Packing To Travel – Suitcases & Backpacks

One of your more important travel accessories is your luggage. Choosing wisely.

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It was while traveling in Italy and not being able to lift our new oversized suitcases up into the train’s overhead rack that we realized we hadn’t thought through our new choice in luggage. Overnight or carry-on sizes, hard-side or soft, wheels or spinners, luggage, duffle or backpack; whatever your choice think about those situations you might encounter as you travel.

Mollie Pouch

What we have come to in recent years is simply traveling lighter. Our current preference for even long trips is to travel with two carry-on sized suitcases and two backpacks. My wife carries a small backpack that can fit under an airplane seat and I use a heavy duty pack (mil-spec) with a collection of molle pouches that can be added or taken off depending on the trip. We pack cloths that can be easily rinsed out in a sink and dry fast and we are always evaluating our travel electronics looking for dual-purpose accessories. We still, on occasion, get both carry-ons and backpacks inside the airplane but we’re ready if that isn’t possible.

Luggage and air travel is getting harder every year and it isn’t likely to get any better. One of our biggest fears on international trips is arriving and discovering our bag(s) didn’t and that has happened more than once. For that reason alone we do a lot to avoid checking our bags but unfortunately so does everyone else. That makes airplane overhead bin space stressful to try and get into. While our preference is to skip checking a bag whenever possible it is getting more difficult. Understanding that we will often still have to check a bag or two we now pack considering the loss a possibility. No more his and her suitcases but splitting the packed items. We also “survival” pack our carry-on backpacks with clothes that will last a couple of days.

Soft or Hard?

We learned a long time ago that those gorillas pictured in the American Tourister commercials are still handling baggage and they are so skilled at destruction that hard suitcases aren’t much better protection than soft. On a couple of trips we got lessons on the real advantage of hard-side suitcases – they repel water much better. On one trip we sat on a plane looking out at our luggage sitting on an open luggage cart for twenty minutes in a torrential downpour.

Large or Small?

It’s already been pointed out some of the advantages of small over large. First carry-ons help eliminate the concern of missing bags and a carry-on bag is also much easier to handle. Becoming a professional packer allows you to squeeze more into a small space and you can stop worrying about weight limits at check-in like you do with a larger bag. There’s also no weight limit for carry-ons – lead bars are okay provided you can lift them.

Domestic versus International Sizes

My favorite backpack

The size limits are not international. There are a few inches of difference between carry-on luggage dimensions. Most domestic U.S. flights adhere to carry-on suitcases of 22″ x 14″ x 9″ maximum. Because of metric identification many international flights use 21 inches instead. If you do some travel outside the U.S. select the smaller size, especially since luggage rules can be a bit more strict, especially with budget carriers.

Two-wheel versus Spinner Luggage

Believe it or not there have been studies on the use of each type. Spinner luggage uses four multidirectional wheels and the bag is mostly carried standing up as you walk wheeling your bag beside you instead of dragging it behind. While wheels on two-wheeled bags will usually allow an extra inch or two in actual bag interior height, spinners are easier to navigate through tight spaces.

Backpacks versus Carry-Ons

While we are nervous about checking our backpacks we think they have a number of advantages over suitcases. Foremost is they are easier to carry. My wife gives me a hard time when mine hits forty pounds even though I’ve spent some of my life carrying much heavier backpacks for serious distances. Also when we can’t get access to an overhead bin the smaller packs can get shoved up under a seat where a suitcase won’t fit. Those extra outside pockets on backpacks also come in handy when on the move.

Carry-ons do have the advantage in being sturdier and do provide better security than packs. They also allow better peace of mind in the event they get checked and are easier for those that aren’t up to carrying around the weight.

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