Luggage vs. Cobblestone: Tips on managing an unwieldy suitcase

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For years I traveled exclusively with my trusty backpacking anti theft backpack. When I finally upgraded to a wheeled suitcase, I felt like I had earned my “I’m a grown-up now” badge. I imagined myself looking sophisticated and classy as I wheeled my suitcase behind me while rapidly crossing the streets of Rome, Paris and Berlin.

That didn’t happen.

I sorely underestimated a little thing called cobblestone. And then there were the curbs, the stairs, and muddy pathways cutting through parks. Don’t even get me started on getting in and out of trains, buses, and taxis. It was a disaster.

Once I dragged my suitcase up approximately 27 narrow stairs in the old city of Jerusalem only to discover that the hostel I was looking for was actually down the street. I nearly sat down and cried. So much for that “I’m a grown-up now” badge.

Over time I mastered the art of traveling with a wheeled suitcase. I don’t have any miraculous instructions on how to roll smoothly across cobblestone or at least on how to prevent that awful sound that incurs the wrath of everyone within two kilometers as you wheel down the street at 5:00 a.m. to catch your train. But these tips should help

Don’t overpack
You’re going to have to lift your suitcase at some point. Even if it’s just to throw it on the scale while checking in at the airport. A wheeled suitcase is a wonderful luxury allowing you to more easily transport your heavier belongings, but don’t abuse it. If you can’t lift your suitcase easily, you are going to be miserable going up and down stairs and getting on and off trains. Escalators are not as prevalent as one would hope.

Buy a suitcase that doubles as a backpack 
A number of luggage manufacturers design wheeled suitcases that have straps that can be pulled out in times of necessity. I’ve only had to pull out the shoulder straps once or twice on my Osprey Sojourn, but in those moments I was exceptionally grateful to have that option. Especially while watching my friends wrestle their suitcases around urban obstacles.

Plan
If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of traipsing around with your luggage in tow then you might want to consider whether a wheeled suitcase is really the way to go. Perhaps you’d be better off with a backpack that is comfortable to schlep around as you wander through the streets looking for your hotel or chase after a train 30 seconds from departing the station.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Thoreau was a pretty smart guy, and I’m inclined to take his advice to simplify. Especially with luggage. Try to keep everything compact and well-packed so that you’re not trying to juggle a purse, laptop bag, water bottle, or books while trying to pull your suitcase behind you. It’s alright in the airport, but doesn’t work so well while trying to find the bus fare, buy your ticket, and drag your suitcase on the bus within 30 seconds or less.

By Nikki Hodgson

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