suitcase or backpack

Backpack or suitcase Luggage? Which is best?

One of the most common debates I see amongst the travel forums is the argument over whether its best to travel with a backpack or a suitcase.

It seems to be quite a heated debate too and one which I’ve finally resolved my own personal dilemma over.

So I’ve decided to look into which is best. Lets see if you agree.

Backpack or luggage?

suitcase or backpackBoth methods have their own pros and cons – some of which will be of importance to you, some of which are mere after thoughts.

Backpacks are seen as the icon of travelling – after all it is also called backpacking! For a lot of people having a backpack visually and mentally separates them from holidaymakers, who for the most part use suitcases. For me this is simply a by-product of marketing, a stereotype that has come about and to some extent a lot of travellers are judged upon. In my opinion it’s also a rubbish way for people to determine your motivation and style of travelling!

But if your worried about the stigma attached to your method of lugging things around this will be of importance to you – and by all means go with it if that’s your motivation!

Backpacks

Backpack or suitcase?Backpacks or Rucksacks do offer a lot of pros on a practical level though. In far-flung places being able to have everything on your back means you can literally take it everywhere.

Better still it leaves your hands free to deal with maps and all manner or things you might need them free for – like holding on to precariously attached poles on buses as you hurtle through mountain roads!

Luggage

On the flip side though luggage these days is more well built – especially if you do your homework – and a lot of places you may wish to travel wont be dirt tracked and pot-, allowing you to easily wheel everything around behind you, particularly if your heading to Australia, New Zealand or America.

Size matters

Suitcase size mattersSize is also a massive determining factor in this argument too. If your travelling light then a backpack is a no brainer. If however you’re taking your whole life and the kitchen sink it becomes a different matter. You can get backpacks of all shapes and sizes, most of this is measured in litres. For example I took a medium sized bag with a detachable day sack which came in at 70+20.

This was absolutely fine for my initial pack and I fitted everything in with a bit of room to spare (although admirably I could’ve done with the extra 10 litres in the main bag). All fully packed this weighed in around 15kg.

As a fairly fit, 6 foot male carrying this around airports was no problem. Over longer periods this did take its toll though – and despite fitting it correctly and balancing out the weight I did find it taking its toll on longer walks or on transport.

It would’ve been even more of a problem if it weighed anymore or I wasn’t as fit.

Luggage on the other hand more often than not comes with wheels, allowing you to pack it as heavy as you need to with minimal exertion when transporting it from place to place – great for those travelling with half a wardrobe with them!

Packing

With rucksacks you have 2 options; the toploader and the suitcase style.

backpack top loaderThe toploader is great for those cramming in heaps of stuff and who are pretty organised, but it’s a nightmare for those who want everything easily accessible. The suitcase style is a great mid waypoint but still has limitations as rolling is the order of the day and things can still get pretty messy when reaching capacity!

Luggage can be a dream when packing on the other hand. Many have dividing compartments which allow you to organise everything into easily found pockets – main clothes in one, electrical in another and beach stuff in another.

Great for when you need to get at things quickly and without hassle. The fact that these sections are usually self contained means that you wont be turfing half of your kit on the floor in your mad rush to the beach and that you don’t have to open it in a certain way to avoid everything exploding out into the dorm room!

The main restriction with a lot of luggage is capacity though. A lot of luggage can come in a hard rigid casing – the first disadvantage to this is the overall weight of it even without being loaded. The second is the fact these cases leave little or no room for expansion – meaning it’ll fit or it won’t!

The best way to overcome these problems is fairly simple though – if you think either will be an issue you can simply buy softcase luggage – which is much lighter in comparison and much more forgiving with cramming things in!

The cost of backpacks and luggage

A lot of people also bring price into this argument.

Some argue luggage can be bought cheaper. But in my experience “you buy cheap you buy twice“. Budget is down to personal preference – if you want a top of the range rucksack it can easily set you back over £100 ($160 US). If you want designer luggage it can go even higher.

With both though you do have a good range to suit every budget and of course, taste.

A handy video on backpacks Vs suitcases

Why I chose luggage

packing a suitcaseAfter taking all these into account and having travelled for a year out of a rucksack I have decided to swap camps and from now on I am opting for luggage. I found that in Australia at least I didn’t use my rucksack on my back enough to warrant the disorganisation and hassle of taking it on and off. And when I did use it properly the weight of everything made me realise why people go for wheels!

Sure you can get free wheeling rucksacks – but with most things when something tries to implement too many features it usually fails at being great at any of them! So after a lot of shopping around I have purchased a Dakine 110 litre split loader.

My final decision over which brand and size to go for were influenced by a number of things.

Shop assistant

I know him reasonably well and he actually directed me to the cheaper of a couple options. Advise from those that deal with a range of luggage on a daily basis is often worth listening to.

Warranty

After the slightly disappointing result of my rucksack this was important (I’ll blog about that later). Dakine came through with a 2-year world-wide warranty – and the shop told me they hadn’t had any issues yet with any sales.

Features

The dakine bag open into two section – the left-hand side is a large section whilst the right is 3 – two small and one central medium sized compartments.

In my head this equates to clothes on the left, electrical in one small section, shoes/flip flops in the other small section and the medium part will easily store my summer wetsuit/boardies/towel! It also has heaps of smaller pockets inside and out – perfect for storing travel documents and random bits and bobs.

As you may realise surf was the main motivator for most of my travel and purchasing decisions.

Build quality

It feels strong yet light. And the materials all seem up to the challenge – as do the seams and zips.

Overall looks

It came in a range of styles, so I got to pick the one that suited me best – not a major thing but an added bonus!

The debate rages on

Here’s another great video on which to choose a backpack or a suitcase? Have your say in the comments below too.

Where to go in Chiang Mai, Thailand

chiang maiOur travel plans to Chiang Mai did not go quite to plan. After forgetting to get money from an ATM we arrived at the border with no money to buy our overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

We foolishly thought we could buy a ticket that evening but after a 5 hour bus journey and a hectic taxi ride to Bangkok Station we soon found out every train that day was sold out. Indeed every train the next day was sold out so we had to get the overnight train in seated class rather than sleeper.

This meant an impromptu stay in a hotel along the famous Ko Sahn road. A few quiet drinks were soon chiang mai-25followed by a chat with some Australian girls, from there on things get a little hazy! Some surreal running about from bar to club to hotel room to bar again.

We wasted the next day recovering from the mother of all hangovers then set off on our train journey which was surprisingly OK for 12 hours in a bouncing train seat.

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning and grabbed a tuk tuk to the Spicy Thai Backpackers. A much recommended and homely hostel with a spacious double room for us and comfortable surroundings.

For the first time since leaving home we had a normal breakfast of cereal and toast! A luxury in South East Asia it seems.

We wandered the streets of Chiang Mai for a couple of days, taking in the sights and sounds as the city prepared itself for the water festival known as Lao Krathong.

One evening the hostel organised making our own Krathong which is a floating gift to the water god to apologise for any abuse of water over the years. Wasting too much, peeing in the sea, etc. Or so chiang mai-11our guide told us.

It was fun to make and was followed by a slightly disorganised trip to the riverside where thousands of people were setting off fireworks in all directions as well as attempting to set off their Krathongs floating along the river. It was fun for a while but scary for the most part as we witnessed fireworks shooting into the crowds, Chinese balloon lanterns getting stuck in trees and catching alight.

chiang mai-18 A visit to Tiger Kingdom is a must when visiting Chiang Mai. We had heard good reports on how the tigers were looked after there compared to similar Tiger sanctuaries in Thailand.

We were wary at first that they may have been drugged but a chat with an English volunteer soon assured us they are treated very well.

We got to sit in an enclosure with 4 month old tigers who spend most of the day sleeping and getting used to human contact. We also go to sit in with 3 huge 18 month old Tigers who were snoozing in the midday sun.

It was an amazing experience and they were very alert whenever the wardens played games with them. Making them chase a huge bamboo toy as if it were a playful kitten. You can even have lunch there overlooking the enclosure and watch them splash about in the pool to cool off.

chiang mai-51 We booked ourselves on a 3 day trek to the north of Chiang Mai. A fantastic fun packed 3 days of riding elephants, meeting the long neck women in their village, treking through beautiful Thai jungle with massive rubber trees and spiders the size of your hand. We also swam in waterfalls which is a first for me.

Something i’ve always wanted to do and although it was freezing it was an exhilarating and fun experience with others from our trekking group.

We slept in bamboo lodges, the first night on the side of the mountain overlooking villages on other mountains chiang mai-69 with towns and cities far off in the distance.

Our second night was in the heart of the jungle which was fun sitting around a fire while our quirky guide who called himself “Happy Hippy” recited the only 4 songs he knew on his badly tuned guitar.

Our last day was another first, white water rafting. It was great fun and I’d definitely look into doing more in the future. We also got to do “bamboo rafting” which our white water rafting captain liked to chiang mai-77call “bamboo sinking”. He wasn’t wrong. once 8 of us boarded a raft of bamboo the whole thing submerged by about 12 inches.

Trekking outside Chiang Mai is easily accessible and great fun. Considering it was a trekking tour we managed to fit a lot in besides just walking which is always great. The scenery is always stunning and our group were friendly. The occasional Chang Beer in the evening always helps too!

Our last night in Chiang Mai saw us eating at the Buffet BBQ similar to the one we did in Battambang. It was great fun and it’s amazing to see thousands of people all eating under one roof with dodgy cabaret on a stage and awful Thai soap operas on TV projectors.

We capped the night off with some hilarious rounds chiang mai-79of bowling with hostel friends which saw us trying all sorts of techniques to get strikes, followed by a visit to the Warm Up Cafe which needed no warming up at all.

3 rooms of loud music with around 900 or so people cramming every available space. Hot but great fun.

Chiang Mai was a culture shock to us. Coming from Cambodia where our last days were spent with clear itineraries and busy days, our time in Chiang Mai was confusing at first.

Attempting to slow down chiang mai-3 a bit mixed with feeling guilty for not doing enough. Our hostel was great except for one gripe which was a TV in the lounge.

People watched pirated DVDs all day and in the evening which meant no one could sit in the lounge and chat. Meeting people wasn’t easy at first and I don’t see why people would come all this way just to watch a movie or two. Never the less we had fun in Chiang Mai. Now it’s time to head back to Bangkok.

Check out our short video of a tiger playing at the Tiger Kingdom.