I have this problem every time I go travelling. In fact, I think everyone has this problem before they go travelling: Backpack or suitcase?
Up until now, I’ve mostly always travelled with one of these:
And yes, I know I should have bought a lighter, specifically fitted to my torso measurements, women’s rucksack. Tried it, ended up with crippling back pain. So I bought this, and yes, after a month of carrying around my camera equipment, I still have back pain, but in my eyes, if my back hurts either way just from carrying around so much equipment, I may as well buy a smaller, fashionable bag than struggle with something ugly. And I hate looking like a backpacker.. like this:
I like that so many people don’t really know what I’m doing. They look at me and think ‘ok, that bag’s too small for a backpacker.. but too big for a local.. who is this girl?!’ and then they ask me, and we start talking, and then we add each other on facebook.. rather than just being another backpacker who blends in with the 1000000 others.
If I could, I’d take the canvas backpack on all of my travels, but I just can’t see my back surviving months – or more likely, years of carrying around all of my photography equipment and laptop on my back. I’m just not strong enough, in fact, I’m a teeny tiny little woman who has never set foot in a gym in my life!
However, for someone who doesn’t have to carry around bulky cameras with them, I honestly strongly recommend a small canvas backpack like that one (£20 on Amazon!) For a start, as I said before, it’s a conversation starter. And you just don’t need a huge great big backpack that is practically as tall as you are, like most backpackers seem to think they need. What could they possibly have in there that they really need?!
On my last travels, I managed to squeeze into my little 46x32x15cm rucksack:
- Canon 5D Mark II with two lenses & charger
- Mini polaroid camera and film
- IPad & charger
- Manfrotto travel tripod
- Clothes! Two tops, one thin jumper, jeans, a dress and a maxi skirt.. and underwear!
- Makeup and toiletries
- The compulsory copy of On the Road that I have to take with me whenever I travel, and a journal and pen. Done!
- And then the obvious.. passport, wallet, documents.. etc etc
I can fit all of that into a tiny rucksack, what on earth do people fill their huge ‘backpacking backpacks’ with?!
- Literal definition of ‘backpacking’
- Better for rugged, off-the-beaten-path travelling
- Easier for carrying up and down stairs
- Perfect for camping/hiking
- Both hands are free while walking (useful for shooing away beggar children)
- Back pain is a common problem
- Heavy. Can be tricky to lift onto back as well as then having to walk around wearing it.
- Harder to organise belongings.
- Almost impossible to stop clothes from creasing!
- More of a target for pickpockets
Nevertheless.. the backpack is being replaced this time. I don’t want to come back to England (if and when I ever do) with a hunchback. I’m going for a teeny tiny 20cm suitcase. Something similar to this:
Most of the time I can just wheel it along behind me, but there are options for carrying a suitcase when it is not possible to pull them along. Monkey straps are an option (http://www.monkeystrap.com/order.php), though I could save myself $30 and spend a few pounds making one, they’re basically just backpack straps sewn to a few adjustable buckle straps and then a separate luggage strap is used to lock it all around my suitcase.
No doubt I’ll be posting a tutorial on that at some point…
- More accessible, you are not rummaging for things!
- No back ache!
- Easy to wheel around
- Hard cased suitcases are much more durable
- It fits better into small spaces. Or so I’ve found. Even if I had a small backpack and larger suitcase, once I’ve filled the backpack, there is always one odd little lump that means the backpack won’t quite fit into a space (usually the annoying Ryanair measuring ‘cage’), and then I therefore have to rearrange my entire backpack to try and bring it back down to an acceptable size.
- Pickpockets are no longer an issue
- Better structural protection of possessions & souveniers
- Cobbles and uneven surfaces can be a pain in the bum!
- Carrying up and down stairs even more so..
- Not suitable for hiking or camping (but very much suitable for glamping)
- I’ve found if you only have one free hand, beggar/gypsy children swarm you.
- You look more touristy and therefore you’re also swarmed by people trying to coax you into expensive hotels etc etc
I’ve never tried out one of these bad boys, but I’m frequently told that they’re the way to go. It’s just a matter of balancing out requirements that can prove tricky: if I choose a backcase/suitpack with extra light wheels, they may turn out to be flimsy and useless, but if I go for strong, sturdy wheels, how much weight will that be adding to my back when I have to carry it?
- Combines the pros of backpacks and suitcases
- Avoid backache from carrying but also easy to carry if necessary
- Wheels tend to make the bag significantly heavier
- Less protective than hard-cased suitcases.
I may be leaning towards something like this:
Cabin Max wheeled backpack. 44L Carry on size (55x40x20). It’s not as pretty as I’d like… but it looks like I’m going to have to be sensible for once and choose practically over fashion… though they do also have it in purple!
I have 50 days before I leave. 50 days to make a decision!