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10 Tips for Traveling With Photography Gear

10 Tips for Traveling With Photography Gear

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. 

Take it easy on the gear.

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

I love these things.

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! 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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A portable camera battery charger with adapter to plug into the port on the dash of a car. Glad I had that doodad for a two week road trip. I used a Wasabi and had good results in the vehicle.

Traveling with film stock is a whole different list...

More often than not, just about all power supplies that come with modern gear are universal as far as voltage goes. A plug adapter is all that's needed for traveling to most modern countries. One fo the things I do when traveling is to bring one of those plug adapters as well as a three outlet power strip so I can plug in multiple devices if necessary. While on some of the smaller power supplies the print is best read with a magnifier if it states "10--240V 50-60Hz" then only the plug adapter is required.

Most plug adapters can be purchased for 3-5 dollars online.

I usually follow all that advice, with DSLR, mirrorless backup, the lenses I will need not all my lenses, all insured. But I'm currently on a family vacation and the only camera I brought was my phone. So far (on day 3), no regrets!

I carry two $50.00 bills every time I board. If there's no room left in the overhead, I bark out loudly that I'll give $50.00 to anyone who will give me their space. If that fails, I up it to $100.00. If that fails, I get off the plane.

That's the plan. Happily I've never had to use it..

If you are shooting film have TSA hand check it. New scanning in place this summer will fog the film no matter the rate. Remeber that X ray exposure is cumulative if you are flying to multiple destinations. Best to keep propaks factoy sealed and individual rolls in their sealed boxes. Don't rely on X ray bags they will open them up.

Unless the guard beside the scanning machine puts his hand on the butt of his Uzi and points fiercely at the machine. Fortunately... it was the only scanner my film went through.

Admittedly it was 1981... and the political climate was touchy in Spain.

You're right... air travel still sucks, just worse.

I was flying through an airport in China and one of the x-ray security people had never seen film before. The language barrier necessitated a game of charades with my film camera to demonstrate how film works. It worked. No x-ray treatment on my Cinestill 800T.

After travelling professionally for some 45 years, air travel really is neither romantic nor a blast for me. I loath everything connected to it: the anxiety; the security; the check-in process; the delays; the discomfort; the drunks; the airports and the journey itself. Apart from that, the tip about the anonymous camera strap is a good one, especially for the landscape photographer.

Oh, and a WD My Passport Wireless Pro, a 5-port travel USB hub and Bluetooth earphones .

Most Euro-Asia-Africa air carriers have 7kg weight limit for carryons. For bus/first passengers 2@7kg

Excellent advice about backing up to the cloud while traveling in addition to at least 2 local backups. In adition to 2 local drives I back up to at the end of each day, I also don't erase the memory cards until after I'm home. I carry enough cards so I don't have to erase anything - they're really cheap today. I haven't had cards fail, but do feel more comfortable with lots of smaller cards instead of a very few humongous ones. If one does fail, I haven't lost that much and my camera body holds a backup anyway.

For travel I've switched to micro 4/3 and never looked back. Now, my carryon (make sure it's one that meets European regulations) easily holds anything I think I'll need. I always assume that I won't be able to replace anything while traveling. One rule I try to never violate: NEVER change glass while out in the field. Get bumped or slip and that expensive glass goes flying. A 3rd party strap that holds 2 bodies, each with a lens you think you'll need that day, means that all you have to do is grab the right body and shoot. I saw someone drop an expensive lens because he slipped while in the Galapagos - try to get it repaired there. So, I never change glass unless I'm indoors and somewhere clean where I can sit down and do it without risk of dropping it, or dirt entering the camera. This also eliminates walking around with a backpack, which my back hates.

Maybe it's just me, but I also never bring a tripod. After schlepping one around for years, and not using it, unless I'm traveling someplace where I'm going to take some shots at really slow shutter speeds (like for waterfalls), the tripod stays home. The world is full of tripod replacements: light posts, mail boxes, parking meters, fence posts, trees, etc. - all can steady your camera and you don't have to carry them. Setting up a tripod in a city just invites someone to trip over it and down goes your camera. Besides, today's IS systems are good enough for most slow exposures.

One other point that's valid if you're traveling with someone (think significant other) who isn't as into photography as you are - bring along a good pocket camera like a RX100 and give it to him/her. Let him/her also participate in taking photos and you'll accomplish 2 things: 1. You'll have some pictures with yourself in them to prove you were really there and, 2. You'll get bugged a lot less when you stop to take photos since he/she will also do that.

Mmm... good reminder on the glass. I dropped a lens at 9,000 ft. The lens only traveled about 4 ft, but that was all it took. It was a kit lens for a Pentax... meh, one might say... but I was done for the day, and a tight budget caving to credit card lures. Ouch!

Love the P&S advice for spouses. Better phone cams also work for this duty... kinda fun to see myself in full camera geek mode. :)

Yes. It's great to get those shots of yourself. And, when I'm in full-camera geek mode, my wife is usually far enough away - doesn't want people to know she's with me - that the photo will show all of me.

Oh to be such a fortunate geek.

That is an awesome shot of you getting the shot. Very cool!

Fly first class, never have to worry about overhead bin space. I travel with a 600/4,70-200 2.8,24-70/4 and 1.4 and 2x tc with a 1dx2 and 5dsr I’m not going to go cheap with airfare with $25,000 of gear on my back.

Sounds like you're living the dream. Nice. :)

Almost, I just need to move out to where the wildlife is so I don’t have to travel at all.

Now that's the dream. :)

Priority boarding EVERY time. Takes away a lot of stress.