Suitcase or backpack?  This is a conundrum that all travelers face at some point and is a long-debated issue among travelers.  Some people are diehard backpack fans and would never dream of using a suitcase.  Other people swear by suitcases and think people who use a backpack are crazy.  If you are heading out on an extended travel trip, you will be faced with this conundrum, wondering which one you should get.  This decision can be very difficult, trust me I know, so it is important to figure out what works in different situations.

How Long Will You Be Traveling?

Extensive travel is different for everyone.  For me, this will be traveling for an extended period of time while you might think of this as traveling to a number of countries regardless of the timeframe.  No matter what you think extensive travel is, you need to consider how long you are going to travel.

The longer you travel, the more gear and clothing you have to pack.  After all, you will be going through a few season changes if you are traveling for 6 months.  You will also hit different climates when you hop from one country to the next.  Buying clothing as and when you need it might seem like a good way to get around having to pack a lot, but where do you put it all?  If you are going to be packing for a couple of seasons, you will need a larger bag and this can make backpacking a nightmare.

You can easily buy a large backpack, but do you want to carry something that is almost the same height as you?  What about the weight of everything that you need to take?  Carrying clothing for different seasons will become heavy and if you are walking a lot with your bag on your back, you need to be fit to carry that weight.

This does not mean that a suitcase will be the best option either.  Again, you will need a large suitcase for all your seasonal clothing and this can be hard to handle.  Large suitcases can easily get away from you when you are walking down the street, or even in the airport, because they seem to have a life of their own.  You could be heading in one direction when your large suitcase, which is slightly too heavy on one side, decides that it really wants to go in the opposite direction.

time lapse of cars coming and going

Cars timelapse

How Are You Going To Get Around?

When you arrive in the country, how are you going to get to where you are staying?  How are you going to travel from one point to the next?  In fact, how are you going to be getting to the country to start with?  These are all questions that you need to answer to help you determine whether you need a backpack or a suitcase.

If you are going to take a taxi to and from the airport, you can easily use a suitcase.  In fact, if you are flying, a suitcase will generally be easier than a backpack.  Airline staff and airports are not backpack friendly because all the straps can get caught in conveyer belts and be ripped off.  If you want to avoid all these potential issues, you will need to get a backpack that is small enough to be considered cabin luggage.

If you have decided to rent a car on your travels, you can easily use a suitcase.  Of course, you can also use a backpack if you like them more.  With a car, you do not have to worry about the size of the case, but you might want to think about weight because you have to lift it to place it in the boot.

There are many people who do not want to go through the hassle of renting a car when they travel and opt for public transport.  These people need a backpack or a small suitcase.  A backpack is easier when you are traveling on the bus or the train.  Overhead storage will be available on trains and some buses, but trying to find somewhere to put your big suitcase will be a nightmare.  Getting on and off the train or bus with a suitcase is also not easy, particularly if you are traveling on an older train that still has a number of stairs.

Walking is a great way to see the sites and appreciate the new city that you are in.  What it isn’t great for is your suitcase, particularly if you are on the cobbled streets of Europe.  Walking from the train station in Rome to accommodation can kill your arms and your suitcase.  If you are going to be walking to your accommodation, you need to get a backpack or have arms of steel.

Which Is Easier To Pack?

The key to successful extensive travel is packing correctly.  Making use of every bit of space in your bag is important because you will have a lot of things to fit into it.  So, which is easier to pack?

A suitcase is easy to pack.  They open easily, have straps to hold everything down and will often have additional pockets that you can use.  You can also easily reach all your gear when you use a suitcase, but you do need to be careful with shifting.

Backpacks are a bit more touch and go when it comes to ease of packing.  It really depends on the type of backpack that you have.  If you have a top loading backpack, you might find it hard to pack at first because you have to be strategic about what you pack where.  Fortunately, you can get a front loading backpack that opens like a suitcase.  These backpacks are very easy to use, but you do have to be careful with weight distribution.

Weight distribution is less of an issue when you pack a suitcase because you are going to be pulling it.  With a backpack, if you have one heavy side you are going to feel it.  Shoulder pain and back ache will be common visitors when you get the weight of your backpack incorrect.

a well packed suitcase

Packed suitcase

Negotiating Busy Areas

Train stations, airports and bus terminals are busy, not to mention the streets in tourist destinations.  Busy areas need to be negotiated correctly so you don’t lose your bag, bash into too many people or fall foul of suspicious characters.  So is a suitcase better for busy areas or a backpack?

This is not actually an easy question to answer because it depends on your ability to wrangle your suitcase and the size of the backpack you are getting.  You would think that a backpack would be better, but if it is a big 70L backpack, you run the risk of bashing people with every step you take.  On a train platform with a lot of people huddled around you, a big backpack can actually hinder your ability to move through the crowd.

Of course, a suitcase may not be any better.  In fact, it could be worse depending on the crowded area you are in.  Large suitcases have the potential to knock a lot of people and roll over a few toes.  If you are not hanging onto your suitcase, it can also be stolen more easily than a backpack.

Busy baggage claim terminal

Baggage claim Terminal

So Which Is Better?

It is impossible to say with all certainty which is better and this is why it is a hotly debated topic.  To determine which one you should get, you need to think about your preferences, where you are going and how you are going to be traveling.  Some people like backpacks, but other people hate having something attached to them like this.  There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing, all you have to consider is which one you will be more comfortable with.