My first backpack was purchased back in 2009 when I had grand plans to work and travel in New Zealand. As it turned out, this trip got put on the back burner and the bag was shoved away out of sight.
And it was out of mind for a long time. That was until I made a conscious decision to work towards leaving my job and travelling long-term.
As my flight to Canada was booked on January 1st, 2012 – a liberating way to begin the new year – I began thinking about what luggage to take.
Reflecting back to my last long-term jaunt aboard to Australia in 2005, I remembered opting for a small wheeled suitcase. Why? Well, it was something that I already had and I didn’t see the point of spending more money on alternative luggage.
It was still in one piece when I returned after several months, albeit slightly battered.
But, admittedly, I had felt inadequate with this type of luggage.
Most travellers had backpacks and appeared, at least outwardly, to be carrying these with ease.
I sometimes wished I’d gone for a backpack, to fit in more with the stereotypical backpacking image. And Canada was the perfect opportunity to give my neglected 55litre backpack a go.
How did I cope carrying a backpack?
Not very well. There were sure signs of my future struggles with the backpack when I had to enlist the help of my boyfriend to carry it for me on the way to Heathrow Airport in London. No matter how many times we adjusted it, my neck and back felt strained.
I could carry it for a short while before needing to stop to take a breather.
Arriving in Vancouver on a boiling hot spring day, I remember awkwardly traipsing through the centre. By the time I had arrived at my hostel, after getting lost in typical Alison fashion, sweat was pouring off me. I was a mess.
It will get better, I thought to myself.
Fast forward a few weeks and I made the decision to get rid of my backpack. I had burn marks on my shoulders, my wrist was nearly sprained every time I took it off and I kept on having to stop when walking with it for just a few minutes.
I was in a hostel in Victoria, Vancouver Island – the capital of British Columbia – when I decided to leave it in a locker with a “TAKE ME” sign on it. I’d had enough.
What luggage did I get to replace the backpack?
I got a good deal on a wheeled holdall suitcase that had much more room and glided along easily. I had replaced my old luggage with a new model and everything was going great.
Dragging it across cities, through numerous SkyTrain and bus stations, was no worries at all.
It stayed strong for a good couple of months. Then it finally cracked under the pressure.
I was at the Greyhound bus station in Calgary when the first fault occurred. I couldn’t find a lift so decided to carry my luggage up a few flights of stairs.
All of a sudden there was a crunching sound. The handle had snapped in half, making it almost impossible to pull along.
Great, perfect timing.
On my way to Banff in the Canadian Rockies, I was thinking about whether or not it was worth getting a new bag when I had less than a few months left in Canada.
At this point, I decided to keep it going for as long as possible.
Then something else happened when I was rolling through Banff. One of the wheels cracked. That was it. I needed a new bag.
But they were too expensive in Banff, so I had one last struggle with it to get to Ottawa and purchased another one here. I went with the same one in a slightly different design because it was cheap and I knew it would last until I got home.
So as you can see, I had issues with different types of luggage.
What is the best luggage?
If you are going to be dragging your luggage around and walking a lot between transport links, a backpack makes more sense.
You can navigate stairs more easily and don’t have to worry about tired wheels cracking or handles falling off. Saying this, the only time I would try a backpack again is if I was able to pack lighter and carry a smaller bag.
There is also the annoying issue of having to take things out of the bag to find something and then inevitably having difficulty fitting everything back in again. This is not as much of an issue with a wheeled suitcase.
If you are going to be travelling on a lot of buses, there is always an increased risk of having your belongings damaged if you have soft luggage. Bags are literally thrown in on top of each other and you have to be careful how you pack.
One thing is for sure: it is not worth spending a huge amount of money on luggage. Chances are, it is going to be wrecked by the end of your trip, or part of the way through.
Getting something that is as light as possible and that you can comfortably carry around is the most important factor. Test it out before committing and see how you feel about it when it’s fully packed.
What luggage do you use for long-term travel?