The One about Choosing between a Backpack or Shoulder Bag for Traveling

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A question I receive a lot is whether I prefer to use a backpack or shoulder bag when traveling.

I use both and both have their own positives and negatives.

I tend to enjoy using shoulder bags, since I tend to prefer the classy black or brown leather and I have easy access to everything I need.  Want to grab something, it’s right there on my side, ready for access. This was increasingly common as I checked my tablet, turned on/off my wifi device, everything was there when I needed it.

If I wanted to take off my jacket or sweater real quick and need something to set it (without having to put it inside the bag itself), I can do that with my shoulder bag.

But with that being said.  For long treks, especially in big cities like Tokyo where there is a lot of walking, carrying many pounds of equipment can really hurt your neck and shoulder.

In fact, there were a few times a friend volunteered to hold my bag because I was so fatigued.

Also, at the airport, it’s not convenient to have two big luggage and shoulder bags as carry-on, especially if you have to climb stairs like this…  One of my shoulder bags could not set on top of my carryon.  So, it was problematic.  I don’t know how I managed going through many flights of stairs over and over at Tokyo Station and I was literally drenched in sweat because my hands were not free.  Everything felt like a chore.  And I wished at that moment that I would have brought my backpack instead.

With a backpack, my hands are free, both shoulders are fine because weight is properly distributed to both sides of my shoulders as opposed to one.  And you can fit a lot of things in a backpack.

But with that being said, I have to take things in and out quite often, set it down and it was a pain.  When I go to events, I don’t know if someone would be unzipping my backpack and there were many times I forgot to zip it up and literally freaked out if I lost things.  And to make things worse, at events with other photographers or media, since so many people bring the same color of black backpacks, sometimes people reached into my backpack accidentally, and I did the same to theirs.  It can be a bit of a hassle.

I also feel comfortable wearing a backpack when I’m not wearing a jacket.  I found it more convenient when I could wear a shirt or sweater but with a jacket, I can’t tell if someone is opening the zippers on my backpack, so I resorted to putting locks.  But by doing that, you’ll have to keep locking/unlocking and that can also be a hassle.

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But what it comes down to is convenience.  How far are you walking?  How often do you need to reach in to your bag?  How much weight do you keep in your bag?

As a person who documents my trips with camera gear, heavy lenses and having my devices nearby, I needed to make sure that I have something that is well-padded and by my side often.

Both a shoulder bag and backpack have been convenient for me for different situations.  For short treks, I would use a shoulder bag.  But never again would I use it on long treks.

The problem is that when traveling, you may think that you’ll be on short treks but sometimes there is miles of walking and so, a backpack would have been better for me in those situations.

If anything, just plan accordingly.  Make sure you have a shoulder bag or backpack that can handle being set on the ground, won’t fray as much, can withstand heavy rain and provides you enough space to fit your items, but also small enough to be used as a carryon bag at the airline (as most airlines require your carryon to be 22 x 14 x 9 max) you choose to ride with.