Suitcase or backpack? That’s a commonly asked question every traveller must face occasionally when planning her trip and the opinions are separate. There are benefits and disadvantages to both types of luggage and there are a lot of things playing within this decision. Though, no matter how overwhelmed or clueless you might be about making it, I want to give you a quick overview on the pros and cons of traveling with both to make taking this decision easier for you.
In addition, you will find 3 simple tips to reduce your luggage size and make traveling more convenient. Because there’s really nothing more uncomfortable than having to carry 30 kg around the city.
So here are some pros and cons on traveling with a backpack and suitcase and 3 simple tips to optimize your luggage:
General luggage tips
The stuff you need when traveling and therefore what you must include in your luggage is completely individual. Every trip, country and form of traveling is different and you will definitely need other stuff for Bali than you’d need in Canada. Also, if you’re a surfer there will be other priorities concerning your luggage then if you’re a city girl or beauty blogger.
Though one thing goes for all of us, the less you bring the better you travel. No one really wants to carry 30kg for a few hours while looking for a place to stay am I right?!
So, my first tip is – and this might seem hard when you travel the first time – try to reduce your luggage to a minimum. My goal is to always stay between 10-15 kg because that’s a weight I could carry for a while without struggling.
“But Tara, I really need all that stuff, I can’t bring less.” you might say now. I feel you, I’ve thought exactly the same when I first started traveling. And to be honest no one can blame you. It’s anything else but easy to imagine what you need and what don’t and I totally get that you rather bring everything, just in case. That’s perfectly human and we all need to go through this to find out what things we really need while traveling.
Optimizing your luggage is a process that takes a lot of traveling. And even then, you will probably still bring stuff you won’t need. There’s nothing you can do about that. You can just try to keep it to a minimum.
And trust me, once you travelled a few times you get to know what stuff you really need and what you can easily relinquish for a few weeks.
To really optimize your packing list, I suggest writing down all the things you didn’t use or used just once after every trip. Next time you go traveling, leave some of that stuff at home. That way you can customize and fine tune your packing list and after time, you’ll travel with less and less stuff you don’t need and more of what you’ll really use.
I for example started out with almost 30 kg, which drove me crazy. On my second trip, I already went down to 20kg, which was still too much. Now I’m traveling with no more than 15kg. And that is still plenty and I could probably leave 5 kg more at home.
However, don’t worry, if you brought something you hardly used, take it as a lesson for not bringing it next time. In reverse, don’t blame yourself (or me ;)) if you didn’t bring something and now need it, you can usually buy anything everywhere.
In general, always keep in mind – while packing – you can buy almost anything so if you’re not sure whether you should bring a certain thing or not, always decide to not bring it and rather buy it in case you need it. That’s really paid off for me because mostly I will already forgotten about wanting to bring it after the first day anyway.
That’s where we get to the next topic…
3 tips on how to reduce your luggage size
The first category you can really save luggage at is cloths. Especially if you travel to a warm country and plan to spend a lot of time at the beach, there is really no necessity to bring more than one sweater, one jeans, a couple shorts and shirts.
For some this might seem impossible to do. For me too! This was something I had to figure out by time and I still have a hard time not making that mistake again. Though as hard as it seems to imagine, while traveling people wear things more often than at home. No one is going to change cloths every second day. To be completely honest, there were times where I’d wear the same two shirts and shorts for two and a half weeks. And I wasn’t the only one.
As a matter of fact, when you spend a lot of time outside your cloths won’t start smelling that quickly. In addition, you’ll probably wear them less anyway, if you’re in Bikini all day long.
If this isn’t enough reason for you to bring less cloths you might consider washing more frequently to be able to bring less cloths.
I’d always choose washing every week above having to carry an extra 5 kg.
So, I really recommend to bring as less cloths as possible.
Here’s what I brought to South Africa:
- 1 Sweater
- 1 Jeans
- 5 Shirts
- 4 Shorts
- 2 Tights for training
- 2 Long-sleeves
- 3 Bikinis
- 1 Towel
- 1 Sarong
- Underwear for about a week
My second tip to reduce luggage at is to bring a limited amount of cosmetics. This for guys might be easy but for us girls can be really tough. However, I urge you to think sharply about what you’re going to do on your trip.
Will you spend a lot of time at the beach? Do you really need that much make-up then, or will you run around without most of the time anyway. If your answer to this is yes, don’t bring it! It’ll just sit in your backpack or suitcase and waiting for you to take it out again at home.
And if you have a hard time saying fare well to your make up collection, and worry if you – against all odds – might need anything you left at home, always remember you can always buy it there.
In addition, I’m all for safety but unless sunscreen isn’t beyond expensive in the country you’re going to, I wouldn’t bring a whole collection of it. Same goes for showering gel and shampoo. Bring small portions, preferable travel size. Once you run out, just buy new ones.
If you are concerned about your budget now, consider it as a pleasant compromise you take for saving yourself sore muscles and sweaty, exhausting walks. Also, you must buy that stuff at home too so there’s no difference in where you buy it anyway, right?
Thirdly, and I touched on this briefly before, you can really save a lot of stuff if you don’t bring too much “what if things”. Those are things, you probably don’t need but still bring in case you might need them sometime.
This isn’t the easiest either, because you kind of have to decide against your rational mind. Though believe me, it will totally be worth it and in 95% of the time you won’t need that travel save, suspension trainer, roof rack, sleeping bag or whatever you think you might need.
Once you’ve applied these three simple tips you’ll find your luggage drop by at least 5 kg if not more.
And in case you still think you will need and can’t cut down on this stuff, that’s totally fine too. As I said, after time you’ll figure out what things you can leave at home and which don’t.
Though once you start complaining on the walk from the bus station to your hostel, because it is longer than you though, remember my words and learn from your mistakes.
Saving the best for the last, now let’s have a look what kind of luggage you should go with.
Backpack or Suitcase
By now I’ve been traveling with all kinds of luggage. On my world trip through Australia, Bali and Hawaii I had a suitcase and a bag. In Central America, I travelled with two backpacks (a small day-pack and a larger one) and now I’m testing day-pack and board bag.
Though while I can’t say much about traveling with just a board bag, I can definitely point out the pros and cons of traveling with a backpack and a suitcase. (And I’ll let you know about the board bag travels once I’ve some experience.)
Let’s start with the suitcase:
- It is a lot more tidy.
The biggest advantage of a suitcase is that you can really keep an overview of your stuff and can keep it tidy in there.
- It has wheels.
Especially when it comes to more than 15 kg this is essential. It makes a huge difference if you carry 20 kg on your back or pull it behind you in a suitcase.
- Things are better protected.
When it comes to safety in form of things not breaking or getting stolen, suitcases are the clear winner. Especially if you use a hard case there is no chance someone can cut it open and steel anything. Also, once bags get thrown around at the airport your stuff hardly gets hurt when being stored in a suitcase
- You can’t carry it on your back.
Backpacking is not called backpacking for nothing. Mostly when “backpacking” you’ll go to countries and places where there is no nice road you can pull your suitcase on. It’s a lot easier to carry your stuff on your back.
- You’re more likely to bring more stuff.
Be honest, it’s tempting to bring more when you don’t have it sitting on your back.
- It is unhandy.
Along with the first point, having a suitcase can sometimes be really unhandy. Especially when it comes to driving with a scooter. Trust me on that, I’ve got experience!
Now let’s check out the backpack:
- It’s more handy.
In reverse to a suitcase, a backpack is very handy and convenient. You just put it on your back and are ready to go, you don’t have to struggle with badly paved streets or staircases.
- You bring less and are more independent.
When bringing less because you need to carry it on your back, chances are high you can really carry your luggage and don’t have to ask someone to carry up your suitcase into third floor because you overdid on make-up and cloths. And yes, most hostels don’t have elevators.
- You’re not considered posh.
Now this might be something you don’t care about, and that’s awesome! But, I can’t deny that I was looked at differently when I was backpacking with a suitcase.
- You must carry it on your back.
While this can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage. It completely depends on how much you bring.
- Welcome to messy land.
No matter how hard you try, there is no way you can keep your backpack tidy. Also something I know by heart.
After viewing this list, it might seem like the suitcase wouldn’t be such a bad choice. Especially if you love it tidy, safe and not want to carry your stuff on your back.
Well that’s what I though too. But I figured quickly that despite how awesome the pros might look on this list, reality is different and the cons are a lot more relevant in real travel life than the pros.
There is hardly any time where your backpack gets cut open, at least I haven’t heard from any. (Knock knock)
And cases that you find it unhandy and would rather have carried it on your back are pretty high due to overall travel conditions.
I should add, if you’re planning on staying at the same place your entire vacation, there is no reason for you to not bring a suitcase. Though if you plan to travel around, you’re better off with a backpack.
In addition, the cons of traveling with a backpack might not seem that strong when viewing that list, though trust me when I say, they are.
I too though traveling with a suitcase would be better but I regretted it hard. So, I really recommend you chose bringing less stuff over the inconvenience of being dependent on others to carry up your suitcase into third floor when there is no elevator or having to sit on your suitcase while driving with a scooter. And yes, that is fucking dangerous, I know! Get rid of the thought a suitcase might be handier because of its wheels. It’s an illusion you must pay for with sweat and physical pain.
So, if I haven’t been clear enough already, if you’d ask me, take a backpack not a suitcase. Even though the list is against it!
Learn from my mistakes and trust my experience. I promise you won’t regret it. Tough if you want to take or took this experiment for yourself, I’d love to hear how you did. So, write me a massage or share your experiences in the comments.
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And now, happy travels!