Backpack or Suitcase: Which One Should You Use?

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.

Planned activities:

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

rei backpack pillow

My ultimate favorite backpack and the only one I really have experience with is the REI backpacks, both the REI 65L Traverse and the REI 45L Flash.

Favorite Suitcase Brands

Delsey

Read my full review here

Ebags Motherlode

Read full review here

Raden

Full review here

I have a bunch more favorites! You can read about them all in this post.

For more packing posts, check here:

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2018-01-19T13:47:48+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

4 Comments

  1. veena January 22, 2018 at 2:25 am - Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly — no one cares what bag you carry on your travels, so take the one you are most comfortable with. I’ve seen people struggling with both backpacks and with suitcases, and there have been plenty of places where one has been more convenient than the other. I also have a Lo & Sons Catalina canvas weekender bag, which I absolutely LOVE. It fits so much stuff, and I love the zipper compartment on the bottom for shoes / dirty clothes / random things. I have had mine for almost 3 years, and it has withstood all sorts of things and is still going strong. And on a random note, we are getting an REI in Memphis this fall and I cannot wait to go buy all the things.

    • Rachel Jones January 22, 2018 at 8:37 am - Reply

      I have the Catalina, too! I love it. I think I’m going to get the smaller version when I’m home the “catalina tote”

  2. thebritishberliner January 24, 2018 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    ‘Love this post Rachel!

    I have both, although my son has commandeered my backpack as it’s far more sophisticated than his..! Generally, when in Europe, I usually go to boutique hotels so my suitcase is best. And when I’m on a presstrip, I take my suitcase too. Back in the day, when I did my gapyear around Asia, my backpack was my very good friend!

    A few years ago, my husband, son and I, went to Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, & Qatar. We also spent a bit of time flying inland, where the weight allocation is flimsy, so we all took backpacks, and I was extremely strict with weight – 3 items per clothing!

    We’re off to India in the summer, staying at nicer places, and hiring a car and a driver when we need it. I’ll be taking my suitcase, and if we need help, we’ll just pay someone to carry them or take a rickshaw. Haw! Haw!..

    • Rachel Jones January 25, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

      You’ll be totally fine in India with a suitcase since you’re staying at nicer places and having a driver. Like you say, there are porters all over who need to make some spare change and will be happy to help you carry! I can’t wait to hear all about your trip.

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