The Carry-On Luggage We Used To Travel The World for a Year
Figuring out what luggage we wanted to bring on our RTW trip was a whole task in itself. There are so many options to choose from, and having never been on a long-term trip ourselves, we weren’t sure where to even start. We did a lot of research scouring many travel blogs, forums, reviews of what was best for long-term travel, and visiting countless REIs and sporting goods stores to test them out in person.
To help anyone who’s in the same situation we were in, or anyone who’s curious, this is how we decided on the luggage to use for our RTW trip of 13 months across 24 countries:
Backpack vs. Rolling Luggage
The first place to start is whether you’re going to go with a backpack or rolling luggage. It’s a pretty big debate in the travel community and you’ll find die-hard fans of both camps with sound reasoning for each. Backpacks allow you to move to and from a place easier, not having to worry about stairs, gravel, or dirt roads, but can be really cumbersome and harder to access your things. Rolling luggage is easier on your back, you can pack and unpack your stuff relatively easily, and you don’t stand out as much as a traditional “backpacker” when going through airports and hotels.
Figuring out what type of travel you’re going to do is a good place to start. If you’re planning to do a lot of hiking, camping, or backcountry trips, then a backpack is the obvious choice, as you wouldn’t be able to wheel your suitcase anywhere. Since we weren’t planning to do any overnight treks or intense hiking, having a backpack wasn’t a necessity for us.
In the end, we knew we wanted a suitcase with wheels, as we didn’t want to have to deal with carrying everything on our backs like giant turtles. While researching, we found the perfect solution – the Eagle Creek Switchback, a hybrid luggage system that has wheels, but also attachable straps in the event you want to throw it on your back!
To be honest, we actually only encountered a handful of instances where we needed to strap our luggage onto our backs, but we were too lazy to, and just ended up picking it up and carrying it. 😛 Even though we didn’t use the backpack feature, (largely due to us being lazy and the distance of transporting the bag not warranting doing a full conversion), just having the option to strap on our luggage if we really needed to gave us peace of mind and didn’t limit us to where we could go or what we could do.
Carry-On vs. Check-In
After figuring out we wanted a hybrid bag, we now had to make the decision of what size we wanted to get. We were not travel minimalists before this trip by any means, and usually would check the maximum amount allowed when going on international trips! We read a comment on one of the many sites we scoured while researching, that one of the reasons to go carry-on is, that even though your luggage may be on wheels, you don’t want to feel like you’re carting around a huge vending machine with you. That made us laugh and we could relate as we’ve definitely felt like that before on past international trips. The Switchback comes in 22″ which fits most airline carry-on restrictions, or the 26″ which is just slightly larger and may not pass as a carry-on depending on how strict the airline is. Knowing we would be moving from place to place every few days/weeks, we made the decision to go with carry-on only and went with the 22″, which really forced us to pick what we were going to bring with us very carefully and avoid over packing (check out our packing lists for our Tech Essentials and other Travel Essentials).
Other things to keep in mind when deciding on the size of your luggage – will you be traveling through countries where shared vans, public buses, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes are common modes of transportation? A larger suitcase or backpack may not be the easiest thing to take along with you and you may get charged extra or even denied boarding.
Traveling carry-on meant we didn’t have to worry about incurring check-in bag fees when flying or worrying about lost luggage. This also saved us a lot of time, as we could check into our flight online, and go straight to the security gate, and after we landed at our destination, head straight out without having to wait at baggage claim. In addition, it worked in our favor to help us stay in budget, as we couldn’t give in to impulse souvenir shopping, as we had no extra room to put stuff in our luggage.
Beside the Switchback being a hybrid of both backpack and rolling luggae, another feature that was appealing to us about it was the detachable daypack. The Switchback is essentially 2 pieces of luggage and made it really versatile. It has a main compartment with wheels, but also a detachable daypack that can either be attached to the front, or worn as a backpack on its own.
Here’s a video that shows the various features of how it works:
Other features that made us go with the Eagle Creek bag vs other wheeled backpack hybrids, was just the quality in general of the bag seemed to be higher than other brands we compared to in store (ranging from Osprey, Patagonia, REI, etc). The material was much higher quality, where it was rubberized on the edges to make it more durable from wear and tear, and also made it water resistant. The wheels also looked a little more heavy duty, and the wheel housing didn’t stick out beyond the bag, which would make it susceptible to damage or make it tough to place in an overhead bin on a plane.
Additional features that made us choose this bag were the large loop zipper pulls and safety features that allowed us to safely lock all zippers together on both the main bag and daypack. There are also other small details that made the Switchback great – the ability to zip up the panel above the retractable handle prevented people from trying to lift our luggage by the telescopic handle (which can cause it to break), the rubberized handle for additional grip, or the daypack having padded laptop slots were all things we came to appreciate.
Probably the feature we used the most and really loved was the back slip panel on the back of the daypack that let us offload our daypack directly on top of our luggage, so we didn’t have to carry it on our backs all the time.
Another factor to consider when choosing what bag to pick was the weight. Regardless if you’ve decided on a backpack or rolling luggage, when having to walk and transport for extended periods of time, every extra ounce makes a difference in your comfortability and grumpiness threshold! Many budget airlines have a 15 kilo weight restriction for carry-ons, and the entire bag (with the backpack zipped on) weighs in at around 7 lbs/3 kilos, which was really great considering it has wheels.
Durability and Warranty
Most luggage is probably only used a few times a year, and sits in a hotel most of the time, so we knew that we needed to invest in a durable and reliable piece of luggage that wouldn’t fall apart on us in the middle of our travels. As mentioned above, the materials used in this bag were high quality, durable, versatile, and lightweight. While the Eagle Creek Switchback 22 does cost a little more than a traditional backpacking pack or travel luggage, what really pushed us to purchase it was the lifetime warranty on it. This bag falls under Eagle Creek’s No Matter What warranty, and they will repair or replace any damage, regardless of the cause.
The amount of stress we put our bags under, we’re almost positive any regular wheeled luggage would have easily fallen apart. We put our bags through the ultimate obstacle course and it performed great. It probably helped that we didn’t check in our luggage much. The times that we were forced to check them in, they always came back looking much more worn and damaged. To give an idea of how much we used our bags, we actually developed callouses on our hands from pulling our luggage around so much!
We did have some minor issues with the bag during our travels – the first was when a few screws fell out of one of the handles a couple of months into our trip. We contacted Eagle Creek letting them know we weren’t going to be back in the US anytime soon, and they were able to ship some replacements to a friend in the US who was coming to meet with us. Then, after a full year of travel and really putting the bag through the wringer, one of the bearings broke in the wheel in our last month of travel, and when we returned, Eagle Creek replaced the wheel housing free of charge and no questions asked! Eagle Creek’s customer service is top notch and it’s safe to say we’re huge fans of the brand (this isn’t a sponsored post either, just our honest opinion! But, hi Eagle Creek, we are totally open to being sponsored! :)) After completing extended travel through 25 countries over 13 months, we’re happy to say this luggage was the right pick for us, and we will continue to use it on any future extended trips.
Eagle Creek has discontinued the Switchback since we purchased ours, but have a few hybrid luggage options available. If you’re looking for a bag for extended travel, we’d highly recommend checking out Eagle Creek bags!