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How to: Choose the Right Travel Bag

by Spencer Spellman Feb 23, 2011
Spencer Spellman guides you through picking which bag to take on your travels.

Choosing a backpack can be more challenging than deciding on some of the other types of bags. There’s often more styles, sizes, and types of packs, as compared to other bags.

Do you want a daypack or weekend pack?

Is an internal or external frame more comfortable?

Do you want it heavy duty or lightweight?

These are just some of the questions you have to answer. Not to mention, it’s the only bag you actually need to get fitted for.

A backpack is the best choice for frugal travelers. This person isn’t just traveling for a long weekend, but anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months and is going to be traveling around, and not just staying in one place.

If you travel with items that need to be protected or have a lot of one item, such as shoes, then a backpack isn’t for you.

Most importantly, get fitted for a backpack first and spend some time walking around with it before fully making it your bag of choice.

Lastly, don’t rule out a backpack just because you’re not a backpacker-type. I’m not a backpacker per se in how I travel, but I’ve still chosen backpacks as my bag of choice because of their convenience and durability.

Rolling Suitcase

The rolling suitcase is typically synonymous with business or luxury travel. Their primary perks are how effortless and efficient they are. However, unlike the backpack, they are not rugged.

Roll it up and down a few staircases and over a gravel road, and you’re probably going to be wheel-less not for long.

Rolling suitcases are designed for efficient travelers who are typically staying in one place in more urban settings. A typical trip for a rolling suitcase might be a long weekend or one-week trip in which you’ll be flying.

They are ideal for vacations when you have no plans of moving around or carrying it more than necessary.

This is also one of the easiest bags to shop for as you just need to determine what size you want.

However, if you’re going to make this your bag of choice and want to get more than just a few months out of it, invest a bit more money in a bag that has a strong set of wheels or that comes with a warranty.

After a couple weeks of rolling a suitcase around New York City, my suitcase blew both wheels.

Duffel Bag

Outside the realm of athletes, the duffel bag is a dying breed and is steadily getting replaced by rolling suitcase. Similar to a backpack, a duffel bag provides the ease and convenience of moving quickly and lightly.

You’re not likely to be ironing your pleated pants and button down shirt to put in a duffel bag.

The duffel bag is ideal for short trips and extended weekends. What the duffel bag lacks in looks, it makes up in versatility. While travelers are often required to check-in a backpack or suitcase due to size, this isn’t the case with duffel bags.

This is the bag of choice for travelers who prefer carry-ons. There are no protruding frames that keep it from fitting in an overhead bin on a bus, train, or airplane.

However, invest in a couple solid straps that can easily be removed – which you’ll have to do if you ever have to check it in when flying.

A padded strap will also relieve stress on your shoulders. I don’t recommend a duffel bag for longer trips or extended travel since travelers have to either carry the duffel bag or throw it over their shoulder. After so much walking with it across your shoulder, you’ll be ready to invest in a backpack or rolling suitcase.

Community Connection

Check out Matador’s Focus on Backpack Travel and Packing Tips pages for more articles on packing and backpacking.

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