Backpack VS Duffel Bag VS Rolling Suitcase

We are planning a 3 week trip across Europe. I cannot decide between these three luggage options! My hang Will someone be more likely to pick pocket, rifle through, or plain steal one over the others?
I have my packing list, and all items out, ready to go in something!
Thank you all again!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
4235 posts

I assume you're concerned about trains, buses, and metro cars as opposed to airports and airplanes. Since I noticed you said "we", first of all constantly watch each other's back (and front, and sides, and...). Thieves don't like to be watched. Secondly, try to NOT be separated from your luggage (by placing it at the ends of train cars, etc.). Keep it with you and within sight At.All.Times! The main thing is to be sure you have complete control over whichever bag you choose - only one carry-on bag, plus perhaps a smaller backpack/messenger bag. The more stuff to keep track of, the more vulnerable you are. One isn't any easier to physically get into than the other. The only possible weak spot is, for instance, wearing your backpack onto a packed train/metro/bus - perhaps someone could get into your bag while it's still on your back without anyone seeing what's happening. This is why you should always take your backpack off and hold it, keep it in front of you on the floor, etc. The few times I wanted to keep my backpack on my back, I backed myself into a corner so that no one could physically get behind me...and my husband watched those around us like a hawk ;-)

Posted by gone
2081 posts


I have one of the backpack/carry type luggage. So far i in my 2+years of traveling i havent had any issues.

I placed it out of my sight in the upper compartments on planes, on luggage racks on trains at the end of the car and so far no problems.

Ive walked thru busy subway/train stations many times with it and also just plop it down when I'm sitting down for a meal.

Most of the things that i value are on me when i travel. When I'm in my room its an exception.

in my opinion "unattended luggage" would be the easiest to take. Also, the color combination of mine would be easy to spot.

happy trails.

Posted by James E.
4474 posts

In dozens of trips to Europe I have never lost anything to thieves. Use a little common sense like you would in similar situations in the US and don't fret it.

As for the bag, I just got back from Bulgaria where I used the RS convertible back pack / suitcase and It worked well for the type of trip where situations were somewhat primitive at times. Most often I use a relatively small hard shell 4 wheel carry on which has been a real workhorse over the years. 1 carry on has proven to be adequate for most trips in warm weather since the invention of laundry soap.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1994 posts

I carry a very lightweight retractable cable lock. It only weighs a few ounces, and if I have to leave my luggage, it allows me to attach it to something that's not going to be moving. Some people use bicycle locks, but those are a little heavier.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
520 posts

They generally don't go for any of these because they know there is little chance of them getting anything of value. They will be after your day sack, handbag etc.

An unlocked bag dumped on the luggage rack at the end of a train coach is not attractive - 'take it if you want mr. robber, there is nothing of any value in there'. Now a locked bag, attached to the rack by a metal cord might be a deferent thing!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24147 posts


Each of those options has pros & cons. A few thoughts.....

  • Backpack - that's the method I prefer, as I find it easier for boarding trains, walking through large airports and walking to lodgings in Europe (which may involve cobblestone streets). A Backpack is slightly more vulnerable to theft as it's not possible to visually monitor when it's being worn, however that's easily corrected by using a panel load pack and locking the zippers (a top-load pack typically only has drawstrings, so can't be locked). A Backpack which is properly fitted according to torso length is very easy to carry, even if it's heavier as the weight rests mostly on the hips and not the shoulders.
  • Duffel - if the Duffel has wheels, it may be a reasonable option. However, with a heavily loaded larger Duffel and no wheels, hauling it around Europe would be a real effort and not something I'd want to be doing. The zippers on a Duffel can be locked to provide some security against "opportunistic theft", but of course won't stop someone that's intent on getting into the bag.
  • Wheelie bag - this seems to be the most popular method used by most travellers. These may not have as much room as first appears, as some of the internal room is taken by the handle mechanism and wheels. Depending on the size and construction of the bag (ie: soft or rigid), these may not fit overhead bins or sizing racks as well (especially when stuffed to the max). With most luggage of that type, at least some of the zippers on the bag can usually be locked to provide some security.

Wheelie bags are a bit awkward when changing trains in Europe, as that usually involves going from the platform down a flight of stairs through a tunnel and then back up stairs at the next platform. That's also a concern when staying in hotels that don't have an elevator. I've seen numerous travellers bumping their bags up one stair at a time or having the bags bouncing all over the place on rough cobblestone streets. The wheeled bags with two large skateboard-style wheels seem to be more robust than those with four small "spinner" wheels. I've encountered people during my trips to Europe who have broken one of the wheels on their luggage, and that becomes a real nuisance!

I've always had good luck with Eagle Creek or Osprey Backpacks, and usually look for one that has "stowable straps" and a detachable Daypack. Depending on how much you usually pack, you could look at a smaller pack of about 45L or a larger pack of about 70L (keeping in mind that whatever you choose, you're going to be carrying it). Another product that I've been looking at lately are the Tom Bihn AeroNaut bags, which come in both a 30L version or a 45L version. These are a multi-use product that can be carried like a suitcase with a handle, with a strap like a Duffel or with Backpack straps. They also have a number of other Backpacks in varying sizes, which can be used by travellers who "pack light" as shown in THIS Forum post.

Good luck with your decision!

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1491 posts

Hi Jenn- several past suitcases (not true backpacks, which I just use for camping/hiking) from Eagle Creek or REI have had both wheels and tucked-away backpack-type straps. For mobility, the straps have only been used infrequently, as rolling the bag generally works, but the straps give you options. It seems luggage wheels are getting bigger and sturdier (including lugged wheels!) all the time, but that increases the overall bag dimensions, so my latest quasi-carry-on bag really isn't a carry on -- the wheels just barely prevent it from fitting in most airplane overhead bins head-on. However, I'm always also toting a small daypack, which means that having two backpacks at once would be problematic, or I'd have to stash the daypack inside the big backpack, or shoulder the big suitcase/backpack and hand-carry the daypack. Lots of outside pockets, especially with a backpack, might be convenient for you, but could also provide opportunities for a thief. At the very least, a bread wrapper twist-tie or a safety pin on zippers can hinder a lowlife crook, but I imagine a backpack could appear the easiest for rifling, if a criminal wanted to open zippers or run off with it.

Years ago, a soft-sided suitcase (not truly a duffel) with handles on top and on the side, plus a detachable shoulder strap, was my go-to bag for 3-6 week trips, but getting older year by year has made me now appreciate wheels that seemed unnecessary back then. Either way, regarding security, the soft-sided bags have never let me down, but I use a small travel lock to lock the double zippers together. If you can make your bag just a little more of a hassle to a crook than the bag next to it, it's more secure. The advantage of a detachable strap (or a small, portable bungee cord) is that you can reattach it to hook your bag to a railing, post, or something else to anchor it (even temporarily) to the luggage rack on the train, or to your seat, or to a table, etc. Even if that just delays someone by a few seconds, that buys you time to intervene if they were messing with your stuff. A compact ski/snowboard lock ($10 or $12) with a cable and a combination setting could give you added protection against the bag getting carried off. As far as soft vs. hard shell, as with a bike or a car, if someone's determined to get it, they could, either with a knife or by simply stealing the bag and taking it to a place where they could work on it, but that's pretty brazen and I've never had that happen while I had the bag in my posession. Losing some personally-valuable items somewhere between checking my suitcase and picking it up at baggage claim is another story - some dishonest airline or airport worker in the US or France removed some of my stuff once, another reason to do carry-on and/or use a small travel lock.

But your bag might have straps and buckles that allow you to easily lash it to another object, or it could come with its own lockable cable. Between the 3 choices you mention, I'd personally get a compact bag with wheels AND stowable backpack straps, and pack light enough that you can tote it up flights of stairs (or a broken escalator) if necessary . . . unless you're a hippie backpacker-type and then nothing else will do. Whichever you choose, attach it to something if you it's not with you at all times or locked up somewhere secure. Actually, even attach it if it's with you but you're tired and might doze off (on a train, bus, etc.)! Happy, safe travels!

Posted by Ray
Tigard, OR, USA
547 posts

I have several types of luggage-- probably because I am always trying to "fine tune" my travel experience. Mostly it will depend on who you are and how you like to travel. The RS wheeled luggage does fit overhead on most planes (not the little point to point airplanes in Europe.) There are advantages and disadvantages to all luggage so it boils down to preference. I would say that after years of "you must use a backpack, wheels are evil" I finally noticed abut 85% of the tourists were using them just fine. While others may have a difference experience, I have never had a problem rolling mine over cobblestones or carrying it up a flight of stairs in a train station. Although I don't mind lifting it up by the handle, my wheeled luggage can also bump up the steps if it has to. So far, not a problem. As to "less room" in a wheeled case.... there is plenty for me and as to "wheels add weight" it doesn't matter when you are hauling it by the handle and the few steps you go up is more than a trade off for lugging a backpack the entire time you are walking. That being said, it is only my opinion and I have used both, fairly successfully, for many trips.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3399 posts

These replies are getting a little long.

If you're in great shape and traveling light, go with the backpack. Some people's backs cannot handle backpacks, however.

If you're traveling a little heavier and in normal physical condition, go with the rolling suitcase.

The rolling duffels will also work, but they can be a little cumbersome. You wouldn't want one over 21-22" long or you might have to check it into the airplane belly.

I recently checked a bag (against my will) coming out of Prague--something I never do. And I forgot and left my car keys in the bag. It cost me 2 nights in an airport hotel--looking at my car in the parking lot without keys.

My whole goal is traveling light enough to where I have my bag in my possession at all times. We use 21" high quality rolling suitcases.

Posted by jenn.limbaugh
10 posts

Thanks everyone for your advice! Ive been in Europe a week now and my! I'm bruised from hefting it through airports. I haven't been accosted yet, my biggest desicion maker. I'll know next trip to roll along!

Posted by gone
2081 posts

"Thanks everyone for your advice! Ive been in Europe a week now and my! I'm bruised from hefting it through airports. I haven't been accosted yet, my biggest desicion maker. I'll know next trip to roll along!"

Sometimes you have to fall flat on your face to find out you dont like it.

Is there a reason you won't buy something over there and do trial #2? If you like falling on your face for the rest of the trip, then stick with what you have, but i would start looking for a replacement. Worse case, you end up buying a pack by the time you end up back home and would have the experience of trying all 3.

i guess if this is your one and only trip then it wouldn't be worth it to buy something else.

good luck and happy trails.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1491 posts

If you have more airports to go, see if they have carts or trolleys you can borrow or rent. That won't get you around on the streets, but could make getting to the next concourse easier.

Is picking up a shoulder stap a possibility, if your bruising duffle has rings for attaching one?

How heavy is that duffle anyway? Are there things that could be left at home next time to lighten your load?

In the unlikely event that you are accosted, at least you could whack them with your duffel!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24147 posts


"and my! I'm bruised from hefting it through airports. "

That's exactly what I was referring to with my comment above, "with a heavily loaded larger Duffel and no wheels, hauling it around Europe would be a real effort". I'm assuming you'll be looking at new luggage prior to your next trip.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7334 posts

Keeping your luggage with you at all times may not be possible, and if it blocks traffic in narrow train aisles or takes up a seat on an almost-full train, it's rude. Many trains have back-to-back seats with an "A"-shaped space between them, most luggage fits easily there, so you can see it if you have the right seat. Leaving it at the end or middle of the train car in a designated space also works if you can see it from your seat. I am too short to put my 22" rolling carryon on the overhead rack, but there's almost always someone to help put it up there - and I can get it down myself if the side handle is facing me.