Backpack or Suitcase? Which for Long Term Travel

If you talk to any frequent backpacker or long term traveller, their option for luggage is usually backpack. But the argument is, is a backpack really better than a suitcase? We will go through some questions you need to ask yourself prior to your trip and the pros and cons of each.

I would like to clarify that this blog post is for long term travellers not tourists.

What’s the different between a long term traveller and a tourist? A tourist is someone who is travelling for a few weeks, then travelling back home. A long term traveller is someone who is travelling for months or years on end without returning home. Long term travellers are living out of their luggage.

That doesn’t mean that you can use this blog post to figure out which is better for you, whether you are a long term traveller or tourist! So let’s get into it.

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Questions to Ask yourself

Will you be moving around a lot?

Will you be moving around every few days or will you be staying in the same place for a few weeks? You need to keep this in mind when choosing which luggage. Transport and walking with a suitcase would be fine if you are moving every now and then. However, if you are moving every few days, a backpack would be better.

What is your main mode of transport?

How will you be travelling between each destination? Taxi, Uber, bus, scooter, public transport? Keep this in mind because it can make a difference to how smoothly your transport goes. Also keep in mind if you are visiting somewhere like South East Asia, where one of the main transport is a scooter – you will not be able to take a suitcase on the back of a scooter and will have to get taxis everywhere (more expensive).

Do you travel light or on the heavier side?

Be honest with this one…are you a light packer or do you tend to over pack a little. Or will you be willing to cut down on what you pack? How you answer will help make the decision on whether to get a backpack or suitcase.

Pros and Cons – Backpack


  • Easier to transport and move around with – more convenient for travel which requires lots of moving to different spots.
  • More secure – this might be a bit biased, but I’ve always felt more secure and that my belongs were safer while travelling with a backpack
  • Takes up less space – If you are staying in lots of hostels, it is a lot easier to stuff a backpack into a locker or under your bed, than a suitcase!
  • Can purchase carry on size – I know you can purchase carry on size suitcases as well, but I always find you can fit more into a backpack.
  • Better for any weather condition – A backpack is much better to transport in unpredictable weather conditions. Most come with a rain cover and as you are carrying it on your back, you don’t need to drag it through mud or puddles!
  • Both hands are free – This is a massive benefit in my opinion. Having both hands free to hold your phone, take pictures, eat or drink, especially after travelling for a while is a massive convenience.
  • More durable – If you buy a good quality backpack, it will last you a long time.
  • Can be used for multiple things – You can take your backpack for a day trip or even a hiking trip!


  • You have to carry it, no matter what – this might be a pain for some people. Although I will say if you get a backpack that fits properly, it will be very comfortable to carry.
  • Fragile items are more prone to breakage – as most suitcases have a hard sell, they usually have more protection if they are dropped or thrown around.
  • Harder to pack – Generally, backpacks are a bit harder to back than suitcases. This isn’t really an issue because after a while you work out a system that works for your backpack!
  • Some aren’t lockable – This is a big one if you are worried about theft! Although there are a lot of anti theft backpacks on the market these days, a lot of the backpacks which hold a lot of stuff, aren’t lockable. This is easily fixed to make sure you buy a ‘travel backpack’ not a ‘hiking backpack’, as most hiking backpacks are stuff sack style.
woman and man waiting on train station
Photo by veerasak Piyawatanakul on

Pros and Cons – Suitcase


  • Easier to pack and unpack – It’s much easier to unpack and pack a suitcase than backpack. They are also a lot easier to organise.
  • Easier to access – Unlike a backpack where you have to search through to get to particular items, a suitcase opens like a book, making it easier to see all your items.
  • More space – Again, this is one I can argue as backpacks have heaps of space (if you know how to pack them). However, generally suitcases fit more.
  • Better protection – Your fragile items will be a lot after in a suitcase than a backpack.
  • Lockable – You can lock every suitcase, so you know your items will be protected when you leave your hostel/hotel.


  • Transport can be a lot more difficult – Getting up stairs, travelling on uneven terrain and travelling on public transport can be a lot more difficult than with a backpack.
  • Less secure – If you set your suitcase down, it is much easier for a snatch and grab crime. Backpacks are always attached to your body, they are still prone to theft, but it is a lot harder than a suitcase.
  • Less durable – Suitcases are great for short term travel, but not for long term travel. I have travelled long term with friends whose suitcases have had wheels or handles break off due to our travel style.
  • You can only carry inside your suitcase – Unlike a backpack where you can carry stuff on the outside as well.
  • Harder to store in hostels – Some hostel lockers are quite small, so you can’t really stuff them in there.
  • Only one use – Unlike backpacks which you can use for day trips or hiking trips, suitcases only can be used for one thing.
a woman packing her suitcase
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

Backpack or Suitcase – Which one would I choose?

Without a doubt, a backpack. I take a backpack on all my travels and have always found it much easier to get around with and just all round more convenient. I love being able to have my hands free and walk freely with it (and long distances)

Space has never been an issue for me as my backpack fits heaps in it and its carry on size! Want a comparison of carry on backpacks? You can read my blog here.

Which one you choose will greatly depend on how you like to travel and how frequently you will be travelling! Each one has its pros and cons, it’s just up to you to decide which one will work best for you.

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