Traveling with photography equipment can be a challenge. Airlines limit the size and weight of cabin bags so much that it's nearly impossible to bring all gear as carry-on. While I've accepted that my tripod has to go into checked luggage, cameras, lenses, filters, and laptop have to stay with me. In this article, I share a little travel hack that helps to get around hand luggage limitations.
Over the past ten years of traveling, I had to weigh my hand luggage three times. Each time my bag was around 5 kg above the limit, which is typically 7 or 8 kg. The first time, I could persuade the airline staff that my photography gear was too valuable to put into hold luggage and that there had never been a problem fitting it into the overhead compartment.
The second time, I had to remove a few items: I had some less important gear, which I could put into hold luggage. And luckily, they didn't weigh my bag afterward — it was still too heavy.
Before boarding a flight back to Germany from the Seychelles, I ran into a bigger problem. As I went to drop my large bag and collect my ticket, the lady at the counter didn't want to allow me to keep my camera bag as a carry-on item due to its weight. She refused to process my luggage and hand out the ticket, and I couldn't convince her otherwise. After a few minutes, I saw someone from Qatar Airways, with whom I was flying, walk by and quickly talked to her. Thankfully, she was understanding, and I could keep my camera gear as a carry-on.
Those three incidents showed me that I'm on thin ice with my camera gear. It's just a question of time until I get into more severe problems as airlines enforce their hand luggage policy more and more in the future. As it stands, it's simply not a good idea to check any valuable gear. Too many checked bags get lost or damaged nowadays. So it was essential for me to find a solution that would allow me more wiggle room the next time I get stopped.
Hand Luggage Solution
Most airlines allow not only one carry-on item but two. You can usually carry a laptop and small personal items in a separate bag. The total weight stays the same, but distributing your gear can still help next time you get stopped by airline or airport staff to weigh your hand luggage.
In the feature video, I show my solution for distributing weight during check-in. My 15'' Dell XPS goes into a robust Inateck laptop case with some accessories. I place this case in an Eagle Creek Packable Daypack. It is very thin and weighs next to nothing. I put it into the large front compartment of my NYA-Evo Fjord 60c camera backpack.
My camera bag usually weighs around 13 kg when I'm traveling. Before I head to the counter to drop off my hold luggage, I remove the daypack from my backpack. In addition to my laptop, I put my passport, purse, power bank, headphones, and other small gear in there. In the end, it weighs a bit over 3 kg. As a result, I now carry three bags: the large bag I want to check in, my camera backpack on my back, and the small daypack.
Usually, nobody notices the daypack as I put it down in front of the counter. If my hand luggage has to be weighed, I take my backpack from my shoulders and put it onto the scales. It is still too heavy, but 2 - 3 kg is much less of a problem than 6 kg.
If I'm wearing a jacket, I can put the daypack beneath it. It's low profile and should go unnoticed. If you have trousers with large pockets, you can stuff additional items in there.
Having a daypack with you doesn't only help with the hand luggage limitations. It also makes traveling much more comfortable. I usually wear the NYA-Evo Fjord at the back and the daypack at the front while I'm at the airport. I have easy access to my travel papers, and I get through security faster because I can quickly get out my laptop.
After boarding the plane, I put the daypack under the seat in front of me. This way, I don't have to access the overhead compartment if I want to get my headphones or cell phone, which I also put in there.
I store the Eagle Creek pack in the NYA-Evo Fjord again before I collect my checked luggage after a flight. From there to the hotel, it's easier with just two bags.
I know that hand luggage restrictions are there for a reason. People with heavy bags usually slow down the boarding process, and those overhead compartments are designed with those limitations in mind. That's why splitting the weight, as I show above, is a great solution. It doesn't only help you if you have to weigh your cabin bag. It also makes boarding much quicker and reduces the need to access the overhead compartment during a flight.
Such a daypack can also come in handy during the rest of your travels. You can use it to buy groceries or for a quick trip to the beach if you don't want to bring your camera gear.
Now let's hear some of your stories in the comments. Did you ever run into problems because of too-heavy hand luggage? How did you resolve the situation?