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You’re gearing up for your big trip abroad and need to buy a backpack. Like so many other travelers before you, you buy the stereotypical top loading backpack – tall, cylindrical – from NorthFace, Osprey, or the like. Everyone else uses them, so it must be the right move.

Right?

Wrong.

You just committed the biggest mistake most backpackers make.

While your new bag may look the part, it’s from from ideal. The reason is that these backpacks are made for hikers and outdoorsmen, not travelers.

Don’t be ashamed, I made the same mistake on my first backpacking trip in 2009 with a GoLite bag.

Most top loading backpacks are not secure, and too large to carry on to a plane, making them wrong for travelers. Let’s take a closer look at these shortcomings and what you should be looking for in a travel backpack.

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A friend of a friend recently emailed me asking for advice about how to pack for a long trip through multiple climates. She’d be traveling through both rural and urban Chile, Peru, Argentina – including Patagonia – Brazil, and Colombia for seven weeks while visiting arctic, desert, and tropical climates.

Her goal was to travel with only one backpack (as we recommend), but she had no idea how to do it or if it were even possible. I gave her the most thorough response I could and realized that if she was in need of such information, then surely many others were, too. Below is an expanded, more thought-out version of my advice to her. My focus isn’t solely utilitarian; I believe we can look and feel great on the road while packing everything in one bag!

For the quick and dirty version of this post, skip straight to the around the world packing list.

Freezing steam at outdoor pool

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As I hopped off of the curb, I heard a sharp CRACK then my suitcase started veering left, into traffic.

Damn it!

I’d cracked a wheel and now the suitcase was moving of its own volition. With no better option, I picked up the heavy bag and carried it. My clothes felt like they’d been replaced with bricks.

Luckily, I was only a few blocks from my apartment, where I could alleviate myself of this dead weight. What would I have done if this happened on the other side of the world where I didn’t have a way to replace it?

Luckily, I’ll never have to find out. Due to wheeled suitcases’ propensity to ruin a trip, I’ve abandoned them altogether in favor of backpacks.

Do what I did and JUST SAY NO TO WHEELED LUGGAGE. Otherwise, you run the risk of having one (or more) of the following problems ruin your trip.

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