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Why you Don’t Have to Have a Backpack to Be A Backpacker

Waiting with luggage at a train station in ItalyI don’t use a backpack and I never have. I don’t travel particularly light either. Does that mean I’m not a backpacker? Of course not.

I’m 5’1″ tall and a tiny build, so I just don’t think I could possibly carry a big backpack on the road. I would probably keel over backwards and be like a turtle unable to right itself!

I travel all over the world with my Dakine split-level roller bag, and so far, I have never had a moment where I really wished I’d chosen a backpack.

The only time I have to move my bag is usually when I’m moving between hostels.

Having something on wheels is very easy to manage, and it doesn’t put pressure on my back.

The only annoying part is having to drag it up and down stairs in train/tube stations, or hostels that don’t have elevators. I CAN lift it though, albeit rather slowly. When I pause at a flight of stairs, more often than not, a kind stranger will offer to help me carry it. Either way, I feel like the pros outweigh the cons.

If I’m going on a tour for a few days, I take my day pack and leave my main bag in luggage storage at my accommodation.

I’ve come across quite a few backpackers, particularly females, who have ditched their backpack half way through their trip in favour of something on wheels.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t travel with a backpack- by all means if you are comfortable with carrying one, then it has its advantages. You have your hands free, and you don’t have to deal with stairs.

But the traditional image of a backpacker carrying all their worldly belongings on their shoulders, is definitely a bit outdated. The word ‘backpacking’, to me, is more about independent travel than it is about the kind of luggage you carry.

Things to consider when picking the right luggage:

Think about your body size and what you can handle

Don’t worry about what other people are travelling with. Choose a bag that is right for you. If you think you’ll struggle carrying a backpack on your back, then perhaps choose a trolley bag on wheels.  I’ve come across an even mix of travellers with backpacks, and travellers without them.

Try and choose a bag that is lightweight to begin with

Hard cases may look sturdy, but they also weigh a lot more. Especially if you are trying to avoid excess baggage fees, purchasing a lightweight bag is the way to go. Check how much it weighs when empty and if possible, choose something made of a soft material so it can expand when full. If you’re picking something with wheels, I would recommend a backpack with wheels, or a duffel bag with wheels.

Invest in quality luggage

When you’re backpacking on a budget it can be tempting to purchase a cheap bag to get you from A to B. However, the last thing you want is for it to fall apart on you and have to tape it together. A quality backpack will be more comfortable on your back, and a quality trolley bag will have better wheels, meaning it will be easier to wheel around. It might seem like a lot of money at the time, but it will last a lot longer and improve your travel experience.

Choose something with various compartments and pockets

You want everything to be as easily accessible as possible, so a bag with zip pockets and compartments will mean you can get to your belongings easily. I look for bags with exterior pockets as well as interior ones. My roller bag is split level, meaning it opens out in half, and there are different compartments for different items. One half holds my clothes, whilst the other side has a compartment for my shoes, a compartment for my toiletries and a compartment for my electronics and chargers. Wet pockets for any damp or soaking wet items are very useful too.

Don’t pick something too big…but don’t pick something too small

It’s all very good having a big bag to fit everything, but if you fill it right up, the chances are it’s going to be overweight. Choose a bag that will weigh around 20 kg when full- that’s the usual weight allowance with most airlines. Equally, don’t choose something too small and spend your entire time struggling to zip it up. Be realistic about how much you are going to be travelling with.

Where are you going and what are you doing?

Take into account the destination you are going and the things you might be doing. It’s common sense to choose something appropriate to your travelling style. Are you sticking to cities or are you going trekking? Will you be using lots of public transport? Will you be moving around a lot or staying put? How long are you going for? What kind of accommodation will you be staying in? Answering this questions will help you to figure out what you need. I actually own different sizes of bags for different occasions. I have a carry-on trolley bag for weekend breaks in addition to the bag I use for long-term travel.


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3 Responses to Why you Don’t Have to Have a Backpack to Be A Backpacker

  1. Monica (@thetravelhack) November 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I’ve seriously been thinking about ditching my backpack for a while now. I thought I wouldn’t be a ‘proper backpacker’ without it but you’ve convinced me otherwise.
    I’ve travelled to loads of really remote places and there were probably only a handful of times where I wouldn’t have been able to roll a suitcase.
    I even went to Leeds festival this year and took a suitcase! I just dragged it through the mud. Carrying all the alcohol in a backpack is not cool.

  2. Christy @ Technosyncratic November 23, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Yessss!!! A million times yes. My backpack absolutely sucks – it doesn’t hold much, it kills my back, and the hassle of dealing with it makes me dread our travel days. I finally decided that I’m getting a duffel bag with wheels – that way I can still carry it up stairs or whatever, but the vast majority of the time I can roll it.

    Backpacks were not made for people shorter than five feet. Carrying one is the worst.

  3. Kiz March 11, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Couldnt agree more! My boyfriend has a backpack and I have a split case exactly like yours. He’s always saying how much he hates his backpack and I have never complained about mine because it’s so easy to move around.
    Also it’s much easier to pack things because you can seperate your shoes and clothes easily and there are more compartments.

    So yeah ditch the backpack and get some wheels!

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