For my first big trip abroad, age 18, I hauled a giant suitcase halfway across the world, settled into my beachside hotel, and realized how immobile I was. Ever since then, it was obvious that a backpack was a more versatile and simple way of traveling long distances. Almost everything a suitcase can do, so can a backpack, but with a number of other advantages.
There’s a reason why full-time travelers are called backpackers; these are the elite adventurers who have tried everything and discovered what works best. Assuming that you are young enough and fit enough to carry a load on your back, then read on to find out the top reasons I’ve discovered for making the switch sooner rather than later. Always remember to get a well-made backpack that is the right fit for you to increase comfort and mobility when out exploring the world.
When I was traveling back and forth between the university and the family home, I would often use a suitcase. Over the course of my first year, I experienced snapped handles and wonky wheels, which made the walk between my flat and the train station almost impossible. These cheap, plastic attempts to make traveling easier and more convenient, often end up causing more trouble.
Backpacks don’t require any of these moving parts and so there is less to go wrong. A solid pair of straps will allow you to lift and transport your load and have very rarely been known to snap. While an unbreakable suitcase can cost up to $1000, you can buy a backpack for life for closer to the $150 mark. Furthermore, some of the top backpacking companies - being run by minimalists and full-time travelers who value sustainability - actively strive to offer build quality that will last decades. This simply isn’t the case with many brands of a suitcase, who instead use the cheapest materials. A bag built to last is more eco-friendly and better value for money.
While a suitcase will strain your arms after hours of dragging it through airport terminals, and will occasionally need to be lifted up stairs, backpacks will be weighing you down for significantly longer periods of time. This is why many people are scared to try them. However, this means that for every pound of weight you lose, the benefit is exponentially bigger than it is for someone using a suitcase. Bringing a wheelie case just makes it all too easy to fill the thing with useless items.
By streamlining you're packing list, you will find that everything about travel improves. Getting dressed and doing laundry takes no time at all, you are able to avoid excess baggage fees, and you can easily walk for hours around the city with all your stuff while you wait for check-in. By swapping to a backpack, you are encouraging yourself to bring less and therefore helping to improve the quality of your trips. Don’t be scared to make your first backpack a 35 liter.
You never really know what a place will be like before you arrive. Maybe you’ve booked a hotel at the wrong end of town, or the weather just isn’t cooperating. Why tie yourself down? A suitcase is fine if you just throw it in the trunk of a car and then leave it in the same hotel room for two weeks, but this type of travel isn’t always going to serve you best. If you arrive at a location and then decide you need to head straight to a different part of town, or a different city or country altogether, then it is much easier to just throw a backpack on and head off.
Tourist scams are one of the toughest parts of travel, adding a feeling of disappointment or annoyance onto an otherwise perfect vacation. With a backpack, you are less likely to stick out as a foreigner than the person with a palm tree patterned suitcase. Arcido backpacks, in particular, are designed to blend in with urban environments, so you can look like a local employee on the way to the office, even if you’ve just returned from a rock climbing and white water rafting adventure. They are rugged enough for the great outdoors, whilst having the appearance of unassuming laptop bags.
On the other hand, locals will rarely if ever walk through their hometown with a suitcase. They just scream “tourist”, and the scammers and street sellers will be on you like a pack of wolves. A smaller backpack obviously works better, but even a larger or brightly colored bag will draw less attention than a suitcase. You’ll be able to zoom through the streets and jump on buses without standing out. The only attention you might attract is from other backpackers, but these experienced travelers are probably the kind of people you want to be making friends with, anyway.
Loss and theft are also sources of constant worry that travelers experience. The one ostensibly beneficial aspect of a suitcase is that you are only carrying or wheeling it when needed and are otherwise unweighed down. However, this makes taking your eye off your bags all too common. It only takes a moment of distraction for a thief to jump in and grab your stuff. A bag that is attached to you will need to be wrestled from your arms. You will also likely feel if someone is rifling through the pockets of your bag; a brave thing to do when it’s attached to its owner. Similarly, a backpack is less likely to be misplaced and it certainly won’t roll down a hill when you’re not paying attention. Learn more about protecting yourself from pickpocketing while traveling.
Suitcases will get you to your destination and home again, but what about when you’re there and want day trips to the beach, hikes up mountains, and tours of museums? A suitcase would look out of place in all of these scenarios, but a backpack wouldn’t. If you have kept to a carry-on size, then your rucksack can double up as a day bag. You could pack a small day bag in your suitcase, of course, but you still have a large item that isn’t being used 99% of the time. A backpack will be useful every day of your trip and then again when you’re at home and have a big grocery shop to do or some items to bring to a neighbor. Using the backpack more of the time means you are getting far more value for money than you ever would from a suitcase.
Once I ditched my suitcase for good and started using a backpack instead, I just found it to be more practical in almost every way. The flexible material means that it is easier to squeeze underneath the seat in front of me or into the overhead storage. There was even an occasion when I went to a museum to kill time before I could check into my hotel. There were lockers so that you don’t have to carry all your stuff around the dinosaur skeleton displays. It was a struggle, but because my bag wasn’t full, I was able to squash it down enough to just fit inside the lockers provided by the museum. An equivalent 35-liter suitcase has no give, and therefore I wouldn’t have been able to safely store it.
There are many more reasons why a backpack trumps a suitcase every time, but these are the seven most important that I have found in my personal travel experience. Versatility and mobility allow you to travel further and more often, encouraging you to bring only the essentials and stay safe while in unfamiliar places. If you choose just one method of carrying your load around, invest in a high-quality backpack.