CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS.
PICKING THE PACK.
SIZE DOES MATTER: CHOOSE VAGABOND, NOT VAGABONDAGE
A small, portable pack will make or break your trip. That means under 50 Liters, but the smaller the better.
You might have to ditch that 3rd pair of shoes, but believe us, the freedom it offers & hassle it removes is worth what you sacrifice 10x over. Most people have to learn this lesson the hard way. More on this here.
WHEELS ARE FOR TOOLS (AND FOOLS).
First, you'll immediately identify yourself as a mark to local touts looking to make a buck off of a wealthy tourist-- it doesn't matter if you're actually wealthy.
A worn-in backpack says, "I wasn't born yesterday and I probably don't have anything worth stealing, so don't mess with me". A large rolling bag says, "I'm rich and vulnerable".
Secondly, you'll be tempted to pack more if you haven't backpacked before, figuring you won't have to carry it on your back that often. Believe us, you will -- whether it's lugging it up 3 flights of stairs to your hostel or wrestling through a giant pack of passengers to get on an overcrowded train, bag in hand.
Lastly, you'll run into logistical problems. Wheels add weight, making it harder to lug your bag around. They also make it difficult to maneuver through tight spaces -- think of yourself dragging a wheeled piece of luggage through a crowded street, weaving through fruit stands and warding off offers from local porters to carry your bag.
A BACKPACK DESIGNED FOR HOSTELS, NOT HIKING.
Almost as important as the size and weight is the design of your bag -- although this is often overlooked by first timers. The ideal bag zips all the way around to open and close (like a suitcase) vs. opening from the top via a drawstring (like a hiking backpack or stuff sack).
Why? It allows for max security (locks with combo lock) on the road/hostels AND allows for easy access.
It might sound like no big deal, but in a critical moment nothing is worse than packing an entire bag, remembering the one thing you need is at the bottom & then having to take everything out to get to it.
Normal zippers are fine and can be “locked,” but zippers designed to be locked are better. When the loops for the lock are on the sliders, instead of on the pulls (see below), the zippers can’t be pulled apart making them less accessible to thieves.
May We Recommend...
Conversation Starters, But Not American Flags
Founding editor, Laura, always recommends slapping something on your backpack that's comment-worthy.
If you've been to a ton of countries or cities, get a patch from each. Canadian pride? Get a few flags and stick them all over your pack. It might seem like you're bragging, but once you do it you'll be amazed at the number of curious locals and backpackers alike who will notice and initiate a conversation which can be invaluable when it comes to traveling alone and meeting new people.