I Tried Traveling Light. How Did I Get Along Without My Kit?

I Tried Traveling Light. How Did I Get Along Without My Kit?

As a keen photographer, whether professional or amateur, one of the best parts of traveling to unfamiliar places is being able to capture new and interesting images. Whether you’re going on a dedicated photography trip, working away, or on family vacation, I'm sure we all put aside some space for our main camera and a lens or two. What if you left your kit at home and traveled light?

In early May 2022, I went on vacation to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, and I intentionally left my camera bag at home, choosing not to take a DSLR or laptop with me. Instead, I dropped my old Fujifilm X100S into my hand luggage with my 11” iPad Pro and left it at that. Why on Earth would any photographer choose to leave their kit at home when travelling somewhere beautiful and exotic? Simple, this wasn’t my trip.

My partner, Natasha, and I are expecting our first child this summer. It’s a wonderful, scary, and exciting new adventure that we’re embarking on. Optimistically, I anticipate being able to do a lot more newborn photography in the coming months. Realistically, I expect to learn the true value of sleep.

We booked this trip to Egypt as our last vacation together as a couple before the baby arrives, but really, the trip was for her. Natasha has been getting on with work and home life while growing an actual human being in her stomach and experiencing all the usual discomfort this brings. Needless to say, she deserved a break. So, we booked a trip on the latest date that we could safely fly abroad. We chose an all-inclusive resort for Natasha to be able to lay by the pool, float in the sea, and truly relax before life changes significantly. No day trips, no dune buggies, no temples, no trekking, no exploring, just relaxing for a whole week because she deserves at least that much.

My Little Point and Shoot 

As photographers, I’m sure we’ve all been on a trip or vacation and bugged our family or friends by just waiting for “the shot” or wandering off to find photographic inspiration. So, this time, I left my kit at home to be completely present and enjoy this week with my pregnant lady. 

I wasn’t completely without a camera. I took what I regard as my point and shoot camera with me, my Fujifilm X100S. If you’ve ever used one of the X100 range, you’ll appreciate how great this camera is. If you’ve ever owned one of the older X100 series of cameras, you’ll appreciate how frustrating this camera can be. The X100S replaced the X100 in 2013. This is a classically styled camera looks and feels like a lightweight version of the old Canon AE-1 SLR. It has a 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and a fixed 23mm f/2.0 (35mm equivalent) lens. I’ve often heard certain models of car described as “driver's cars,” which usually means they're difficult to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’d describe the Fujifilm X100 cameras as a “photographers camera” in the same way; they’re superb cameras if you know how to use them. The dynamic range from a relatively small sensor made in 2013 is impressive, the image quality is pleasing, and it’s a joy to use the camera with its various dials and tactile controls. It’s an absolute pleasure, except when relying on the autofocus in anything but perfect lighting. I understand that the autofocus on newer models is much improved, but I can’t currently justify paying $1,400 for a replacement for a point and shoot camera that I rarely use. Whenever I start shooting with the X100S, I remember all the things I love about it, the size, the weight, the Fujifilm raw files, and simply how great it is in a way that you need to experience firsthand to really understand.

Nothing to Shoot?

I love photography, and I’m always going to want to take some photos. Sure, I could just use my iPhone or iPad, but it’s just not the same as the experience of looking through a viewfinder to frame your image, adjusting your settings to get the look you desire, the sound of a real shutter clacking open and closed in the camera, and having a robust raw file to edit later. Even with my little camera, what did I plan to photograph at our self-contained resort? When could I get any photographs which weren’t simply vacation photos of the two of us by the pool or on the beach?

Once we arrived, I had some ideas for photographic subjects, there’s always the sunset right? Our resort was on the Eastern side of the peninsula. We’d get some great sunrises over the Red Sea looking towards Saudi Arabia, but the sunsets over the hotels inland would be less inspiring. There’s also local wildlife to consider. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer, and birds don’t particularly interest me, but it’s always an option. Then, there’s the evening entertainment. The hotel has everything from dancers, to acrobats, to fire performers on stage every evening. No matter where you are, there’s always something to capture, and I can edit the images on my iPad Pro by the pool in place of reading a book, all without taking anything away from our relaxing week together.

Enjoy the Freedom of a Small Camera

I took my little X100S to the fire performers show one evening. We got some great seats at the front of the stage and enjoyed the show while I got some shots of the performance. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the autofocus performance of my trusty 5D Mark IV, but I was able to get some perfectly useable shots with the Fujifilm point and shoot. Once I was done shooting the show, I was able to put the camera in my pocket and carry on with our evening, something that's harder to do with a DSLR, or even a modern mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.

Making the Most of the Day

Next on my shot list was the sunrise. Local sunrise was at 5:00 am, and our room was only a short walk from the beach. I set my alarm for 4:30 am, using the taptic vibration alarm on my Apple Watch. I was able to wake myself up without disturbing Natasha. I walked to the beach in the dim dawn light and enjoyed the complete solitude of walking around the deserted resort. The sun appeared over the horizon at 5:02 am. I took a few shots of the sunrise and passing ships before walking back along the beach to the room before 6 am, getting back into bed and enjoying another couple of hours sleep before starting our day together. I was pleased to have fit in a perfectly enjoyable photo walk without disturbing our planned restful week.

Mobile Editing?

Editing on an iPad is somewhat different to editing on a laptop or desktop, not that it's objectively better or worse, simply a different experience. Lightroom CC on the iPad is familiar enough to my preferred desktop version of Lightroom Classic. It didn't take long to get into the flow of editing. I even found things like the curves adjustment overlay are very well implemented in the iPad version.

Lightroom CC and Photoshop on iPad are getting more capable with every update, and they’re both perfectly useable for simple edits on the go, although I have recently started to learn Affinity Photo on the iPad, as it's far closer to a full desktop version of Photoshop than the iPad version of Photoshop, and it's available for a one-off payment of under $10. Using the Apple Pencil was also a pleasant experience, I think my 11” screen isn’t quite big enough for efficient editing. While a 13” iPad Pro would be better for editing, I’d rather have a 13” laptop if I have to carry a 13" device. The 11" iPad Pro is the best lightweight option. At home, I often use the iPad Pro for video editing using LumaFusion, but I would rarely reach for the iPad over the MacBook Pro when it comes to photo editing. It’s absolutely capable and saved a significant amount of weight in my carry-on luggage by leaving the laptop, charger, mouse, and SSD at home.

All things considered, it was an interesting experience making do with minimal kit and having no time put aside for photography. I had a lovely time relaxing with my partner on what may well be our last couple's trip for quite some time. I may even choose to leave my main kit at home more often, especially knowing how capable the X100S can be. In situations where the shot isn’t crucial for a client or for professional purposes, the light weight and portability of the Fujifilm camera are very much appreciated. More importantly, I had a lovely week and remembered that it's fine to go on vacation and not feel the need to make every trip all about photography. Sometimes, other things take priority.

For now, I’m going to appreciate my full nights of sleep and start planning articles on how to photograph newborns while significantly sleep-deprived.

Do you always take your kit bag on trips, or do you have lightweight options for travel? Have you tried editing on mobile apps? Let me know in the comments.

Brad Wendes's picture

Brad Wendes is a British photographer and travel lover.
He began photographing parkour and acrobatics in 2010 and has since taken to portraiture and fitness photography.
Brad is a self-confessed geek, Star Wars fan, tech enthusiast, cat lover and recently converted Apple Fanboy.

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As a hobbyist, I have always "traveled" light. The most gear I'd ever carried at one point was a mirrorless camera and 3 lenses. I just do not fancy large, heavy, cameras. More recently I have discovered the joy of Fuji X cameras and I now have a Fujifilm X-E4 and the X100T. When I go on vacation this year, I intend to bring only one of them - the X-E4 - with just one lens.

There’s something special about those Fuji X cameras, really a joy to use

My only truly lightweight travel kit is either my phone or a 16-year-old Lumix DMC-FX100 pocket wonder that captures excellent images, despite its size and lack of sophistication.

I'm finding that images from my iPhone 13 Pro easily smoke images I've taken and scanned from the film era and are very competitive with images taken with mid and entry level mirrorless, except for sports, BIF, and wildlife. Obviously, the smart phone smokes traditional cameras when it comes to communicating your image to other people.

Love traveling, hate leaving my gear behind, want to travel light... doesn't end well... 😆

"Looks and feels like the Canon AE-1" Really ! I don't see that ........ I owned one in 1976 .

More a comment on the aesthetic and control dials than the actual size and weight. I own both cameras which live side by side on a shelf, perhaps this is why I associate them more than you might

Congratulations on your soon-to-be new addition! I do the same thing on family trips as a father of twin 10 year olds - Fuji x100v. I save the edits for after we get home.

Thank you. The X100 series do make great travel cameras. I’ll definitely be editing at home on future trips. Nice to know it can all be done with minimal weight though

Great post, crazy how similar this is to myself as a new dad. ive gone from "must bring everything! to how little can i bring to fit more nappies XD. My kit is very similar to yours and on a trip we will be taking to Tasmania in the next few months the kit will be.

-Mavic 2 pro

All the best though mate, It truly is the most amazing experience. but you are definitely right in the comment about prioritizing sleep. for me it was anyway hahah!

Thanks, it’s all getting very real now!

I have traveled light on a few trips over the past 15 years, and really regretted it.
On one weekend trip to Yellowstone, I left the tripod and the big 400mm f2.8 at home, because I didn't want the trip with my then-fiancee to be all about me and my wildlife photography. So I just took a DSLR body and the 24-105mm and the 100-400mm.
Long story short, we had a very close-up encounter with an adult wolf. It was in low light, under the forest canopy. Would have really loved the 400 f2.8 in that situation, but had to settle for the f5.6 zoom. Could've gotten some really special images with the huge lens, but ended up with only average pics.
Fast forward to the present - I now realize that wildlife photography is my life and means far more than any woman or any marriage could ever mean to me. Getting much better wolf photos would have been more satisfying than making sure my fiance enjoyed the trip. But that's all hindsight and at least I now know what's really important in life. I won't be leaving my big bulky gear behind ever again.

I used to carry a large camera kit, back when I used only primes and a DSLR. Also a large and heavy tripod came along on every trip. Since then I got married and we have two boys. My kit evolved around what is the most important thing in my life: my family. I have a kit, one kit. It doesn’t matter if it is a 4 hr trip or week long trip. I carry a very small backpack. Whatever I am using shall fit there. I adjust the kit based on what I plan to photograph. There is space for 1 camera (I own 1 camera), 2 lenses and accessories. So I choose from my 4 lens set (sorry, I am a photographer, not a gear collector). I may or not bring my one and only tripod. The backpack will weight 12 lbs. max. The tripod 4 lbs. max. I have never missed a shot with my kit. I shoot portraits, macro, surfing, motor sports, birds in flight, wildlife, seascapes, waterfalls, landscapes and infrared, If you know what you are doing…well …you know.

If there is no space for gear I use just my phone. Yes it is also a very capable image capture tool for portraits and landscapes. You do need to master it like any other photographic equipment.

My point: knowing how to get the most out of the limited gear you have is far more important that what gear you take with you.

I have potentially good news for you Brad! I had an X100S that broke a while back. I sent it into Fuji to get a repair estimate. They couldn't fix it due to lack of parts, but they offered me a trade-in. They kept my S, and they sent me a factory refurbished V for under $1,000. I'm willing to bet that they would give you an even better trade-in deal for your S since it's still working.

Great article, thanks for writing it! I don't have an iPad, but I do fantasize about traveling with only my V and an iPad. I, too, have young ones (two kids under 3) so toys for myself like an iPad are on the back burner for now. I would love to get my hands on an M1 iPad Air one day. Congrats, and good luck!

Thank you! This is great news, I’ll certainly be contacting Fuji about trade in.
The M1 iPad Pro is a great piece of kit, but it sounds like you have your priorities right. I don’t anticipate any tech toy purchases in the near future 😊

Congrats to you and your family and kudos for making the decision to enjoy the family time. In today's dichotomy of authenticity vs. appreciation of polished photos, I find myself moving as the target does. My most recent monthlong trip to Europe featured my (now dated) A7III + Tamron 28-150. While I missed the wider FL at times, it was nice not having the "pressure, to shoot because I "knew" I had traveled all this way lugging the gear.

End of the day, I still got "keepers" as I consider them, and the knowledge that I had a great photo-life balance. Cheers man.

Traveling light with family and traveling light are two very different things ! Even with family I'll need maybe 3 nice primes, a tripod and 2 way head plus filters. Though I take an iPad on very trip I make - no need for a laptop, I can make backups etc. without it.
I travel a lot - usually it will involve at least 2 cameras, 4-5 lenses, tripod, filters and head. I'd rather bring it an leave it in the hotel room than be unhappy with shots that I've spent a lot of money and time on getting there to take.

Does every trip need to be a photography trip?

For me, yes, absolutely. I used to take some non-photography trips from time to time, and then after the trip I would regret having taken it and look back on those trips as wasted time and lost opportunities. But the trips that are all about wildlife and photography provide me with a great sense of satisfaction and deep fulfillment for years and years and years.

Of course it does ! If not the environment / travel / street then family.

For nearly 20 years, I've been traveling with Canon G series cameras. They are relatively compact, and produce great results. I have a G1 X that I used for about 8 years before moving to a G5X Mark II a couple of years ago. If I am going on a trip to somewhere new that is a very photogenic destination, I will take my SLR kit. But many times I've just taken a G camera as my primary camera. And the G5XII is a fun camera with built in modes for star trails and panorama shots.

For nearly 20 years, I've been traveling with Canon G series cameras. They are relatively compact, and produce great results. I have a G1 X that I used for about 8 years before moving to a G5X Mark II a couple of years ago. If I am going on a trip to somewhere new that is a very photogenic destination, I will take my SLR kit. But many times I've just taken a G camera as my primary camera. And the G5XII is a fun camera with built in modes for star trails and panorama shots.

Good article. And congratulations for putting your pregnant spouse first. It sounds like you made the absolutely right choice for gear on this trip. But a nod to Tom for his honest contrarian view. One question: you say in response to a comment that next time you will wait to process the photos at home. I don't have an iPad and never saw the use case for me. Should I get one to process photos on trips, or not?

Thank you, and I agree that I respect Tom for his priorities, even if they don’t match my own.

As for the iPad, I did enjoy the process and learning new ways of doing things. I’m enjoying learning Affinity Photo and I really enjoy the Apple Pencil interface when editing videos in LumaFusion.

As for whether I’d recommend buying an iPad for editing on the go, that’s still a tough one. If money is no object, then it’s a great device for consuming media and simple computing tasks. If you need a workhorse device, I still don’t think the iPad is mature enough to be the ‘one size fits all’ mobile computer. That said, I’m excited for the future and the changes coming this fall with iPadOS 16, the M1 powered iPads are looking to become a lot more functional. For me, a decent file management system is the big thing missing from the iPad.
Now the iPad Air also uses the M1 chip, the entry cost for a very capable device is even lower. But if budget is a concern and you’re looking for a single device, I’d still recommend the 2020 M1 MacBook Air