Why I Rarely Use Luggage & Almost Always Carry A Backpack Instead

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Traveling Between China & Mongolia 024
Me buried underneath our backpacks in the back of a taxi in Beijing in 2008!

There you are, struggling to drag your overpacked luggage through the airport.  Taking an escalator is too much of a task because you simply can’t maneuver everything onto it.  While waiting for the elevator you see this person walk by with only a backpack.  They have a sense of freedom about them.  A sense of confidence.  That person is me!

Back even a few years ago, most people checked in luggage and used their carry on baggage for only the essentials.  When airlines started charging for checked bags, more and more people decided to squeeze everything they could into a carry on sized bag.  New types of suitcases like spinners came along to make carrying on luggage easier.  So why then do I reject these technological advances for the likes of a backpack?  Well lets look back a bit.

When I started traveling internationally, I carried my whole home on my back.  During our 18 month around the world journey in 2007 & 2008, I had no choice but to carry a backpack! After all, when you are traveling in such a way, there is no way to use a suitcase.  Unfortunately I had not yet learned the lesson of minimalism and my backpack was enormous and weighed 50 pounds.

It wasn't just me who overpacked.  These are all our backpacks that were carried for the entire 18 months of our backpacking trip in 2007-2008.  The "Green Monster" is there on the bottom!
It wasn’t just me who overpacked. These are all our backpacks that were carried for the entire 18 months of our backpacking trip in 2007-2008. The “Green Monster” is there on the bottom!

In addition to my clothes, I carried flashlights, an extensive first aid kit, duct tape, electronics up the wazoo and more!  Sure we were traveling with a small child at the time, but most of what I carried was never used. The things we did use could have been easily picked up at any store in even the most remote of areas.  As you can imagine that monstrosity seemingly got heavier as time went on.  In reality it always weighed the same, but wearing it on my back day in and day out was a chore.

I quickly learned on that trip and subsequent trips about how we love to travel.  We aren’t the kind of people who get to an airport and take an expensive taxi to our fancy hotel.  Instead, we utilize public transport and love to explore by foot.  While ideally it is nice to drop off your things before exploring, this isn’t always a viable option.  Additionally, carrying a backpack is a good way to keep in good shape while on the road.

Today I am thankful to say I don’t carry the “Green Monster” anymore.  Over the years I have learned a lot about what I need and what I don’t need when I travel.  Instead of that first aid kit, I carry a couple of band aids and alcohol swabs.  Anything else can be bought if needed.  Most of the other emergency supplies are also gone.  If I don’t need to use it almost daily, then it has no place in my pack.

Last year on our 3 months European backpacking trip, we were down to just three small backpacks.  Jasmine and I both carried the Porter 46.
Last year on our 3 months European backpacking trip, we were down to just three small backpacks & a daypack which we mostly packed inside on of the larger packs. Jasmine and I both carried the Porter 46.

While I now take vacations in addition to long term trips, I still almost exclusively use backpacks. Last year before our three month European backpacking trip, I discovered my favorite pack to date. The Osprey Porter 46 is large enough to carry what I need, but small enough to be carried on to any airplane.  Additionally, its compact size limits me from overpacking and thus keeps the weight down to around 20 pounds.

When I was in Bali last August, I mostly stayed at the Bali Hyatt, but decided to spend one night in Kuta. The guesthouse where I booked a room was in the middle of a one-way alley that was three miles long with no entrances or exits.  Naturally the taxi driver dropped me at the exit and told me to walk the almost two miles to my guesthouse.  Had I been there with luggage in tow, can you imagine the disaster?  Instead, I put my pack on and made the trek while carefully taking in the sights and sounds of the busy Balinese city.

The two mile walk down this alley in Kuta would have sucked with a suitcase!
The two mile walk down this alley in Kuta would have sucked with a suitcase!

Of course, I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes think about using traditional luggage. Sometimes when I am exhausted, lugging my backpack around just plain sucks. During those times when I see a “normal” person gliding through the airport with their spinner behind them I feel a bit envious. There is no doubt that luggage can be the better option in certain circumstances, but I find the benefits of backpacks far outweigh the disadvantages for me.

Part of the reason I write here on Miles to Memories is to share who I am and what I have learned through years of hardcore international travel.  Maybe some day when I am older, you will find me dragging a spinner down the cold floors of your local neighborhood airport, but today I will stick to my venerable backpack.  While the Porter 46 is my current love, I have a variety of sizes and colors to choose from in my collection, but I don’t foresee wearing the “Green Monster” again.

What kind of luggage do you carry when traveling?  Let me know below!


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  1. I use a large suitcase 🙂 you certainty give me something to think about. I remember once being so overpacked that I threw away my winter coat in the Chicago airport because I just couldn’t handle another thing. I was carrying my baby son, a carry-on of bottles & diapers,and other thhings & his car seat. It was torturous.

  2. I think it all depends on where you go. With most of my travels, I use a suitcase or a duffle bag. If I want to travel to several cities throughout Europe, then I’ll use a backpack. I also need to cut down on what I pack. I’ve been pretty good about taking only the necessities lately but when I went to Mexico last year I think I over packed.


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