I’ve always travelled with rolling luggage in the past, but I’ve mostly been to western countries with flat pavement so it was easy to get around. My next trip will be RTW and will include lots of public transport and probably a few areas without sidewalks. I figured a backpack was the obvious choice and so began my hunt for the perfect backpack.

Top of my list of requirements were a good internal frame, thick hip-belt, carry-on sized, 30-40L, lockable zips, panel loading and durability. Ideally I wanted something that looked close to a school backpack, but with much more support. It took months of searching to find a bag that fit all of my criteria, but eventually I found the 35L Macpac Voyager.

Macpac Voyager 35L

But wait! Didn’t the title of this post say I chose rolling luggage?

When I got the bag home, I proceeded to load it up with everything on my current packing list, plus a few extras to simulate on the road purchases. It all fit (just). I loaded the bag onto my back, got the fit just right and was…. disappointed. I tried carrying the bag on my back for an hour – pacing about the house, fiddling with the straps trying to make it more comfortable, but nothing worked. At 10kg, it was just too heavy for me. So I unloaded a few things and tried again with 7kg. Still too heavy. I found it uncomfortable to carry a purse or messenger bag along with the backpack due to the thick straps (which is what I would do when flying to spread the weight out to meet strict carry-on limits). The backpack also felt too big for my frame (I’m 5’1), even though it is a relatively small bag. I can’t imagine how some people carry 65-80L bags on their backs!

I’ve struggled with mild neck, shoulder and back pain for many years, so while a backpack weighing 7kg appears too much for me to comfortably carry, you may have no trouble with this. In fact, 7-9kg is actually not much in the world of backpacking with most backpackers I’ve met carrying closer to 11-12kgs.

I transferred everything from the pack to my 46” rolling luggage (which is quite a lot smaller than carry-on limits). Everything fit, with room to spare. With nothing on my back, I could easily carry a purse or messenger bag. I have a minuscule super-lightweight packable backpack that I transferred my electronics, purse and liquids into. This lightened the roller to the carry-on weight limit of 7kg (the roller weighs 3kg by itself so I may start hunting for a lighter one) and the small backpack was very comfortable, weighing, at a guess, about 4kg. Strangely, even though my little packable backpack has no built-in support, it was much more comfortable than the Macpac. I think that may be due to the smaller size.

Aside from the weight/comfort issue, there are a few other reasons I like rolling luggage.

  • They can be incredibly cheap – mine cost me about $20 three years ago.
  • Lockable zippers come standard (and often an included lock, but they’re not always very good especially if you go cheap. Buy your own).
  • They’re rectangular in shape, and therefore easy to pack.
  • They’re often expandable, which is convenient when purchasing food and other consumables to use on the road. Or bringing home gifts/souvenirs etc.

A lot of backpackers talk about rolling luggage being a pain when faced with stairs. But, this is really only an issue with really heavy, bulky luggage. A small roller weighing less than 10kg can simply be carried by the side handle like a suitcase for short distances. This is exactly what I’ve done in the past and I don’t recall it ever being a problem. The only time I’ve been concerned is when dragging the roller over cobblestones – I was worried the wheels might break, but they’ve held up like champions.

I should also note that my current RTW plan includes spending the first 7 or so months in the USA and Europe and then heading to Southeast Asia. It’s possible that some of the areas I visit in Asia won’t be suitable for rolling luggage. But I’m not willing to spend the first 7 months struggling with a heavy load on my back just so I can be comfortable later on. And that’s the beauty of rolling luggage – it’s so cheap that I won’t mind discarding it later if I have to switch to a backpack or duffel bag.

Decision made, it was back to the store for the Macpac Voyager. If you’re firmly in the backpack-camp, and are looking for a carry-on sized backpack, do check out the Voyager as it is a good backpack.

Luggage or Backpack – which do you prefer?