Travel

Why I Gave Up On Backpacking – Backpack Vs Suitcase

Whether it’s a short city break, a week-long family holiday in Europe or travelling the world for a year, choosing the right luggage is essential to simpler travels. I have travelled to Procida with nothing but hand luggage and loved the freedom of breezing through the airport. I took my brand new suitcase to Spain and it was perfect to fit 3 months worth of clothes wrinkle-free. But when it came to deciding on what to take to Australia I struggled.

Travel Luggage Research

I looked on the forums and read various blog posts suggesting the pros and cons for both. Suitcases are strong and lockable, you can lay your clothes flat and not break your back trying to put it on and take it off your back. Backpacks are more suitable if you are always on the go if you have to navigate busy streets or cobbled pavements. 

Suitcases are better for going to resorts or trips like my 3 months in Spain. You are collected from the airport and it goes straight in the car or taxi, you can then unpack and easily stand it out the way. Backpacks are more suitable for tours such as the one I was about to go on. Moving quickly between locations, chucking it in the back of a bus, carrying it up flights of stairs in hostels in the back of nowhere with no lift. 

Decision Time – Backpack vs Suitcase

After researching the options I still wasn’t convinced on taking a backpack. I am not very strong and the idea of carrying weight on my back did not appeal to me. It wasn’t until I went to STA and spoke to the experts that I made my decision and chose to go with a backpack. It seemed like the most sensible option and considering I was going “backpacking” it made sense. 

My sister, having been travelling a few years ago, already had a backpack I thought I would be able to borrow, saving me some money. However, my interest in travel had sparked her desire to go again and she didn’t want to part ways with her backpack in case she wanted to join me. My boss having travelled 20 years ago to Australia convinced me to give his old backpack a new lease of life and allow it to return to a place where he had made so many memories. Unfortunately, it was a little past its best and I didn’t feel comfortable taking something that was likely to fall apart on my year-long trip. 

Organised Packing

Luckily my friends’ sister had a backpack she was given and took to a festival. It was more modern and had all the bells and whistles. More compartments, zip off daypack and waterproof cover. I spent the week leading up to my trip filling said backpack. I invested in packing cubes (best investment ever) so I could organise my bag for easy access to essentials. I managed to get the weight to bang on the 20K limit and off I went. 

How I Coped With Backpack Life

It was hard work. From lifting the backpack onto my back to carrying it around it was tough. When I was leaving the UK I had seats or tables or beds to place the backpack on so I could get in on my back and I managed easily enough. But when I got to the airport and I had to collect the backpack from the carousel I struggled to lift it into position. I was not so bad while I was in KL. I was greeted at the airport by Becca and her Fiance who helped me on arrival and leaving KL. 

When I arrived in Sydney however it got worse. I was a bit better versed in getting the backpack on from a carousel but after a long flight with no sleep and poor food, I felt week. I then had to carry the backpack and my hand luggage through the airport, onto the airport train and through the streets to my hostel. I felt like I was going to faint on the train with the weight and heat and tiredness almost consuming me. The walk to the hostel was short but felt like a lifetime. When I arrived I had to lay down for most of the day. These circumstances where unique as I felt rubbish due to the journey and I wouldn’t feel like that again. But it is a part of travel you have to consider, especially if you are solo travelling. 

Day to day the carrying around of the bag got a little better. The investment in packing cubes made using a top loading backpack easier. I had a cube for underwear, one for tops, one for bottoms etc, so I knew roughly where to find everything. Although I don’t think this was down to using the backpack, I did become lazy. Wearing the same thing most days. Often we would only stay in a hostel for one night, we had a lot of early starts and some overnight trips. 

I Started to Feel Like a Camel

On the second day my hand luggage, a brand new smart black rucksack, broke as I was running to the bank. The zip went on it and I was walking around with an open pocket. I was gutted, I had bought this bag with the intention of taking it to work and looking smart. I had paid about £30 for it in Accessorize literally just before leaving so had not had a chance to use it properly yet. I fixed the zip there and then but as the trip went on it continued to break, so this bag became useful only for keeping my travel pillow in. I ended up tying it to my main backpack to keep it out the way but some places would not allow this so I had to carry it. 

While I was in Byron Bay I purchased a beach bag from Billabong I loved the colour and it was going to be great for taking stuff to the beach but also as a laundry bag. A lot of the hostels we stayed in had laundry rooms quite a walk from the bedrooms so I was going to use it for transporting clothes. This also became my odds and sods bag when we were no longer at beach locations, I used it as a day bag taking suncream etc. 

I needed something more secure for my laptop so I also purchased a backpack from a luggage shop that was having a clearance sale. I got an expandable rucksack that could take up to 40 litres of stuff. This made things a bit easier as it was becoming hard to fit everything back into the big backpack in the same way. As I was building up washing things were not fitting. So I used the new rucksack and reorganised everything, the weight distribution was much better and I was now able to carry all of my valuables around with me safely day to day. However, I was now loaded up with:

  • A Massive Backpack
  • A Broken Rucksack
  • A 40L Rucksack
  • A Beach Bag
  • A Food Bag (We often needed snacks for long journeys)

I No Longer Wanted to be a Backpacker

So I felt like a camel. On some occasions, I had to carry all at once, even though the weight was evenly balanced I was so weighed down. It was so uncomfortable. By the time the tour was finished, I had decided I was going to get a suitcase. I knew I no longer wanted to carry everything on my body. If I could find a big enough suitcase I could fit everything in and just wear a rucksack and role my case along. 

I thought I would wait until I arrived in Brisbane. This is where I was planning to settle, I thought I would have the time to find a decent case in a sale, spread out all my stuff and have the time to organise and repack. Each day that passed on the second part of my journey heading south I was struggling more and more. When I arrived in Agnes Water, the last stop before Brisbane, I went to the shops with Sophie, my new travel buddy. I couldn’t wait any longer I was on a mission. 

I Made the Right Decision

Coincidently it was sale season, and when we got to the shops there were a few places selling suitcases. I looked at a few and spoke with the sales lady about my best options. At the front of the display was a giant blue “American Tourister” hard shell case. It was beautiful and ginormous and it was the one for me. There was a good deal on, but still a lot more than I wanted to spend considering I had a nice case at home. 

I was so happy wheeling it around the mall but I was still a little nervous that I had just wasted a load of money and would it be a wise decision. When we got back to the hostel I repacked. Luckily there was just enough room to spread out in the room and sort everything. I was so happy when I finished repacking. The suitcase was able to fit everything from my backpack and the backpack itself, as well as the broken rucksack and my beach bag. My snack supply had been reduced so I could fit it in my new 40L rucksack. So I was left with a suitcase and a now lighter rucksack. 

I was over the moon as I comfortable rolled my suitcase back to the bus for our trip to Brisbane. Having had the suitcase for about a week now I am still happy with my decision. I have struggled a little getting the case up and down steps, but no more than I struggled to lift the backpack onto my back. The case has an easy to use TSA lock on it which is ideal. While I am currently staying in a hostel with no lockable storage areas so I can safely store everything in the case while I am out for the day. I have room to spare if I did want to buy anything new although I need to be careful of the weight as the case itself weighs a bit more than the backpack did. 

I am now 100% sure now I made the right decision. I will now continue with the suitcase and when I have some money coming in I may send my backpack and broken rucksack home to make even more space.

Choose What’s Best for You

If you are currently debating what kind of luggage to take on your travels, do what is right for you. I went against my gut and what I knew I would be comfortable with and went with the expert advice but I really need not have done that. I would have had a much more comfortable and cheaper trip had I have gone with the suitcase all along. 

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