The constant debate on whether you should take a backpack or a suitcase on your travels will always be relevant, no matter where you’re headed to. There are pros and cons for each, and your choice is also highly dependent on what kind of traveller you are. Through this guide, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of both the suitcase and the backpack, and how each will affect your travels, both as an advantage and as a disadvantage.
Think backpacking and the first thing that’ll probably pop into your mind will be a bunch of gap year students looking aimlessly for their hostel. But backpacking, as a whole, is about adventure, independence, and spontaneity. Backpackers normally consist of younger explorers, who aren’t too picky about their accommodation or particularly bothered about how upscale their bathroom needs to be. And this is why you see relatively fewer older travellers as backpackers. Also, you definitely won’t encounter a backpacker that prefers high end cuisine on a regular basis!
However, people often overlook the fact that backpackers are sometimes the most travel-savvy people you can find. They kind of know everything, about everywhere. I mean, if you were to bump into a backpacker in a cafe and start a conversation with him / her, you’d probably leave the cafe with tons of priceless tips about the cheapest accommodations, packing dos and don'ts, and where to find affordable food. Yes, they know a whole ton of packing tips. It goes without saying really, especially when they’re required to pack all of their essentials, including electronics, clothing, water, and, occasionally, food, all into one six-pound (2.7 kilogram) backpack.
The question: is backpacking THAT good?
Would you adopt the whole backpacking idea and abandon the concept of wheeled, bulky suitcases for your future trips? Here are some pros and cons that may help you decide:
1. Flexible itineraries
Backpacking allows you to be flexible with your itineraries and schedules, given that you most probably won’t be staying in the same spot for too long. You won’t need to worry so much about the tedious packing and unpacking that comes with suitcases every single time you switch accommodations.
2. Better mobility
This is interlinked with point #1. So many times people avoid adventure activities such as a 3-day hike because of the fear of not packing enough essentials into a small body bag. And of course, why would you bring a suitcase with you on a 3-day hiking adventure? However, the fact that we turn down these activities partly because of this small reason would limit our chances of experiencing some of the best attractions that a destination has to offer, which would obviously make our trip less than perfect.
Backpacking allows you to carry everything with you, including a change of clothes. With this, you can say hello to all the adventure activities that await!
Travel backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, which will make it easy for you to find one that will accommodate your needs and preferences. They’re also really durable. Most are water-resistant and there are so many pockets. Like, SO MANY. Need we say more?
4. Reduced risk of lost baggage
This may not always be true but, most times, your backpack will stay with you, whether it’s behind you, next to you, or in the overhead locker on an aeroplane. This can also result in you travelling for cheaper. Cheaper air fares are a major plus when you can carry everything into the cabin with you. You’ll also likely find yourself taking public transport instead of booking a cab, because no suitcase equals no problem! You’ll also be able to opt for tents instead of resorts, to spice up the adventure factor.
Although you may be able to find a backpack to suit your every need, the weight can still be an issue. Packing everything you need in a carry on and bringing it everywhere you go could prove to be a massive feat, with you also having to deal with the constant weight on your back. It may not be a result of you overpacking or anything; the weight is simple inevitable. In the worse cases, you might be tired before you even reach the half-day point! Or, you may be too miserable and frustrated dealing with the weight that you start to actually cancel your adventurous activities that you planned!
2. Organising your items can be tough
Yes, we did mention that travel backpacks come with plenty of pockets, but the pocket space is normally limited and you can barely fit more of two things into one side pocket. Also, everything is all crunched into one backpack. So if you’re looking for a particular thing you’ll have to take everything out, take out that one item and put everything else back in again.
Electronics such as tablets and laptops may also cause a problem because these items are fragile and need to be stored in hard cases. So unless you’re okay with carrying them on your hands every single minute of your trip, then don’t.
Also, where are we going to store all the extra shoes? You can’t be wearing a pair of Nikes to the hot springs!
So far, so good?
We’ve gone through the pros and cons of backpacking and, let’s be honest, backpacking can prove to be something that you might actually adopt. But first, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the good ol’ suitcase:
For some reason, travelling and suitcases just go hand-in-hand most of the time. Suitcases give you weight relief and the flexibility of (slight) overpacking. It doesn’t matter how much you buy, as long as you manage to squeeze everything into that pretty, hard-cased suitcase then you’re all good. You may even go as far as to sit on top of the suitcase to get it closed! Of course, you must be willing to pay any excess baggage charges.
Travelling with a suitcase is a norm for many. At first glance, suitcases can offer more pros than backpacks, mainly because of their size, compartments, and the fact that they have wheels and handles. But try and picture yourself lugging along a suitcase while roaming very busy cities, such as New York or Bangkok. Not much of a pro now, right?
The question? How good are suitcases as compared to backpacks? Can they win?
Here’s the breakdown:
Space, space, and more space! You won’t have to worry so much about running out of space and overpacking. Until you actually run out of space, but suitcases provide way more space than backpacks! And excess baggage, would you rather pay for the excess baggage or throw away all your precious souvenirs at the airport?
Most suitcases nowadays come with an abundance of different compartments, which will make organisation easier. The many different compartments will definitely bring joy to every person who just loves packing. And even if you’re not an organised person, the amount of space will be sure to outweigh the disadvantages. As mentioned before, backpacks do come with several different compartments and pockets as well, and the only thing they’re lacking is the room in these pockets and compartments as compared to those of suitcases. So one point for suitcases!
2. Weight distribution
This goes without saying. With handles and wheels, what more could you ask for? Oh, also, no bad backs!
3. Better protection
These days, it’s very easy to find a suitcase that comes with a lock. Whether it’s a key lock or a combination lock, these locks offer great protection, especially when you’re storing valuables such as electronics and cash. The objective is to not lose the key or forget your combination code, that’s all!
4. Any kind of travel
Because the suitcase is associated with convenience, it’s suitable for almost every kind of travel. So whether you’re road tripping or on a business trip, carry your suitcase. Unless, of course, you’re a backpacker! But suitcases are especially suitable for business trips. You can’t be packing your documents, laptops, and suits in a backpack, right? I mean, would you want your documents and your suits to be crumpled? And we’ve already gone through the reasons why storing electronics in backpacks is a bad idea.
Think subway stations, guesthouses, and rural areas. Not everywhere you go will have moving walkways, escalators, or lifts. Having to carry that heavy luggage, which, we should add, can amount to almost 110 pounds (50 kilograms) or more, can be a feat. It will not only be an inconvenience, but also an energy-waster. Imagine having just landed and you’re making your way to the hotel but have to go through subway stations that don’t come with lifts. You’ll be tired before your trip even starts!
Being caught in a crowd is one of the worst things that can happen to you when you have a suitcase. Crowded places are unavoidable, no matter which way you turn. And having a to drag a suitcase with you will annoy not only the people around you, but you yourself as well. You’ll actually end up having to carry that big bulky thing around instead!
Let’s not forget about cobblestone streets, which are especially common in Europe. It will be a shame to have the wheels of your pretty, expensive suitcase coming off in the middle of the street!
The suitcase and the backpack each have pros that outweigh the cons. Also, your choice does depend on what type of traveller you are, and, of course, where you intend to go, and for what purpose. If you’re going on a business trip, the backpack is definitely a no deal, unless you’re totally okay with pressing your suits and formal wear in the hotel room!
Also, you can’t possibly bring a suitcase if you’re planning to stay at hostels throughout your trip. The personal locker space at hostels is usually very limited and, most times, they’ll have you store a bulky suitcase someplace else, which may not be as safe and secure as a personal locker.
Or, if you still can’t make up your mind, get yourself a backpack that comes with wheels! There you go, problem solved! Although most of these backpacks come with limited space. Nothing’s perfect, right?!
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