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Carry-on backpack or rolling bag?

We have a trip to Europe this summer with our 2 kids and I'm trying to decide which style of bag to bring. This is our kids' first trip to Europe, they are 9 and 12. We planned to go with carry-on backpacks but now I'm second guessing that a bit. My husband and I traveled to Europe a few times before we had kids and we used large Eagle Creek backpacks that we checked and my husband's had a detachable daypack that he used as a carry-on for the plane and I had a medium-sized crossbody bag for the plane. Worked great. I also have done the backpacking through Europe with friends at age 19 with a large backpack on my backpack and a daypack on my front. Not my favorite way to travel. This time we know we want to do carry-on only for ease of travel and because we have several flights within Europe so checking bags really adds up!

My concern with using carry-on backpacks plus a personal item is that I really prefer a backpack as a personal item but to use both I would have to do the front carry, which is pretty uncomfortable. I think my kids would hate that. So I was thinking of using crossbody bags as our personal item but I find those really dig into my shoulder and bother my back. I also had a back injury last year that is mostly better but still flares up at times. I'm worried I will aggravate it by carrying so much on my back! My husband will choose a backpack no matter what (he did that on our last carry-on only trip when the rest of us used rolling bags), we do have comfortable kids REI hiking backpacks available for my kids to use, but they're top-loading so not the easiest for packing.

Here's our itinerary, please tell me what you would choose in this situation!

-Fly YYZ-LGW-VCE, our hotel in Venice is very close to the train station, so not much walking there and no crossing bridges.
-Transfer from Venice to Ravenna either by train or private transfer (haven't decided yet).
-Mediterranean cruise
-After cruise, transfer from Ravenna to Bologna airport, again, most likely by train.
-Arrive in Split, Croatia, most likely taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel. Our hotel is in Old Town (literally in the walls of Diocletian's palace), I'm not sure if the taxi can take us directly to the hotel or if there are pedestrian areas where we would have to walk a bit.
-Ferry to Dubrovnik. Our hotel in Dubrovnik is definitely in a pedestrian area with a lot of stairs. This hotel is my biggest concern with rolling luggage.
-Transfer to Dubrovnik airport - most likely a taxi.
-Overnight at hotel at London Gatwick, fly home the next day.

What would you choose? And if you would choose a backpack, any suggestions for a personal item? Any brilliant way of carrying 2 backpacks? My husband wants to sew clips onto our backpacks but I want to weigh all of our options first! Thank you!

Posted by
146 posts

Just my two cents....I don't like to carry: I want to roll, especially in the summer when it is hot...how about getting something like the rolling RS backpack and have the best of both worlds?

Posted by
365 posts

A light backpack to carry + carry on rolling suitcase is what we’ve always done for kids. Their own things and entertainment snacks etc in the backpack they carry, clothes and necessities in roller.

Posted by
97 posts

Just my two cents....I don't like to carry: I want to roll, especially in the summer when it is hot...how about getting something like the rolling RS backpack and have the best of both worlds?

Something like that is definitely a consideration! Thanks!

Posted by
97 posts

A light backpack to carry + carry on rolling suitcase is what we’ve always done for kids. Their own things and entertainment snacks etc in the backpack they carry, clothes and necessities in roller.

That's what we have always done as well! Did you find any issues traveling around Europe with a rolling carry-on? It would be nice to keep the backpack as a personal item with the items you mentioned inside! Plus a little room for overflow on the way back! ;)

Posted by
4645 posts

Take it from someone with back problems: use a rolling suitcase. For the personal item, I would use a small backpack. A nice thing about a rolling suitcase is that you can plop your personal item on top of it when walking, another plus for your back.
Be sure to check the luggage restrictions for your intra-Europe flights. Easyjet and the like have strict parameters.

Only the cheapest rolling suitcase cannot handle European streets. When you get to your Dubrovnik accommodation, make husband carry the suitcase, problem solved!

Posted by
222 posts

Done all those things, including 75 lb backpack (I was young and dumb; now old with back problems)
Basically 3 considerations:
1. Go as light as possible
2. Small backpack (20 lbs absolute max) easier to navigate train station stairs, and cobbled streets
3. Rolling small suitcase easier to ride metros etc because you don't need to take it off to sit down

Never check a bag with airlines if you can avoid it. Saves a lot of valuable time.
Good luck!

Posted by
3259 posts

I have been traveling since the 70’s, but increased regular, at least yearly, travel since 2000 until Covid. Since wheels on suitcases were ‘invented, I have used them…circa 1990 we had backpacks but always brought wheels with us that we used once off flights. And then wheels were perfected. So…through my daughter’s childhood of traveling and to my present ‘senior’ status it has been carryon sized bags with wheels even though my bag is also often checked. For when I carry my bag up stairs, it is not a burden. What is a burden is carrying a bag all.the.time. I don’t like the look, the sweaty back, or the constant schlepping of a carryon size back pack. My wheeled bags have worked easily through all types of surfaces and weather conditions. One of the greatest travel inventions is today’s wheeled bags. (I do have a backpack, but it is used in suitcase form for car-house-car trips.)

I would suggest your 9 year old, at least, could pack in an under seat wheeled bag, which can also be attached to your wheeled carryon should she need help, but I doubt she will from my experience.

I agree with you, I prefer my personal item to be a backpack. My present one has the ability to be a backpack, crossbody or tote…so it is very flexible.

Posted by
97 posts

Take it from someone with back problems: use a rolling suitcase. For the personal item, I would use a small backpack. A nice thing about a rolling suitcase is that you can plop your personal item on top of it when walking, another plus for your back.
Be sure to check the luggage restrictions for your intra-Europe flights. Easyjet and the like have strict parameters.

Only the cheapest rolling suitcase cannot handle European streets. When you get to your Dubrovnik accommodation, make husband carry the suitcase, problem solved!

We are flying Easyjet, but we paid to have a second larger carry-on bag. I noted the dimensions in my spreadsheet, but I will have to doublecheck that when picking out a bag for sure!

My husband is actually amazing at carrying bags for us if needed - just not sure he can handle 3 rolling bags in addition to his own large backpack! Lol!

Posted by
1097 posts

We were a divided family :) because my husband was determined to use the convertible backpack for the last few years, but honestly, except for a few unique circumstances, rolling is the way to go. When we got home from our last trip, I bought him the rolling bag like mine. The backpack is a great bag and holds a TON (more than you should carry on your back, honestly!) but the rolling bag is just so much more practical 99% of the time. Yes, I have to carry it up stairs sometimes but I'll take that any day over a backpack. The rolling bag is quite deceiving - it also holds way more than you'd think. I think it's a great bag. (I gave mine to our adult child and was so sorry, I bought myself another one, too!)

Posted by
7447 posts

Since you mentioned your back injury, I will focus on it. Can you pare down the items in your cross-body? When I’m traveling, I just have my phone, reading glasses, tiny notepad & pen, coin purse (large bills, etc. are in my money belt) and lip balm. That’s helped my shoulder not ache.

You know you don’t like the double-pack option, and this would keep the weight off, combined with a roller bag.

Posted by
4645 posts

I was assuming kids would be handling their own bags. good luck!
Nothing about your trip will be made easier by you taking a backpack. I cannot overstate the importance of taking care of your back.

Posted by
97 posts

Since you mentioned your back injury, I will focus on it. Can you pare down the items in your cross-body? When I’m traveling, I just have my phone, reading glasses, tiny notepad & pen, coin purse (large bills, etc. are in my money belt) and lip balm. That’s helped my shoulder not ache.

My purse is definitely pared down, it's just to have a personal item crossbody bag I find too heavy! My personal item usually contains my liquids, glasses case, Kindle, travel pillow, purse, sometimes a travel book (although I will photocopy pages for this trip!), and our travel documents. Maybe a sweater if I'm not wearing it. It doesn't bother me at all if it's balanced on 2 shoulders but when I put it on one shoulder it seems to really dig in!

Posted by
97 posts

I was assuming kids would be handling their own bags. good luck!
Nothing about your trip will be made easier by you taking a backpack. I cannot overstate the importance of taking care of your back.

They'll definitely carry/roll their own bags, just might be harder if we're on stairs. Maybe I should look at Google streetview for Dubrovnik to see how many stairs to our hotel. We could probably just roll the bag up the stairs if there aren't too many.

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks so much for the replies everyone. You're confirming what I suspected - rolling bag will be easier for this particular trip! Now to break the news to my hubby - lol! He's going to take some convincing! My son will be ecstatic if he can take his backpack as a personal item because it will allow a bit more room for stuffies! Hahaha - that's the hardest part of packing for him, paring down on the stuffies!

I just did a Google streetview of the walk from the Pile Gate to our apartment rental in Dubrovnik and it looks like the only stairs are actually up to the apartment, which is totally manageable!

We have rolling carry-on bags already for everyone, but they're traditional suitcases....I'm wondering if something softer sided would work better - something a bit more squishable if sizing is an issue.

Posted by
511 posts

You mentioned roller bags and stairs. I have a TravelPro roller bag, carry-on size (which I often check, especially when returning home). It has a carry handle on the side of the bag. When I was in Venice it was so convenient for carrying it across the many bridges and again in Rome for the 78 stairs to our apartment:). The last time I shopped at TJ Maxx (a couple of months ago) they had a good supply of bags this size at a reasonable price.

When our kids were the ages of yours they were responsible for carrying their own bags. Our son learned the hard way to pack light...he put a couple of hardback Harry Potter books in his backpack and had a looong trek during a transfer at MSP:). He didn't complain...and the next trip decided one paperback would do the trick! Wishing you happy travels with your family!

Posted by
2267 posts

I agree with the concern about the personal item while carrying the backpack. I like my massive carry-on backpack, and there are situations where it's appropriate—either when I'm traveling ultra-light or ultra-heavy, with a rolling bag checked in. When I use it as my carry on my personal item is only a small tote bag with just my inflight supplies.

Posted by
23464 posts

Just to be clear, I think most references to rolling is two wheels and not spinners. Spinners can be a problem on other than very smooth surfaces. Finding smooth surfaces on sidewalks and streets in Europe is a problem.

Posted by
97 posts

Just to be clear, I think most references to rolling is two wheels and not spinners. Spinners can be a problem on other than very smooth surfaces. Finding smooth surfaces on sidewalks and streets in Europe is a problem.

We've got one large spinner suitcase and a small spinner carry-on (matching). Honestly, I hate the spinner wheels! We just used the large bag (checked) on a trip to California and two of the wheels were sticking so we were dragging it around - super annoying! Our other suitcase was 2 wheeled and have had it much longer with no issues. My husband and I both said we would never buy a spinner bag again!

Posted by
97 posts

When our kids were the ages of yours they were responsible for carrying their own bags. Our son learned the hard way to pack light...he put a couple of hardback Harry Potter books in his backpack and had a looong trek during a transfer at MSP:). He didn't complain...and the next trip decided one paperback would do the trick! Wishing you happy travels with your family!

Oh boy! Hahaha! Our kids carry their own bags as well. We did a 2.5 week trip to Hawaii last fall and everyone had their own backpack plus a rolling carry-on and it worked great! (My husband used the carry-on backpack plus a large cross body tote for that trip and was happy with it!) Did you do carry-on backpacks for that trip or was that just a personal item backpack?

Posted by
97 posts

And now my 70 year old parents who are joining us for half of our Europe trip just told me they are planning on taking backpacks - so I feel like a total wimp for wanting to take a rolling bag! Hahaha!

Posted by
365 posts

Some people like backpacks- but I see no sense of pride or superiority in such travel. Rolling traditional suitcase for me means I don’t have to unpack if a short stop, it’s easy, and it works well. Don’t be shamed into something that doesn’t work as well life is too short! Go the route that works easiest and best for you.

As for the kids yes a small rolling suitcase + their personal item backpack has always worked well for us and they often rested their backpack atop it when walking through airport.

Posted by
5129 posts

Altho most folks here are not fans of the Exofficio and Scottevest garments, I'm hooked on their lightweight vests with the inside zipper pockets, which eliminate the need for a purse, and keep my money, passport, and phone secure.
Safe travels!

Posted by
1229 posts

We have always traveled with our three kids (and their stuffies) with Osprey Porter 46 backpacks and Osprey ultralight day packs that come with a stuff sack the size of a fist and weigh ounces. I pack my 'daypack' with all the things you mention (kindle, food, etc), and put it in the backpack, so that when I board I take out the daypack of stuff for the plane and everything else goes overhead. I often think about using the rolling version of the Osprey 46 but so far I dislike having to use a hand to manage my bag. As it is, if I have a bag on back and front (which I do some of the time), and feel self-contained - I still have two hands free to manage documents or paying without having to let go of my luggage, which always makes me feel a little scattered. I also find putting the wheeled part in the overhead to be less easy. And wheeling things behind me is annoying. But I can see the appeal for the reasons mentioned and may try a wheeled version eventually. For now, we all love the backpack

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks for the other viewpoints! I do find it more difficult to put a wheeled bag in the overhead bin - my husband usually does all of ours! I go back and forth between what makes me feel more burdened - carrying everything on me or dragging a bag behind me? Two of the airlines we might fly with (for connecting flights) have a weight limit of 8kg which is REALLY light for an overpacker like me! So I'm wondering if I need to stick with a backpack or risk having to check bags for these flights! I don't think a daypack would fit in the larger backpacks that we have, except for possibly the kids. I've looked at the Osprey Porter a few times online but haven't seen one in person - do you like it? I tried the Osprey Fairview and found it super comfortable but it didn't feel like it held much - another backpack I have was smaller dimensions but held more!

Posted by
1229 posts

We have rolled suitcases and our Osprey 46 Porters fit the same amount of stuff. I dont think Im an overpacker (although I often pack more than I wear on a weeks long trip!) and I still fit the day pack thingy in the backpack. It looks like this (not shilling, but to clarify. Its not a backpack like a school backpack:
https://www.osprey.com/us/en/product/ultralight-stuff-pack-STUFFPACK.html?sku=10000103&nulsc=true&gclid=EAIaIQobChMImt_3rdzz9gIV8QytBh3dkgq-EAQYASABEgLGM_D_BwE

I love the Osprey Porter and the reason is (but this is also a reasons other people would not - lol), we are backpackers and prior to traveling in Europe backpacked with our kids starting at an early age. On our first trip to Europe, on a tight budget, the kids were so happy to not be sleeping on the ground that they didnt care where we slept (3 star or no star). They were used to carrying backpacks and managing their own gear. So it felt like a linear transition. There are tons of storage compartments so it is easy to keep organized and access small things. It holds a remarkable ton without weighing a lot or taking up space (easy to fit in the overhead). So far we have managed to never check bags That first trip (kids were 9, 12, and 14), the 9yo had two big dog stuffies in the Osprey with their heads zipped so they stuck out so they could see Europe too ... in the Paris metro, all of it. But I hear you - every now and then I see people wheeling a bag and think Id like to have the backpack off. Then I take a trip with a wheeled bag, and go back. On the up side, you wont make a bad choice!

Posted by
97 posts

@Jessica
I love the image of the 9 year old with his stuffies hanging out of the backpack - that would totally be my 9 year old son!!

My parents still go backpacking, even at age 70, and that's why they're totally fine to backpack in Europe! I'm the overpacker of the family so paring down is painful for me!

Thanks for the feedback on the Porter! I will have to do some thinking!

Posted by
97 posts

Its not a crime to check a bag.

We actually usually check 2 large suitcases when we travel within North America. We don't want to check bags for our Europe trip because 1) its super expensive with the airlines we're flying, 2) we have a lot of flights and a few connections, 3) we don't want to wait for baggage. We just took a trip where we checked suitcases and the kids complained about having to wait for our baggage to come out (the trip before that we did only carry-on). There's definitely pros and cons to both though!

Posted by
496 posts

I'm with @Jessica on this. I have a slightly dodgy back and a pull along bag totally ruins it. You need a wellfitting backpack - where the weight is on your hips via a hip belt not hanging off the shoulders.

I have the Osprey too -love it - particularly as the laptop compartment is next to the back so secure and the right place for weigh balance. And yes I pack a foldable daypack and use that on the plane if I check the osprey and for day trips.

Posted by
45 posts

I’m also an Osprey backpack fan. My husband, however, is a roller bag guy.
As mentioned, I really like having my hands free. And, when I do have to lift it (stairs, overhead bins, etc) backpacks are lighter (no wheel weight). My motto is if I pack it, I have to carry it, so having the backpack really does helps me pack light. When I’m tempted to consider that extra item I think twice!
I carry a crossbody bag, but again, I keep it light. Most of my travel clothes have zip pockets, so I carry stuff in pockets instead of loading my bag.

Posted by
97 posts

Thank you so much for all the feedback everyone! And thanks for the comments about a well-fitting backpack being better for your back than a rolling bag. I’m very indecisive but I like to think everything through so this gives me a lot to think about and process!

Posted by
995 posts

I am currently not sophisticated about luggage. On 5 solo trips to Europe, the first 8 nights, the other 4 each 13 nights on the ground and one night on the plane, i packed my extra clothes into a non-wheeled ballistic-nylon duffle bag that has a single strap. I packed everything else into a Jansport school-backpack, the kind with padded back and sides and leather bottom. On the first 4 trips i didn't have to check anything in. On my recent trip to Spain in March, I had to check my duffle bag in because I packed more clothes than on my other trips because I was afraid I would be too cold. And I was grappling around with a 3rd bag, a canvas shopping bag full of plastic containers, food, and sometimes other stuff. Both my backpack and my duffle bag are each approximately carry-on-sized except that the backpack barly fits under an an airplane seat and only if I don't pack the bag too full. Maybe I will switch to a fancier hopefully carry-on-sized backpack that I can fit both my clothes and my other stuff into. I have no-known back problems.

My top reasons I prefer non-wheeled luggage is because I think if I don't pack my duffle bag too full, it can be cramed into tight spaces easier than a wheeled suitcase, and I would rather have my bags strapped to me than constantly occupying one or both hand pulling or pushing a wheeled suitcase.

Posted by
8234 posts

We last flew out of Venice Marco Polo Airport after a Greek cruise, and all I could think of was all those poor husbands having to deal with those 45 lb. huge suitcases being checked.

Our family rules are that everyone carries their own luggage. And don't bring something unless you can haul it 3 miles.

We're using 21" Travel Pro ultra lightweight rolling bags with swivel wheels. They're easier to roll sideways down the narrow aisles of budget European airplanes. We do not check any luggage unless absolutely required to do so.

Have everyone at home do a practice packing, and then weigh those bags. I limit ours to 10 kgs.--22 lbs. We can travel indefinitely with a rolling bag following Rick Steves' packing list loosely. And I always return with clothes we never wear. One of our recent travel tricks is to book an apartment halfway through our trip that has a washer/dryer. That way we can carry 1/2 the clothes we normally carry.

Posted by
19169 posts

Its not a crime to check a bag.

It's not a virtue, either.

Posted by
4174 posts

Another person here who believes that travelers, no matter their age or size, should be able to manage their bags on their own. I travel solo, so I really have no other option. 😉

I'm a fan of bags that are light when they are empty. I have four 2-wheeled bags to choose from. I've learned that I can push the 14" wide ones in front of me straight down the aisles of most airplanes. I'll use one of the four for my trip this year, along with a backpack for the same shoulder reasons others have mentioned.

This is the list from oldest to newest. I haven't been able to use either of the Ospreys yet.

  1. Eagle Creek Load Warrior. 22x14x9. 35L.  5.5 pounds. U-shaped handle
  2. Eagle Creek International.  20.25x14x8. 36L. 4.5 pounds. T-shaped handle.
  3. Osprey Ozone Global. 19.5x16x8.  38L. 4.5 pounds. T-shaped handle. European shape.
  4. Osprey Ozone. 22x14x9. 42L. 4.5 pounds. T-shaped handle.

Both of my backpack options are large enough to hold my essentials should I be forced to check my main bag for some reason, small enough to fit under the seat in front of me and light enough to be used as a daypack if I need or want to do that. My very small and light purse will also fit in either.

  1. Eddie Bauer Stowaway. 18x10x9. 20L. 11 oz.
  2. Eddie Bauer Stowaway. 17x12x6. 25L. 11 oz. The width and an exterior pocket provide the extra capacity.
Posted by
3259 posts

I, too, am a person who believes each person should fully be able to manage their own bags, unless he/she is a preschooler. Then they are in training. I travel solo often, so that’s a given. I like to say ‘no thank you’ to men who offer to help…I will save that for when, hopefully not, something unusual has happened where I require it. That being said, my husband and I pack so either one of us can handle all bags if need be. This is a particular case where wheels on a small bag help. You mention your husband managing all the bags. Can you?

You also mention 8 kg. If I recall that’s < 18 lbs. Does that include your personal item? All of you need to meet that weight. You mention you are an over packer. I am not an over packer, but find the 20 lbs more comfortable for my travels. Before you buy more luggage, I suggest some practice packing to see if you and your family can do that weight…subtracting the weight of various bags. People say backpacks are so much lighter than wheels, but it depends what you buy as a lot of backpacks I would want are over 3 lbs. My largest suitcase is a little over 5 lbs.; not a huge difference when I am thinking of my back…. I don’t understand the complaints of “dragging” a bag behind. If you use an add a bag strap versus the handles for the second bag, the bag feels weightless.

So you and your kids need to practice pack before you decide on the type of bag. IMO it is not about a race out of the airport, it is about managing your entire trip; the good and potential bad.

Posted by
97 posts

OP here. I see a bit of confusion where people are referring to my husband handling all of our bags or saying everyone should be responsible for our own bags. We will definitely each be handling our own baggage, kids included, my husband will not be carrying bags for all 4 people! The reason I started this thread is to get recommendations on what I should personally carry - my husband will take his backpack no matter what I take! My husband does help with lifting rolling carry-ons into the overhead compartment for all of us - this is because my kids can't reach the overhead compartment and because he knows lifting bags over my head is not great for my back and if I re-injure it, that would completely ruin a trip! He doesn't even remotely mind this, in fact he likes to do it himself because he does it quickly and carefully. So no need to worry, he's not getting stuck doing all the baggage handling! ;)

Posted by
97 posts

I have used the Osprey Fairview 40 for my last two few days long (domestic) trips and will use it again next month for an 8 day (domestic) trip. My plan is to use it for my 2 weeek EU trip in Sept. I guess I've been practicing doing carry-on only and so far I like it.

I ordered that one last year to see if I liked it - it was super comfortable to carry but the configuration of the bag meant that it just didn't hold as much as another 40L bag that I have with smaller dimensions so I ended up returning it. I really wanted to love it though!

Posted by
2488 posts

I ordered that one last year to see if I liked it - it was super comfortable to carry but the configuration of the bag meant that it just didn't hold as much as another 40L bag that I have with smaller dimensions so I ended up returning it. I really wanted to love it though!

I think I know what you mean - it has a lot of pockets and zippers and compartments. What bag did you end up with instead?

Posted by
97 posts

I have a MEC brand bag - a Canadian company similar to REI. We also have a Tortuga Setout, so a few different options!

Posted by
290 posts

I love my Farpoint and find the 40l size perfect for a two week trip. I also carry a Bihn Co-Pilot or Osprey Daylite Plus for underseat and day pack use. My family of four (12&13 year old daughters btw…) just completed a 10 day trip by train through Portugal. Both girls now really like traveling light and traveling with backpacks!

In fact, we had to buy the girls two larger roller bags yesterday for an upcoming five week summer camp trip and the youngest actually did not want to buy a suitcase because she thought she would never use it again.

I have an intense dislike of roller bags unless it is a car based trip or one which I need more room, such as a hiking or biking trip that requires additional sport specific gear. However, for these trips, they are ideal.

I do wonder what happened to all of the pre-pandemic talk about the overrun tourist destinations such as Rome and Venice actually banning roller cases because the noise was disruptive to the locals at all hours of the night?

Posted by
97 posts

I love my Farpoint and find the 40l size perfect for a two week trip. I also carry a Bihn Co-Pilot or Osprey Daylite Plus for underseat and day pack use.

Can I ask how you carry both the Farpoint and the Daylite Plus? Do you put the Daylite Plus on your front or can that attach to the Farpoint? Or do you carry it a different way? I was looking at the Daylite Plus and I thought that would be a nice size for a daypack but it wouldn't attach to the larger pack that I have. Carrying a crossbody bag for the plane seems like a waste because we would never use it as a daypack. We have a packable backpack that we could take but just thinking of trying to streamline!

We usually do car-based trips, this would be our first trip with our kids using public transit (while carrying luggage), so normally we don't mind rolling bags. My husband and I have really large Eagle Creek backpacks that we used when we traveled in Europe before kids, but they're too big for carry-on and we would like to do carry-on only for this trip so it's throwing me off trying to figure out what the best baggage combo is!