A very important decision you’ll make before you depart for your Contiki tour is if you should take a suitcase or a backpack.
It’s actually a pretty difficult question to answer when you really think about the pro’s and con’s.
There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer for this question, so I’m going to lay out the pro’s and con’s of each for you which I hope will help you make a more informed luggage decision.
I’ve traveled with Contiki using both luggages and backpacks. Here are my thoughts about it:
Bigger – Luggages have much more space than backpacks. You’ll be able to bring more stuff on your tour as well as haul more souvenirs back. And let me tell you, you’ll probably be needing to bring a lot of stuff back.
More protective – You can purchase luggages with a very strong and sturdy frame. Even regular luggages are fairly hard to crush. For the most part, your luggage will be just fine underneath the coach and traveling around. However, airport people don’t care and throw your stuff around. Regardless, more protection of your belongings and souvenirs is a great thing.
Easier on your body – Luggages have wheels, and pushing or dragging luggage is much easier than carrying it around. Though there are times where it would be easier to carry your luggage, for the most part, Contiki takes you places where you can get by dragging your luggage.
Easier to pack, unpack, and find things – You pretty much never see a backpacker with a backpack that isn’t jammed packed. Suitcases on the other hand are roomier, which makes it easier to grab your towel, shoes, or PJ’s quickly.
Safer – Luggages can be locked and are harder to break into. I feel safer on trips when I carry a suitcase vs a backpack.
Bigger – Takes up more space. There’s always enough room underneath the Contiki coach. But in a small room with 4 people, luggage needs to lay on the floor and it can get in the way. And there’s other times where having a big luggage sucks, like riding the tube in London or taking the bus.
Awkward to carry – There will be times you’ll need to take your luggage up and down stairs, or maneuver somewhere, or lift it up onto something. And a big square box can be hard to handle, especially when you’re tiny. Or a girl.
Heavier – The suitcase itself is heavier than a backpack. On top of that, since there is more room in a suitcase, you’ll likely find yourself using that room. Which makes the suitcase even heavier. Again, it makes life just a bit harder when you need to lift your luggage.
Okay, let’s talk about backpacks now.
Lighter – Overall, backpacks are lighter than suitcases. I suppose you can argue that this is negated by the fact that you need to carry your backpack on your back, making it heavier…. and you would have a great point! So I guess it will come down to how big of a backpack you purchase and how “light” you pack for your Contiki tour.
Stylish – I had to throw this one in here. But backpacks are waaaay cooler than suitcases. Sorry suitcase people. And it’s just cool seeing people wearing backpacks while you travel. They’re living the backpacker life and that’s some seriously cool shizzle.
More versatile – Backpacks are carried on your back and can be taken anywhere with more ease. If you need to walk up and down some stairs, no problem. If you need to jump in the cab and need your bag with you, no problem. If you need to ride a train or a tube and don’t want to take up extra space or block lanes, no problem. For me, this is my BIGGEST reason for taking backpacks on trips.
Takes less space – Backpacks are more easily tucked underneath beds or thrown into lockers in hostels. You pretty much can’t lock a luggage in a locker – they just aren’t big enough. Also, you can tuck your backpack in the corner of your bed or even have it on your bed with you.
Smaller – There’s way less space in backpack compared to a suitcase. Even if you choose a very large 80L backpack, it is still small compared to a large suitcase.
Less protective – Backpacks feature thin material. Yes, good ones will have rugged hard to rip material, but it’s still thin. This means your contents inside could be crushed or damaged – and a lot more easily than it would in a suitcase.
Screams tourist – You’re a dead giveaway for tourist scams or crimes when you wear a backpack. It’s probably the most telltale sign that you aren’t from here, apart from walking around with a map in your hands. It’s obviously important to educate yourself about tourist scams. If you get a good Contiki Tour Manager, he/she will absolutely give you a run down. But honestly, don’t let this scare you. You’ll be traveling with your Contiki group from place to place and it would absolutely shock me if someone tried something. Still, you’ll be by yourself or with just a few people from time to time and it’s also just good to be aware of certain scams.
Can be a back breaker – I remember a girl on my European Adventurer tour and her backpack probably weighed 70 pounds, and she probably weighted like 120. I don’t know how she did it but she carried that thing around for 30+ days and made it work. But she complained about it from time to time and it stressed her the hell out. Just too heavy for her body.
Okay, so that was a quick rundown of the pro’s and con’s of both backpacks and suitcases. I’m not sure if you’re much closer to deciding if you should take a backpack or suitcase after reading it, but I have specific advice.
I’ve taken both backpacks and suitcases on Contiki tours and I want to give you some specific advice I’ve learned from doing this.
I would take a backpack on a Contiki Tour if:
I was traveling around before and after the tour – If you’ll be taking the train/tube/railway around cities, getting on busses, flying around, or whatever, It’s much easier to do it with a backpack. Especially if you have a lot of places to go on your own. The hassle of a big box adds up. Plus, I like to keep my stuff WITH me as much as possible while in transit, or have it in eye’s view. With a backpack, it can be right beside me. And if I need that item in my backpack, I can get it. With a suitcase that isn’t by your side, maybe you may not be able to get it at all.
If I was packing light, not bringing much stuff, or don’t plan to bring much back – If this is you, then for me, it’s a no brainer to bring a backpack. The ease of throwing it on your back and taking off anywhere cannot be understated.
If you wanted to try the backpacker life – If you want a taste at being a outgoing outdoorsy cool person who backpacks the world, then buy a backpack and give it a whirl! You may very well find yourself falling in love with it… or hating it and wishing you never read this blog.
If you were going on a Contiki tour that requires hill climbing, lots of steps, weird streets where wheels suck on, etc – Basically, if enough of your trip required this type of travel, then I would take a backpack. I haven’t been to any South American Contiki trips, and I know the landscape there can be hilly/rocky. As far as Europe goes, there are times there will be cobbled stoned streets or some stairs to climb. But it’s not enough to make you need a backpack over a suitcase – if you are a suitcase person. Most of the time, the Contiki coach will drop you off right outside your accommodation. Sometimes it will drop you off close to it and you need to lug your crap a small distance to get to your room. Or act cute and get a guy to do it for you.
I would take a suitcase on a Contiki tour if:
1. You are doing the Contiki tour and that was it – Contiki knows suitcases are hard to maneuver around weird spots, and they try and pick accommodations that take this into consideration. You may have to carry your luggage up a few steps or lift it from time to time, or take up some extra space on the Tube in London, but the extra space and protection is worth it if you are simply doing the Contiki tour and then going home (or traveling only a little before or afterwards).
2. If you need to bring everything including 6 pairs of footwear and 9 different tops, and 4 sets of bikini’s, and more makeup than Sephora carries – I get it, you just need your stuff. So a suitcase it is.
3. You want to bring back a lot of souvenirs – You’ll need space for this stuff as well as a sturdy luggage to keep things from breaking. On my first Contiki, I brought a massive suitcase and filled it to the brim. I’m pretty sure it weighed more than 50 pounds but I didn’t have to pay any overage for weight by the airlines. yay.
My personal take: I’ve travelled a lot with suitcases and backpacks that isn’t Contiki related. My general view is this… I prefer to take a backpack over a suitcase. Overall, it’s compact nature makes it easier to do just about everything with. I will take a suitcase if I’m generally not taking my suitcase around too much (like an all-inclusive vacation or cruise or going to Vegas), or if I’m planning on bringing bigger items back (I like to collect rare alcohol when I travel).
Lastly, there are backpacks with wheels, so you sort of get the best of both words. There are also suitcases with straps so you can wear it as a backpack as well…. so you get the best of both worlds…. again? LOL I dunno…
But I hope reading this has helped you make up your mind whether or not you should take a suitcase or backpack. If not…. well… I guess you’ll just have to pick one and go!
Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve got any advice or questions.