Suitcase vs. backpack: The ultimate showdown!

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We all have travel-related idiosyncrasies, and everyone’s style is just a bit different, which is why the war over suitcases vs backpacks is everlastingly entrenched. On the backpacker circuit it’s a unified front of loyal soldiers in favor of the backpack brigade, whereas the hotel faithful adore their beloved wheels.

Everyone’s favorite “I’m cooler than you” argument is bragging about who’s a cooler traveler. Been to X number of countries? This other guy’s been to X+4! Got by in Belgium on 8 Euros a day? This guy did it on 3.6! Everyone thinks their way is right, and even luggage stirs passionate bragging.

Is either side the unchallenged victor? Each side seems to think so. They have their supporters, ardent and strong, defending their choices to the death.

And thus, let the debate begin:

In defense of suitcases:

Forget being a backpacker. It’s not like the name means anything anyway. Do you play tennis whenever you wear your tennis shoes? Nah, I didn’t think so. Are you sailing along on the sea whenever you wear boat shoes? Nope? That’s what I thought.

But it would be pretty cool.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be THAT old. Photo by Alf van Beem.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a budget traveler or a fancy shmancy lover of luxury. Either way, a suitcase is the way to go. Wheeling along that trusty little guy is going to give you no end of joy as you glance at the massively overloading but diminutive people crushed under the weight of their packs, enviously looking upon you like the genius you so surely are.

Here’s why suitcases rule:

  • Wheels: Duh. Who doesn’t love wheels? You can drag it along behind you, and no matter how heavy it is, it’ll still be fine. You’ll have plenty of room for those millions of extra shoes you packed, plus plenty of space for souvenirs.
  • Your back won’t get all sweaty: Ever see a backpacker take off the pack in body-temperature heat and 100% humidity? Well, that guy’s going to have a whole lot of trouble getting the attention he so desperately wants from the ladies. You? They’ll be so eager to be all over you they’ll trample any pedestrian in the way.
  • The straps won’t get all gross: Ever set your pack down on a bathroom floor, only to have it roll right over onto its back like a drunk turtle, right into the slowly-growing puddle of urine migrating your way from one stall over? Too bad it didn’t have little feet. Like a suitcase would.
  • You won’t worry about it getting damaged on the plane: Throw your suitcase into the checked baggage carousel and let it go. It’ll be just fine. Backpacks with a million straps and zippers all over them? They’ll get torn to pieces.
  • It’s also a chair: Indulge your laziness. In a way only a suitcase can. Backpacks flat on the ground are pretty terrible in this regard.

Ignore the nay-sayers because:

  • You’ll only carry it for 30 seconds: Yeah, they’ll blather on and on about cobblestones, but it’s not all that bad anyway, and is it really so tough carrying a suitcase for a brief moment? It’ll be over soon, and you won’t even break a sweat. Unlike those backpackers with their disgustingly soaked t-shirts.
  • No panel loader is as good as a suitcase: Sure, those newfangled packs have huge zippers that let you get into anywhere…sort of. They never open up all the way, so it’s only ever half as good as you want it to be.
  • A suitcase doesn’t make you any less of a budget traveler: It’s not the carrying device that makes you a cheap bastard. It’s you being a cheap bastard that makes you a cheap bastard. And if you’re still sleeping on dirty floors and bargaining over your bar tab, you’re just as budget-y as anyone else.

In defense of backpacks:

How is this even up for discussion? Are we really going to rebrand ourselves from backpackers to suitcasers? Shall the new stereotypical budget traveler evolve to appear carefree and well-dressed while wheeling a suitcase along for the journey?!?!

Ah, external frames, you aging veteran, you.
Wow, this is old. Photo by Haolenate.

Backpacking around the world isn’t about convenience and comfort, it’s about adventure! But alright, if you’re still looking for maximizing efficiency, backpacks are hands-down the best way to go.

Here’s why backpacks rule:

  • Cobblestones suck: Sooner or later (and probably rather frequently) you’re going to be walking along some medieval town square, and if you’ve ever tried to drag a suitcase along the half-century old rocks, you’ll never want to do it again.
  • Mud sucks even harder: Oh, you’ll fall. You’ll fall hard. And then you won’t be laughing at the backpackers as they hop, skip, and jump through the mud with their trusty backpacks all the way.
  • You shall encounter stairs: Thought you were all crafty for loading up a gigantic suitcase since it had wheels anyway? Prepare to walk up all 5 flights of stairs to the hostel that has no elevator.

Ignore the nay-sayers because:

  • You can get a ventilated pack: Worried about your precious back looking all sweaty and gross? Don’t worry, backpacks can totally perpetuate the illusion of your classiness. All you need is one of those trampoline-style mesh back panels that’ll keep the sweat off your back, floating away in the air to land on someone’s face.
  • They can open like a suitcase too: More often nowadays you’ll find backpacks that have panel access, just like a suitcase. They’ll be your best friend.
  • You can run: And you will. That 6:00 AM train to Munich isn’t going to wait for you, no matter how hungover and covered in your own vomit you might be.

Final thoughts?

So there you have it. The wonderful world of backpacking vs. the tried and true reliability of the good old fashioned suitcase. Both have their proponents, both have their detractors, and at least they can both get together to hate on the duffel baggers. Seriously, those guys are just stupid.

Got any preferences in the backpack vs. suitcase debate? Join the fun and brag about which one you think makes you cooler!

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