Why I think wheels on suitcases was actually not such a great idea


To my mind, travelling is an adventure – it is an exercise in getting outside your comfort zone. I should put that down at this outset. Yet it seems some travellers treat it like what “camping” has become. Camping used to be humanity getting primal – living a tiny bit like the way we used to live. It was removing ourselves from the comforts and excess of modernity, getting “back to nature”. It was living under the stars, eating basic foods, and at night sitting around a glorious campfire and telling stories so far away from the World.

But now camping – thanks in part to BCF – has become something entirely different. It’s like an exercise in replicating each and every single one of the comforts of your house – but transportable – so you can enjoy all this “goodness” somewhere in the bush. (But within mobile phone coverage).

And overseas travel is getting a bit like that. A lot of people get really excited about the invention of wheels of suitcases – but not me. Wheels on suitcases just meant that suitcases got bigger. And bigger. And not only that – the space that the humans that accompanied that luggage – got greater and greater.

But having more “stuff” with you when you travel just blunts your travel experience. You need some Bear Grylls survival-aspect to your adventure. Trust me.

It is just ridiculous seeing other travellers wandering – not quite effortlessly – dragging a compartmentalised Death Star behind them. Their new girth- their spacial footprint is 4 times what they knew before – yet they seem oblivious. UGH!


I have never owned a suitcase with wheels. And thus I have through necessity – travelled as light as possible. I thought that was the point of travelling when I was growing up. And indeed over the years I have worked out how to be even lighter. This has made my travelling much more of an adventure. Admittedly my brain strives for structure. I like lists, I like order, I like living in a cocoon. And a well-packed bag you can swing over your back and waltz off a plane past all the other goobs who have gambled on the fact their stowed luggage has actually reciprocated their journey…well…it is pretty cool.


There’s apparently a brand new hipster trend for “utter minimalism“. Essentially it is well-to-do 30 somethings deciding they only need a specific amount of “stuff”. Some assign a figure. “Like I will have just 100 things.” They live in spartan houses, monkish even. They can still afford the latest Apple products – so don’t feel sorry for them.

But there is a part of my feeble, feeble brain that understands that. I LOVE the idea of just having a simple life. Just being able to wander, wearing everything I value, riding on my bike and carrying the rest in my backpack. Possessions rarely bring me lasting happiness. It’s people who make a difference to my life – to my happiness. But in saying that – if you invite your friends around and you have no chairs, no extra cutlery and your fridge is too small to accept a 6-pack – then maybe something is wrong.


I should say that it is utterly essential that you look presentable overseas. You don’t have to bring a suit or your best dress – but you have to look like you’ve made an effort. You need to go outside looking, well — “approaching” your best. If you wear trackie-dacks and ultra-comfortable shoes and plain, bullshit clothes then you disrespect the experience. Plus you might feel comfortable, but you won’t FEEL cool. You won’t blend in and you won’t be taken seriously by locals and you won’t feel like doing anything above and beyond your comfort zone.


If you have a smaller bag you learn to be economical. This smaller bag could even have wheels, but it needs to be modest. If you have an enormous case you just shove everything in, with this “I might need this” mentality. My experience is – if you “might” need it, 99 times out of 100, you WON’T.

My other problem with bags with wheels is that they are so square they don’t quite fit into overhead luggage bins. meanwhile my backpack just molds, adapts even – into that space. it is effortless (comparably) to lift up there and it just works.

And just saying: that 20kg limit on most international flights is NOT a challenge.

When you are traveling we get into this trap of thinking we need a new outfit for almost every day we are out there. But it is perfectly fine to wear the same clothes every so often. No one is going to notice. We live our normal lives looking at our wardrobe and thinking, “Oh I can’t wear that, I wore it last week.” This does not apply when you are away. You need to factor in the fact that you can wash and dry while on the move.

Plus you can BUY NEW CLOTHES! Part of the fun of travelling is shopping. So buy new clothes and throw out old stuff! (ASIDE: if you are going to a ultra cold place – wait until you get there, brave the first day and buy the cold-weather gear there – YOU WILL SAVE MONEY and have much more choice than buying a 4 seasons coat in tropical Brisbane)


My first major trip overseas I found myself in a laundromat a few times. It was like voluntary water-torture. It took forever, it involved change you didn’t have (which required buying useless stuff), it was expensive, the process was always cryptic in its complexity, was kinda unhygienic, and no matter how long you put your clothes in the dryer – they were never quite dry by the end of it.

So my solution since has been to:

1) From your wardrobe, take some raggedy old clothes that are on the verge of being thrown out, wear them once or twice, then chuck ’em and buy new stuff.

2) hand wash in your hotel bathroom sink each and every day. I know this seems tough, but these domestic duties keep you grounded and give you something to do in that early evening dead-zone period between when you have come home from your day adventures, and you are waiting for it to get dark and you can go out for night adventures.

Use the complimentary shampoo as detergent. I say “every day” because you need to keep on top of the situation. Hand-washed clothes take some time to dry – but in an airconditioned hotel – actually, not that long. Hang stuff over the tops of doors, over towel racks, over chairs etc. Washing an individual item should only take about 1 minute – including wringing. For larger items, get someone to help you in the wringing process: they hold firm, while you turn, and turn and turn. In the past I have considered chucking underwear/socks rather than cleaning, and buying new stuff at a discount store. But miraculously I have never actually needed to do this – and it’s a really bad thing to do environmentally anyway.

3) if you are staying with someone – even for one night – and they offer to wash stuff for you…well you know the answer. Personally I think it’s a bit forward to ask – so just wait for the offer.