Welcome to another round of FAQ! This time its a question I get whenever someone notices that I’ve been to such places as New Mexico, Haiti, California, South Carolina & Iceland.
How do you travel with your gear?
Short Answer: On my person, always.
When it comes to traveling I’m always game & because its part of who I am – I always want to document it. While I firmly believe the best camera is the one you have with you & sometimes that means an iPhone wins the day – when I can plan to have my real gear with me, I do so. However, this often means thinking through the best way to protect & transport my gear through airports, crowds, & a variety of outdoor environments.
Anytime I’m given the option I keep my gear on my person or within reach. This means I don’t ever check it voluntarily. It means I rarely leave it in hotels etc, even for the day. Throughout the years of traveling I’ve used a variety of bags to accomplish this – from my rolling ThinkTank which is carry-on sized for domestic flights (but a beast to maneuver into the overhead bins) to my most recent (& favorite) backpack – the F-Stop Kashmir. I decided a while ago that with the exception of destination weddings (where I require my full kit) a backpack was the way to go for me. I like the maneuverability of a backpack & having both hands free. I’ve used several options – a couple LowePro’s served me well for a while but I’ve moved onto the Kashmir now & its customization options + day-pack options + ultralight material without sacrificing ruggedness, make it ideal.
Jamin & I in Iceland – hiking on a glacier with Kashmir 🙂
When thinking through traveling I consider where I’m going & what I’ll be photographing. I try to bring the *right* gear & not much more. Ample CF cards & a way to back-up data is also vital. After that its all about protecting the gear from the inevitable bumps & bruises in a well-padded bag or pack, being aware of physical stressors your environment might put on your gear & then keeping it within sight at all times.
While I personally have never had any issues while traveling I’ve heard multiple horror stories of people unzipping bags & snatching pieces of gear from streets & even walking through crowded airports. One of the security features of the Kashmir that drew me to it is the zipper for the camera compartment faces my back – so I have to either take the bag off or buckle the hip belt & swing the bag around – to get to my gear. Some people would hate this but for me it provides peace of mind. As an added measure I can zip the inner padded compartment if need be which would put two zippered compartments between my gear & the outside world. I can also zip & remove that compartment if I needed to, which is an awesome feature in the event that I need more of a day pack & less camera bag. Plus its pretty comfortable with the waist belt & padded straps.
When flying I make sure to pay attention to the carry-on dimensions & weights but thus far I’ve never had an issue (not even with WOW Air flying to Iceland which is notorious for being super strict). I’ve only ever been asked to gate check my gear once & when I explained (kindly but firmly) to the flight attendant the amount of gear & money inside the bag & that I would need their name & contact info – they found someone else who was willing to gate check ;). Most people don’t want to be responsible for your gear – they get it.
Inside hotels, hostels etc I don’t leave my gear lying around if there’s going to be other people in & out of the room. I keep the bags zipped & out of sight as much as possible or at the very least neatly packed. I try not to draw attention to the expensive gear – especially in lower income areas or countries as this could be a temptation.
I do my best to be cognizant of the environment & carry things that will protect or help me minimize the wear & tear on my gear.
In Iceland – moisture is a problem – so a few months before we left I started collecting the packets of Silica Gel that often come in shipped packages & I tossed them in my camera bag. These things are designed to absorb moisture & they did! I through my extras in a zip-lock & traded them out when they got full. In a place like Iceland there’s no avoiding the water – it comes down, comes up & comes at you – so you just gotta find a way to deal. Professional level cameras are built tough so while I try to manage direct water exposure – they can actually take more than we think. Also in Iceland the cold was an issue – it zaps batteries & can cause fogging issues when going from a warm vehicle to the icy outdoors. I carried my extra batteries in the interior pockets of my coat – as close to my body heat as possible & tried to lessen the number of times I went from heat to cold & back rapidly. This is also one of the reasons I put filters on my lenses – so that when condensation happens its happening on the filter, not on the actual lens.
In Haiti heat was an issue – there is no getting cool in Haiti so I didn’t have to worry about the fluctuations so much but it was just hot & damp. So, again I put Silica Gel packets in my camera bag.
In Charleston sand was an issue. Any photographer will tell you that a couple grains of sand in the wrong places can ruin your whole day & possibly your whole camera so its a big concern. I did my absolute best to not change lenses while on the beach & avoided sitting my camera down on the sand for any reason.
Beyond that I carry good insurance! Because you can’t prevent everything & worrying too much will suck the fun out of any adventure! My business insurance is through State Farm & I have theft protection. Thankfully I’ve never had to test it but it provides peace of mind when I’m gallivanting around the world.