Before I ventured off on my first big international adventure, my parents tried to help by gifting me a new piece of luggage. Their intentions were good, and they were so proud of the bag they chose – an oversized, wheeled suitcase that had two straps that allowed it to double as a backpack if need be.
This bag would soon become the bane of my travels, until I abandoned it in Granada in preference of a significantly less agitating kit.
What was so wrong about this particular piece of luggage? Let’s look at three factors that can vastly determine the suitability of your suitcase.
To wheel or not to wheel?
If I had to guess, I would say that most people assume that a bag with wheels is better than a bag without. This is wrong.
Yes, wheels are great when you’ll primarily be walking over more or less flat surfaces, but Europe is the land of cobblestones in the cities and dirt roads in the towns and villages.
In Paris, for example, my wheeled suitcase seemed to find endless opportunity to bounce and overturn. Then in the smaller towns of Spain where gravel and dirt roads and paths abound, it did its best to pull anything and everything loose into its wheels, causing snags, tip-overs, and eventually a broken wheel.
Wheels are only convenient as long as they have appropriate surfaces over which to glide. Otherwise, they will do whatever they can to impede your progress.
Strap vs. Strapless
When it comes to this question, the bag my parents gave me supposedly delivered the best of both worlds. In reality, strapping what was essentially a large box onto my back did nothing to ease my travels, and in fact proved to be quite uncomfortable.
Remember that you’ll be carrying your bag all over the place. If you’re going to do so with it strapped to your back, you want it to be comfortable. In that case, the classic backpack is your best bet.
Don’t get just any old thing that will strap to your back. Be sure to try different sizes and designs to find one that suits your body.
Size does matter.
The size of your bag can have a huge impact on the success of your trip.
Most people immediately go big hoping to have plenty of space for whatever they want to bring, but this can have many drawbacks. First of all, you can’t use most large bags as carry-ons, so if you intend to avoid the baggage claim, that’s out. Second, the larger the bag, the more you must carry. And finally, even though you want to have room to bring everything, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. When it comes to traveling, less truly is more. It took me years to realize that I only end up using perhaps a third of what I pack. The rest is just extra weight.
Small bags have plenty of benefits. They’re easy to maneuver, work as carry-ons, and push you to consider what you actually need to bring along. At the same time, the downsides to a smaller bag are obvious – you can’t bring as much along, and if you’re the souvenir-buying type, you can’t bring much back home.
In the end, choosing the right bag is a matter of asking yourself these questions:
- Will I be walking over smooth or rough surfaces?
- Will these straps make me more or less comfortable?
- Do I want to carry everything onto the plane, or is checking acceptable?
- How much do I really have to bring with me?
- How much do I plan on bringing home?
From there, it’s a simple matter of choosing a bag that suits your specific needs.
Ten years ago, I abandoned my wheeled bag in Granada in favor of a backpack. Two years ago, I ditched that same backpack – once again in Granada – because suddenly the space afforded by a much larger suitcase became necessary.
My point is that there is no one-size-fits-all piece of luggage. Different trips call for different bags, depending on the circumstances.
Written by Nick Hilden