Backpack vs. trolley. Be smart when you pack.

All of us have a large dusty suitcase at home that we use to store seasonal clothing. We probably bought it when packing was an ode to the freedom of choice, when, if in doubt, we tossed everything inside and ended up with 80% of the items packed “just in case”.

Then, airline regulations forced us to restructure our brain in a tetris fashion. For years, airlines applied penalties to checked luggage exceeding the weight limit. And then, low-cost airlines introduced payment for any kind of checked luggage whatsoever. This started rubbing off in the rest of companies which soon began to apply more restrictive regulations in terms of allowed pieces of luggage, weight and size. As a result, unless we were taking a month-long trip, we stopped considering the good old suitcase as a travel companion. The Age of the Trolley had irrupted.


Trolley manufacturers started to sell “cabin” models like hot cakes. And although their models were supposed to comply with the newly established restrictions, this was not always the case and sometimes they really pushed the envelope when it came to appropriate size. Who has not suffered in their own flesh, or at least witnessed, the burden of struggling like crazy to make a bag fit in the luggage gauge, and then failed to get it out? Rumor has it that some gauges, which never released their pray, still live in exile in some forgotten airport hangar.


Travelers have resorted to guile to counterattack recurrent efforts from airlines, determined to make passengers board planes with allowances practically restricted to what they have on: we have seen passengers wearing four layers of clothing in mid-August, two coats in winter, or carrying a bag full to the brim with socks.


Adapt or die! We have learned to practically vacuum-pack our belongings in a cabin bag and do without the unnecessary. Less is more. However, we can still take steps to travel more smoothly: let’s dig up the good old backpack! Yes, the one we took when we went hiking or camping. It does not have to be that same one – although you should keep in mind that vintage items are trendy. There are now cool, urban, minimalist models in the market. Why?


First, there is the time issue. We will not have to worry about having a backpack checked for free when there is not enough space in the cabin or when we decide not to pay for preferred boarding. It is true that having it checked will mean not worrying about having to drag it along the jet bridge or the narrow plane aisle, but then there is the endless wait to get it back (plus the risk of something breaking when it is thrown down the slides, at the end of the jet bridge). In any case, it is unlikely that you will be asked to hand over your backpack. One tip: always make sure you stand before the employees that tag the hand luggage, greet them nicely… and do not let them see the size of your bag in case they start to wonder.


Secondly, there is the freedom of movement issue. The cobblestone streets of beautiful European capitals, the gravel in African roads, or any bump on the sidewalk will literally swallow our trolley’s wheels leaving it crippled and useless, turning it into a dead weight. Let us not trick ourselves! These trolleys have been designed to roll smoothly on airport floors, but not to travel around the world. Backpacks not only leave your hands free, they also grant you access to any type of terrain. Use them to keep your belongings with you at all times and forget about luggage-storage rooms. Advice: if you are walking, take care of your feet and do not wear flip-flops.


Third, there is the happiness issue. If you carry a backpack, you do not have to think about what you will wear, whether you will repeat outfits or how you will look in your social-media photos. Let’s face it, sometimes we end up carrying more clothes than we really need, either because of vanity or because we just want to look cool. Focus on what really matters: traveling is one of the most enriching lifetime-experiences; do not let frivolousness get in the way. The material world is superficial. Pack only what is essential (add some laundry tablets). Do not be afraid you might need something you do not have. If your shoes break, buy new ones. Empty your backpack, give your stuff away to locals, and fill your bag with memories to bring back home.


Remember that your backpack should not be heavier than 10% of your weight. For instance, if you weigh 154 lb., your backpack should weigh approximately 15 lb. Pack only what is necessary and enjoy your trip!

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