Can You Go Backpacking With A Suitcase

Can You Go Backpacking With A Suitcase?

When you think about a travel backpacking trip, most people envision a traveller with a sturdy backpack filled with the essentials. We tend to think backpacking is about travelling authentically and getting off the beaten path. During backpacking trips, you also tend to hop around accommodations and destinations quite quickly and reserve things last minute.

The idea of using a suitcase for such a trip might seem counterintuitive, but is it entirely out of the question? Let's first explore the differences between a backpacking trip and a traditional vacation and then go into the practicality of travel backpacking with a suitcase vs a backpack.

What Is The Difference Between A Backpacking Trip And A Traditional Vacation?

Backpacking Trip:

  • Emphasizes traveling light.
  • Often involves moving from place to place more frequent.
  • Usually includes more walking and using local transportation.
  • Prioritises travelling authentically, experiencing local culture, and interacting with locals.
  • Accommodation choices are often more basic and communal such as hostels, coliving spaces, budget hotels, guesthouses etc.
  • Flexibility to change plans frequently and find last-minute bookings.
  • Minimal planning with a rough outline of destinations and activities.
  • Decisions often made on the go.
  • Can last from a few weeks to several months.

If you are new to backpacking, we have so much useful information. Some of the most popular blog posts for backpacking beginners are:

  1. Backpacking Necessities
  2. Different Types of Travel Backpackers
  3. Ultimate Guide to Travel Backpacking

Traditional Vacation:

  • Involves more luggage and comfort items.
  • Often centered around a few destinations with less frequent movement.
  • Often includes private transportation.
  • Often focuses on relaxation and planned activities.
  • Often includes nicer hotels, resorts, and generally more upscale accommodations.
  • Generally more comfortable with private rooms and additional amenities.
  • Usually pre-booked and planned in advanced. Even could be booked with a travel agent.
  • More structured and planned with a set itinerary.
  • Less flexibility in changing plans once the trip has started.
  • Typically lasts from a few days to a week or two.

 

(Berat, Albania with lots of cobblestone streets and sidewalks)

Can You Go Backpacking With A Suitcase?

Personally, I have tried it. Well, kind of. I had a backpack and small roll-aboard suitcase. I wasn't planning on backpacking at that moment, but somehow it happened (classic me). I believe the suitcase made my travels much more difficult in so many ways. I would not recommend travel backpacking with a suitcase at all for many reasons.

I have vivid memories of walking up uneven roads in Albania carrying my suitcase like a baby since I couldn't wheel it. I remember not wanting to go places in Spain because the wheeled suitcase hurt my arms from carrying it so much. You have to remember something (for American, Canadian, and Australian readers), the rest of the world is more historic than our countries. The wheeled suitcase was invented in the 1970s; these locations weren't made with a wheel suitcase (or modern day living) in mind.

I remember meeting somebody at one of my hostels who ONLY had one large suitcase without a backpack. She was the only person at check-out who called a taxi to drive her to the airport instead of taking the bus or train. She even needed to ask for help to bring her suitcase down the old staircase. I could see how constrained she felt by this suitcase.

Why You Should Not Backpack With A Suitcase

Backpacks are designed to distribute weight evenly across your shoulders and hips, making it easier to carry heavy loads over long distances. They allow for hands-free movement, which is advantageous when you need to navigate to a new destination, climb stairs, or use public transportation.

Suitcases, on the other hand, are easier to pack and organize due to their structured compartments. However, a good set of compression packing cubes will help with packing and organizing a backpack. Wheeled suitcases are convenient in airports and hotel lobbies but can become a burden when you encounter stairs (often found at hostels and guesthouses), cobblestone streets (often found in Europe and Asia), or dirt paths.

Suitcases have limited mobility. I've tried wheeling my suitcase on a sidewalk in Spain where the sidewalks look like this:

I've also tried wheeling a suitcase in Italy where the streets look like this:
It truly is exhausting! You'll think your wheels are going to burn out so you end up carrying your suitcase like a briefcase which just makes it worse.
Not to mention, during backpacking trips, you often stay at hostels or guesthouses which could be quite tricky to get to and rarely have elevators. In hostels, your suitcase most likely won't even fit in the hostel lockers.


Suitcases lack the design of backpacks, leading to potential strain if carried for long periods. Like I mentioned before, if you encounter tough terrain like uneven sidewalks or roads, you'll end up carrying your suitcase like a briefcase. Suitcases aren't designed to be carried like this. Your arms are going to hate you for this. 

Backpacks are more versatile for various environments; you won't want to limit where and where you can't go simply because of your baggage.

 

    When a Suitcase Could POSSIBLY Work

    If you’re determined to use a suitcase for your backpacking adventure, here are some tips to make it somewhat feasible:

    Choose a Hybrid Suitcase-Backpack: Some travel gear manufacturers offer hybrid suitcase-backpack models with wheels and shoulder straps, providing the best of both worlds. Remember, you will be compensating some backpack space on wheels and a strong framed handle.

    Plan Your Route Carefully: Stick to destinations with good infrastructure. Urban environments, well-developed tourist areas, and places with reliable transportation are ideal. Find accommodation that is near train and bus stations with elevators.

    Invest In The Backpacking Basics: You should at the very least get compression packing cubes, a quick dry travel towel, and a lock and sleep mask.

     

    WRITTEN BY

    MARK CIPOLLINA

    I’m Mark, the Founder of Generation Nomad, Avid Travel Backpacker & Digital Nomad. I am passionate about helping others discover the world through my experiences. I solo backpacked for months at a time, lived abroad, and even speak two foreign languages. Besides collaborating on the best lightweight travel accessories for Travel Backpackers, I also love sharing my travel photography.
    Favorite Trips: Spain, Egypt & Vietnam 
    Favorite Cuisines: Italian, Peruvian & Japanese
    Quote: “Be a circle and just roll with it” 

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