Backpack or suitcase w/ wheels

I will be travelling to Germany, Austria, and Italy and plan to do a lot of walking and take the train between destinations. Would it be better to use a large backpack or a suitcase with wheels for my luggage? I'm thinking the cobblestone streets may make it difficult to lug around a suitcase on wheels.

Posted by Michelle
Anaheim, CA, USA
1410 posts

I did the train/plane bit between Munich, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and London and used my Eddie Bauer 19 inch suitcase wheelie plus a standard student backpack.

The suitcase did pretty well against the cobblestones, and the backpack was small enough to carry on my back, yet roomy enough to stash things.
I am a very petite woman, and don't think I can carry a big backpack for the trip... after all i am on vacation, not on the Amazing race!

The 19 inch suitcase provided me with the carry on portion of the airplane, and I never had to check in stuff.

Most of the street are paved, so not to worry!

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

I, too, prefer the wheeled backpacking days are long gone! It's easier to manoever through tight spaces (like train entryways) and easier on your back. If you do go wheeled, look for the widest wheels you can find, and find a suitcase where the wheels are set farthest apart for the best stability. If you're tall, like I am, you may want to consider making an extension so you're not partly bending back to grab the towing handle. I made one out of an old suitcase towing handle and put it in the outside pocket when travelling, then pull it out and clamp it on when needed.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
3036 posts

Why not consider a "compromise". Rick's "convertible" suitcase can be worn as a backpack, carried by hand or used with a sholder strap. Wheels just add weight and take some of your space. My husband and I have used Rick's bag for more than 20 years (40+ trips). YES, I mean the same bags. They still look new. They meet the carry on size for airlines, are easy to organize when packing and are very light weight as well a durable. I ususally stash a light weight bag/backpack in it on the way over to use as a day bag. Again, wheels are UNNECESSARY, if you know how to pack light. (by the way- we did a trip around the world, longer than 2 weeks, with those bags and each weighed less than 13 lbs.)

Posted by Lisa
Beautiful Austin TX
582 posts

Like Michelle, I'm a small woman and a back pack would put too much strain on my short back! I'm only five feet!! I bought Rick Steves wheeled suit case. The wheels are the same used for in line skates, so they are tough! That makes a big difference.

Posted by Kelly
Plano, TX, USA
82 posts

I don't mean to be contrary -- but I will NEVER travel in Europe again with a wheeled bag. I did my first trip in a reasonably sized wheeled bag, and I was miserable. If you are a small person, and if you ever attempt to take trains or stay in "budget" hotels, wheels are a hindrance. I still have visions about walking the streets of Florence with the "click, click,click" of a bag behind me -- as I walked the same street three times.

Then, in Rome, when my hotel had 5 floors but no elevator, the wheels just added weight.

And, in Austria, when I had to RUSH to get on the next train, I had to lift a heavier bag onto the rack above my seats.

Now, I travel with a 19" convertible backpack suitcase, and I travel with two pairs of shoes. I can carry my gear wherever I need to, and still dress respectfully and politely at any location.

I was able to purchase GREAT backpack suitcases for my kids at Ebags, and they have held up quite well.

Posted by Debra
Los Angeles, CA, USA
1001 posts

Again, it's just a matter of opinion. I, too, am quite petite, and carrying a backpack would quite literally weigh me down. Plus, I have enough back/shoulder problems just from school backpacks, I can't imagine carrying a backpack. I think it's just one of those things where... you're going away from home to a place where you're probably not that comfortable with your surroundings, so whatever will make you comfortable is what you need to do. For me, trying to wear a backpack would be hell, and most of the airlines i'm taking have such small carryon baggage requirements that I really have no choice but to check anyway. It's like study methods or what city is your favorite - ask a million people, get 3/4 million different responses. Whatever works! :)

Posted by Lisa
Beautiful Austin TX
582 posts

I've traveled with a wheeled suit case for years without any problem. Rick Steves wheeled suitcase is only 7 LBS. Not bad. Of course with my stuff in it, it does weigh more, but I travel light. Back packs are hell for me too. Rick Steves' wife and daughter use the wheeled bag. He has a story about his family using this wheeled bag in France. It's a cute story. You can read it on the Travel Store site. I enjoyed his story.
Everyone is built differently, and we all need to do what is best for us. There is not one correct answer.

Posted by Nic
2 posts

Thanks to all that replied...looks like there are a lot of different opinions out there! I think I'll do a dry run with the Amazing Race style backpack that was loaned to me and pack everything and see how it feels walking around and if its too heavy, I'll go with my wheeled suitcase. Either way, I plan to check my bag due to the strict carry on requirements...3 oz just doesn't cut it for me!

Posted by Liz
Denver, CO, USA
75 posts

Another possibility, mentioned at the website, is to take a non-wheeled bag and a wheeled luggage cart for long distance hauling (airports, etc.) that folds away when not needed. This is generally a lighter weight solution than a wheeled bag.

Also, check out that site for more detailed suggestions on how to travel with only carry on bag, you might be surprised how easy it is!

Posted by Rita
27 posts

I'm only 5'1" tall and I only travel with an "Amazing Race" style backpack. I even took one on my recent honeymoon to South America! If the straps are adjusted properly at the shoulders, neck and waist, it's no problem at all and I prefer the freedom of having both hands free. We usually stay at budget places with no elevators and I can't imagine trying to lug a giant suitcase up two or three flights of stairs. But I agree with what everyone else has posted here--it really is a matter of personal preference and what works best for you. Have a great trip!

Posted by Lisa
Beautiful Austin TX
582 posts

Rick Steves wheeled suit case is not giant. All his bags are carry on.
All this really depends on your height, weight and even your age.
I'm glad you found the right bag! It does take a lot of trying different bags. It took me awhile to find the right one for me. Thanks Rick!!

Posted by Amy
Clarksville, TN, USA
862 posts

Nic, unless you're older, or have back problems, go with the backpack! Last time we went, I took a humungous rolling suitcase, and my husband was frustrated with me. If you have the backpack properly adjusted -- which any store that sells them can do for you -- you shouldn't have a problem.

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
951 posts

I have 3 herniated discs in my lumbar spine and have been told I need fusions to solve the problem (not gonna happen quite yet). If I pull, push on things, like vacuuming, my back is toast. I have never had a problem carrying a back pack no matter how much I load it up. I have been using an Osprey Porter 60, which is carryon size so no checking the bag is necessary. It has a waist belt, adjustable straps and packs like a suit case, not a top loader backpack. The toughest thing you will have to do in your travels is to lug a bag up multiple flights of stairs in your hotel or even metro/subway or even when you have to change trains. I also like the fact that my hands are free to do what they need to do. Last year we had to bring a wheeled bag as we went on a mountain bike trip to spain, and I hated every moment of it, especially walking through crowded areas with a wheeled bag.