Choosing the Right Travel Backpack

Joel Viruet Travel 3 Comments

travel backpack

At the Genova Train Station, on the way to Cinque Terre

Every year my wife and I go on a two week vacation overseas that include multiple destinations. We usually have layovers to get to those hard-to-reach places, and we hop on trains which sometimes have connections to the final destination. The way we pack can have a big impact on how we move around, so being able to move fast and keep our hands free of luggage has become a top priority in our travel list.

Never carry more than you can handle! 

I’ve seen it happen too many times. People carrying so much luggage they can barely walk. A roller bag in each hand, a purse or a camera bag around the shoulder, while trying to look at their cell phone for directions. The rookies I call them! But let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Traveling should not be stressful, after all, it’s the vacation you’ve waited for so long to take a break from everyday life. So envision this for a moment. You are in a foreign country in which you do not speak the local language and you need to get to a connecting train with only a 15 minute timespan. This is a common scenario in Europe. Now imagine having both hands full with luggage, struggling to move fast and trying to find the right carriage in a train that seems to extend a kilometer long! I’ve been in this situation before, going from Nice, France to Milan, Italy with a connection in Ventimiglia (small Italian town). It can get stressful real quick!

My recommendation is simple. Take only one backpack large enough to fit all your belongings! And a smaller empty bag you can stash inside your larger bag for your day trips. I can hear some people saying “yeah right”! But the key is to find that balance between over packing and being comfortable enough. Of course, you can’t take every single pair of shoes you own. For a two week trip, I think you can find that balance in a 50-55 liter travel backpack, and I’ll explain why.

travel backpack

At the Panama Canal waiting for a ship to pass by!

The maximum size most major airlines will allow as a carry-on will be a 50-55L backpack!

A 50-55 liter travel backpack can definitely fit more that your typical carry-on roller bag. In fact, I have a 44 liter bag that fits just a bit more than my roller bag suitcase. So a 50-55 liter can definitely handle a large amount of clothes, shoes and personal items. But any larger than this, and you run the risk of the airline forcing you to check your bag, which to me, defeats the purpose. I really hate checking bags when I fly. It just takes too much time to wait for the bag to come out through the conveyor belt and the last thing you want to do after a 10 plus hour flight is spend more time at the airport. Then there’s lost luggage issue. While it’s never happened to me personally, it’s happened to my wife and friends of mine and it’s a relatively common occurrence. So I try to hedge that risk by keeping my bags with me at all times.

Hiking backpacks are not fit for multi-city travel!

Many people do use hiking backpacks for traveling. I personally don’t find them appropriate mainly because the majority of hiking backpacks are top loaders. One of the limitations of top loading bags is that in order to get an item stored in the middle of the bag, you have to pretty much empty the entire thing. And it is very annoying to take apart your neatly organized bag just to get to a single item.

Roller bags tie up your hands!

Don’t get me wrong, I do like roller bags. I use them for most of my trips where I’m going to a single location. But for multi-city travel, no way. Later this month, my wife and I will be going on a 17 day trip to nine cities in seven countries around Europe. This is non-stop craziness! So I really like to keep my hands free with all this moving around. It just makes me feel comfortable that I won’t be leaving anything behind and I can take out my camera or use my phone’s GPS much easier. And of course, the last thing I want to do is haul a bunch of luggage around.

travel backpack

Train ride on Peru Rail to Machu Picchu

My personal choice for a great travel backpack!

I think the Kelty Redwing, pictured above, is a great travel backpack for a great price. I have both the 44 and the 50 liter sizes in black. Mainly, it has all the comfort of a hiking backpack, but it features a u-zipper. So you can open it all the way like a roller travel suitcase and have easy access to all your belongings. It’s also a very comfortable bag to carry since the belt allows to transfer all the weight from your shoulders to your waist, your body’s center of gravity. But for those that like top-loading travel backpacks, it also serves as a top loader, which is good when you are on the go and need quick access to the smaller items stored on top without having to go through the entire bag. This is where I usually store my camera. You can find many positive reviews on the Kelty Redwing 44-Liter and the Kelty Redwing 50-Liter Travel Backpacks on Amazon. Check them out!

So what kind of bags do you use when you travel? Do you still find yourself overpacking every time?

Comments 3

  1. Kimberly

    The first time I overpacked on a trip was also the last. There’s nothing worse than having suitcases attached to your body as ligaments. I made the mistake of traveling to Rome with an oversized suitcase because I wanted to ensure I had “everything.” And by everything, I mean a blow dryer, a full size bottle of body lotion and shampoo, heels, too many clothes, and other unnecessary accessories. One of the highlights of the trip was checking my suitcase in at the airport! I now pride myself on fitting everything into a carry-on sized suitcase or using a backpack that Joel mentioned. Backpacks are truly the way to travel–they honestly alleviate the frustration of maneuvering a suitcase around throngs of people in the airport or city centers.

    1. Post
      Joel Viruet

      I know exactly what you mean! I feel that same sense of pride when I can survive with a backpack for a couple of weeks. Traveling “light” makes you really compromise on what’s a “must” versus a “nice to have”. And it all makes the adventure that much better!

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