Is It Better to Travel With a Backpack or Suitcase in Europe? 

 February 18, 2022

By  Diane Wuthrich

Thinking about the duration of your trip and personal travel style is important in Europe, where many places have cobblestone streets and you’ll likely be hopping from one city and country to another. Because of this, people often wonder if it’s better to use a backpack or a suitcase.

A backpack is ideal for travelers who are switching hotels and flying frequently between cities, or staying in cities for a short period. Meanwhile, a suitcase is better for travel to Europe if you will be staying for longer periods of time especially in more advanced cities with paved streets.

While these are the most important things to think about, there are also other considerations to mull over when deciding between a suitcase vs backpack for Europe. Read on below to learn more.

Backpack Vs Suitcase for Europe

Europe is a bucket-list destination for most people, though it does require some careful planning to ensure convenience and safety as you explore the many charming and historic towns.

Deciding on the kind of luggage you’ll bring should be on the top of your list. A majority of travelers use either a backpack or suitcase when navigating the continent, so below you’ll learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The Advantages of Traveling Europe With a Backpack

  • Suitable for those who will change hotels frequently: If your itinerary means you’ll be hopping from one hotel to another often, this means that you have to take your luggage with you as you go up and down many different stairs, and will be commuting to and from various hotels. A backpack will be far more convenient since it will enable you to easily go to and from without having to drag a suitcase by hand wherever you go.
  • Flying frequently: Using a backpack that fits carry-on size restrictions for European airlines is the preferred style for backpackers who will be traveling from one city to another. A smaller backpack that you can check in will save you money and make travel smoother.
  • Easy navigation: Europe’s famous cobblestone streets are easier to navigate on foot if you have a backpack as opposed to a suitcase, and you’ll also be able to walk further with no issues. In addition, elevators and escalators are not common in many places in Europe, and public transportation options are just friendlier to travelers with a backpack. Walking around in crowded areas is also easier for travelers with a backpack.
  • Storage: If you are staying in backpacker hostels, they usually have lockers where you can store away your backpack and replace it with a smaller day pack for your day-to-day activities. A suitcase is simply too big to fit in these lockers.
  • Ideal for visiting older European cities: Visiting old towns around Europe, especially those in Eastern Europe or Italy, France, Greece, and Spain don’t have the necessary infrastructure such as escalators and elevators, or paved roads that are friendlier to a suitcase, wheeled or not.
  • Lightweight: Backpacks are lighter than suitcases, as they can weigh as little as 2 lbs. On the other hand, a suitcase of around the same size will weigh 5 lbs or up.
  • Weatherproof: If you use a backpack that’s waterproof or has a rain cover, you’ll be set up for traveling around Europe even in rainy weather. Your backpack can double as a mountain or hiking backpack, which comes in handy if you want to get some skiing in or trekking in during your trip.
  • Durable: Travel backpacks are built to be more durable than suitcases, which is great if your itinerary means you’ll be exposed to rugged terrains or will be walking through miles. Also, if you intend to go on some hiking trips in Europe, a backpack is definitely the way to go.

The Disadvantages of Traveling Europe With a Backpack

  • Not recommended for people with back issues: Carrying a heavy backpack in Europe is not recommended for people who struggle with back problems. Suffering from back pain during your trip will only be an inconvenience and you can make yourself prone to even more injury. If your back problems are not severe and you are willing to invest in a very comfortable backpack, then you can still manage to get away with using one in Europe.
  • Not ideal for heavy packers: Not everyone is a light packer, so if you want to bring a lot of clothes for your trip or intend to buy many things in Europe, a suitcase or wheeled backpack may be a better option for you.
  • Packing and unpacking: Many travelers find it arduous to pack and unpack a backpack because of the way it’s built. In contrast, a suitcase is easier to pack and unpack, especially if you use packing cubes and other organizers. Clothes also tend to get wrinkly when packing in backpacks.
  • Pickpockets: Some cities in Europe are notorious for pick pockets, such as Barcelona, Paris, Florence, Rome, and Amsterdam. You have to be extremely careful using a backpack in these cities because pick pocket thieves here are highly skilled, making it easy to snatch something from your pack with a slight distraction. Using a backpack means having to keep a close eye on it at all times.

If you still want to use a backpack as your primary luggage in Europe but want to be careful about pick pockets, you can use a theft-proof backpack with specially designed features to protect your belongings as your day-to-day bag.

The Advantages of Traveling Europe With a Suitcase

  • Ideal for people with back problems: A suitcase much better compared to a backpack if you have back problems. This is especially true if you will be going to European cities that are more modern, and don’t require you to walk through cobblestone streets or go up and down flights of stairs.
  • Suitable for longer travel: If backpacking travel, or hopping from one city, hostel, or flight to another every few days, isn’t your style of travel, then a suitcase is better for you. Many hotels as opposed to hostels tend to have elevators that make getting around easier.
  • Less wrinkled: Bulky or special wardrobe items will less likely be wrinkled if you pack them in a suitcase. This is a good consideration for those who are traveling on business, which means you’ll need a wrinkle-free suit for meetings or events. If this sounds like you, it would be good to invest in a suitcase with a dedicated suit compartment, and a casing that isn’t flexible.
  • Suitable for business travelers: If you want to look more professional because you are going on a business trip, a suitcase is the way to go.
  • Easy organization: Packing cubes make packing your clothes and belongings in a suitcase so much easier and efficient in terms of time and energy. You’ll also be able to find what you need quicker.
  • Wrinkle-free clothing: Packing your clothes in a suitcase enables you to lay them out flat, which makes them less prone to wrinkles. This makes it ideal for business travelers or those who need to dress well while traveling.

The Disadvantages of Traveling Europe With a Suitcase  

  • Not hands-free: For many people, the biggest disadvantage to traveling with a suitcase is that it only leaves you with one free hand. You always have to use one hand to roll or carry the suitcase. If you need to do something such as pay for a train ticket or reach into your pocket for identification, you may struggle with a suitcase or guarding it while a backpack lets you do any of these and more with both your hands, without you having to stop.
  • More weight means less gear: Suitcases are heavier, which means that it already takes up a significant part of your airline luggage allowance. That prevents you from packing as much as you may need, without having to pay for additional weight.
  • Not ideal for crowded streets and cities: Some crowded European cities can make it taxing to get on and find public transportation if you have a suitcase in tow.
  • Less durable: Suitcases are meant to be used for vacationing occasionally, and are not meant to withstand heavy-duty use most especially not in harsh conditions. If you are an infrequent traveler, a suitcase may be a good choice but if you want a travel bag that will last you a very long time with frequent traveling, investing in a high-quality backpack may be a better option.
  • Heavier: Suitcases have more features in its build such as solid handles and cases, strong sides, and wheels in some models. These make it attractive for certain types of travelers, but certainly add more weight.
  • Less security: A suitcase isn’t attached to your body, and unless you closely guard it and watch it at all times, it could be prone to theft. In busy airports, trains, or train stations, your suitcase can be vulnerable to thievery. On the other hand, a backpack is always on you and the chances of getting robbed would be less.
  • Not versatile: Suitcases aren’t as versatile as backpacks, so if you want to go hiking or on shorter weekend trips, your suitcase may be too small/too large and bulky.
  • Walking and commuting is difficult: Traversing through the uneven, slanting, and cobblestone streets found in most places in Europe will be difficult with a suitcase, unless it’s got wheels which can make it slightly easier. In most cases you would have to carry your suitcase, while backpacks allow you to walk through any terrain.

If you have to walk long distances especially on cobblestone streets, or take it over flights of stairs, it would simply be too inconvenient and challenging to do so even with a wheeled suitcase.

Wheeled Backpack: The Best of Both Worlds

A wheeled backpack offers both the advantages of a suitcase and a backpack in one. They are fast becoming the luggage of choice for many travelers to Europe because of the convenience it offers. You can use them as both a backpack and a luggage, simply by switching handles.

With a wheeled backpack, there’s no need to choose between a suitcase and a backpack.

Our Recommendations for Best Luggage to Travel Europe


There are many great backpacks that you can take to Europe. Here are some examples, which you can find on our website:

-   Osprey Porter 46
-   Thule Landmark Backpack
-   Kelty Redwing Tactical Backpack


If you think suitcases are a better fit for your travel style, here are some top-rated models on Amazon:

-   Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Luggage
-   Kenneth Cole Reaction 20” Carry-On Luggage
-   SwissGear Sion Softwide Expandable Carry-On Spinner

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Wheeled Backpacks

For those who want the best of both worlds, here are some customer favorite models that you can compare on our website:

-   Matein Rolling Backpack
-   Yorepek Backpack with Wheels
-   High Sierra Powerglide Wheeled Backpack

About the author

Diane is our head writer and researcher for our backpack informational content. Her everyday carry is a Herschel.

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