The holidays bring a lot of traveling, something that can be quite a pain for photographers carrying lots of fragile equipment. In this article, I discuss 10 helpful tips to ensure that you and your photography gear arrive to your destination both safely and headache-free.
1. Don't Overpack
I have a bad habit of being afraid of missing out on shots because I didn't bring the right piece of gear, and that causes me to chronically overpack, bringing things on the off-off-off-chance I might need them. Back in 2013, I went to Paris and Italy for three weeks by myself, mostly for study at a music festival, where I would also be doing concert photography along with the standard touristy things. For this, I could have gotten away with taking a body, a backup body, my 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, and something like a 35mm f/1.4 for night shots. These would have easily fit into my backpack with room to spare for my laptop, chargers, spare batteries, etc. Instead, I filled that backpack to the brim, filled a Pelican case to the brim, and filled my camera messenger bag to the brim. Oh, let's not forget that I still had to bring along my suitcase, you know, for clothes and stuff.
As you might expect, this led to a lot of issues. First, getting to my hotel meant about a three-mile walk down some old brick roads, which wasn't particularly enjoyable with all my gear, plus my large suitcase. Second, European airlines often have stricter weight limits for luggage, and I had to plead my idiocy to a gate agent for my flight from Paris to Milan who thankfully took mercy on me. But really, the biggest issue was the fact that having so much gear actually distracted me, leading to a lot of decision paralysis and keeping me from focusing on what really mattered: taking images. Don't make my mistake. Take only what you really need.
2. Carry It On. Always.
When you think of airlines and their reputations for handling baggage, do you think of words like "careful" and "conscientious"? Probably not. Airlines can be notoriously rough with baggage, and that can spell disaster for your delicate photography gear. When you check your baggage, you also risk it getting lost. And as sagas like "United Breaks Guitars" illuminate, airlines are not always quick to admit fault or compensate travelers properly for lost or damaged luggage. Carry on anything fragile, delicate, or that you can't afford to lose. The only thing that ever goes in my checked baggage is my travel tripod, and that gets packed in the middle of my clothes.
However, be sure to check your airline's carry-on luggage size limitations — both size and weight. Some airlines charge extra for different carry-on items as well, so be sure you account for those fees.
3. Insure It
A lot can go wrong when traveling, and repair or replacement costs can add up quickly. If your gear isn't already insured, make sure it is before you take it on a trip with you.
4. Consider Priority Boarding
There is only so much room in an airplane cabin, and most often, that space is on a first come, first served basis. This means that if you are one of the later people to board, you could end up in the very difficult position of being asked to gate-check your fragile equipment. Getting priority boarding lets you get ahead of the rush for the overhead bins so you can be sure you can get the space your equipment needs.
5. Don't Draw Attention to Yourself
When you are a tourist in an unfamiliar place, you are often in a more vulnerable position than normal, something that thieves might take advantage of. Consider simple steps like getting a third-party strap that doesn't advertise the thousands of dollars hanging off your neck.
6. Don't Forget Basic Cleaning Equipment
It isn't much fun being 3,000 miles miles from home when a random mud splash hits your lens and you forgot to pack cleaning supplies. Just some basic lens wipes and a rocket blower can make your life a lot easier.
7. Have Backup Equipment
Yes, in the first step, I told you to minimize what you carry, but at the same time, a bit of redundancy is good, especially since you can't just run home and grab a backup while on vacation. A second body, spare batteries, and extra memory cards are a good idea.
8. Have Proper Power Equipment
If you are traveling to a foreign company, there is a good chance you will need a power adapter to be able to plug in your laptop, battery chargers, etc. I also like to carry a small power strip with USB charging ports just to make my life a bit easier and more organized.
9. Have a Proper Backup Plan
Traveling can throw a real wrench in your backup workflow and can make it particularly difficult to follow the standard 3-2-1 backup rule (3 copies, 2 local copies on different drives, at least a single copy offsite). If I have sufficiently fast internet while on a trip, I like to create a Dropbox folder on my home computer and leave the computer running when I leave, then drop all the files I've shot each day into the folder. This automatically creates a backup both in the cloud and on my home computer.
Unfortunately, you won't always have the luxury of fast internet when you travel, so if uploading files is off the table, be sure to at least have two backups, and don't carry both at the same time. For example, I like to keep my WD My Passport Wireless Pro SSD in my messenger bag. This allows me to create backups when I'm out on a long day without having to lug my laptop around. When I get back to wherever I'm staying, I then copy the files to a second hard drive.
10. Use Common Sense
It's easy to get caught up in the romantic nature of traveling, and that's not to say you shouldn't; after all, it's a blast! Just be sure to exercise due caution when it comes to transporting and carrying your gear. It's always a good idea to err on the side of caution.
Do you have any tips you use when you travel? Share them in the comments!