I feel like every traveler has their own opinion and preference on whether to use a backpack or suitcase on their travels. I’ve used both, though these days I often travel with a suitcase, I’ve hauled a backpack all around Europe, India, and more. Both definitely have their benefits and their downfalls, and I’ve experienced them all firsthand.
First, let’s break down the differences:
Backpack or Suitcase: The Differences
I’ll break down different considerations that you will want to take into mind when you choose what to pack.
Duration of the trip:
How long you are going really doesn’t matter that much. Whether you’re on a six-month backpacking trip, a year RTW trip, or a month in Bali, either could work. If you have just a two-week holiday, it’s probably easier and better to just use a rolling bag, but in general, the duration doesn’t matter much.
Location of the trip:
This matters a lot! When I was in Morocco, the little alleys to the riads back in the bazaars were very difficult to roll a bag and my poor little wheels had to put up with a lot. A backpack would have been much easier. In Bali, everywhere is so accessible, a rolling suitcase is fine. In India, there are places like Rishikesh or Varanasi where you can’t take cars to where hotels go, so you would have to roll your suitcase over the uneven roads (and cow poop) – in India as a budget traveler, a backpack is 100% necessary.
The budget of your trip:
The budget is SO important. In Bali, I was fine with a rolling bag but I was also on a quite luxurious trip where I took taxis between every location and was dropped door to door at hotels. If you are hitchhiking, or generally on a low budget a backpack will be more convenient. In Morocco, I paid several times for someone to take my luggage on a cart rather than roll it because I had the budget. If you don’t, you will want a backpack. Basically, low-budget = backpack. Even in India, you can have a rolling bag if you are on a luxury trip as hotel staff or taxi drivers will carry the bags anywhere you want that it cannot be rolled, with a nice tip attached.
For me, I use a rolling bag whenever I can. In India when I went to Arunachal Pradesh for two weeks of hardcore travel, Karnataka for a month, or Kerala for 10 days of adventure, I take a backpack. I still use my backpack depending on the trip.
If you are going to be hiking Macchu Picchu or roughing it on a 3-month Euro-trip, just take a backpack! If you are going to be on a luxe trip to the Maldives or flying around Europe for a luxury trip sightseeing, a rolling suitcase will be better. Rural travel will always be easier with a backpack: so anything outdoorsy like a safari in Sri Lanka or a month wandering the East coast of Africa.
Type of clothing you are packing:
It sort of comes down to money again. If you are on a luxury trip, with nice clothing, you’ll want it nice and flat in your luggage to stay wrinkle-free. If you are roughing it, you might care less and let it get a little cramped up in a backpack.
Do you care about “looking a certain way”:
For me, I’ve never cared about the tourist/traveler debate or if I “look like a backpack”. I am still a backpacker depending on where I go! But, I know some people might not want that. If you are going to a conference or fancy event at a nice hotel, and you care what people think, you might want a rolling bag.
Now, here are my picks for each:
The Best Backpack Brand
Favorite Suitcase Brands
I have a bunch more favorites! You can read about them all in this post.
For more packing posts, check here:
- A Chacos Buying Guide
- Packing for Various Regions of Long-Term Travel in One Suitcase
- 17 Travel Packing Hacks
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