Luggage Tips for Multi-Destination Travel
If you’re planning on travelling to multiple destinations during your Europe trip, thinking about your luggage in advance is essential. For starters, regardless of which type of luggage you choose, the first step towards enjoying multi-destination travel in Europe is travelling light. Remember that every single thing that you bring will have to be carried by yourself at some point in time or another. Here are my personal tips to consider when selecting your luggage for a multi-destination trip in Europe.
I have never tried the wheeled suitcase myself, but have had heard many an American Village counselor complain about their drawbacks. Wheeled suitcases are very convenient for managing a heavy load across paved areas. But, due to the important architectural differences between America and Europe, they aren’t the most adapted option for a Euro-trip that includes multiple destinations. Several former counselors have had to carry their bag around after wheels or handles of these bags broke off. The plastic wheels aren’t rugged enough to withstand the cobblestone sidewalks in beautiful mediaeval towns, for example.
Another common complaint, is that even with working wheels, they become useless in many circumstances. In the Paris metro for example, you will climb stairs. Many, many stairs. When getting on and off some of the trains in Europe, you may have to step up into the train. Remember that aisles can be tight, as can door openings. The overhead space above your seat is often quite narrow. There are generally luggage racks at the back of each train car, but that requires leaving your bag unattended during your trip, which some travelers do not feel comfortable with.
100L+ hiking backpack
I used a typical hiking backpack on my first Euro trip after college. Go into any youth hostel in Europe and you’ll see many tourists with a large hiking backpack. Having your hands free is definitely helpful while travelling. Also, it allows you to move faster through train stations and board trains more easily. Here are my suggestions of things to consider before investing in a large hiking backpack for your trip.
- Front Pocket Access: Discovering a new city means not knowing where you’re going. You might elect to keep a map, guidebook and some cash up accessible while walking. Some people use their smartphones (beware pickpockets if you have an expensive phone and take it out often). Hiking backpacks typically only feature a small pocket on the waist-belt. If your bag is too heavy, adding a second bag on the front will drag you down, complicating your ease of walking and overall enjoyment of the trip. Having to find a spot to stop, set the bag down, and rifle through it should you need something that can’t fit in your pants or waist-belt pocket can be a hassle.
- Top-down loading: Hiking backpacks often feature top-down loading (the opening is at the top, cinched together by a drawstring). If you want to pull out a book for a long train ride, or a sweater for a chilly night, for example, you have to think in advance to pack it last when loading your bag each morning.
- Size: Choosing a 100L+ size bag is a big commitment. While it allows you to bring a lot of stuff, it can also be the reason that you take too much stuff. If you’re shopping for a hiking backpack for travel, pay attention to width (think about turnstiles), height (low doorframes) and girth (who are you inconveniencing behind you?). Depending on where you are travelling in Europe, passageways, door frames, and elevators can be much narrower and lower than in the USA. Those overhead compartments on trains are also going to be too small for a really large bag, and it is hard/annoying to hold a giant backpack on your knees. If you absolutely want a big backpack, remember to pack it a feswdays in advance and walk around the house with it on to get a real feel of it's weight.
- The Tourist Factor: Just know that you’ll stick out as a tourist. While it can be completely unavoidable in many situations, it does make you more vulnerable to pick-pocketing or scams.
Finally, if you have back problems, any type of backpack may be a bad idea for you.
60L or less travel back pack
I personally use a travel backpack that I found about 10 years ago in an outfitters' shop stateside. It’s a travel backpack and not a hiking backpack. Made with similar materials and featuring a structured frame, it is not adapted to long hiking trips, but has been very helpful for my travels across Europe.
- Reduced size: While its reduced size does require me to be selective about what I bring, it fits easily in most overhead racks on trains, doesn’t get me stuck in low or narrow door frames. I can also hold it on my knees if I don’t want to set it down on a dirty floor. Taking fewer stuff means less weight and ease of walking. When I run out of clean clothes, I hand-wash or go to a laundromat.
- Side loading: The backpack unzips all the way down both sides, opening completely, allowing me to pack it like a typical suitcase.
- Front pockets: Like a hiking backpack, it does not feature many front pockets, but is small enough that I can carry a lightweight purse across my chest for my essentials, without breaking my back.
- The Tourist Factor: In my experience, having a smaller bag allows you to be nimbler and discrete when travelling. It draws less unwanted attention than someone fighting with a wheeled suitcase or walking slowly under the weight of a very large bag.
- The downside is that it is more rounded than a tall hiking backpack, sometimes I don’t realize the space I’m taking up behind me.
I hope you’ll find these tips useful when selecting the best luggage for your upcoming trip!
Amanda B, Assistant Program Director
American Village counselor and director since 2006