Luggage

Wheeled or backpack? Traveling 2 weeks thru Italy in May with daughters 20, 22 and I am 51. We are all in good health and physically fit. Opinions/ suggestions should we travel with wheeled bags or backpacks?

Posted by Leigh
Missouri
193 posts

There are pros and cons for both, so it is really a matter of personal preference. I prefer a backpack just because I really like having my hands free. If you are considering a backpack and aren't used to using one, I would try carrying a well packed one around as a trial to make sure the one you are using fits well and is comfortable, and to make sure carrying one doesn't bother you.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

I'll use a wheelie when I need a trailer behind my wheelchair, and at 73 I don't anticipate that happening soon.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1978 posts

I travel with a high quality wheeled carry on piece of luggage and a backpack. My wife travels with the wheeled carry on and a big shoulder bag/purse. I long ago decided I'd never lose a piece of luggage in airline baggage, and we never check baggage for any reason. If you're going to travel on any budget carriers, you may have to put the backpack or shoulder bag in the rolling bag. That means we cannot pack it to 100%, and have to leave a little space.
If you happen to rent a car anywherein Europe, chances are the trunk will only hold one carry on per person.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17796 posts

jackie, My first question is what type of luggage are you all using at present? Is there any reason you couldn't use that for your trip to Italy? I prefer using a Backpack as I find it much easier getting around airports, navigating stairs and travelling by train. I always check my main Pack and take a Daypack for carry-on. If you decide to try a Backpack, the MOST important criteria is to be properly fitted according to your torso length. Most of the weight should rest on the hip belt, and not your shoulders. Some other features to look for are a detachable Daypack and stowable harness (can be zipped out of the way during air travel). Have a look at Packs from Osprey or Eagle Creek, as they're both good quality. I believe both of those brands also have "women's fit" models. I don't have a lot of information on best brands of wheelie bags. Rick's bags seem to be popular, but I've never tried them. I would advise NOT using a combination wheelie bag/backpack. Happy travels!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

I am a bit older than you and very fit. I happily carry a backpack when we are hiking in the mountains for several days. For travel to Europe, I prefer wheels. Yes, they are noisy on cobblestones but that is usually a short time. I find them awkward and space-consuming in crowds. Too many people are not aware of that space and smack into people with their backpacks--not good. My wheeled bag does have backpack straps that I can use if necessary, but I have not used them since 1999 when we had to walk a mile and a half across Sydney Australia to pick up a rental car. No crowds and no one to smack with the backpack when turning corners, so it was OK. My daughters, 20 and 24, would not be caught dead carrying a backpack in an airport or European city. ( and yet they do go backpacking with us in the mountains, so it is not the principle, but " the look".

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

I use a carry-on size wheeled Delsey suitcase and an L.L. Bean backpack (not advertising here, just telling you brand names so you can picture my luggage). I can't carry too heavy of a load on my back and prefer to use a suitcase for the majority of my stuff. I'd suggest doing a trial run if possible - pack your luggage before you go on your trip. Then walk around your neighborhood or a mall for 20 or 30 minutes with all your stuff to see what's best, backpack or suitcase. This might seem like overkill but if you really aren't sure, you don't want to find out in Europe that you'd prefer a backpack over a suitcase, for example. Be aware you may have to carry your suitcase down and up flights of stairs if you're changing trains at any time during your trip. I follow Rick's packing list to help me pack light and I have hoofed all my luggage up and down stairs to make a two-minute train connection. It ain't fun but I can do it!

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

Hello Jackie. If you have a carry - on size bag that is a "backpack", it is not necessary for you to carry it on your back. My carry - on size bag has backpack straps that can be tucked into a wide pocket that is on the back of the bag. For me, it is more comfortable to carry that bag in front of my torso, than to carry it on my back. Many travelers use a carry - on size bag that does not have wheels, as their primary bag. I think a carry - on size bag that has wheels is appreciated when a traveler is bringing it from the airport security scanner to the flight departure gate in a very large airport, such as London's Heathrow airport. But an airport porter could carry the bag. I think some airport porters may go beyond the airport security scanner place. Airports do not have carts for carrying bags between the security scanner place and the flight departure gates. I do not want to bring a wheeled bag to Europe. The wheels cause a bag to be heavy. I do not want to lift a heavy bag up on the rack that is above the seats in a railroad train. And a bag must be carried up and down stairs at some places in Europe. And at many towns in Europe I think the street and sidewalk surfaces are too rough or broken for using a wheeled bag.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

I use a 22 inch wheeled bag and love it, wouldn't want to carry a back pack myself although I am not unfit.. its just hard on my back, plus its hot in Italy so don't like any thing against me. And frankly I have been whacked on trains and buses by backpacks,people tend to forget their space allowance and accidently whack people..lol.. I really think that if you have never used a back pack that you should use one at home for a few days before you make that choice, just load it will laundry and walk around your neighborhood , catch a bus ( since you will likely be jumping buses and trains in Italy right) It would be unfortunate to discover you don't really like the weight after you are already in Italy, and just picking it up and trying it on in the store is not a good enough try out..

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

I liken your choice to skis versus snowboards. Both get the job done. If you have the opportunity, try both loaded and traverse surfaces/stairs typical for your journey. As advised above, always be mindful when underway. If using a backpack don't whack others when turning. If using a wheeled back, don't block stairways in train stations, etc. as you shift from rolling your bag to carrying up/down stairs. My preference is a backpack style bag....travel light, travel fast and travel comfortably.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

Jackie, one thing I note when I see these types of threads ( rolling bag versus backpack) is that if you look at replies, its mostly men who will happily endorse backpacks, and mostly women who prefer rolling bags. There are always a few exception, but even on this thread only one woman happily endorsed backpack for longer travel, all other women chose rolling bag for most travels. I think it comes down to some simple physical differences. Women tend to be less comfortable with weight bearing using upper body, we weigh ( generally) under 150 lbs, and men ( generally) weight more then 150 lbs. I suggest that you consider a mixed lot, perhaps your daughters being that much younger could carry backpacks, but I think you may be more comfortable with a rolling bag.
Yes, occasionally I have to lift my bag over ledges and carry it up stairs, but mostly, it rolls, whereas a backpack is always weight you are bearing on your body. Is there anyone who has a backpack you can borrow and you and dd all take turns using it for a FULL day to see how it feels.?

Posted by TC
Atlanta
295 posts

As Leigh said, it is all a matter what you prefer. That being said, there are a number of wheeled backpacks on the market. In a sense you get the best of both worlds. TC

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17796 posts

@TC, "That being said, there are a number of wheeled back packs on the marker. In a sense you get the best of both worlds." That's somewhat a matter of conjecture. At one time I thought that was a good idea but after some reflection and listening to a number of people that tried that concept, I've changed my mind. A combination wheelie bag / Backpack has several disadvantages: > The wheel and handle mechanism takes up room, reducing some cargo capacity. > The wheel and handle mechanism adds weight, making it more of an effort for carrying, and with some people the mechanical components "dig into" their back making them uncomfortable (this of course depends somewhat on the specifics of each user and pack design). > The presence of the wheels encourages some people to pack more gear than they might have with a Backpack only, and the added weight can be an issue when the whole lot has to be carried. Cheers!

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

Speaking for my wife as part of the exceptions group, she loves her backpack.

Posted by Sarah
United States
162 posts

If you are flying American Airlines, you might want to check their recent announcement about giving non-wheeling carryon passengers (is that a term?) priority for getting on the plane.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4879 posts

So American wants to charge you to check a bag, and punish you for carrying a bag on. Good to know. I will avoid flying with them.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4771 posts

I am about as fit can be, but I would take a rolling bag over a back-pack any day. They are just easier. The few times I have to pick it up, I use the handle provided and carry it up the steps, or put it in the luggage rack. No problem. The thought of having all that weight on my back while I walk from place to place, sounds very unpleasant, and I think I would quickly be quite cranky. Being hit in the head with the packs from fellow travelers on trains, in stores, on the street, etc. drives me up the wall. Most of the time, they don't even know it, as they don't feel it through the pack.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

American Airlines announced, May 16, "Passengers that carry only a small bag that can fit under the seat can board in group 2, or the first group after uniformed military and travelers with elite status". I like knowing that American Airlines is trying to make travel more pleasant for people who travel light. The airline flight attendants have not been enforcing the airline's rule about maximum size of carry-on bags. Some passengers put a bag that is longer than the allowed size into an overhead bin, thus other passengers can not put their bag into the bin. But this new policy does not solve that problem. If a passenger can not find space in the overhead bin in an airplane, he/she can always put the bag under his/her seat. I do not like to put my bag under my seat. I put my coat under my seat. And, the airlines say each passenger may put one item in one overhead bin. Some passengers put a bag of maximum size, and a big coat, and big hat, and a very large stuffed animal (toy animal) and big paper sack containing merchandise purchased in an airport, into one overhead bin. That is a problem that needs to be addressed. Oh yeah, if a passenger sees that, he may pull that stuff out of the bin, and set in on the floor in the aisle, causing an obstruction to other people walking in the aisle. I do not wish to do that. If I ask an airline flight attendant to pull an oversized bag out of the overhead bin, and she will try to find the person who owns that bag, and she will ask that person to carry the bag out of the airplane, the airplane's door might be shut before that happens. I really need to carry my bag with me into the airplane's passenger compartment, because my flight arrives at a London airport at about 10:45 p.m. The time when I am in the airport building is later than 11:00 p.m. If I must wait for my bag at the carousel there, I will miss the last shuttle bus (or van) to the hotel that night.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

Properly sized quality backpacks work well for us and we carry them easily for significant distances. This is and has been our standard for many international trips. Choose what works for you, whether wheeled bags or backpacks. As with all luggage, one must be conscious of managing same in crowded places. My pet peeve with those using wheeled bags is impeding foot traffic at stairs by stopping and fiddling with the handle and daybag(s) and then struggling at a slow pace to carry all up/down stairs.

Posted by Donald
Wichita, KS, United States
52 posts

I use the Rick Steve's Rolling Backpack, in airports I use the wheels, on cobblestones I convert it to a backpack. It is comfortable on my back and I am able to pack everything I need, I use packing cubes and everything is organized. Even though people make comments about the wheels poking you in the back that does not happen unless a person is extremely obese, I am 6 ft. tall and weigh 200 lbs and the wheels are not an issue. I will concede that you wouldn't want to use this bag for a multi-day mountain trek in the backwoods, but for travel in Europe where your seeing Paris, Rome or Barcelona, etc, then this bag works perfectly for me.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

Awwww, the new American Airlines policy is no biggie - they just allow the approx. 7 people with NO carry-on luggage to board first. No big whoop. It's not like they're taking up luggage bin space from the rest of us (duh), or getting freshly-baked cookies that the rest of us don't get. The selling point is that someone is being 'rewarded', when in reality the airlines are constantly looking for ways to speed up their push-back from the gate. It's ALL about gate times for the airlines. The non-carry-on group is simply being 'rewarded' with not having to stand in the aisle during the odd flight when people are having one heck of a time getting their luggage situated. It's not like they're getting better seats - everyone has assigned seats. It means a quicker push-back (by a few minutes) for all of us, and that's always a good thing. I've seen this new policy in action several times now over the last year...and as I said, around 7 people get to waltz down the jetbridge a few minutes earlier than everybody else. I stand there 3 extra minutes and watch. No big deal. Jackie, if any of the three of you is 'prissy' (and you know what I mean...we're both Southern Girls...everything just HAS to be Just So and In Place!) then a backpack won't be for you. If you worry greatly that the backpack strap might be wrinkling your shirt...don't use one. Trust me - you won't look like a lumberjack or a pack mule ;-) You'll only feel like one. (cont.)

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

(cont.) Jackie, I very much prefer a backpack to a roller bag. I DO use a roller bag domestically at times, but I'll use a backpack as long as possible in Europe and elsewhere. Both hands are free (for climbing into trains, going up/down stairs, eating, shopping, holding an umbrella, carrying a shopping bag, etc.) and I can't possibly leave my bag behind. I'm always surprised how often that happens to people! I guess there are many distractions...The main thing is to be sure you've got a good bag that fits you - I'd spend good money on one with a good waistbelt. I didn't say you should have to spend a lot on a good bag - $100-150 should get you LOTS of choices, and you would spend even less money on sale. I'm only emphasizing the importance of a good waistbelt. No, or bad, waistbelt = no deal. For me, they make or break the backpack. Use your sternum strap, too. You'll notice a huge difference in how the bag rides. You really shouldn't notice you're wearing one. Honestly. Of course, you're very aware the first couple of days... DO be aware at all times that you're carrying a suitcase on your back! It's not cool to smack peeps with it, and the shopkeepers really don't like to see you coming :-( Take it off when entering a store with narrow aisles and/or expensive trinkets. Likewise, pay attention to where your roller bag is! I get irritated when yours runs over my foot, falls over into my path, or you stop suddenly and 14 of us frantically scramble to avoid tripping over it and/or you because you're oblivious to the fact that you're taking up space for 3 people @:-/ And puhlease don't slowly amble down the airport concourse/city sidewalk like it's a sunny Sunday afternoon stroll and the entire space is yours for zigzagging your way. Backpack or roller bag - walk in a predictable, straight line ;-) Lecture over!

Posted by Micky
San Francisco, CA, USA
94 posts

I'm another woman who prefers a backpack-style bag. I spent about 7 years using a true backpack, then switched a couple of years ago to the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, which is more suitcase-y and can also be carried with a shoulder strap or by the handle when I'm not wearing it on my back. In both cases, a waist strap made a big difference in wearing the bag comfortably for long walks through airports and on city streets. It's true that when you wear a backpack, you have to be aware of how much more room you take up, but I found that equally true when I was dragging a wheeled bag behind me, and I was always tripping over the wheeled bag. On mass transit, I just shrug off the backpack and brace it between my feet -- that's the polite thing to do anyhow.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17796 posts

@Eileen, "Likewise, pay attention to where your roller bag is! I get irritated when yours runs over my foot, falls over into my path, or you stop suddenly and 14 of us frantically scramble to avoid tripping over it and/or you because you're oblivious to the fact that you're taking up space for 3 people" I most definitely agree!!! I've lost count of the number of times I've followed two people walking beside each other through airports or along jetways, both with those goofy wheelie bags and totally oblivious to others (especially those behind them). They've been chatting and ambling slowly along, and I've almost tripped over the bags. So many times I've been tempted to give those @#$% wheelie things a swift kick! In many of those cases I've been jet lagged and rushing to make a connecting flight, so I don't have a lot of tolerance for slow pokes. Cheers!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3586 posts

LOL, Ken! I loved the "@#$%" 2 lines above a light-hearted "Cheers!" ;-) And I definitely agree with Micky - take your backpack OFF on mass transit! For me, it's mostly about safety - I know no one is helping themselves to my stuff when it's on the floor (or on top of my feet) in front of me, but if you don't - plenty of people will start pantomiming for you to take it off! No one likes getting smacked by a backpack.