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Should You Use a Suitcase or Backpack When Traveling?

While you’re abroad, you’re bound to be traveling a TON. You’ll probably be lugging around a few days’ worth of stuff almost every weekend, so you’ll want to carry your things in a way that’s comfortable for you and your travel style. So the question that many study abroad-ers have is…

Should you use a backpack or a suitcase when traveling?

To answer this, there are also other things to consider before choosing between a backpack and suitcase for traveling during your study abroad semester:

1. How long is your trip? There is a big difference between what you’ll pack for an overnight trip and for spring break.

2. Which seasons will you encounter? Will you be wearing just swimsuits and shorts or will you need lots of warm, heavy layers?

3. Which activities will you be doing? Will you need to pack any extra equipment, or will you be packing as little as possible so you don’t have to lug it all around?

Once you’ve thought about these, consider the pros and cons of using each while studying abroad, and check out our suggestions for both suitcases and backpacks.

Suitcases

Pros

•  You or one of your family members probably already have one, which means you won’t have to shell out the cash for a new one.
•  It’s easy to measure, so you’ll be able to tell whether it will pass as a carry-on bag or not, which can save you from headaches at the check-in desk.
•  They are usually rigid in nature which can help protect your valuable belongings and souvenirs.
•  If your bag is super heavy (or you’re not very strong), it’s much easier to roll it around than to carry that weight on your back.

Cons

•  They can be difficult to roll around and handle in small spaces or on tricky terrain.
•  Suitcases aren’t stairway friendly, and not every hostel and airport will have elevators.
•  If used a lot, suitcases can get damaged or experience wear and tear
•  Suitcases can be bulky and may add an extra few pounds to your bag weight.

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From left to right:

1. Rockland Melbourne 20-Inch Expandable Abs Carry On Luggage
2. American Tourister Ilite Xtreme Spinner 21
3. Samsonite Luggage Fiero HS Spinner 20
4. American Tourister Duralite 360 Spinner 20 Inch Expandable
5. Rockland 20 Inch Polycarbonate Carry On
6. Traveler’s Choice Amsterdam 21 in. Expandable Carry-on Rolling Upright

Backpacks

Pros

•  They come in a bunch of accommodating sizes and shapes depending on your needs and body type.
•  Backpacks are versatile– they can be used for both weekend trips and hiking or camping.
•  They can be taken through any terrain, whether it be a paved and polished airport or the dirt roads of the Amazon
•  They’re durable and made to withstand the wear and tear that comes from traveling. Companies like Gregory and Osprey both have fantastic customer service guarantees that any repairs that need to be done are free, for life! How awesome is that?
•  It’s easy to keep your backpack with you and keep track of during travel and transportation, since they just sit right on your back and are hands free.

Cons

•  They can be heavy to lift and carry, and can be a burden on your back.
•  It can be hard to organize your stuff in them if you’re always packing and unpacking.
•  A pack can’t always protect your valuable items, so you’d need to make sure your electronics are in sturdy cases to prevent damage.
•  Some backpacks can run $200 or more

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From left to right:

1. eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible
2. Osprey Atmos 65 Pack
3. Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack
4. Men’s The North Face Recon Backpack
5. Gregory Mountain Products Z 40 Backpack
6. High Sierra Hawk 45 Female Frame Pack

Can’t decide between using a suitcase or backpack when you’re abroad? Go with one of these suitcase/backpack or suitcase/duffle hybrids:

 

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From left to right:

1. High Sierra AT7 Outdoor Rolling Backpack
2. CalPak Champ 21 Inch
3. Jansport Driver 8 Backpack
4. eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21″ Wheeled Duffel
5. Athalon Luggage 21 Inch Hybrid Travelers Bag
6. Rockland Luggage 17 Inch Rolling Backpack

What kind of luggage do you like to use when you’re traveling? Do you have any other suggestions you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments.

Click to pin this for later:

Should you use a suitcase or backpack while traveling during your study abroad semester? We break down the pros and cons of using a suitcase vs a backpack, and recommend both suitcases and backpacks fit for travelers or study abroad students.

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Kelsey (@kshappiness) is a recent college graduate who caught the travel bug during an extended study abroad semster to New Zealand in 2011. Since then she's visited 14 countries and studied abroad for another semester in Ireland. Now she's focusing on her next adventure: moving to Australia! Read about her adventures on her blog Kelsey's Happiness.


5 thoughts on “Should You Use a Suitcase or Backpack When Traveling?

  1. Kelsey

    I have heard good things about Rick Steeves products! Surprisingly I’ve never heard of Red Oxx products, but after some research they are very impressive! Seems very durable.

    I’m glad that you’ve found what works for you!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  2. Toki

    Funnily enough I use a very old but tried and true jansport 33 backpack. When I first was deployed back in 2001 to UAE that pack became my best friend! So it would be backpacks for me! I guess I kept that one because I hold it dear to my heart as it was the first pack my mom got me before I left… Happy Travels!

    Reply
  3. Katie Dwyer

    This process continues to send me into a packing tizzy every time I head out. I think an additional consideration is how much traveling you will do before and after your study abroad. If you are going straight to your homestay/dorm/apartment and then flying out from that same city, then probably a large suitcase and a weekend-sized backpack is the best bet. If you’re heading out on adventures before and after, the travel flexibility of a backpack works better in my experience.

    Thanks for this great list!

    Reply
  4. Lihour

    This will be my second trip international, but this time I’m going alone, for about a month, I don’t know what I should bring! Luggage seem to be easy to roll around. I never stay in a hostel before and I’m planning to stay in the hostel on this trip!

    Reply

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