I didn’t really consider myself a backpacker before we set out on a 5 month trip around Europe, but in the end I chose a backpack over a suitcase for three reasons:
- Rolling suitcases are great for floors that are nice and smooth, such as airports. They aren’t so great over the rough surfaces and cobblestone streets you’ll spend most of your time transporting your luggage across.
- It’s easier to walk up a flight of stairs with your luggage on your back than it is to lug up a suitcase.
- Backpacks are easier to store on luggage racks on trains and buses.
A fourth reason which didn’t become apparent until we were on the road is some hostel rooms have nice big lockers for storing luggage, but even the biggest ones are unlikely to fit suitcases.
My travel bags
KATHMANDU INTERLOPER X-PAC V3 (65L)
I bought mine for something like AU$350, about 50% off at one of Kathmandu’s famous (bi-yearly?) sales. It doesn’t look like they sell this particular model any more but they’ve likely replaced it with a newer version. The 65L was the smallest option and it was plenty of space for me. Alex got the 70 or 75L because the 65L didn’t fit his back and I think it was too big; too easy to let it get too heavy – you want to travel as lightly as you can.
The great thing about Kathmandu is it was the only shop I found that had a professional fitting service where someone adjusts all the straps to make sure weight distribution is optimal to protect your back. You can even go home, pack your bag and bring it back in and they’ll readjust everything if necessary. This service is free. You could come back in 3 years time and they’d still do it for you – you can even lend your bag to a friend and they’ll readjust it to fit them.
Whatever you choose, make sure it opens from the long side as well as the top. The long side opening the main one you want (normally a big flap you can unzip and pull back) because it allows access to all parts of your bag in one go. If you only have a top opening (common to hiking packs) you’ll have to pull everything out to get to something you’ve stored at the bottom.
My large pack had three compartments: one in the lid/hood, the main one, and one at the base which I could have unzipped to combine with the main compartment. It was handy to have the base compartment separate though because I used it to keep my shoes and dirty clothes separate from my clean clothes.
SMALL KATHMANDU DAY PACK
This came with the larger pack but I wore it on my front in true backpacker style. (I tried it snapped onto the main pack once and it was way too unbalanced.) I used it to carry any stuff I wanted to access easily (eg book on the bus, chargers/adapters) but left it at the hostel with the main pack whenever we went out. (In the picture above this bag is inside my larger one – I left the one on front with a friend in the UK. Our plan was to settle in the UK after travelling around Europe and I knew this third, inbetween-sized bag would be useful for shorter trips such as weekends away.)
SMALL BLACK ACROSS-THE-BODY BAG
Also from Kathmandu. Lots of pockets, zips and flaps to hide away essentials. I took this bag with me wherever I went and never let it out of my sight (except perhaps when I was showering and Alex looked after it for me). I much prefer across-the-body bags because they keep your arms free and they’re harder for someone to snatch than a shoulder bag. I usually wore mine at the front so I could keep a hand across it, which is daggy but significantly less daggy than walking around with a single small backpack on your front or, worst of all, wearing a bumbag. :P
ZOU-BAG/BAG-BAG (FOLDABLE SHOPPING BAG)
This came in very handy for buying groceries or carrying water/snacks during the day. It’s one of those ubiquitous shopping bags that folds up into a little pouch, however this particular brand is incredibly strong (it can hold up to 30kg weight), it’s machine washable, and it can be worn over the shoulder or carried as a shopping bag (the strap is clever enough that if you want to use it as the latter it won’t hang low to the ground). I bought mine from a stall at Spitalfield Market.