In the last couple years, as my traveling lifestyle really started to pick up speed, it occurred to me that the occasional borrowing of my parents nice carry-on sized Briggs & Riley wasn’t going to cut it anymore, and my only piece of luggage that would suit travel for more than a few days (not to mention work travel, which requires a somewhat heavier load than my normally-minimalist packing style) was too big to carry on (I despise checking luggage).
So, early this year, I decided it was time to get some new luggage. At which point I encountered the great dilemma that many of those who find their travel frequency rapidly increasing struggle with:
Rolling suitcase or backpack?
Up to this point, I’d always used rolling suitcases by default. Granted, most of my travels before 2014 had been of the American variety, the exceptions being an extended jaunt to western Europe in 2009 and the following smaller jaunts over there in 2010 that were a result of my brief whirlwind engagement to a European.
You may ask, “why would American destinations make a difference?” And I would reply, “because America has lovely, smooth walkways.”
Prior to my departure for Europe in the summer of 2009, I did consider investing in a backpack for a time…however, after my mother requested I have a go at walking around my neighborhood while carrying a fully loaded backpack on my shoulders (which I did), I reconsidered that choice.
Now, five years later, I was facing the choice once again, but with a longer commitment to whichever choice I made this time around. And I felt no better equipped to make a decision, as each side had its pros and cons. So over to the internet I went to do some massive research on the pros and cons via Google (which I won’t list here, as I prefer to avoid redundancy…if you’re interested in the topic, I suggest you also have a look online).
In short, I decided to conveniently forget my 2009 neighborhood experience and finally really give the backpack idea a try. I liked the thought of being unencumbered by a wheeled bag when navigating cobbled streets, busy airports, and strict bag check policies. Not to mention, it made me feel like a real traveler, as if I’d be gaining membership to some kind of elite club.
It also helped that a good friend of mine whom I'd met last year at the World Domination Summit had just received a brand new Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, one of the highest-end travel backpacks out there, and was happy to pass on her old (but still in top condition) one to me free of charge.
The first expedition with my new handy backpack would be my Budapest-Berlin trip in March of 2015 - two weeks in Europe, one of those a work week, the other for exploring.
A test of stamina was presented to me immediately as I prepared to depart on my connecting flight to London from O’Hare airport via an American Airlines plane. And where had they parked said plane? Why, at the gate at the very END of Terminal 2 of course!
Joy for me.
By the time I arrived at the gate, I was ready throw this backpack business to the dogs and hit the nearest airport shop to purchase a wheeled bag. Still, as I tend to be an impulsive person, I counseled myself to patience and perseverance.
But as my trip progressed, the lengthy sessions of toting a very heavy bag around on my back only got worse, from having to change terminals at London Heathrow (an hour and a half procedure) to getting lost (on foot) en route to our lodgings in Berlin.
By the time I was heading back to the US, you better believe that bag got checked, despite my extreme distaste for checking luggage.
So for myself, for the long term, I have finally answered the great debate between backpack and rolling luggage. Even with all the pluses a backpack can offer, for me, a 33-year-old traveler, it came down to one simple factor:
My back just couldn’t handle it. My lower back, to be specific.
Now, do I have a somewhat twisted spine? Yes. Could I stand to have more musculature in my back? Absolutely.
But if you’re considering trying out the backpacking style of travel, the question of whether your back can (or wants to) handle the strain should be your very first question, and possibly your only one.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great reasons to travel with a backpack. It’s why I wanted to see if it would work for me. But, especially for those travelers who don’t have young or particularly strong backs, there are also many possible cons to consider.
And if in doubt? Take if from mom, go for a walk around your neighborhood with a large, heavy backpack on, it’ll tell you all you need to know.
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