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Travel backpacks or wheeled carry-on luggage?

Hi everyone--

I'm not a traveling-to-Europe newbie, but I might as well be: the last time I was there I was 20, and I'm now 45 and bringing my travel-newbie husband and two daughters along. So, whether or not we actually check our luggage for our long-haul flight, my plan is to bring carry-on size for each of us. I'm trying to decide whether we should go with wheeled carry-ons or travel backpacks (neither of which we currently own). Can anyone give advice based on our trip details?

  • trip is 2 weeks
  • daughters are age 8 and 13
  • neither long-haul flight is direct, and both have relatively short layovers (90 minutes to 2 hours)
  • staying in Rome at an apartment, Tuscany in a villa, and Paris in an apartment
  • will most likely take cab to and from airports
  • driving from Rome to Tuscany (picking up car at rental agency in city)
  • taking EasyJet from Pisa to Paris (returning car to rental agency at airport)
  • no trains planned

Thanks for your advice!

Posted by
7636 posts

I have a wheeled carryon that converts into a back pack.
That works If you can get one of those.

Your plan is fine. You should then ask more specific questions to fine tune it as needed.

I have done both. There are pro.s and con.s to both. A travel backpack is easier for hopping on and off trains. Then, I see you have an 8 and 13 year old. The 13 year old could handle a pack like the RS Appenzell or a small rolling case. The 8 year old needs help. I recommend - 2 travel backpacks for the adults, 1 rolling case for adult + child stuff, and 1 backpack or rolling case for 13 year old. Alternatively, 2 rolling cases for adults + 1 travel backpack which an adult will wear. Then, 1 travel backpack or rolling case for 13 year old.

Posted by
2766 posts

For a trip like yours either works but I would consider wheeled bags. The drawback to wheels is the lifting them on and off trains, which is not really relevant here. Backpacks are great, but are most helpful if you will be changing locations a lot, on and off trains with luggage frequently. Otherwise wheels can be a good convenience. I am also not sure an 8 year old could easily manage a backpack luggage, unless she packed very light and kept everything in a school-backpack size. My 10 year old boy did that, but girls may be different.

You may need to check the bags on easyjet and possibly other airlines (look at weight and size limits), so if that is a problem then go with backpacks where possible, and the smallest/lightest roller you can find if your child needs a rolling bag.

It is helpful to minimize the total number of bags. One carry on and one personal item per person is 8 bags. Maybe the kids could share a rolling suitcase? Or their personal items could fit inside their suitcases? Regardless, even if it is 8 bags - make sure it is 8, not 8 plus a few shopping totes or whatnot.

Posted by
5828 posts

I was 20, and I'm now 45....

"45" is still young and strong. That said, a question to ask yourself is how much help are your daughters (and the newbie) going to need in dragging luggage from point to point. My carry-on is a RS classic back pack and my personal (computer, papers etc) messenger bag that I can wear cross body front. Both of my hands are free to pull wheelie luggage.

The question to ask and answer is how many hands to you need free of your luggage to help the weaker members of your family.


The new easyJet cabin bag guarantee states that if you would like to
avoid having your bag checked in the event there is no space in the
overhead bins, the maximum size should be reduced to 50 x 40 x 20 cm.

Purses, briefcases, and laptop cases are also considered one piece of
luggage, so they will need to be stored inside the main piece of hand

Posted by
34 posts

LOL, Edgar-- I just meant it's been years, not that I'm not strong enough! :)

My kids and husband aren't totally unaccustomed to travel--just to travel to Europe. I like the idea to use backpacks for the adults so that hands are free to help the little one (and my 70 year old mom, who I didn't mention in my previous post, and who will absolutely not backpack).

We paid for "up front" seats on EasyJet, so hopefully we will get our carry-ons on board and not have to check them.

Thank you, everyone!

Posted by
4094 posts

Both daughters should be totally responsible for their own luggage-get an appropriately sized wheeled bag for the 8 yr old and use school sized backpack as personal item. Since you're staying in apts, you will hopefully have access to laundry facilities so everyone should pack light.

Posted by
338 posts

I am 66 still young and strong!
I carry 2 packs...they are really too small to be considered backpacks more like day packs, one larger and one smaller. I just bought a travelon pack which opens flat and I was amazed at how much better that design is for packing clothes.
I can move fast...getting and out of trains, up stairs, etc. and all is on my person.

My personal preference is not to have anything that has addition to my packs allowing me to move quickly, I have always had a general disgust for what wheels go through, public bathrooms, sidewalks with dog poo, etc.

Remember packing cubes! Bright colors - easy to see. I like Ebags Classic cubes. Marshall's had a few small, rolling Swiss gear bags for $50 each. I realize with Marshall's - it's hit or miss. This or a similar place could be a good starting point for luggage for your family. You can see how well the 13 year old handles the luggage. I would try to pack in a way that eliminates the bag for the 8 year old. The 8 year old can certainly help. But, I wouldn't want to depend on the 8 year old's ability.

Posted by
14150 posts

So, basically, those who like backpacks tell you to take a backpack, and those who like wheels tell you to take wheels. I'm shocked.

Before you buy anything, I suggest you do a test. Find a backpack, fill it to about 20 lbs and take a walk. While you may be taking taxis and have a rental car, you will have to walk through airport terminals and they can be long. If after a half hour or so you feel fine, then you know you can handle a backpack.

Then borrow two wheeled bags and put stuff in them. See if you can manage two. Why two...yours and one of your kids if they need help.

Whichever you prefer is the right bag. Let your husband do the same thing.

Posted by
1194 posts

Before you buy anything, I suggest you do a test. Find a backpack, fill it to about 20 lbs and take a walk.

I’m going to disagree with this slightly. A backpack plus contents shouldn’t be more than 15-17 lbs. Otherwise it is crushingly heavy.

I’ve done heavier packs but it was with an MEI pack that had full suspension. In those cases it was adventure travel with extra gear. But a normal trip doesn’t require that much stuff.

Really - your goal for backpack travel is 15 lbs or less.

Posted by
32110 posts


A few points to mention (you may already be aware of these).......

  • like most other European budget airlines, easyJet is quite strict with carry-on luggage. With the cheapest seats, only ONE carry-on item per passenger of the approved size is permitted. It sounds like you've paid for advance seat selection, so that may allow a bit more latitude (I haven't checked for awhile).
  • especially with the children and a 70 year old, paying for Speedy Boarding would be a good idea. I find that boarding first is a benefit, as that allows one to board and get some space in the overhead bins before the "horde" arrives.
  • as you're driving in Italy, note that each driver listed on the rental form will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. IDP's are valid for one year and easily obtainable at any AAA / CAA office for a small fee.
  • be sure to also do some research on the topic of ZTL (limited traffic) areas, which now exist in many Italian towns. EACH pass through these will result in hefty fines, which you may not know about until several months after you return home. DO NOT drive in Florence as the city is heavily covered with automated ZTL cameras. You may find this helpful -
  • there are also some potentially expensive caveats to be aware of when using public transit (Metro, Buses) in places like Rome or Paris. Tickets must be validated prior to use, or again hefty fines are possible, and those will be collected on the spot! If using the Paris Metro, you must retain tickets until you've exited the system. Even Rick Steves was fined last year for forgetting that.

Don't discount the use of trains in Europe. Especially when using the high speed trains which travel at up to 300 km/h, they're an efficient and quick way to get around.

Finally I'd highly recommend having a look at the RS guidebooks as there's a lot of good information that will help your touring go smoothly in each location. For example, ways to beat the queues for major attractions, information on which days Museums are closed, information on hotels, restaurants, etc. Most of the guidebooks are available in E-book format at reduced cost, if you'll be travelling with a Kindle, iPad or whatever.

If you'll be travelling with any electronic gadgets, be sure to check that they're designed for "world operation" or you'll get a rude awakening the first time you connect them to an outlet in Europe. Packing along several Plug Adaptors would be prudent, as they're small and easily misplaced.

Posted by
59 posts

Not many people mention how long the flight is and the fact you have to sit up during it trying to sleep.... which you wont do much of.
For me even with neck pillows it puts a lot of strain in my upper neck and shoulders.
Running through airports with a backpack after that flight isn't the easiest even with a waist strap.
I had a backpack as a personal item and it gave me a headache after that flight. I got a tiny bit motion sick and it was torture to carry. Got hot on my back walking the long treks you have to do in most airports.
90 minute layovers do not leave you much time at all. Think about the minutes wasted dealing with taking on and off a backpack and making sure your girls are ok for a bathroom break. You will be tired and having to rush a bit. Also you will have to take care of the children on top of it.
I say for this simple trip where you are mostly driving ... I would do a rolling carry on for all of you plus the euro flight bag which goes right over your handles and fits nice for under the seat. You will want to bring snacks and things for the girls and yourself. You will need some snacks.
Give your bodies a break and do roll on.
Maybe pack nylon backpacks that weigh nothing for when you arrive in europe to carry water and a cardigan.

Sounds fun! Make it simple! Roll on this time :)

Posted by
18942 posts

Running through airports with a backpack after that flight isn't the easiest even with a waist strap.

I don't see anyone in airports moving faster with a rolling bag than I can with my backpack, even without a waist belt. In fact, just walking with my backpack, I'm constantly being held up by people in front of me with rollers.

Posted by
1194 posts

I'm constantly being held up by people in front of me with rollers.

That’s been my experience too. Or they swerve in front of me and I almost fall over their roller.

While people complain about backpacks swinging around hitting others in the face, there also rollers that swing out and trip people.

Posted by
1221 posts

I don't see anyone in airports moving faster with a rolling bag than I can with my backpack, even without a waist belt.

You've never shared an airport with my sometime racewalking mother (she's won the 70+ division in local races a few times), who can still haul a wheelie behind her like no one else I know.

But she's an exception to the rule/

Posted by
3134 posts

I guess I'm going to sound snarky, but I'm chuckling, as it sounds like we are all supposed to be racing through the airport. Who wins? Rollers or packs. LOL I have to say I plan my flights so I do not have to run through the airport.

Posted by
10522 posts

I have a rolling bag--- not once have I wished I had a backpack

Posted by
14150 posts

I don't know who hates each other more........backpackers vs rollers or Democrats vs Republicans.

It's too close to call.

Posted by
5697 posts

Actually, what I want is a Sherpa to carry everything for me.

Posted by
59 posts

It really depends on your health too if you can carry a backpack. Backpacks over 5 pounds tend to give me a headache after awhile hehe

Posted by
5828 posts

On ergonomics: Jung MC (2007): Biomechanical and physiological analyses of a luggage-pulling task, Industrial Health 45, 756–765.

The purpose of this study was to identify the degree of physical stresses on two-wheeled carry-on luggage users in terms of biomechanics and work physiology. Based on 3D kinematics, a 3D inverse dynamic biomechanical model having fifteen segments was developed to evaluate a one-hand pulling task. Joint reaction forces, joint moments and physiological variables (energy expenditure and heart rate) were measured from four subjects who performed 32 luggage-pulling tasks on a doublewide treadmill in the configurations of handle height (100 cm and 110 cm), handle rotation (0 degrees and 90 degrees ), pole angle (0 degrees and 10 degrees ), wheel diameter (8 cm and 15 cm), load weight (15 kg or 23 kg), center of mass (low and middle), carpeting (no and yes), trial day (first and second) and subject height (short and tall). ANOVA revealed that wheel diameter, center of mass and subject height were highly associated with the physical stresses of luggage users, especially their right arm. Although the task seems light work, users should place heavy belongings at the bottom of luggage when packing and manufacturers should give a priority to large wheels for ergonomic design.

Posted by
5828 posts

Backpack Ergonomics:

Limit the load you carry to about 15% of your body weight. That's 22.5
pounds if you weigh 150 pounds. Many doctors recommend a maximum of 25
pounds, no matter how big you are.

Absorb force. Look for features like wide, padded shoulder straps, and
air-filled cushions.

Distribute weight evenly. Wear shoulder straps over both shoulders.
Slinging the straps over one shoulder increases strain and can cause
you to lean to one side. Use waist belts to shift work to your trunk
and hip.

Keep the load close. The further a load is away from your back, the
more your back muscles have to work. Adjust straps to keep the pack
snug against your back.

Position your pack between your shoulders and hips. Your backpack
should hang just below the shoulders with the bottom resting in your
low back curve. Never let it hang more than 4 inches below your waist.

Pack it to minimize weight load.