sidewalk

Whenever someone asks on a message board or blog about what kind of backpack to buy, some contrarian always chimes in saying you should traveled with a wheeled suitcase instead.

They’ve obviously not spent much time in developing countries.

New game: find the pavement!

You see, most sidewalks in much of Asia and Latin America should not even have the “walk” part in them. Those bits of (sometimes) flat concrete beside the road are spaces meant to be filled. They’re places to park a car or motorbike. Or cook food to sell and eat. Or store boxes. Or run a business. Why keep them open for such a non-productive use as walking?

If they are open to pedestrians, as they sometimes are (especially beside a wide, French-built boulevard), a consistent lack of maintenance means what’s okay for careful feet is not okay for small spinner suitcase wheels. Said wheels will get swallowed, broken, and spit out in no time unless they’re the heavy-duty skateboard/Rollerblade kind.

I’ve been laughing my way across Southeast Asia the past few weeks, watching a few flashpackers sweat and toil with their hard shell spinner suitcases, trying to struggle down sidewalks and dirt paths. Often they end up having to carry it much of the time, the wheels made useless. These travelers seem continually perplexed by the surfaces they’re having to navigate and all the obstacles they are struggling to wheel around.

Then after struggling down the platform past vendors and exposed wires at the train station, where are they going to put that suitcase? It’s too large for the overhead storage compartment and the wrong shape. It’s too thick to fit under the berth in a sleeping car. So it becomes an awkward footstool.

Meanwhile, the backpackers stroll right past them on the street, the pack never being wider than the person carrying it and since it’s on their back, they can move around cooking stoves and motorbikes with ease. A sidewalk like this one in Hanoi is just another normal path.

Vietnam travel

When they get to the train, their bag fits fine, in the compartment or under the sleeper train berth. When they get to that $20 hotel where their room is on the 5th floor (just stayed in one of those), the bag goes right up the steps with them, no heaving or straining to carry it.

So okay, if you’ll be spending all of your time in rich countries where sidewalks are really for walking, go ahead and listen to those people telling you to use a suitcase. Or if your budget allows you to take taxis and VIP buses everywhere you’re going, with bellmen in uniforms greeting you at the hotel door. I love to travel with wheeled luggage when I’m in that situation.

Otherwise, if you’re going to have to carry your suitcase half the time because there’s no surface for wheeling it, just put it on your back instead and be mobile.

Related post: How to Be an Idiot Backpacker