The next couple of months will see us travelling more than usual. A weekend in Switzerland, ten days in Rome, a short break in Stockholm and a long awaited trip to Northern California are all in the pipeline and preparations are well under way. Itineraries are ready, the home exchange is finalised and I even have my tried and tested kids packing list ready, but I still have a dilemma: shall we travel with kids suitcases or backpacks? And in general: Are backpacks or kids suitcases better when travelling with children, for convenience and back health?
Over the course of the years, we have tried several packing strategies, with very mixed results and I arrived at the conclusion that there is no such thing as the best travel luggage for kids. The ‘best piece of luggage’ depends on how many people are travelling, the mean of transport and the adult/child ratio – what works when you are travelling with two adults and two children will not work if you are outnumbered and what works for a road trip can be a true nightmare if applied to a plane journey.
So in this post I decided to go through the different kinds of kids bags and backpacks we have travelled with and give you an overview of what worked when. I do hope you find it useful and if you have experiences or additional advice, please leave a comment!
Are backpacks or kids suitcases better when travelling with children? What to consider
As you probably already know I am a light packer so this post will focus on: children carry on luggage with wheels, children ride on luggage that can travel as carry-on and backpacks complying with hand luggage dimensions. If you are unsure how to pack light with kids, you can have a look at my tips here.
Ride on children suitcase trunki: pros and cons
When I think of kids suitcases, the name that comes to mind is Trunki, one of the most popular and for many the best piece of kids luggage on the market. I first discovered trunki at a friends house and my immediate thoughts about it were: 1) it is the cutest kids suitcase I have ever seen and 2) It must be the most annoying and bulky thing to travel with ever invented. As it happens, I was wrong:
As well as really cute, trunki is a fantastic piece of luggage for children and our kids’ suitcase of choice for most of our trips.
I am sure you have seen trunki: they are kids wheeled suitcases, made of hard plastic,with cute animal faces and patterns. They have a size that makes them perfect for a weekend away and they comply with current regulations for carry-on luggage so they can be easily brought on planes. Kids adore them: as well as wheels, trunki comes with a strap that can be used to pull them along as if they were little pets, and the material is sturdy enough that kids can ride on them. We have two of them and we have used them both on planes and road trips. Here is what we thought of them in terms of pros and cons:
- Great size for plane travel: they can be brought on board as children carry-on luggage and they just about fit under the seat in front of you
- They are quite spacious inside and they are perfect for a weekend away or longer stays.You can find exactly how much they contain here
- They close well and have a key securely attached to the strap
- They are sturdy and the kids can use them as a seat if needed
- Kids can ride onto the trunki, which is great if you want to keep them entertained for a while or have short distances to cover
- The strap makes them fun for the kids to pull: my kids are always more willing to walk if they have trunki with them as they can pretend they are their little dog on the leash!
- They are exceptional for road trips as they stack nicely in the car
- They double up as a good toy box so storage when not travelling is easy
- They are quite bulky so while they are great if your child cooperates and accepts to pull them, they are uncomfortable if you have to carry both them and your toddler! This point is important to keep in mind and has put off even very experienced family travellers from using trunki as you can see in this post by family travel guru Babyglobetrotters
- They might slow your child down: my kids are more willing to walk when pulling their trunki but they often bang it against things or people or tilt it and have to stop and pick it up. Inevitable with younger kids and not a manufacturing fault, but be aware if you are counting on it for speedy transfers.
Something to be aware of: it is very tempting to think that trunki could substitute a buggy for older children but, personally, I do not think this is the case. Trunki works well as a temporary child seat but pulling your child along on it is not recommended by the manufacturer and it is not particularly handy for the parent for more than a couple of minutes. Riding on it requires some legwork that a tired kid could get grumpy about (majour understatement for: epic meltdown)
Overall evaluation: we find trunki excellent and we do recommend it as children luggage, especially for road trips and plane journeys that do not require quick airport transfers. If you want to read a detailed trunki review, I recommend you read this post by expert family travel bloggers Wandering Wagars which have a comprehensive look at their Melissa and Doug trunki.
Children backpacks pros and cons
I am a fan of rucksacks and for my own travel I choose backpacks whenever I can: a good quality pack will evenly spread the weight on your back and will keep your hands free, which I find invaluable especially when travelling alone with kids and need to hold two little hands! I also find them useful for kids, especially for short trips.
Kids backpacks pros:
- They leave your children hands free
- They are less likely to be left behind as you can easily keep them on while waiting in airports, stations etc (be very careful with the weight of your child backpack, make sure it is light and appropriate in size)
- They can be easily strapped onto your own if your child gets tired of carrying them
- Great plane carry-on choice as easily stored under the seats
Kids backpacks cons:
- Usually smaller than suitcases, even a very light packer like me find kids backpacks only useful on very short trips
- If not chosen with care and packed properly they might hurt your child back – choose good quality ones and be extra careful with how much you put in and how. The one in the picture below is the Kikki Deuter Pack: we recenlty got them for the kids and they love them: they use them both as travel and school bag – a great, versatile purchase!
- Accessing objects at the bottom can be annoying so make sure you pack toys or anything you think your child might want to reach out for on top. For adults, I recently discovered travel backpacks that open horizontally like a suitcase (full review coming soon, I’ll put mine to the test in two weeks!) but I am not aware of this kind of solution for kids yet
Overall evaluation: a good quality backpack is great if you are travelling alone with two kids, are taking short trips or have older kids. I personally recommend them for toddlers only as an extra toy bag rather than full on luggage option.
Rolling suitcases for kids
Before I had children I thought wheeled bags were the best thing in the world: I did so many trips with them and found them so handy they were the first thing I bought for my kids when we started travelling with them. However, they didn’t prove quite as handy for family travel or at least, not in all circumstances.
Rolling bags and wheeled suitcases for kids pros
- Easy to pull for your child and easy to stack on top of yours if needed
- Wide range of options, prices and sizes
- Easier to pack than a backpack especially if you have odd shaped objects (toys)
- Easy access (especially if compared with a traditional backpack)
Rolling bags and wheeled suitcases for kids cons
- Depending on size, they might not fit under plane seats, forcing you to get up every time your child needs anything from it (if your children are like mines, about 10 times per minute!). Also, unless you have priority boarding you might be forced to check them in last minute – with kids, under seat storage is by far the best, I believe.
- Handles and wheels can break easily and it is worth investing in a good quality bag that you can use over and over again. You can find many good options and extensive reviews on Amazon.com (find latest prices here
Overall evaluation: I believe rolling suitcases are a great choice for older kids or if you don’t like or cannot use backpacks.
So, after these pros and cons, what am I going to travel with? Well, as I said all trips are different and each of my travel will see a different set up:
- Weekend in Geneva, me alone with the kids (plane travel): One travel backpack for me + one small backpack per child
- 10 days in Rome, two parents + two children (plane travel + day trip by car): travel backpacks for us adults + one rolling bag per child (Rome is too full of potholes for trunki, we’d spend our lived picking them up!)
- Three weeks in San Francisco (plane + short car trips): travel backpacks for adults + one trunki per child
- Three days in Stockholm: I am actually going alone on this one so no kids luggage in sight! I will be bringing my new Osprey travel backpack which I will review as soon as put to the test
What kind of luggage do you use when travelling with kids: have you fund a solution that works better than others?
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