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Travel Bag/Backpack for family

Our family of 6 (kids 16, 15, 13, 12) will be making a 5 week inaugural trip around Europe this summer. We will fly into London and out of Paris and take trains around in bewteen. We are currently envisioning each of us having a lightweight, rolling backpack. Any thoughts on a good make/model of such a bag, or if wheels are really necesssary, or ...?

Posted by
1798 posts

Ron, I'm a firm believer in NON wheeled bags. Wheels add weight..there really isn't a true lightweight wheeled bag.

that being said, I own a High Sierra travel bag that I bought last year on and it's fantastic. it has a zip off daypack which comes in handy for day trips, and as a carry on.

Based on the heights of the kids, and adults, be careful when you look at travel backpacks...people then to buy them too large.

The best one I've found is the High Sierra Transport.

It's a good price, and should last for years to come. What I like about it can attach the daypack to the shoulder straps so the daypack is in front. Great for crowded areas and to protect your cameras, iPods, etc. the bag is also not too's carry on size 23". High Sierra also makes a smaller version, Passport, it's 22", but it doesn't come with the removable daypack. It's a good alternative

Posted by
20 posts

This is one of those topics you would have gotten tons of replies to on the old system!
I've never used a rolling backpack, but I recall the general Graffiti Wall consensus being that they are unnecessary and to go with one or the other (backpack OR rolling bag). Either is very manageable (not many places a rolling bag won't work). If you go with the rolling bags, I recommend bringing a lightweight nylon backpack or two for hiking, picnics, etc.

Posted by
277 posts

My family and I did the same trip. We utilized a non-wheeled backpack. I purchased our backpacks at a camping store. We tried various brands for durability and weight. Each of my family members wanted something different, so it's hard to advise.

Posted by
1358 posts

Your choice of bag. Go to a luggage store and test drive a few with wheels.

Yes. Wheels on your luggage are needed. Even if you like to carry your bags, you will like not having to carry them after a few miles. The only criticism I find is driving across cobble streets and sidewalks in some cities. But I tolerate them happily.

Posted by
296 posts

I'm sure you'll get a thousand different answers on this one! For myself, I prefer NON-wheeled backpacks, particularly on trains and airplanes. The wheels can be more a nuisance over cobbles or through turnstiles. As I'm sure you'll see by the replies you get, its personal preference. Oddly enough, knowing I'll have to carry XYZ wherever I go helps me to make sure I take only what I need.
Trying to not make this a shameless plug, I actually use Rick's non-wheeled backpack. It works for what I need.

Posted by
296 posts

Just to follow up, I also take a messenger bag with me to use as my hold-all for guidebooks, umbrella, lunch, whathaveyou.

Posted by
8700 posts

If you opt for backpacks, be sure you try them on at the store so you find ones that fit each member of your family. You didn't ask about day packs, but the Civita pack sold in the ETBD Travelstore is an excellent one. It's roomy yet compressible. If you need extra space to bring home souvenirs, I recommend you buy at least one Eagle Creek packable duffel and put it inside your main bag. It's very compact. You can buy it at

Posted by
3428 posts

My family (husband, me, son and daughter) have used Rick's "convertable" bags for more than 20 years. The wheels just add weight and take up space. Rick's bags are high quailty!!!! My husband and I have made more than 40 trips with them and they look new. They make train travel sooooo easy! You can wear them as backpacks, carry in your hand or use the sholder strap. All of our bags are black and look enough like "real" luggage that we don't even get funny looks at some of the expensive hotels we occassionally treat ourselves to. I also wear a very large fanny pack, and he wears a smaller one. I carry a "day bag" backpack on some trips and a smaller messenger type bag on others.

Posted by
11 posts

I love Costco's Kirkland Signiture Executive Series $69.00 rolling duffle or the small rolling 24 inch bag 99.00. I find it so much easier to wheel the bag instead of having to carry it. The wheels on that brand are very quiet, even on a cobbled street. The rolling duffle also comes with a strap that it can be carried, so you have a choice.

Posted by
21667 posts

As you read, you get a variety of opinions -- mostly personal preference. We use wheeled carryon size bags for US travel and nonwheel for Europe. We find the wheeled bags create problems in Europe but you may be willing to accept the problems. Europe is far more crowded (narrower sidewalks, subways, etc.). When pulling a bag you take up more room, people trip over it, difficult to move quickly if a need arises. The rough streets & sidewalks, no curb cuts, etc. makes pulling a bag more difficult. Carry a rolling bag is harder with only the handle - no shoulder straps. Also rolling bags are heavier --- bag itself is heavier and you will pack more in the rolling bag. We have three Rick Steves bag and one Eagle Creek backpack style of carry on bag. Prefer Rick Steves bag -- much better value than the E Creek. When our two boys were younger, they actually used bookbags -- their clothes were smaller and lighter. But it is still your choice -- no right or wrong.

Posted by
505 posts

Remember also if you are flying out of or connecting through the UK that your bags will have to be within the size limitations ( In addition, the one bag rule may be extending throughout Europe.

I've always used a bag with wheels - cobblestones do shorten the lifespan, but my wheels have lived through Edinburgh and Copenhagen, plus whatever they do to bags at Heathrow and other airports. You do need to anticipate that you may have to climb stairs at train stations etc., so bags should be carryable/convertable.

BTW, remembering from my youth, big backpacks are meant to be worn with hipbelts, and until you grow a bit and have adult hips, they aren't as comfortable. But the best is probably what works for each of you - roll or carry.
Have fun!

Posted by
75 posts

I would suggest half of the bags be wheeled ones (such as Rick's or eBag's or Eagle Creek) and half be backpack (Campmor sells a cordura Outdoor Product one for about $30, Rick's is nice, and REI has one too). That way you can piggy back if you have long distances and only have to carry a few up the stairs.

On the way back (and, at some point this summer, everywhere in Europe), remember that they only allow ONE ITEM carry on. Take extra packable bags (ricks "Last minute" bag is great and cheap) for what you buy along the way. And everyone should have a light backpack for the day.

Happy trails!

Posted by
1633 posts

I switched from rolling to non-rolling because of airline weight restrictions. I now use a non-wheeled backpack purchased on Ebags (called weekend convertible, see It cinches down when not fully loaded and the backpack straps are comfy, even for a short gal like me. Weighs under 4 pounds empty. Only complaint is the plastic clips seem flimsy, but so far it's holding up (a 21 day overseas trip and many weekenders). Nice choice of colors too (you could get one for each of you) and the insides are a bright orange, remarkably helpful to find stuff. Soft sided so you can really cram it in when you need to.

Posted by
84 posts

We have also had great luck with the same E-Bags convertible backpack. I also worried about the plastic clips, but we did a 12 day test run carrying them European-style through Philadelphia, DC and more, and they held up great -- even with additional gear attached.. Our rule has been that you can only carry what you can walk with for a mile -- or run with for two blocks. Even though the bag is a little big for my 7-year old daughter, it adjusted really well so she could still carry it with backpack straps.

We'll use them for two weeks in Italy, Austria and Germany this summer, too.

Posted by
31 posts

For a family of 6 the suggestion of 1/2 with wheels and 1/2 without makes a lot of sense. Personally I prefer Rick's convertible carry on. The shoulder straps can be quickly pulled out and come in handy moving from gate to gate in large airports. My wife however, likes wheels and isn't a fan of packing light. The difference became very clear rushing to catch the metro in Paris: the wheels were no help up and down flights of stairs and through turnstiles. I ended up with my bag on my back and carrying her's by the handle. Maybe though, that is what she had planned all along.

Posted by
151 posts

Congratulations and best of luck on taking the fam to Europe. My husband and I are starting that tradition with our kids this year. Our philosophy is that you can't come unless you can carry your own pack. We use the non-wheeled Convertible Rick Steves bag. We got the smaller Civita version for our 6 year old after consulting at the Rick Steves travel store. Definitely try them on filled if possible, and figure out what is important to each of you.

Posted by
93 posts

My family of 5 took Eddie Bauer backpacks with wheels. They worked great. I liked having the choice of the wheels, for airports and such. The kids might get tired always using bags on their back. I know my youngest did. If you have packs without wheels and you get tired, you have no choice. Wheels don't add that much weight. Have fun!

Posted by
582 posts

First of all, Rick Steves' wife Anne uses a wheeled bag. I have the Rick Steves wheeled bag myself, and love it. But I do have another bag I use when I want to travel lighter. At Office Depot, of all places, I bought a wheeled backpack for very cheap, and it holds up great, and not heavy at all! It is called Sports Plus Olympia. Very light weight for a wheeled backpack. I used it for my trip to Europe in 2005 and 2006, and took it on trains.
Good luck, and you and your family have loads of fun!!