Soñando Sunday: Traveling with a backpack or suitcase

Vueling plane at Barcelona airport.

It’s a classic conundrum for travelers—should you buy a backpack so that you can visit Europe as a ‘backpacker’ or is it better to go with a suitcase that you can roll everywhere? That is why today for Soñando Sunday we are taking a break from where to go and focusing on how to travel. I am not going to lie, I don’t have the answer for you on which tool you should use to move your stuff from place to place, however, I can give you some insight that I have had about traveling with both a backpack and a suitcase.

When I really think about it, for me, the choice is always made depending on where I am going and why I am going to be there. That’s right, I am not completely faithful to either option but think that different situations call for different types of luggage. Now, you can see articles all over the web about why one is better than the other, but this is how I personally decide whether to travel with a backpack or suitcase.

I take into consideration why I am traveling:

This might not seem like a big deal, but the reason I am taking a trip will really influence how I travel and what sort of luggage I am taking with me. This is because certain situations call for certain types of clothing, etc. and depending on whether you have a backpack or a suitcase it is easier to be prepared. I mainly go on two types of trips: work and holiday.

Work: For work trips I will travel with a suitcase 90% (or more) of the time. Why? Because if I want to take more formal clothes I don’t want to worry about having really wrinkled clothes or having to track down an iron in case of an emergency—and this has happened. By using a suitcase, you are able to fold clothes in a way that allows you to hang them up and (mostly) be okay for your meeting. In addition, I personally think that having a suitcase looks a tad more professional than walking around with a backpack.

Pro-tip: If you are in a pinch, hanging rumpled clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot shower can help you steam out some small wrinkles.

Holiday: If I am going on holiday, which is the majority of the time, I almost always take my small 30 liter backpack with me (an older version of this one I think). Whether it is for a weekend or for two months, I can usually fit whatever I need in there which is pretty convenient. I also like traveling with a small backpack because I feel like it is easier for me to keep track of while I am traveling. However, there are exceptions to this logic, and I want to go over some of them below.

People using backpacks while boarding a train. Photo source veerasak Piyawatanakul  on Pexels.

I might switch it up depending on how I am traveling:

How you travel to and once you get to your destination should play a big role in what sort of luggage you are taking with you because you don’t want to be stuck lugging around uncomfortably heavy bags more than you have to. For example, if you are planning on having a car and basically going door to door on all your stops, it doesn’t really matter what option you take. However, if you know you will be walking a lot (either to get to hostels or to transportation hubs such as train or bus stations), having a really heavy backpack could get in the way of being able to do everything you want to do and having a easy to roll suitcase might be a better option.

At the same time, having to drag a suitcase around can also be a pain, especially if you are traveling to places where the sidewalks aren’t great—there are a lot of cobblestones in European towns—or you will have to take your stuff with you for long walks or hiking. Like I said before, I like to travel with my backpack but keep in mind that it almost never weighs 10 kilos (22 lbs). This means that I don’t have to worry about it being super heavy even if I have to walk a fair amount and I still pay to leave it at the train station if I am going to explore a city.

Pro-tip: Guestimate how much you will have to drag/carry your bag when deciding what kind of luggage to take with you.

I keep in mind the length of my trip:

Now this is probably pretty obvious—the bag I pack for six months isn’t the same as what I pack for six days. Logically, for longer trips or trips that cover more than one temperature zone, you need more stuff, leading to a bigger bag. In my personal opinion, the more stuff I take, the higher the tendency to go for a suitcase over a backpack. This is a personal choice as I know lots of people who are backpacking around the world for extremely large quantities of time and they are perfectly happy with this option.

However, in my personal experience I will say that I can get by for about two months (a bit more if necessary) with my one 30 liter backpack. Now, I haven’t really pushed the limit of my experiences with traveling for extended periods of time with this amount of stuff nor have I been mixing work with travel which, as I mentioned above, is one of my biggest determiners for what type of luggage I take.

Man walking through the city with suitcase. Photo source Tomáš Gal on Pexels.

It’s also important to count how many stops will be made:

I personally feel like both the weight of the luggage I am taking with me and the type of bag I want is influenced by how many stops I am planning on making during the trip. If I am just making one stop, then I am much more likely to take a suitcase. This may also be due to the fact that I tend to travel with a suitcase when I travel for work or when I am moving large quantities of stuff, so I travel with more, but I feel like a backpack is easier to move around.

At the same time, my backpack only opens at the top, meaning that packing and repacking is a pain if I am making a lot of different stops. Because I don’t take that much stuff with me and I learn very quickly to pick out the stuff I want and it hasn’t been a problem so far. However, if I were planning on doing a longer (than two month) trip, I might consider investing in a backpack that opens all the way around or traveling with a suitcase.

Pro-tip: Calculate the size of your stuff and how many you places you have to take it when deciding what type of bag to travel with.

I feel like there are so many things to think about but, with all these considerations, I don’t really feel like you can make a wrong choice. My biggest tip would be to think about the trip as a whole before deciding what type of luggage you want to take. I also strongly believe that once you get to know your travel style and what is important to you while on a trip, you will know better than anyone else how you move around.

Pro-tip: I do think that if you are going to travel like a backpacker, use a backpack. If not, a suitcase will probably be just as easy and potentially more comfortable—so choose for you!

What do you like to travel with? Do you have any recommendations?

Sincerely,
Spain