Backpack vs Suitcase for Europe: Which is Better?

Written by: Chris Richardson

When planning a trip to Europe, one of the more expensive decisions travelers face as they start planning is whether to buy a backpack or a wheeled suitcase for their trip abroad. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, ultimately depending on individual preferences and travel plans. Some travelers swear by backpacks and think taking a suitcase on wheels isn’t even considered backpacking. In contrast, others prefer the convenience of a suitcase they can roll behind them to save carrying all that weight on their backs.

Backpacks are popular among budget travelers, backpackers, and those sticking to the true meaning of backpacking Europe. They are easy to carry and allow for more mobility, especially in crowded areas or on public transportation.

Backpacks are also more durable and can withstand rough handling, making them a good choice for those travelling in more remote locations where smooth roads or paths don’t exist. On the other hand, backpacks can be uncomfortable to carry for long periods, especially if they are heavy or poorly designed. They also offer less protection for fragile items and can be more difficult to pack and organize.

On the other hand, suitcases are a popular choice among luxury travelers or flashpackers, families, and those who prefer a more organized and structured approach to packing. They offer more protection for fragile items and are easier to pack and unpack. Suitcases are also more stylish, so those more concerned with their appearance can make a good impression when checking into a hostel.

However, suitcases can be heavy and cumbersome, especially on stairs or uneven surfaces. They also offer less mobility and can be more difficult to manoeuvre in crowded areas or when getting on and off trains or busses around Europe.

Key Takeaways

  • The choice between a backpack or suitcase for traveling Europe depends on individual preferences and travel plans.
  • Backpacks are a good choice for budget travelers and those who like to travel light, while suitcases are a good choice for luxury travel and those who cannot carry their belongings on their backs.
  • Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and travelers should weigh these carefully before deciding as to what is better to travel with.

Backpack vs Suitcase: Which is Better for Traveling in Europe?

So what is the best luggage for travel around Europe?  Do you buy a backpack or a suitcase? Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice ultimately depends on the traveler’s personal travel style and itinerary. 

Advantages of Backpacks when Backpacking Europe

Backpacks are popular among backpackers, especially those who prefer to explore multiple destinations on foot and like to travel light. Here are some advantages of using a backpack for traveling in Europe:

  • Comfortable: Backpacks are designed to evenly distribute the weight of the luggage across the traveler’s back, making them more comfortable to carry for extended periods, especially when navigating uneven terrain or flights of stairs.
  • Versatile: Backpacks come in various sizes and shapes, allowing travelers to choose a backpack that fits their travel needs and preferences. Additionally, backpacks usually have multiple compartments, making organising and accessing items easier.
  • Mobility: Backpacks leave the traveler’s hands free, allowing them to navigate crowded streets and public transportation easily.

Advantages of Suitcases when Backpacking Europe

While backpacks are popular, wheeled suitcases or rolling luggage also have advantages. Here are some reasons why a suitcase might be a better option for traveling in Europe:

  • More Storage: Suitcases usually have more storage space than backpacks, making them ideal for travelers who need to carry more items or plan to stay in one location for an extended period.
  • Better Protection: Suitcases typically have hard shells or sturdy frames that protect fragile items, such as electronics or souvenirs.
  • Easier to Pack: Suitcases are easier to pack and unpack, especially if they have compartments or packing cubes that help keep items organized.

Disadvantages of Backpacks when Backpacking Europe

While backpacks have several advantages, they also have some disadvantages that travelers should consider:

  • Limited Storage: Backpacks have limited storage space, making it challenging to pack for extended trips or carry bulky items.
  • Comfort Issues: Backpacks can cause discomfort or pain, especially if not properly fitted or packed. Additionally, backpacks can cause back pain or strain if they are too heavy or carried for extended periods.
  • Security Concerns: Backpacks are easier to pick up or steal, especially in crowded areas or on public transportation.

Disadvantages of Suitcases when Backpacking Europe

Similarly, suitcases also have some disadvantages that travelers should consider:

  • Mobility Issues: Suitcases can be challenging to navigate on uneven terrain or stairs, making them less suitable for travelers who prefer to explore on foot. This is particularly common in Europe with all its cobbled streets.
  • Limited Versatility: Suitcases are less versatile than backpacks and may not be suitable for travelers who plan to move frequently or use public transportation.
  • Carry-on Restrictions: Many airlines have strict carry-on restrictions, and suitcases may not meet the size or weight requirements.

In conclusion, the choice between a backpack and a suitcase ultimately depends on the traveler’s personal preferences, itinerary, and travel style. While backpacks are more versatile and comfortable for exploring on foot, suitcases are better for travelers who need more storage space or better protection for fragile items.

Backpacks for Traveling in Europe

Travel Europe with a backpack

When traveling in Europe, a backpack can be a practical and convenient option for many travelers. This section will discuss the different aspects of backpacks that make them a great choice for exploring Europe.

Size and Weight

One of the most significant advantages of a backpack is its size and weight. Most backpacks are lightweight and easy to carry, making them ideal for traveling by public transportation or walking on cobblestone streets. They are also easily stored in hostel lockers or overhead bins on trains and planes.

If you travel light, you can also get a small backpack that is carry-on size, saving you the need to check luggage when you fly, which can save you a lot of waiting if you plan to fly a lot.

Comfort and Convenience

Backpacks offer hands-free travel, which can be a significant advantage when navigating crowded streets or carrying luggage upstairs. They also distribute weight evenly across the back, reducing the strain on the shoulders and back. This is extremely convenient when travelling around Europe. You have to navigate all sorts of streets and stairs, even tiny elevators. 

Organizing Your Belongings

Backpacks come with various compartments and pockets, making it easy to organize your belongings. Packing cubes can also keep everything in place and make it easier to find what you need.

Types of Backpacks

There are different types of backpacks, including travel backpacks, hiking backpacks, and wheeled backpacks. Each has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your travel style and destination.

Best Backpacks for Traveling

Some of the best backpack brands for traveling in Europe include Osprey, Samsonite, and Porter. The Osprey Porter 46 is popular among backpackers due to its durability, practicality, and size.

When choosing a backpack, it is essential to consider the size, weight, and features that will best suit your travel needs. A backpack is a practical and convenient option for exploring Europe, but it may not be the best choice for everyone.

Suitcases for Traveling in Europe

Backpack Europe with a wheeled suitcase

When traveling in Europe, suitcases can be a convenient option for those who prefer not to carry their luggage on their backs. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a suitcase for your European trip.

Size and Weight

One of the biggest concerns regarding suitcases is their size and weight. Many airlines have strict rules for carry-on and checked luggage, so choosing a suitcase that fits within the size and weight limits is important. Additionally, it’s important to consider the suitcase’s weight, as it can add extra weight to your overall luggage.

Ease of Movement

Navigating through crowded airports, cobblestone streets, and public transportation can be challenging with a heavy suitcase. Wheeled luggage can make it easier to move around, but when choosing a suitcase with wheels, ensure they are sturdy wheels that can handle the terrain is important. Also, suitcases with top-loading compartments can make it easier to access your belongings on the go. Lastly, be aware many hostels are in older buildings which means stairs and no elevators for you to lift your suitcase up.

Convenience and Practicality

Suitcases can be convenient for those who prefer to organize their belongings and have easy access to them. Many suitcases come with pockets and compartments for easy organization; some even have compression straps to help you pack more efficiently. However, it’s important to consider the practicality of carrying a suitcase, especially if you plan to walk or hike.

Types of Suitcases

There are several types of suitcases, including hardside, softside, and hybrid. Hardside suitcases are durable and offer better protection for fragile items, but they can be heavy and difficult to store. Softside suitcases are lightweight and easy to store but offer less protection for your belongings. Hybrid suitcases combine the best of both worlds, with a hard exterior and soft interior.

Best Suitcases for Traveling

The best suitcases for traveling in Europe include the Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Luggage and the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Spinner Luggage. These suitcases are lightweight, durable, and offer ample storage space.

Overall, suitcases can be a convenient option for those who prefer not to carry their luggage on their backs. However, it’s important to choose a practical, lightweight suitcase, and easy to move around. Considering these factors, you can find the best suitcase for your European travel needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best luggage for European train travel?

For train travel in Europe, a backpack is generally the best option. It allows for easy manoeuvrability in crowded train stations and on trains themselves. A backpack with a front-loading design is ideal, allowing you to easily access your belongings without unpacking everything.

Best travel bag for two weeks in Europe?

For a 2-week trip to Europe, a medium-sized suitcase or backpack is a good choice. Look for a bag with multiple compartments to help keep your belongings organized. A wheeled suitcase can be convenient, but remember that it may not be as practical on cobblestone streets or in areas with many stairs.

Best size suitcase for travel to Europe?

The best size suitcase for travel to Europe depends on your needs and itinerary. However, a medium-sized suitcase (around 24-26 inches) is generally a good choice. It’s large enough to hold all your essentials but not so large that it becomes difficult to manoeuvre.

Best anti-theft travel backpack for Europe?

Regarding anti-theft backpacks for Europe, look for features such as slash-proof material, lockable zippers, and RFID-blocking pockets. Some popular options include the Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 backpack and the Travelon Anti-Theft Backpack.

Best luggage brands?

Some popular luggage brands include Samsonite, Rimowa, and Tumi. However, keep in mind that these brands can be expensive. Other good options include American Tourister, Travelpro, and Osprey.

Should I travel with a backpack or suitcase to Europe?

Whether you bring a backpack or suitcase to Europe depends on your preferences and itinerary. A backpack is generally more practical for backpacking trips or those planning to move around frequently from hostel to hostel. On the other hand, a suitcase can be more convenient for those who plan to stay in one place for an extended time, mix up their accommodation from hostels to hotels or don’t want to carry all their belongings on their back.

Ultimately, the choice between a backpack and a suitcase comes down to what works best for you and your travel style. Don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t backpack Europe with a suitcase or stay in a hotel with a backpack. It’s what works for you in the end.

I loved the freedom a backpack gave me while backpacking around Europe. It was easy to throw up onto the luggage racks on the train. It stuffed into the hostel lockers with ease and, in some ways, forced me to pack light, and even then, I still didn’t use everything I took with me.