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Convertible backpack or rolling carryon?

We're taking a 14-day BOE tour next year, and I can't decide whether to get a rolling carryon or a convertible backpack. Husband is tall, but I'm only 5'0". Regular-sized backpacks may be a bit long and awkward for me. I know slightly smaller backpacks are out there, like the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior, A backpack sounds really versatile and keeps your hands free. But the carryon would be sturdier (esp. if we check them in on the way home), and I don't have to worry about the weight on my back so much (that assumes I somehow end up packing heavier than I should, haha!)

Anyway, I'm torn. Any thoughts and suggestions are much appreciated!

Posted by
4066 posts

I've done both, and will never go back to a bag on my shoulders. For anything short of genuine country trekking, a backpack has no advantages unless you need to climb up four or five sets of stairs without an elevator. They're heavy, they're bulky, they bump into doors or other pedestrians every time you turn. Rolling baggage is a modern blessing on city streets. I prefer two sturdy wheels while bouncing over European cobblestones rather than the smaller wheels on so-called spinners. The most durable wheels are semi-recessed for protection from airport baggage bumps.

Posted by
127 posts

I'll take a contrary position to Southam (though what really matters here is what works for you).

I use a convertible backpack but usually carry it with a shoulder strap (with my daypack on). It is relatively easy to navigate- even tight hotels with no elevator. Also, you lose a lot of space when you have a bag with an internal structure for the wheels.

But again, this is really a personal decision about what works for you. Whatever you decide, happy travels.

Posted by
34 posts

It's definitely a personal decision, but I'm with Sean. For me, it's a lot more natural to walk with the convertible carry-on worn as a backpack then to drag a wheeled version. I feel awkward (with your arm behind you) dragging the wheeled version, is a pain every time to cross a street and step on/off curbs, and gets rolled through puddles and every other thing on the ground. Plus you get some added space and more flexibility in the overhead bin.

I'll also say that I'm young, sturdy, and packed light. The total weight of my bag was never more than 16-17 pounds. But really, you should be OK with either, as both fit in the overhead if packed properly.

Posted by
7466 posts

If your husband is purchasing a convertible backpack, buy his first & try out his filled with what you'd typically take on your vacation and walk around your neighborhood for 20 minutes to see how you like it.

On our first RS trip, we both received a free RS luggage (many years ago). My hubby took the backpack, and I took the wheeled bag. A few years later, my husband switched from the backpack to purchasing a wheeled bag, too. We have some people on the Travel Forum who are definitely pro-no wheels and others like me who cannot handle even a light weight bag on my back. Either way, enjoy your trip!

Posted by
8245 posts

"If your husband is purchasing a convertible backpack, buy his first & try out his filled with what you'd typically take on your vacation and walk around your neighborhood for 20 minutes to see how you like it."

I would suggest you put about 24 pounds in that backpack, and go to the mall for about 2 hours. That's more like what it'd be like in a real world trip to Europe.
My wife and I have noticed TravelPro to be a very popular brand of rolling bags as they're reasonably priced and very light in weight. And they're great buys on I have a new TravelPro 20" roller and my wife has a 21" roller and a matching travel bag. I'm working hard to lessen my bag's weight in the future.

Posted by
54 posts

I have the bag you're referring to and loved it so much I bought another one for my husband. Its so lightweight (3 lbs, I think), and I loved all of the compartments. There is a five minute video on you tube on the bag. I agree with the other posters, wheeled luggage adds a lot of weight and leaves less room for packing. My bag weighed 17 lbs for 13 nights, and I'm not a skimpy packer.

The only thing I modified was I added zipper pulls to be able to somewhat lock the compartments (a life-hack idea).

Posted by
15720 posts

No one has mentioned a combination of both.

Get one roller and one backpack. This way, you can always attach the backpack to the rolling bag and wheel both. Look for a covertible bag that has a pass thru to fit over the extended handle of a rolling bag or get an attachment strap.

I also wouldn't worry about checking in a bag like the eBags TLS Motherlode. It's very sturdy.

Posted by
3265 posts

I'm in the other camp. I see no reason to carry something if you don't have to do so. Twenty plus years ago, before wheels were perfected, my family used backpacks, but we always had a light wheeled cart for each person to put their bag on so even then I did't carry my bag if I didn't have to do so. I love luggage so I will never find the perfect bag, but it will be a wheelie. I would much rather carry a wheeled bag weighing 15-20 lbs up stairs on the few occasions I need to do so than to carry a lighter bag all the time. I was curious and experimented with an 11 lb non-wheeled bag (packed at 11 lbs) at home for my little blog. Even 11 lbs gets heavy fast as time carrying it expands. All day or through the thanks. I think non wheeled luggage is much heavier in the end. It is not too much to lift a 20 lb carryon when needed versus carrying 11 lbs all.the.time. I look at people in the airport carrying their bags as they walk, wait in line, etc. and pity them. Also, I've come to regularly check my bag both ways so I don't have to bother with carrying or wheeling in the airport or be one of those people hogging space in the overhead. I keep my electronics, meds, etc. with me just incase. If it doesn't catch up with me right away, I'm good, but that hasn't happened. Keep in mind my wheelie packed is lighter than some people's non-wheeled bags. I don't need the alleged extra space of the wheel-less carryon.
My H. and I also did a stage of what Frank (was it Frank II?) suggested: one wheelie and one pack. We actually did one carryon size wheelie and one underseat bag for our carryon, with each having a small personal item. This was great as one person often had only their personal item with which to contend. However, I found I often ended up carrying the underseat bag and I found that, again, it grew heavy so we each got wheeled bags.
This is a personal preference, but I thought I'd add mine. Pack light and wheels are better, IMO. And check your bags...let someone else carry them! My present bag is RS's 20" wheeled bag as it fits all the size regulations I've come across even though I've also checked it on small European and domestic flights, and weighs less than 6 lbs but is sturdy enough to check. I hate to feel like a schlepping something all the time so wheels are for me. Wray

Posted by
1068 posts

As stated, it is what works for you. I did my first 6 or 7 international trips with a backpack following the advice of the "real travel people take backpack" crowd. Then I noticed some of my travel partners, who had been on many trips used wheels. I also noted when I took tours, that 90% of the people used wheeled luggage. I tried it and will most likely never go return to a backpack. To me, it is MUCH easier to drag some weight behind you (on wheels) than carry all of it on you back/shoulders/etc. I will disagree slightly with the part about not carrying it up 4-5 flights of stairs. I HAVE carried wheeled luggage up 4-5 flights of stairs, several times. Great, it weights 3 pounds more than non-wheeled luggage, not a big deal. One thing that will help is learning to pack light, which is true whether you roll, sling or strap on! Good luck with your choice.

Posted by
14288 posts

I've done both as well. I took the RS convertible backpack for an 8 week trip in 2014 including the 21 day BOE. By the end I could barely lift it to sling it around onto my back. Once on my back it was OK but I wound up with bruises up and down my arms for some of the 8 weeks. On the tour days in Venice and Monterosso Al Mare I repacked stuff for the 2 nights in to my bus tote and just took that in to both locations instead of having to manage my big bag on the vaporettos/bridges in Venice and on the train from Levanto to Monterosso.

This year I got the 20" RS wheelie and took it for 5+ weeks and a couple of RS tours. It was fantastic. I got almost the same amount of stuff in it as the Convertible backpack. I expanded it for the trip home just because it felt a little stuffed. When expanded there was really more room than I needed. I had planned to check it on the way home which I did do.

I am taller than you so the convertible backpack was fine on my back. I also had no problem lifting the wheelie into the overhead bins on the International leg of my flight over or into the overhead on the Eurostar. My first leg is from a small N. Idaho airport so everything larger in size than a package of kleenex is gate-checked.

I also agree that you and your husband don't need to have the same luggage. Do plan to manage your suitcase on your own, though, especially on your way from the bus to hotels during your trip.

You are going to have a wonderful time!

Posted by
1976 posts

I'm 5'0" also and I travel with a 22" wheeled suitcase (2 wheels, not a spinner). If you're worried about bringing too much, you can take a look at Rick's packing list for women on this site. I based my current packing list on his, with some modifications (for example, I never wear dresses outside of my job and definitely not on trips).

As far as carrying the bag up and down stairs - yeah, I've done that a lot in train stations, in hotels without an elevator, etc. That isn't enough to deter me from using a wheeled suitcase. Every time I pack, I make sure the load is light enough to lift it over my head. If I can do that, I can heft it up and down stairs.

Posted by
3521 posts

I still prefer the backpack or carried bag. I've been using the Rick Steves classic bag for about 10 years now. I'm old, have arthritis, and no where as strong as i used to be. But being tall, most rolling bags simply don't have a handle long enough for me to comfortably drag the thing behind me. I find i am much less fatigued at the end of the day if I carry a bag with a total weight of 20 pounds (18 pounds of items in a 2 pound bag) vs. dragging a wheeled bag at 24 pounds (18 pounds of items in a 6 pound bag).

Posted by
2788 posts

I have gone to Europe for 13 of the last 14 years and have only used a couple of RS 21" Roller bags (2 wheels) since my back condition will not allow me to put a pack on my back. I have never had a problem pulling them over all kinds of surfaces and up and down stairs and at 6'3" I have no problem with my current bag's length of its collapsable handle.

Posted by
41 posts

I was leaning toward RS back pack/convertible carry-on, but measurements indicate it is 14" wide -- both AirFrance and Alitalia only allow 13.5" and I understand from various forums on here that they are VERY picky. Are you checking or have you not taken on these airlines? The 20" rollers seems to be the only one with dimensions that satisfy these airlines.

Posted by
3 posts

For the last few years I used a travel pack without wheels as advised by many bloggers and it worked relatively well for me, but I am going to use wheels on my next trip. I am a 5'2" female in my early 60's and am a very light packer. I have had several shoulder bags, most recently Tom Bihn's Aeronaut 30, and used Bihn's Absolute Comfort shoulder strap with all of them. I chose the Aeronaut 30 because it is smaller and has backpack straps which I though might be handy, though I used them rarely. I liked the secure feeling that the airline was extremely unlikely to ask me to check my bag as this bag fits in the smallest of commuter planes. However, I have another trip to France coming up and have ordered RS rolling backpack because I have to take a couple of heavy books with me, as well as clothing. Frankly, I find I spend more time with my bag in airports and subways than I do on "cobblestone streets," and a small wheeled bag is ideal in those places. I still will pack lightly as I am staying in a fourth floor walk up. By the way, the blogs encouraging bags without wheels never mention an advantage of a wheeled bag: most Europeans use wheeled bags and if you want to follow Rick's advice to "blend in," a small wheeled bag is an excellent choice. A backpack in Paris, especially a large one, says "tourist." All backpacks look large on persons of our size!

Posted by
108 posts

I travel for work and for fun and honestly, what I use depends on the circumstances. I have an Osprey Porter 46 that I love for a lot of my travel, but when I travel for work, I often go with my wheeled carry on since I feel weird walking in to business meetings with a backpack and it's more likely to mess up my suit jacket, etc. It also depends on what I'm carrying. If I've got something super fragile (or plan to buy something fragile during the trip), I like the extra structure of the wheeled bag. If I'm flying on a small, regional jet with small overhead compartments, I like the Porter because I can pack it a little emptier and then cinch it down so it fits in the small overhead compartments. I find it annoying to try to drag around multiple wheeled bags and not have any hands free, so if I'm going on a longer trip that necessitates a large, wheeled, checked bag, I usually prefer the Porter so at least one hand is free.

Although both the Porter and wheeled carry-on are approximately the same size, I do find that I can fit more in the Porter. What Sean said is true, the frame/wheels take up space in a wheeled bag, so you have less space for what you bring on/pick up during the trip. That said, I manage with the wheeled bag when I need to, and just leave a few things behind.

Posted by
41 posts

Sorry to repeat this, but I don't think anyone has replied:

I was leaning toward RS back pack/convertible carry-on, but measurements indicate it is 14" wide -- both AirFrance and Alitalia only allow 13.5" and I understand from various forums on here that they are VERY picky. Are those of you who are using this checking it vs. carrying on or have you not taken on these airlines? The 20" roller seems to be the only one with dimensions that satisfy these airlines.

Posted by
15720 posts need to chill.

Air France and Alitalia's dimension is 35cm which is 13.78 inches. They only round it off to 13.5 to make it easy. But the dimensions of the sizer are 35 cm.

The Rick Steves convertible bag will probably do fine in the sizer as long as you don't truly overpack it. Remember, it is not a hard sided bag. It is soft sided and can be made to fit inside the sizer.

If you want a convertible bag that will fit the dimensions for AF and AZ take a look at the Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender or the Eagle Creek Tarmac Weekend bag.

Posted by
41 posts

Thanks everyone. We found 2 suitcases at Kohl's -- 10 year warranty, normally $300+ but with sale, 30% off, etc., got for around $60 each. They are definitely right size, but a little weighty (6.7lbs). Also purchased an IT brand. Like that when handle is pushed in, it goes to outer edges of bag rather than smack dab in the middle, allowing for completely unrestricted space in which to pack. Only weighs 4 lbs. Also 10 year warranty. May be 1/8th" too tall with button on the handle, but may chance it. Regularly $300-400 at an outlet type store (SteinMart) for $72. Wish us luck!