20 December 2013

The first big decision...

Posted Dec 2013 

Once my plans were confirmed, partially paid for and officially in my mothers diary, my first hurdle was a decision that may not seem serious in the grand scheme of things but caused quite a debate between myself and others. The dilemma...should I buy a backpack or drag around a suitcase?!

As a general rule, suitcases are for trips with one destination, where you can dump it in a room and not have to worry about being tidy, and backpacks are for multistop trips where there might not be stable pathways, space to unpack or the opportunity to overpack since you'll carry it on your back. Pretty straightforward and sensible. However - I did take my suitcase to the USA last year and it survived the dust of the Grand Canyon to the streets of NYC in a downpour.  So, do I be a sensible traveller and buy a backpack so I can actually take a sensible amount of clothing and be an official "backpacker" or do I be silly but enjoy my comfort and tidiness of my suitcase? Do I go for the heavy-on-my-shoulders-rolled-clothes-everything-good-is-at-the-bottom approach or for the wheeled-and-organised-but-rural-area-travelling-unsuitable-massive-pull-along-closet that is a suitcase?  

Backpack Pros
  • Keeps your hands free.
  • Easier to carry up stairs and steps when there is no elevator.
  • Usually comes with a detachable day bag.
  • Cobblestones? Mud? No pathway? No problem!
  • You can hang/attach anything from hiking shoes to yoga mats (seen it).
  • Probably more durable than a suitcase.
  • Not as big as a suitcase so helps limits how much you pack.
  • You'll be labelled a "real backpacker".

Backpack Cons
  • You have to actually carry it, all the time, as there are no wheels to rely on. 
  • Usually smaller than a suitcase - harder to organise/find things.
  • You'll worry about the straps getting damaged during flights. 
  • Involves heavy lifting and sore shoulders.
  • You'll probably need assistance to put it on.
  • You'll get a sweaty back.
  • Manoeuvring on public transport can be difficult, especially when crowded.
  • You will hit people with it when trying to turn around. 
  • You will feel unbalanced most of the time.
  • You'll be labelled a "real backpacker".
So I think you can tell from my tone that I was leaning towards the comfort and space of a suitcase. However, I read a lot of stories online and was convinced that at every single place on my list, I would at some point encounter muddy, cobbled pathways that frequently involved impossible amounts of stairs and obstacles that would require my hands free at all times and would not be suitcase friendly. I also worried about how others would judge me, turning up with a suitcase if they were all kitted out with backpacks.

I suffered with that 75lt backpack all over the London Underground, around the harbours of Hong Kong, up and down too many hills and in a lot of elevators in Australia. I needed a ledge to balance it on in order to shimmy the straps onto my back without falling over, my shoulders ached for days and I simply felt like an unbalanced, ungraceful haunch back (Not very lady like should be added to the cons list). I also spent a considerable amount of time unpacking and re-packing every time I moved on to a new destination, trying to keep my dirty clothes from disappearing into my clean clothes, ensuring my pyjamas were near the top for when I arrived somewhere in the dark, and trying to find that elusive sock that always seems to be non-existent when you need a pair (I do accept that this could happen in a suitcase too).

I eventually gave in after a particularly stressful, lonely flight from Sydney to Auckland where a strap from my backpack got caught in the luggage conveyor belt and they had to stop it so I could yank it out. I ditched my backpack in the hostel, bought a bright purple suitcase on impulse whilst in Target and spent my first evening in New Zealand happily emptying my backpacks contents into the neatly arranged compartments of my suitcase.

Lesson learnt - backpacks are good if you're a strong, organised, light packer with a good sense of balance who doesn't mind sweat and isn't phased by steering yourself through the general public whilst carrying your own body weight on your back. I accept that there are great backpacks that zip all the way around like the suitcase as well as backpacks with handy zips at the bottom meaning you don't have to dig around from the top.

Hey, maybe 75lt was too big and I'm being too prissy about it but I donated my backpack to the hostel and saw someone claiming it about 25 minutes later.


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