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Here's When It Makes Sense To Use A Backpack Over A Suitcase (And Vice Versa)

Some sage advice.

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Ah, the ol' backpack vs. suitcase question! It's an age-old debate among travelers — and I, a very frequent traveler, am here to settle the score.

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I hear people talking about it all the time when I’m on the road, I read about it in different Facebook groups, and I see bloggers posting pros and cons lists. As someone who has done a lot of traveling over the last four years, I can honestly say that I have traveled extensively with both options. And sometimes I pat myself on the back for choosing correctly, and other times I’m lugging my suitcase up several flights of stairs, because I wrongly assumed there would be an elevator in the building.

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First off, let me start with my absolute top recommendation for a backpack: the Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack, available in red, dark gray, and blue.

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The Osprey backpack comes with a detachable day pack (which comes on every trip with me without fail) and fits everything I need for a backpacking trip. I have used it to travel for nearly three months in Southeast Asia, six weeks in Central America, and two weeks in California. I can fit tons of clothing in there with the help of packing cubes, plus a few pairs of shoes. I bring a laundry bag, toiletries, a poncho, towels, and more — and it all fits.

It’s sturdy, comfortable to carry (it has cushioned, adjustable hip and shoulder straps), and it’s easy to pick up, which means no throwing out your back. It’s the perfect choice for a long-term backpacking trip where you know you’ll be doing laundry and want a simple, easy way to carry your belongings from place to place.

The truth is, there are just certain circumstances when a backpack makes more sense than a suitcase, and vice versa.

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Let’s do a little exercise. I’m going to pose a few hypothetical travel situations and ask what bag you think is best — backpack or suitcase?

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The list could go on and on. And while of course it's typically a matter of personal preference, there are a few rules of thumb that I find it wise to stick to.

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If I’m going to be traveling for several months in a hot climate, I generally use a backpack because I’ll be packing thin, light clothing, and a ton of bathing suits. If I’m going to be traveling for two weeks and I know I'll need a lot of clothing options (i.e., I want to look cute in my Instagram photos or I’m going to more than one climate), I always use a suitcase.

So after I figure out which makes more sense, if the answer is backpack, the most important thing I've learned is to get fitted for it. You can do this either by going to a sporting goods store and having someone actually fit you, or you can measure yourself at home. I always buy my traveling supplies online, but seeing a backpack in person definitely helps.

The first travel backpack I ever bought literally caused me to throw my back out and I was forced to come home early from my first trip to Southeast Asia, because it was just way too big for my height and weight — and I was carrying nearly 100 pounds on my back between all of my clothes and electronics. It was no good. TL;DR: Get fitted!

If I still haven’t convinced you to use a backpack for some of your trips, there are of course a ton of quality suitcases out there to choose from. I’m personally a huge fan of all luggage by American Tourister.

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I have several kinds of them (I am a suitcase hoarder), and own different styles and sizes so I can always find one that works best for my travels. My two favorites are the Z-Lite DLX (pictured, available on Amazon or Jet) and the 29-inch iLite Max (also available on Amazon or Jet). In addition to being able to hold so much stuff, they also come in the brightest, prettiest colors ever. Plus, both bags have four spinner wheels, which makes them easier to transport and carry.

The Z-Lite DLX is great because it’s a hard case. I’m all about that when it’s pouring rain and my bag is sitting on the tarmac (which is something that frequently happens since I live in Florida). It keeps my belongings dry and safe in transit. I used it for a seven-week trip through Europe and I never had a problem zipping it shut (and trust me, I brought a lot of clothes with me).

And I can literally fit inside of my American Tourister 29-inch iLite Max. It’s so big that I almost always have room inside of it for extras.

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This suitcase is also super lightweight, which means that I can pack more without having to worry about my bag being overweight and paying extra baggage fees when checking in for my flight.

I know this was a lot of information — but I hope it provides you with some guidance before your next big trip, when you’re staring desperately at your belongings and thinking, How on *earth* am I going to carry all this crap?

Get the Osprey backpack from Amazon for $165.05+, the American Tourister Z-Lite DLX from Amazon for $119.99 or Jet for $99.99, and the American Tourister iLite Max for $84.99+ on Amazon or Jet.

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