By Stephanie Millner, Cr.Photog., CPP
Your bags are packed, and you’re ready to go? Not so fast! Travel photography is very different from everyday client work, and how you travel is every bit as important as what you actually shoot. Consider the following tips for travel photography and your next trip should be smooth sailing as far as your camera is concerned.
This applies to your luggage and your camera gear. The fun you’ll have on your trip is inversely proportionate to the amount of stuff you have to lug around. Unless you’re traveling for a commissioned job, pack only the barest of bare essentials. Bring one camera, two batteries, a few media cards, your charger, and two lenses at most. I’ve traveled for weeks at a time without any other gear, and I promise you do not need to carry more.
Over-packing is uncomfortable due to weight and bulk, and it can be risky in some environments. Someone carrying a big expensive camera bag is enticing to pickpockets and thieves.
Also, think twice about using a backpack; it will make you a target. Because the pack is behind you, it’s easily accessible to thieves, particularly in large crowds. Leave it at the hotel. When you carry gear with you in a bag, remove any indications that expensive equipment is inside and wear it on your front in crowded areas and on public transit. Stay aware.
There are three more things you need to round out your travel kit: rain sleeves, a multi-plug adaptor, and a dry bag.
Bring several rain sleeves that fit your camera with your longest lens attached. A good rule of thumb is to bring one sleeve per week of travel. A good rain sleeve will keep your gear dry and sand-free, regardless of what Mother Nature dishes out. Keep one in your coat, one in your purse or day bag, and one in your luggage so it’s always easily accessible. A rain sleeve only works if it’s actually on your camera, not back in your hotel room. You can buy them online or from a camera store for less than $10 each.
Always carry a universal multiple-plug adaptor when traveling abroad. Most laptops, cell phones, and camera chargers have built-in transformers (or are dual-voltage), so you usually just need a plug adaptor and not a heavy travel transformer. Be sure to buy a multi-plug adaptor to accommodate different countries. Searching for an open electronics store because you have two dead camera batteries and you left your plug adaptor back home is not fun. I recommend bringing a USB-to-power plug and USB cord as well. You can buy a good one (or two) online for less than $10.
Vatican from Ponte Sant’Angelo, Rome ©Stephanie Millner
Most important, if you’re going anywhere that even remotely involves water, bring a dry sack. This single purchase has saved me from potentially thousands of dollars in damage. Purchase a sack that has at least a level-two water resistance, and get a bigger bag than you think you’ll actually need. In addition to keeping your gear bone-dry, even when completely submerged, they make handy beach bags and day totes. Use a dry sack any time you’re even thinking about traveling near water (beach days, boat trips, cruises). You can find dry sacks online or at a local dive shop or sporting goods store, usually for around $20. It will be the one of the best investments you’ll ever make for your gear.
Bonus item: The Grid-It organizer system is a fabric-covered board with sewn elastic pieces that securely hold everything in place. It fits into any backpack, dry sack or purse. I pack two: one for camera gear and another for toiletries—inside a clear plastic bag—so they’re easily accessible at airport security.