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Backpack or Wheels for young kids and myself ?

We are embarking on a 6 week trip through Europe with our two young kids, ages 5 & 7. We are struggling to figure out what types of bags to bring. Originally we thought our 7 year old could carry his own stuff in a pack, however, after buying him a good pack and trying it out on a few short hikes around here, I've come to regret that choice. 5 minutes in and he's complaining he's too tired. So, I'm starting to think my kids may do better with a wheeled option (thought my husband disagrees). There is no way my 5 year old can carry a pack with all of his stuff, so I'm thinking we will do a small wheeler for him. I'm still unsure about a pack or a wheeled case.
We definitely want to stick with carry on size, and the idea of a wheeled pack sounds great in theory to me (giving me options), but i'm struggling to find one that is carry on size and not too heavy.
Any suggestions for luggage for young kiddos?
Any suggestions for a mamma who is going to need to be juggling a lot, and who has had a tendancy to have back pain?

Much appreciated!

Posted by
5835 posts

If you want happy kids, figure on day packs with day stuff (rain coats, snacks etc and the stuff they will want to buy) and not much weight. That means you need to have carry-on backpacks for your stuff so that you have hands free to pull or carry the kids carry-on bags. Ideally one hand free to carry or pull one kids baggage and one hand to hold onto one kid each. Don't count of a 5 (or even a 7) year old to handle three days to a week's worth of clothing etc (plan on doing a lot of laundry).

Posted by
490 posts

Hi, it is good that you are thinking about this and doing trial runs..The kids seem just too young to be able to bear much weight and heat and jet lag will factor in as well..

IMHO, I would simply buy 4 packing cubes and allot 2 for each child, and put them in your own suitcases. Take two 22" or smaller rolling suitcases and a day pack/ the size of a regular gym backpack for both you and your husband. Bring child size back packs that are thin and collapse easily for storage when not in use. They can pack them with things that the kids need on the plane or to entertain them while traveling.

I also have traveled with this 16" two wheeled Travelon brand roller, which fits snuggly on top of my 22 inch roller..I did not use cubes, but it could help to contain things and stay organized. I also at times wheeled both suitcases because taking it on and off when you are rushing to a train is not easy, but if your husband can lift the whole thing up onto the train then you will be fine. That way you can keep weight off of your back in he heat.

Of course there are other brands, I am not endorsing the brand nor do I benefit from anyone purchasing it..


this comes in 14, 15 and 16 inch I have 16 inch, you could probably fit everything the two munchkins need in one of these!

I also travel with one of these travel bungees...

Good luck and have a fun family vacation!

Posted by
380 posts

The kids sound pretty young to lug their own stuff. I'd give them each a backpack with their needs for the day and make room in your bags for their things.

Another thing to consider is that not only will they slow you down and you'll end up carrying everything anyway, but a small kid dragging a rolling bag behind him is likely to trip other travelers.

If they were 9 and 11, they would be more mature and capable of bearing their own weight. Next time!

Posted by
78 posts

When my son was 6 he badly wanted his own wheeled carryon. He pulled it for 5 minutes. Do not count on young children carrying or pulling ANYTHING for any amount of time.

Posted by
10877 posts

As you have already discovered, your kids are too young to carry/pull a useful load.

I think you will be packing the kids clothes in your bags, and the most the kids will lug is their amusement items and snack stuff in a small back pack.

If you have back problems, a rolling bag would seem to be the better choice vs a back pack

Posted by
171 posts

When planning our trip to Switzerland with my daughter and 6 year old granddaughter, I suggested to my daughter not to use a child's size wheeled suitcase. The handle of a child's size is to low for when an adult has to pull it. I was using RS convertible backpack so I would have free hands to help my granddaughter too. As we knew there would be times that she could not pull it. So my grandaughter used an adult size wheeled bag. She did great pulling her suitcase. Made her feel very grown-up. There were times when we needed to hold her hand, such as crossing streets, boarding trains, etc. During our trip my daughter commented that she was glad we didn't use a child's size. If the adults carrying backpacks then your hands will be free when kids need help. The kids could also share one suitcase.

Posted by
48 posts

Thank you all for your advice and feedback. I think I was being a bit too optimistic with my children's carrying abilities. Good point about me having hands free to hold onto my child/children and help with bags if needed. I don't think we can squeeze all our stuff for a family of 4 into two carry on packs, so I like the idea of having us adults each with a pack and then a roller bag for the kids to share on top of their daypacks.
Thanks again!

As a traveling mom, I learned that kid's clothes are small and don't take up much space. Use Ebags small or medium packing cubes and the longer slimline ones. You can get a rolling "under seat" bag for them. Something 17-18" long. My daughter could handle a small roller at a very young age. For a travel pack - I suggest one "family size" day pack like the RS Appenzell and one ebags etech 2.0 JUNIOR size pack. Only problem is ebags sporadically runs out of the etech 2.0 junior pack. LL Bean has the continental travel Pack. Osprey 30 liter Porter is another option. So, have one daypack and one travel pack. I don't think you will have any problems. Maybe even hold off on the kids' roller bag until you trial run with the two packs and your own rollers. That may be enough. (1 day pack + 1 travel pack + 2 adult rolling carry ons should be enough).

Hello! I am also attempting to maximize efficiency while traveling with little ones. Mine are 6 1/2 and (barely) 5. I am planning to fit their clothing into rolling carryons with mine and my husband's so that all they will have to carry are their kid sized backpacks, which they are already used to. They have the pottery barn kids backpacks and each has their first name monogrammed on the front. My question to you all is, would you recommend that I get them new backpacks without their names on them? I've always been aware that it is not recommended to have a child's name be visible on their clothing/belongings, but I have never worried much about it going back and forth between school and home. Traveling is a different story though. Thoughts?

Posted by
2767 posts

A 7 year old can certainly wheel their own bag. A backpack may be pushing it. What I did when mine were that age (now they are 7 and 10) was have them share ONE small roller bag with both of their clothes and also their "fun stuff" in it. Fun stuff was a few books, crayons, tiny toys in a big ziplock each so it could be pulled out for underseat while they bag went overhead.

Then I told them over and over that they were big boys and this was their bag to take care of. It helped that it had Batman on it...(I just ironed on a patch!). They easily took turnes pulling it and would even argue over whose turn it was to pull it.

My thought was one bag = if one kid is whiny about pulling it the other will take over.

They couldn't carry it up stairs so we'd have to do that. It was light enough that my husband could carry it in one hand and his own roller in the other for some stairs, but us having backpacks would have been easier.

Now 7 year old uses the roller for himself and 10 wants to carry his own stuff so he uses a slightly bigger than average day pack that fits all his stuff. He's too small for a regular grown up luggage backpack, but the large daypack seems to work.

With 2 packs and two rollers, the adults can manage the entire load if necessary. The largest pack I would put on a child is the RS Appenzell or similar. The travel pack is for the adult. If you don't mind checking a bag, you could combine clothes in a larger case. The only "issue" is your ability to haul the bag on trains. My husband insists on a 25" case and manages. I have in the past, but now prefer the smallest bag for easier transport.

Don't worry about the kids' names on packs. You are not in any place long enough for a predator to become familiar and approach your child. More of a threat at home in USA.

Posted by
8904 posts

For the kids, you might be interested in a Trunkie. We first saw these on Dragons' Den quite a few years ago and I now see kids riding on them through the Frankfurt airport all the time. They can have their stuff in them and ride their suitcase instead of pulling them.

Posted by
490 posts

While the trunkie riding case is sweet, it wil tip over and the adults will end up carrying it....especially up stairs onto trains and over the many miles of cobblestones...a regular kids light weight roller with a cartoon character on it packed very lightly with their play things and a few essentials that they share responsiblity for could work out....but really two 22" rollers and 2 medium back packs should be fine, the kids clothing is very small and should fit in 1-2 medium or large packing cubes.

Posted by
1117 posts

Just a question... Why do you insist on carry on only? With a 6 weeks trip coming up, a family with two small kids, and a mommy with back pain (which probably means you can't carry a heavy backpack OR any other heavy non-rolling bag) that seems like a lot for carry on.

With a five and a seven year old, I agree with those who say: You're probably going to end up carrying their luggage anyway, so make sure that you pack in such a way that you can do that. I don't see you and your husband juggling a total of FOUR wheeled bags between yourselves, plus having an eye on your kids.

We always check our luggage, in spite of the recommendations on this forum, and we find it so much easier to be relieved of our stuff for a while. Also, airlines are becoming more and more restrictive. We've repeatedly seen passengers being told off when entering the plane with their roll-on bags and having to check them anyway.

Another thing to consider: If mommy has issues with her back or her spine, very possibly your children may also be sensitive and susceptible to those kinds of issues. So you won't want to weigh their small backs down with too much weight at too early an age OR have them drag a wheeled bag over more than short distances, possibly making them walk somewhat lopsided. I think it was a very smart decision of you to try that backpack while still at home.

Posted by
2767 posts

I still don't understand the "you will end up carrying it" line of thought for a wheeled bag. A backpack where they are physically exhausted yes which is why I don't advocate a backpack for kids. My kids are far from easy angels (one has special needs, there are acronyms galore in his file...) and they have been rolling their own bags since they were 4. Talk to them about their responsiblity and how helpful they will be and 99.5% of kids will want to help. Really. Have the bag be light and take them around the park with it for a few laps for practice then take a soccer ball out of the bag to play with. Bag = fun!

You do have to keep an eye on it when you leave sitting areas so the kid doesn't leave the bag. I learned this in the line for the Disney World airport shuttle...kid #2 was tired of standing so sat down. Shuttle came, he got up and got on but the bag was still in the line. Luckily this was Disney and they noticed and told us. Normally the bag would be gone forever.

I was honestly very worried and surprised when my 10 year old wanted a backpack this year. We test-packed it, it was too heavy so he removed a book and changed it for a lighter paperback (big thing for him because he loves that heavy book). Then we had the discussion of it's your bag and you really have to carry it so be sure you don't want wheels. He was sure, we packed it, and the kid was a champ.

Traveling with kids is much easier if you relax and let them help. More and more as they get older. And then you won't end up with a 22 year old who can't pack a suitcase or find his airline gate because mommy always did it for him...

Posted by
1117 posts

I still don't understand the "you will end up carrying it" line of
thought for a wheeled bag.

Well, there is an easy way to find out, isn't there? Same way she did with the backpack.

Borrow some wheeled bags from friends if you can, test pack them, and have your kids pull them for a period of time that is longer than the "this is new, this is fun" time.

I'd hate to find out on the way to the airport that this is not going to work out. And I'd hate to be the mommy or daddy who ends up pulling two of those things.

Posted by
1 posts

Hey, I was you a few years ago! A mama with back pain who took her 3 kids between 4-7 to Europe for three weeks for their first trip over sea. (My partner also suffered from back pain, though less so. ).

Everyone's points here seemed very helpful and valid, and I have to add my two cents from someone who's done it many times since.

We did all carryons, never checked luggage. One- because we didn't drive in Europe and knew we had to do public transportation, and two- we figured if we couldn't carry it, we shouldn't bring it. There's nothing worse than after a long flight having to wait for luggages with cranky, tired, hungry kids. (Off the flight and they were happy to go in search of treat snacks rather than wait for luggage)

We had RS convertible backpacks for the adults, along with a daypack purse for me and a small daypack backpack for partner, and the kids' used backpacks that fit their size. (We went to REI for one kid's backpack, and the other two younger ones used their familiar school backpacks)
Kids carried 2/3 of their stuff in their own packs, and we adults carried 1/3 of each kid (in case they lose their luggage and we didn't notice) we would still have some clothes for them.

I did consider the wheeled backpacks for the kids but very glad I DIDN't because, I learned that:
1- that meant I would constantly have had to keep track of 7 moving parts (3 kids & their wheeled luggages, plus partner) versus 4 moving parts.
2-very importantly, in airport and in train stations or anywhere for that matter, partner and I can hold onto the kids' hands as we lead them through crowds, much easier to do than if they were managing wheeled luggage. (5-7 year-old kids and wheeled luggage in moving escalators, through crowds etc... are more of a hazard to themselves and everyone around them, I've found).
3-most importantly, I confess I wanted my active kids to be... cough, cough... weighed down somewhat so they're slower and easier to manage through airports/train stations. My Mama-bear survival thinking was--what good would it be for me to be heavily weighed down with their luggage and they're free to run off in crowded places?

Did my kids whine and complain and refuse to carry their packs at times? Yes, yes, and yes.

But then, they whined and complained and refused to cooperate daily, (may be even hourly), at home, (it's par for the course with having kids, I think) so my partner and I simply dealt with it as we'd done at home, depending on the situation. (Consistency was our goal, but flexible negotiable for special situations (hunger/tiredness/sickness) and occasional bribery when needed.)

Our kids are now older, and we still do carryons only with backpacks, and darn it if our teens didn't offer to carry 1/3 of their parents' stuff to ease our backs this summer. Hell, yes, I took them up on their offer.

Posted by
1396 posts

My son's first trip to england and france he was 7 years old. My husband and I split his stuff between our 2 bags. Our next big trip with him (5 weeks) he was 11. I bought him the smaller version of the RS classic bag and he did just fine. He is using that bag this coming week for a trip to TX. He loves that bag and won't use anything else even though he is now 6'3":)

If you already have a tendency to back pain - I'm not sure why you don't consider using a carryon roller bag for yourself. Then you could put one of the kids backpacks on top while rolling. To me that makes more sense than trying to have the 5 yo wheeling his own bag. Maybe you could get by with 3 bags? Your husband with his back pack (carrying some of the kids stuff), you with a roller and another small back pack for the rest of the kids stuff? I would think something like the appenzell would be perfect for this.

Posted by
2527 posts

Pack virtually all clothing for the children in the adult bags (backpack or wheeled affairs; I use a backpack so hands are free to manage them). Utilize small light day packs for the children to carry a sweater, jacket, small items when in transit and what they may need during the day. That worked very well for us.

Posted by
1373 posts

Lucky 2 travel, i love your logic of slowing the kids down a bit.....

Posted by
419 posts

It's true. At some point you will end up carrying all those little wheeled bags and tiny animal backpacks. Either your kids will be tired or the crowds at the airport will be so thick that it's difficult for kids to navagate with their bags. Are you doing train travel? If so you'll definitely want to limit your luggage. I would do 3 carry ons (you, husband, and the kids share the third). The forth bag can be a backpack or under seat carry on that you all share. This is an easy access bag that holds food, toys, and electronics. And it can sit on top of the regular sized carry ons. I always use to bring too many toys for fear my kids would get bored. Truthfully they didn't need much.