The heavy on top thing as suggested by aimsuk can work because it puts the weight closer to your sholders (the load carrying part of the body), as opposed to in the bottom of the bag where the effect of pulling down seems to put more weight/stress on the shoulders. - It can take a bit of getting used to though, as the centre of gravity/point of balance is higher that normal
One addition to that - if you can, get a rucksack which sits as high as possible on you, as that tends to be more comfortable when fully packed/longer periods of times. Even when they seem ok in the shop testing, when fully loaded i find that many rucksacks ride quite low (so the top of the rucksack is under shoulder level even) and the combination of weight/design of the straps allow it to slide lower than it would when empty. To me personally, this is much less comfortable, puts more stress on the shoulders and feels heavier.
I guess it would depend mostly on your travel methods and needs, but in general I would say backpack. Pack lightly and put it on your back. It leaves your arms and hands free for other things. Do you really want to stumble down the Champs De Lysee and fight a suitcase while you're trying to down your espresso and Nutella crape? The choice is obvious. And as far as packing it..the heavier stuff is supposed to go in the center of the back, closet to the small of your back. Am I right, people? That helps in balancing and distributing the weight.
Thank you to everyone who has replied . . . the majority of you do advise backpack . . .so next week i will go and try a few out. I must admit I do love my battered suitcase, and if someone can travel with a cardboard box then anything is possible!! Anyhow I will try out the designs suggested . . . .and get back to you all next week!
Backpacks are by far the easiest option. Much more comfortable and they allow you to have both hands free to scramble on or off tightly packed third world transport. It is also easier to run away from annoying touts with a pack than a suitcase. Make sure you pack light though because backpacks become a real pain when too heavy, I spent a month backpacking around Europe with a heavy bag full of stuff i never used. This was not too much of a problem in Europe but i can assure you that the constant strain of a heavy backpack can present problems, lets say in Morocco, the morning after a dodgy meal and a skinfull of cheap wine, heave that backpack onto your shoulders and..............er, I guess this is not the time or place for that story, but you get the picture.
I would agree with the majority because of the experience I had in Europe.
I was going to be living in Germany for the next 6 months, so I packed the maximum amount of luggage the airline would allow- a couple of my parents' old suitcases with wheels attached to the bottom (they had straps to haul them with) and a good-quality daypack as a carry-on. I thought it would be a piece of cake. It wasn't. The stupid suitcases kept flipping over and I would have to straighten them out constantly (they each had 4 wheels), the strap was too long on one (adjusted to the shortest length possible), and they were HEAVY My friend had two duffles on wheels, and once she managed to figure out the best way to haul them, she was miles ahead of me. Don't get me started about trying to get them up staircases in train stations in Germany, though. Half the time those conveyor belts didn't even work. It caused us to miss our train in Ulm (that and trying to decipher our itinerary which was in German).
I took a few day trips on the weekends, but only packed a few things in my daypack, obviously, sometimes only bringing my wallet.
Over Christmas break some friends and I decided to travel around Europe for the 3 weeks. I overpacked embarrassingly. In fact, I tried to take so much stuff that I couldn't fit it into my daypack. So I borrowed my friend's daypack and put the other half in it. Then I somehow managed to strap them together and that is how I travelled around Europe for 3 weeks! It killed my back! Some of my friends were smart enough to borrow other people's backpacks, so they were much better off. There was still complaining about sore backs, though, but I have no idea how we would have gotton up certain flights of stairs, into the Barcelona metro at rush hour on our way to the train station, up the stairs of a fairy to get across the Bodensee, over the coblestone streets around the canals in Amsterdam, or how on earth I would have shoved a suitcase into my locker in our hostel (I could hardly squish 2 daypacks in it)!
My way back to Munich to fly home was a miracle. If it weren't for the kind German people who helped me out, I have no idea how I would have ever made it to my hostel in the nick of time (before my reservation expired). I had to struggle with 2 suitcases and my daypack (that part wasn't a struggle- it stayed on my back like it was part of my skin). I had devised a way to push my suitcases on wheels, since I couldn't haul them because they kept falling over. It was the stairs to switch platforms (and limited time between trains) that was so difficult. One nice conductor held up the whole train for me! It was such a relief once I finally handed those bloody suitcases over to the airline to fly over to Calgary on a cargo jet, while I settled into coach with nothing but my daypack.
So those were my luggage woes in Europe, and have I ever learned from that experience! Since then I have never travelled with anything larger than my trusty daypack, whether it is for a few weeks or a few days. The exception was when I went to work at a mountain lodge in the Canadian Rockies and I took a duffle and my daypack. Had I not had the experience I had in Europe, though, it would have been suitcases all the way. I'm all about packing light now. And never will I ever take another suitcase!!!
BTW, don't compromise on quality when it comes to a backpack. Try out all kinds in the stores. Some places, I understand, will let you take the backpack home and pack it with what you intend to take and see if it will work for you. What Gelli said about having a pack that sits higher on your shoulders- even above your shoulders- is absolutely true. About the whole where-to-pack-the-heaviest/densest-items debate, the advice I have been given is to pack it as close to your back as possible. If the weight is swinging way out behind you, or sinking way below your back, then it causes strain on your back and shoulders which makes the pack uncomfortable. Make sure that your get the salesclerk to show you how to adjust your straps to fit your back properly. I personally perfer the side-opening kind with one big compartment because with less side pockets, the harder it is to break into. Side pockets are easy-targets for pickpockets. Another thing that my cousin said is useful is to get a pack that is convertable into a duffle (one that allows you to hide the straps), because it is much easier for luggage handlers in airports to handle and the extra straps won't get caught in the equiptment. I haven't personally used one of those, but for my next pack, I think I will look for one.
Sorry for such a long responce! Let us know what you get!
Back packs all the way!!!
Get one that open all the way round thats my top tip so you don't have to pull everything out when you want something at the bottom.
I love my back pack it wasa running joke with my friends last year that I would still wear mine when i got back home.
A backpackwill give you a lot more freedom especially moving around.
Look on buying one as part of your adventure. Get a small one and have fun packing all the little pockets with treats!
I had a look today and tried a few packs on, which had "stuffing" in so began to give an idea of weight etc. Once the pack was on it was fine, and I felt quite comfortable . . .however getting the pack on and off instigated aches in my lower spine.
I have a weak back, which I have had for over 15 years now . . .so now wondering (despite the majority view!) to stick with my suitcase . . .it will cause problems on stairs but to date I have always find someone to help me!! The rest of the time it is so stable and the handle so high that I walk quickly and without any problems.
If it helps, i've also got a buggered lower back, and despite occassional discomfort with rucksacks, find they are better in the long run than cases for me. I find that wheely cases only work when you have a decent surface (beware cobble stones etc), and tend to either a) not be able to get high enough on the handle to avoid me twisting/bneding over slightly or b) if they do come high enough, they aren't stable enough for more than short distances at low speed. The best advice, regardless of which you choose is to pack light! It tends to be the weight which causes the problems rather than the physical luggage.
As for the back problems I'd go with Gelli. I've had a bad back for about 6-7 years now and I still prefer my backpack to a suitcase apart from week-end trips. We went to Greece for 3 weeks, on and off ferries and buses, I wouldn't have been without my backpack. Australia and Thailand, my backpack.
I think it is a question of getting used to carrying a backpack, but it seems you've done well with a suitcase, and it would also depend on where you're going. Surfaces such as cobble stone or worse, dirt tracks etc. are "killers" when using a suitcase.
You also say that you want to travel light, which to me is another advantage for the backpack. So much easier to handle.
Let's know what you choose, and tell us afterwards how it worked for you.
Enjoy your trip, Becky.
It is true that people will help you out if they see you struggling up the stairs with a suitcase (though you may still miss your train, anyway). I guess it depends on where you want to go, whether it would be considered suitcase friendly or a suitcase-disaster. If it is the latter, then perhaps it would be better to get a backpack.