a couple of days (like on a city break or something where you know exactly what you’re going to need and can pack super-light) I take a little backpack but otherwise I’m a suitcase girl all the way. Especially if you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like! You still have to pack light with a carry-on suitcase (I never check luggage!) but it’s so much easier to find everything and roll everything up without getting all your clothes creased. I hate it when people look down on travellers who used suitcases – I moved to Australia with a suitcase and it was brilliant!

  10. This post actually came about at the perfect time–I needed a reminder of everything I hate about backpacks and why I never want to use one again.

    I recently purchased a “wheeled backpack,” which is essentially a suitcase with some hidden backpack straps you can whip out should you ever need to throw the thing on your back. I traveled with it through some rough, remote, often unpaved areas during six weeks of travel in CENTRAL AMERICA and you know what? I never once used those backpack straps.

    Even so, I was seriously considering going back to my backpack for my upcoming travels in Europe. This post reminded me why that would be insane/the dumbest decision I could ever make, so thank you! 🙂

  11. I’ve always wondered how it is that backpacks became the trend among budget travelers. That being said I’ve used a backpack for the past 10 years and I have kind of a love-hate relationship with it. I have to say I love being able to carry it when I’m wading through water or huffing down a sandy beach. But, you’re right, those times are so few and far between. When it comes time to make a purchase for new luggage I would love to get a wheeled backpack. I cannot imagine how much easier my life would be!

  12. Good points, but we still prefer backpacks. I need an extra hand as it is! lol! We use Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep organized. And, while my backpack is an old, trusty top loader, Kris has a fancy new zippered pack by Osprey. Unfortunately, mine does weigh a ton, but…so it goes 🙂

  13. I’m another backpack hater. I don’t want to look like a turtle or have a sweaty back. I usually travel with a duffel bag because I catch flights with a 7kg luggage allowance and I don’t want my bag taking up half of that before I even pack.

  14. Preach my dear! I absolutely hate backpacks. Often times on my travels I’m met with the idea thar you’re not “real” backpacker/traveller if you travel with a suitcase. Well,I most certainly do not feel the need to prove myself a “true traveller” by stumbling around awkwardly, squashed by the weight of my backpack and dealing with creased clothes and broken stuff. The wheeled backpack sounds like a great in-between solution!

    1. A lot of people have recommended the Osprey convertible backpacks. I need to check them out!
      I wish I’d ditched my backpack sooner, I don’t know why I held on to it for so long.

  15. I am a forty something ‘flash packer’ – I love this term! I have just returned from 6 weeks travelling around Asia and agonised over whether to take a case or a backpack. We decided on the case because it was more secure when staying in places with no in room safe. I can honestly say that whilst I felt a little silly at times when we were the only ones with a case I found it a perfectly acceptable way to travel. I am also religious about packing that case with travel pods which you can by on Amazon which allow you to group all toiletries, underwear, cables etc together conveniently and makes packing much easier. Thanks for making me feel like a cool flash packer instead of a very untrendy backpacker.

  16. I’ll be going on my first “backpacking” trip around Ireland very soon- I say backpacking in quotes because I’m seriously considering ditching the backpack and bringing a suitcase instead! I have some shoulder problems so I don’t think carrying around a backpack would be good for me.

  17. Yes, I believe that suitcases are better than backpacks. I never liked backpacks because they make my back and shoulders hurt very quickly, even small ones. Also, it’s easier for you to find what you’re looking for without having to unpack everything. For backpacks, you’ll try your best to squeeze as much as possible into that big compartment, but there’s always going to be unused space. With suitcases, you can fill as much space as possible to fill the rectangular space.

  18. I use a two bag approach – a small wheeled suitcase, for my heavier things, and a duffel bag I can sling over my shoulder, for all my clothes and anything valuable I want to keep especially close. The smaller size of the suitcase makes it easy to lift/manoeuvre if I have to over dodgy terrain; the smaller size duffel bag means it’s easy to lift/carry for long distances. Perfect!

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.