While the question of what and how to pack comes up quite often, there’s another question that is equally significant: what to use to transport what you finally decide upon. My recent move to Copenhagen offered several fresh reminders and new insights into how to pick luggage and the risk of heavy inconvenience if you choose poorly.
While diehard backpackers are inclined to advocate vocally for (unsurprisingly) backpacks, others will only travel with duffel bags (some of which now come with built in wheels), or more conventional suitcases. Advocates of backpacks like myself focus on their portability and their flexibility. In a similar camp die-hard duffel-baggers swear by their wheeled or “rolling” duffel bags, often arguing that they offer the flexibility of a backpack with less weight and without the requirement that the bag always be carried.While not nearly as comfortable as a backpack, in a pinch the rolling duffel can usually be used like a make-shift backpack despite their unpadded straps. The third class of luggage is the traditional suitcase with built in wheels. These offer easier access to your clothing, a firmer outer shell, and of course wheels that make transporting your luggage across flat surfaces significantly less labor intensive.
Ultimately which type of bag you choose will depend on your age, your physical condition, the type of travel you prefer, and where you’re going. A trip to New York? You’ll probably find a suitcase to be the best and easiest form of luggage. Heading to Europe and expecting to have to walk with your luggage a bit? A destination with a lot of sand or dirt streets? I’d suggest going with a backpack or duffel.
I was recently reminded just how important selecting the right type of luggage was. When I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to Copenhagen Denmark I had a lot of clothing and gear to re-locate. I fit it into four bags. Three were large suitcases, each with different types of wheels and the fourth was my standard travel backpack. While able to take the heavier weight, traveling with the suitcases quickly reminded me just how much I love my backpack and hate having to use conventional suitcases.
You’ll notice that this post has a series of photos of a broken suitcase wheel. The main lesson learned was that when picking a suitcase, one of the most important things isn’t color, handle, or size. It’s actually the type of wheels it has. As strange as it is, this is something I’ve never heard discussed before.
My three suitcases had three different types of wheels. One had 4 small spinning wheels located on the bottom of the suitcase horizontally. The other had 4 larger spinning wheels located vertically on the bottom of the suitcase while the last had two large fixed wheels built into the bottom of the suitcase as it stood vertically. Of these three suitcases the wheels on two of the three were partially or completely destroyed by the cobblestone streets I was pulling them across. The combination of the small-medium size wheels and their ability to swivel actually made them less resilient and quickly led to them being bent and eventually broken as the uneven stones combined with the weight of the fully laden bags to slowly tear them apart. In total I covered less than a mile with the bags in tow. Despite that limited distance it was enough to turn the wheels from helpful-aid, to obnoxious nightmare.
The surprising winner? The large fixed wheels built into the base of the suitcase. While seemingly less mobile/versatile and resilient, by being fixed they were able to better traverse the cobblestones and survived relatively intact. They also tended to roll better (which was partially also a matter of size).
So, the takeaway? Not all luggage is ideal for all situations. I think it’s easy for us to slip into a set category. I’m a “backpacker” or “suitcaser” etc. the reality is that there are ideal types of luggage for different travel styles and destinations. In gearing up for a trip and preparing to pack our gear one question we should all ask ourselves is, “what’s the right bag for where I’m going?” and the following five questions:
- How much will I be walking with my luggage?
- What type of ground will I be covering with my luggage in tow (sand, pavement, cobblestones)?
- What are my luggage weight requirements?
- How many different destinations am I visiting (keep in mind more destinations = more flexible luggage is needed)?
- What type of luggage best fits my physical/health needs?
What’s your take? Any bags you really strongly suggest? Have a luggage nightmare? I’d love to hear your thoughts via a comment.