It’s the long-debated travel conundrum. You’ve booked your group trip or tour, but should you travel with a suitcase or backpack?
Suitcases can offer ease of unpacking in your chosen destination and more room for all your essential items, but have you ever tried to roll a suitcase down a rocky road? Not ideal. Meanwhile, backpacks offer ease of transport, but walking around with 15kgs on your back can quickly become tiresome.
So, which option is right for you? The gloves are off as we compare the two arch rivals of the travel world…
“I’d advise travellers to take a suitcase with an extendable handle and wheels for any overseas trip. Firstly, suitcases can be packed in a very organized manner so that everything is easily accessible once you hit your hotel room. Wheels and a handle allow for easy transport, whether to the hotel, onto a coach in the morning or when you’re walking to catch a cab to the airport.” – Jordan Allen, Contiki Trip Manager, USA
The pros of carrying a suitcase are clear. As Jordan says, you can keep your clothing, shoes and toiletries more organised in a suitcase. This means it’s easier to find what you’re looking for on the fly and it’s easier to unpack and repack between destinations. It also keeps your valuables safer – to an extent – with one locked entry point, rather than multiple zippers and openings on a backpack.
However, it is easy to bring more than you need when you have room! So you have to check yourself when packing and channel your inner Marie Kondo to think: do I need this hot pink bucket hat in France? Will it bring me joy?
For a short stay or for travel through cities, a suitcase is the perfect option. It’s when you’re walking long distances or going through more remote locations that a suitcase could hinder you. It’s also about 10x more difficult to roll a suitcase over cobblestones, dirt roads and up copious amounts of stairs. So, this is where a travel backpack comes in…
Pro travel backpack
“I always recommend a backpack to anyone travelling overseas. Backpacks make travelling easier, as they allow you to be hands-free so you can easily check the maps on your phone, purchase train tickets, or go up and downstairs while transiting. Lugging a heavy suitcase awkwardly up and downstairs is never fun, especially in busy cities like London or Paris. Make sure you opt for a front-loading backpack (not a top-loader), for easy access plus grab some packing cubes to keep things organised and easy to find. Many backpacks also have a small detachable day pack that you can use when needed.” – Jess Flint, Contiki Marketing, AUS
Backpacks are the best friend of the adventurous traveller. If you’re heading out on your journey with the intention of hiking, camping or doing anything super outdoorsy then a backpack is the obvious choice for traversing the rough terrain. But it’s not just wilderness lovers who enjoy a good backpack.
If your travel plans involve you taking four different buses from one South American region to another, or walking half an hour from the remote train station to your accommodation in a little European town, a backpack will make it much easier for you to get about hassle-free. Like Jess mentions, it also leaves your hands free for looking at maps, making purchases or just holding on to your snacks. After all, snacks are a very essential item when in transit, to keep you from getting hangry when you’re lost and confused.
Unlike suitcases, there’s no room to overpack in a backpack so you’ll make clever choices when it comes to deciding what to bring. Try to keep the weight to a minimum – think 10 to 15kgs – because ultimately you’ll be the one carting it around. It can get a little frustrating to constantly be unpacking when you can’t find that one t-shirt or your last pair of clean socks, so it really depends on your travel style if you think a backpack is right for you.
Ultimately, it seems the answer comes down to your personal travel style and holiday plans. Who would’ve thought?! If you’re planning on trekking through South America for six months, we’d probably recommend a good quality backpack like Tortuga, Kathmandu or Macpac. If you’re flitting through Europe, enjoying long lunches in wine regions and staying in a few select locations then a suitcase like Samsonite, American Tourister or Osprey is probably the way to go. Or, you can opt for the best of both worlds and pick up a hybrid backpack with wheels and a handle, like the iconic Kathmandu one. These tend to be a little more expensive, but can you really put a price on luggage happiness?
It makes sense that travellers who will have to cover lots of ground with their luggage should bring a backpack – it’s just easier. But if you’re travelling on a Contiki trip, 9 times out of 10 we’d recommend you bring a suitcase, hard-shelled if possible with wheels. They’re easy to store on the coach and, since you won’t be walking far to your accommodation, they won’t present any problems in getting around.