For a minimalist, I sure have a lot of luggage. That’s because I travel a lot, and what is ideal for one trip is a poor choice for a different trip. I’ve tended to think of my suitcase as the city bag, and my backpack as the camping bag. On our most recent trip, my husband convinced me that we should bring backpacks instead of suitcases, and it turns out he was right.
Suitcases are probably the root cause of many travel problems.
See, a backpack is a constant reminder that you will be carrying the weight of everything you put in it. Unlike a suitcase, it’s shaped around your body. You can’t not think about your back and shoulders.
A suitcase can be sat on. Cramming in more stuff seems like it might be a good idea, because you can sit on it when it’s too full to pull the zipper closed.
Most people probably only own one suitcase, or share a set among a family. That means they’re always bringing the same size of bag for every trip, no matter where they’re going or how long they’re staying. That leads to bringing the same amount of stuff whether anyone needs it or not.
Everyone I know who goes backpacking owns two or three bags of different sizes and use cases. Day pack, expedition pack, hydration pack, maybe even a doggy backpack.
I knew I didn’t want to bring my expedition pack on this trip, because we wouldn’t be camping and I wouldn’t need to bring bedding, a tent, a first aid kit, a cookpot, or any of that type of gear. If I had the big bag, I’d be tempted to fill it with ten changes of clothes and four pairs of shoes. I could hear Future Me cussing myself out.
THEY HAVE LAUNDRY ROOMS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
I can be a flaming skinflint at times, and it’s tough for me to lay down the money on something expensive like a new backpack. There’s a part of me that still thinks $40 is a lot of money, the part that still thinks in 1980s prices, and anything more than that goes down the mental CANNOT AFFORD oubliette.
We amortize these things, though. When we spend money on things we actually use, they pay for themselves. It’s the stuff we buy and don’t use, like clothes we never wear or groceries that we throw out uneaten, that costs us. My husband pointed out, when we were buying our camping gear for our big Iceland trip, that we would save so much money by not renting a car or staying in hotels that the gear would pay for itself several times over. We could literally leave it all in a pile before we got on our plane home and still save money.
Instead, every single piece of it is still in active use several years later.
Not only does buying high-end gear pay for itself over time, it changes the nature of how we spend our time. Investing in a bunch of backpacking gear made us think of ourselves as backpackers. We went on to save money traveling in Spain the same way.
Part of why suitcases lead to worse travel experiences is that they leave open a lot of default behavior. Overpacking is a “stuff problem” and it is also a time problem. Choosing and folding and packing more stuff takes longer. That’s part of where people start pushing the limit on how late they can leave for the airport. It’s hard on the way there, and it’s even harder on the way back, because time packing is time robbed from the trip itself. We cut the time table too close, and then we’re throwing things over our shoulder into the gaping maw of the huge bag.
It never fits as well the second time!
When I use a suitcase, I don’t fold or roll my clothes and I don’t use packing cubes, either. I line up the shoulders and waistbands with the edge of the suitcase, then fold in the sleeves and pant legs and hemlines. Smallclothes like socks fit around the edges. I know it will all fit because I only bring four changes of clothes. (Often the same stuff I wore last time I went somewhere). I can pack my bag in under five minutes.
I can pack in under five minutes because I have experience, and also because I have discipline. I can play dress-up in my closet at home any time. I don’t want to spend time on my trip, expensive time I might add, with my finger on my lip musing over what to wear. We’re essentially paying by the minute when we’re traveling, and I can watch the dial on that mental meter spinning and spinning.
A funny moment came up on our last day in London that proved my husband’s point about the backpacks. We had decided to visit the British Museum, conveniently near our train station, and we had already checked out of our hotel. We took the Underground and walked several blocks.
NO ROLLER BAGS ALLOWED
We paid to check our backpacks at the coat check. Five pounds each, the most expensive end of the rate schedule. Bags over 8 kg not permitted. They have a big scale embedded in the countertop, and they weigh all the bags to see how much to charge. My husband’s bag hit 8 kg precisely. Mine was 9.5! I quickly estimated what I would need to remove, and got out a bottle of water, my iPad, a book, and my bag of Starburst. 8.1 but they let me check it at that point.
The moral: if we had brought roller bags, or heavier backpacks, we would have had to leave the museum and find a locker at the train station, then come back. It would have cost us an hour of precious time. For what? Another change of clothes that we won’t even remember wearing?
(Incidentally, 8 kg is a little over 17 lbs and 9.5 is 20 lbs).
A backpack is superior to a suitcase in most situations, whether they are stairs, cobblestones, museum coat checks, or a sprint through a terminal. If this backpack, like ours, fits in the overhead bin or under the seat, it can also rule out waiting at baggage claims, searching for lost bags, or paying overweight luggage fees.
Now that I have this new bag, I’m going to have to figure out more trips so I can continue to amortize the investment. My hubby said so.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies