Addicted to novelty since 2001

What Kind of Luggage Should I Buy?

Next week we’re heading to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for a week of relaxation and exploration. I’m thinking of getting some new luggage. For short trips I tend to use this roadster bag I got in Morocco. For longer trips, though, I use an increasingly worn backpack that I bought eight years ago in Ireland. As my father sometimes says, it doesn’t owe me anything.

I’d like to get something new, but I face a vexing luggage selection problem best articulated in a table:

Pros Cons
Backpack Keeps your hands free, and it’s easy to carry long distances. I always feel conspicuous wearing my ratty backpack into nice hotels. The older I get, the more conspicuous I feel.
Wheelie Robust, professional and easy to wield in airports. Pretty much useless outside of the smooth sidewalks of the western world. Awkward to carry.
Duffle bag More formal than the backpack, less formal than the wheelie. Looks kind of like a hockey bag. Not fun to carry over long distances.

I know that the easy answer is “just man up and keep using the backpack”. But surely there are options I’m overlooking, aren’t there? And, no, I’m not going to buy any of that hard plastic luggage that everyone in Ireland seemed to own.

What are my other luggage options?

18 Responses to “What Kind of Luggage Should I Buy?”

  1. Derek K. Miller

    Could you find a duffel bag with wheels and a handle (we have one) that also has backpack straps for when you need them? I think they exist.

  2. Donna

    No wheels, but my MEC travel backpack converts into a duffel bag for when I’m trying to look slightly more like an adult.

    Has a detachable day pack, and all of the backpack/shoulder straps can be removed or stowed away (makes airlines happy). Served me well wandering around Zimbabwe, at least. :)

    darren Reply:

    Just to follow up, this is the backpack I ended up getting.

  3. Derek K. Miller

    This one has all the features: wheels, handle, straps. Still looks like a pack, but there you go.

    darren Reply:

    Indeed, that one, or the one Donna links to, may be the right thing.

  4. stephanie vacher

    get something that will last you for the rest of your life. try a sustainable material, something really classy and timeless.

    i think this one is really beautiful:

    it’s spendy, but when you invest in leather, you get what you pay for.

    darren Reply:

    I agree with the sentiment, and my Moroccan bag has served me well, but that one’s too small for my needs, I think.

  5. declan

    When in Oz I used a black backpack that has a flap to cover the straps converting it into something that looked like a duffle bag style bag. Very useful but no wheels.

    Another option is to look at Lowe Pro. They do camera backpacks that convert into wheelies, maybe they do a version that doesnt have all the camera padding or you could get the camera bag and remove the padding yourself, it’s usually held in place with velcro.

  6. Kate Trgovac

    Depending on how much you take with you, something like the Western Flyer from Tom Bihn might work. It’s a nice carry on which can double as a back pack.

    Plus, if you’re interested, I have one in red that has only been used for review purposes (so practically new) that I would be happy to pass along.

    darren Reply:

    Thanks, but I fear it’s a bit small for what I’m looking for.

    Paul Reply:

    Stay out of Mexico, you’ll save money on luggage and save your life at the same time. Find some place safe to visit!

  7. Michael Kwan

    For longer trips, I prefer the wheelie because I don’t want to carry too much, especially over longer distances. I can see how it would be problematic on non-paved roads, but it’s great everywhere else.

  8. Cathy Beaumont

    Go for the wheelie. Just got back from a 2.5 week trip in Kenya and Uganda where the wheelie and a daypack were all I needed. I bought my wheelie 10 years ago and have used it happily on four continents. It’s not like you’re carrying it around with you all day; surely you have accommodation. And in case you do have to carry it around all day, most train stations outside North America and the UK have luggage lockers.

  9. VancityAllie

    Definitely get a small wheelie. Burton and many other manufacturers make fantastic wheelies that have backpack straps built in, for those tough road conditions when they come :)

    I highly recommend it!

  10. Adriana

    I personally travel very differently depending on what the trip is for. For work I have the standard hardside roller suitcase, for my own (usually solo travel) I have the most amazing arc’teryx backpack-which-will-torn-from-my-cold-hands-when-I-die, and for trips-to-visit-relatives I have recently invested in an ultra ultralight wheelie suitcase by International Traveller – which expect has given an extra 5 lbs of weight flexibility. So far I am delighted with it.

    Regardless of what kind of trip the one thing I cannot live without is a small backback that I picked up at Heathrow ages ago It is made of heavyish, matte nylon and folds into it’s own pocket, but is far more presentable that anything else I have seen MEC, Rick Steves. I can’t seem to find it here in North America, so I will have to get someone to pick up a replacement. Perfect size for map, water, documents, etc.

  11. Shane

    Patagonia has a great backpack/duffel combo that I believe is called the black hole. I bought it feeling a similar conundrum that you are, and I am very satisfied.

  12. Ashley Grayson

    The best resource to help answer this question is Doug Dyment’s One Bag:

    I’ve traveled extensively in the US and Europe and my wife and I have found we can each do two weeks in Europe with lots of business meetings (even winter) with only one 22″ roll-aboard each and a computer bag/briefcase. Even so, we are always overpacked. One Bag attacks the problem by focusing you on what to pack and then address what to put it in. Sadly, any wheeled bag will add extra pounds for the frame and wheels, so Doug and I (who have done similar work for decades as computer industry evangelists, favor the backpack, and there are now some quite elegant ones.

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