Traveling with your camera


My Tamrac 691 measures 22″W x 14″D x 9″H fits under the typical airline seat. It’s about as big a carry-on that I can get away with and yet carry my 17″ MacBook Pro. There is not much room for anything else when I put my MacBook Pro in.

Whether it’s for leisure or business, if you plan to bring along your digital SLR, some thought into packing can make your trip relaxing and stress-free.

I’m making this assumption.

I’m bringing all my photo gear as carry-on and checking in my clothes as a separate baggage.

If my baggage with clothes don’t arrive, I guess I’ll have to do some serious speed shopping.

Without my gear, if I’m there to shoot, I’m dead.

Here’s what I would look into:

Carry-on with wheels

There’s too many in the market to name.

Functionally they all do the same thing.

Some are better made than others.

My rule of thumb is this: if all of them hold the same, and are made about the same, then I want the bag to be “low-key.”

The less name brands, the better.

Thinktank is one but mostly you want to get one that fits the specs of most airlines that can fit in the overheard compartment or under the seat in front of you.

The better ones allow you to fit a laptop.

Mine can accommodate my 17″ MacBook Pro.

I’m sure there are bigger ones out there but be careful of the bigger ones, they may not fit. Here’s United Airlines’ (hopefully, a typical US carrier) specs for carry-on luggage.

If you are bringing a laptop, don’t turn it off. Instead sleep it. At most security screening stations, they want you to wake the computer up. Starting up a laptop takes considerably longer than one that’s in sleep mode.

If you’re traveling with your laptop, always bring a copy of your startup discs and any utility applications to allow to recover the use of your computer if it crashes. Macusers should make a copy of their instal disks and a utility like Disc Warrior or Tech Tool.

rescue_proYou may as well install your recovery software.

It’s always good to be prepared in case you have problems with your memory card.

When you buy the more expensive memory cards like SanDisk, they come bundled with recovery software.

While not 100%, they at least give you a chance.

Consider a stealth application like Lo-Jack for your laptop. If ever your laptop gets stolen, there’s a chance these applications can help you locate it.

Lots of Memory Cards

memory_cardsIf you don’t plan on bringing a laptop, then you need to have ample supply of memory cards.

How many is hard to say because I don’t know which camera you are using and what you are shooting.

The more the better.

It’s a good practice to number and name each memory card especially if you have multiple camera bodies.

Try to use the same memory cards with the same body if possible.

That can help you troubleshoot when you have corrupt files and you are not sure if it’s the memory card or a problem with a camera body.

When you have a corrupt memory card, after you recover the data, toss the card out. It is not reliable anymore. It’s too risky to keep using the card.

Chargers for camera, flash units & other accessories

As I said before in digital photography, without power, you are up the proverbial creek.

I recommend buying a battery grip that uses AAs if nothing else, to give you some insurance if you will. You can always run out and easily buy AAs. Proprietary batteries may have longer life but when they run out, you are out of luck.

You probably don’t have to pack the charger with your carry-on if you have a battery grip.

Universal power adapters

kensington11There may be some confusion here.

There is a distinction between power adapters and transformers.

Power adapter don’t do any kind of current conversion.

They only provide the right pins so that you can plug in your appliances.

Note,  not all appliances run on DC-direct current like laptops and camera chargers.

Read the owners manuals.

Manufacturers of cameras and laptops provide circuitry that self-regulate the current through the chargers but depending on where these products are sold, their wall chargers will be different.

Portable storage hard drive drive

If you don’t plan on bringing a laptop, consider a portable storage hard drive.

These are just 2.5″ laptop hard drives with LCDs and portable batteries.

They allow you to transfer your digital files from your memory cards.

Standalone DVD burners

These burners also allow you to transfer your digital image files onto recordable DVDs so that you can erase your memory cards.

If you are abroad and are planning to be away for extended periods.

This would be a great way for you to backup.

You can mail one set of DVDs you burn to your home as insurance. That way if ever your gears is stolen or damaged, the trip won’t be a total disaster.


This can cost you an arm and a leg but if your gear costs a lot, this may be worth it. I would look into your home owner’s insurance to see what is covered.

Safety Abroad

Certain countries have reputations for targeting tourists and most of the time, they are not unfounded. I wish it wasn’t so but being as “low-key” as possible is probably the best way to avoid being a target.

If that means putting your gear away when you’re traveling in public transportation, do so.

You can have a point-and-shoot around in your shirt pocket but leave your digital SLR in a generic canvas bag that doesn’t say Nikon, Canon, Lowe-Pro, Tamrac and so on.

Thieves are sophisticated. They know their brand names. The less the brand name you flash, the better.

Traveling By Car

The less you are seen digging around in your trunk, the better. Always put away your gear before you get out of your car. Thieves tend to be opportunistic and observe hotel guests.

When I used to work for the newspaper, I never lingered or spent a lot of time digging in my trunk. Thieves knew where the press parked their cars. I would leave a sports arena, put my gear in the trunk and drive away especially if it was at night or whenever the neighborhood was questionable. You can always put everything away when you arrive in your home where it will be safer.

I’m don’t travel as much as I used to. I used to work in the airlines. Then I was on planes more often than I was on buses.

Again, suggestions and corrections are always welcome and appreciated.

5 thoughts on “Traveling with your camera”

  1. Brian,
    Thank you so much for that bit of info. $2700 should cover a laptop and a body (depending on what you’re using). I appreciate your taking the trouble to share that.

  2. This might help Andy. I live in the US and just got a Personal Articles Policy from State Farm that covers my gear against theft, accidental damage, and anything else. Only things not covered are intentional damage and war/nuclear attack related damage. Yes, they actually state that in the policy. Only $50 a year for up to $2700 worth of gear. My gear isn’t worth that much but the peace of mind is clearly worth the $50. If State Farm is available in Andy’s area it might be worth checking out. Best wishes!

  3. The TSA is a slight concern as well but I’ve found that being courteous and friendly with them eases the security process. 9.5 times out of 10, I’ll be pulled aside and all my gear swabbed for explosives. Things have gotten much easier now that I carry less film and more digital equipment as there is less for them to swab.

  4. Andy,
    Insurance for photo gear costs a lot. Part of the problem is that photo equipment is so easily stolen especially out of cars. I know that if you belong to some professional organizations like National Press Photographers’ Association or ASMP, American Society of Magazine Photographers, you get some perks like better rates for photo gear insurance. I wish I had more advice and information for you on this.

    Thanks for reading and more importantly, taking the time to post your comment. I’m sure others will find this useful.

  5. Do you have any other insurance recommendations beside checking with home insurance? All I can find on the net are based in UK and they refuse to serve USA residents. And the only USA based one I could find cost 1/2 the worth of my gear for 1 year insurance with basic and international coverage.

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