Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
A Guest Post by Taylor Roades
In April of this year I completed a four-month backpacking trip across China and South East Asia followed by about a month bussing on the greyhound across Canada. I am a professional photographer with a lot of gear and yet I completed the trip with a school sized backpack and a large purse. Seriously.
This article will focus primarily on my photo gear but all my clothing, toiletries, travel documentation, and laptop fit in those bags as well.
There are thousands of sites that will most likely recommend between a 65 and 80L backpack. Which is great for everything, except carrying. I needed to be mobile, and have easy access to my camera equipment. Traveling light was imperative to me and I understand it may not be for everyone but it made the difference to my photography and my trip.
1. Arriving – When you first arrive in a new city or location you have the luxury of going out for a meal or meeting a friend without dropping your things at a hotel or hostel. You are able to price shop without the literal weight of having to agree to the first bed you see just to drop your pack.
2. Carry On Luggage – When you are carrying expensive gear carry-on luggage is a must. I did not check a bag on any of my eight flights around Asia and never once had anything stolen. Traveling light means that you can keep an eye on your belongings at all times because you don’t need to store anything below the plane or the bus. (This is especially important if you are busing the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route – this overnight route is notorious for having cash and other valuables stolen from below the bus.)
3. Photographing – Does better equipment make you a better photographer? After a certain level I would argue no. With less equipment you are forced to read light, and subjects and the scenery with more precision. When you are forced to use what you have to the best of your ability you push yourself as a photographer no longer hiding behind gear.
It is easier to pull out of your bag on a moments notice. If your camera is buried beneath layers and layers stuff the less likely you’ll one, put the effort into pulling it out, and two pull it out in time to get the shot.
Finally, getting off the beaten path might only be done on motor bike or by foot and where are you going to store 80Ls worth of stuff then? Travel light and go places where other tourists don’t. Your travel shots will stand out on originality alone.
Everyone’s shooting style is different and so this is a difficult section to really advise on. But I will tell you. If you are thinking about bringing equipment “just-in-case” don’t – I sent my flash home in the mail from Thailand. I am a natural light photographer. I always have been and I have a flash just in case. I thought it was a good idea to bring along but after two months of zero use. I shipped it to my home in Toronto from the Thai – Cambodia border. If you find yourself in a situation where you could have used it, change your attitude and get creative. Find an alternative and this will make you better. Thinking on the fly is an incredible skill to have.
If I could do it all over again my kit would include
*I carried a 13” Macbook and two external hard drives. I was constantly downloading images and clearing cards.
Taylor Roades is a professional wedding and documentary photographer. Her summer wedding commissions are based out of Toronto Canada and in the winter travels internationally to work on projects across the globe.
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September 23, 2013 07:39 am
Great advice. I just moved from Canon 40D to Canon 6D. But the 6D does not come with built-in flash. So was mulling if I should buy a Speedlite. Reading your article I realized I too have a general preference for natural light photography. And the 6D manages well in low lights through its high ISO and enhanced sensor capabilities. Unfortunately the 28-105mm and the 100-400mm USM lenses continue to weigh me down.
August 1, 2012 03:37 am
When I went to S Africa recently I packed my (all Nikon) D300, 10.5, 50, and 18-200. Also my beloved Ricoh Gr Digital I plus optical viewfinder. I am going to Australia next Feb/March and might take the same except change my 50 for my newly acquired 24.
OR I might just get a Fuji X1o and take it! Even more so for our next trip - NYC and a (US) Civil War tour.
July 19, 2012 06:14 am
@Alvin so sorry about not being clear. My advice on a tripod is bring a good one or not one at all. I tried to skimp out and it was basically useless.
@Phil Yes just one body. I was going to be around big enough cities - Shanghai, Bangkok, Beijing, Saigon. I could have fixed my body if it came to that.
@Oz The jeans started with me in China where I knew it was going to be cool. They were ripped to shreds by the time I arrived in Saigon and the weather started to get warm and I got rid of them. The black pants were bought in Vancouver when I arrived back in Canada for the end of winter. In between that I bought and gave away clothing as I needed it and as I wore it out. The black coat is just a shell and I had it the entire trip for rain, an extra layer etc. Shoes wise I had those keds (close toed shoes the entire time. By the end of the trip they were goners and I had gone through three pairs of sandals.) Not great walking shoes, and I am sure there are better options but that is just what I got by with.
July 17, 2012 02:02 am
My only question is.....Just one body? It would seem to me that when you go to remote places you might want that additional body just in case.
July 16, 2012 02:22 pm
When you mentioned your faulty tripod, what do you really imply there? Did you wished you could have brought another tripod instead of a 6 incher? - I use a benro cf convertible travel tripod, its about 15 inch when folded but i still find it cumbersome and wish for a rather smaller tripod, -yet rewarding when carried on
July 14, 2012 12:46 pm
@Tom on Travel - Would love to see your shots and that is the same outlook as me on souvenirs! Thanks for adding to the discussion. I think a macbook air would be perfect - and your right you adapt to manage.
@wiliwan - Loved Chiang Mai great city, so beautiful. Actually the very first photo at the top of this post was taken at a temple just outside of the city of Chiang Mai.
@Michael Hughes - definitely I know it is temping because if you had a 300mm I'm sure you would find use for it but there are so many other reasons to travel light :)
Thanks so much for the comments everyone!
July 14, 2012 12:46 pm
Taylor - I have done lots of adventure travel and am good at packing light but a back pack and tote bag is nothing short of amazing! I have the camera equipment down but I find it hard to believe you could fit all of your clothing and toiletries into those two bags. In the photos, I see two jackets, jeans and snow pants. What about shoes? I need lessons:-) I'm with Tom on souvenirs - take photos not stuff...
July 14, 2012 04:59 am
Interesting read as I'm travelling at the moment - six months in and about a year to go. In Indonesia at the moment. I don't travel light: amongst my stuff I've got two flash units, light stand and shoot through umbrella. I have great fun with it and use it about every other day: but that's all about preference and what you're looking to achieve. Like taking a single prime, you adapt and manage with what you bring. I think the point where there is no or an 'un' benefit to taking an additional piece of gear differs slightly for everyone.
A few things I've found handy generally, not only for photo stuff - gaffer tape and epoxy glue to fix almost anything, zip-lock sandwich bags - cheap water proof bags, a 1kg MacBook Air 11" that runs LR and PS well enough if you have an ounce of patience now and again , and otherwise buying most things after I left (clothes, non-essential can-survive-withouts): better suited to local conditions and so so much cheaper.
Souvenirs - depending on where you're from and where you are, there are often decent rates available for sea shipping. It might take a few months, but allows you to buy souvenirs without your bag getting heavier all the time. Also, might be nice when you get back to have some packages waiting for you. I find my souvenirs tend to be RAW files though :D
July 13, 2012 11:16 pm
I love your traveling light tips! I am not a professional photographer, but I always take a lot of gear with me when traveling. Then I use just one or two lens and not even touch the flash!
Did you enjoy Chiang Mai? Hope you like it there :)
July 13, 2012 07:58 pm
great post, and shots.
I'm only missing polariser filters.
personaly i cary a small tripod when possible or leave in the luggage.
July 13, 2012 05:30 pm
This is great reminder.
Over the last couple of years I have grown to a full packpack - on many trips I lug it our of the cupboard and just take my SLR body and a 35mm prime and put it into a shoulder sling pack...thats it.
Telephotos, extension tubes, tripods, remotes, 300mm, 200mm, etc ,e tc all have thier place, but we have to resist dragging it all everywhere !!
I would agree spare cards and batteries are the most important accessories
July 13, 2012 02:49 pm
Love it! Your travel list is almost identical to yours. Good to know I'm doing something right.
July 13, 2012 12:03 pm
Interesting, until I started using the Fuji XP1 I would have considered your light list about the minimum too. Now I take 1 body (XP1) and three lenses 15, 28, & 40, some cards and another battery + charger. The massive Canon DSLR sits at home for my sports events. I have also heard of people sending cards home to themselves in the post, have you ever tried that, or what is your opinion here.
July 13, 2012 02:00 am
@Bethany - Haha I did have a few changes of clothing. It was easier when I hit hot weather and could get rid of the pants and heavy sweaters. I had about four shirts, though this varied. As I wore them out I got rid of them bought new ones. One pair of pants, one sweater, one rain jacket. The minimal clothing wasn't so much of a problem as restraining myself from not buying souvenirs.
@Peter Thanks so much for the blog post - I just glanced quickly but I plan on reading it in full when I finish this comment!
@Osmosis - Good point. My photo gear took up the majority of what I carried but maybe because I'm used to carrying a lot more around on a wedding day I thought it was traveling light. After a long day of walking and photo taking I would feel the weight for sure and might choose to have my photo gear in my back pack instead of tote just to make it easier and distributing the weight. The photo gear covered pretty much all the possible situations I got myself into and but your right in the sense that if you aren't used to that much gear it would seem like a lot.
July 12, 2012 03:13 am
i would loved to have read about what else she took besides photography equipment on a trip that lasted that long. I'm trying to imagine what would have fit in a school backpack besides the camera, lenses, computer, cords, and external hard drives. Maybe she wore the only clothes she took?
July 12, 2012 02:35 am
Great suggestions Taylor. I commented on your post at my blog www.peterwestphoto.com and made some suggestions about how to travel even lighter for my readers. Nice to see you're just down the road as I'm in Oakville.
July 12, 2012 12:36 am
@marco - I brought a lens pen to clean my lenses and to be completely honest my sensor got very dirty. All major cities have camera shops that will do a cleaning for you you just need to look. No filters, and my backpack had a rain cover that was attached to a bottom pocket. So if I was out walking in the rain I could cover my packed away gear.
July 11, 2012 11:37 pm
Interesting. I used to live and shoot in Asia and have travelled around Africa a bit. The kit you used - including the computer and drives, adapter etc. - would certainly take up a bit of space in your baggage, and weigh a bit too! Wasn't carrying it around all the time a bit of a strain?
Spending 5 months on the road means you must have developed quite a system for clothing, washing and other needs, and it would be interesting to get more details of your techniques, especially as you experienced hot and cold weather. As you point out that your bags were relatively small, and you don't look like a weightlifter in your photos!
July 11, 2012 05:52 pm
Good post! I traveled in many countries with my girlfriend on motorbike and our packings were always light. Sometime extremely light. The only concession is the camera stuff...
Here one photo of Nako (3660 mt) in north India. We traveled on motorbike and we slept in the temples for a month.
July 11, 2012 04:27 pm
Thanks for sharing.
Was curious: what sort of cleaning kit did you put together for your trip? Anything to handle dust on sensor? Did you bring any rain or other bad weather protection?
Recommend any filters?
July 11, 2012 11:13 am
Thanks for the comments everyone.
@Richard - what an incredible trip that must have been! By the end of my trip I was ready for a closet.
@Mei Teng - I've thought about that too just for short trips anyways
@Energized - Thanks so much - made my day.
July 11, 2012 10:19 am
Packing light is the way to go. I have been thinking of purchasing a high end compact for travel instead of lugging my heavy slr in a backpack (which adds a weight of 4kg on me). For a petite person like me, it was like carrying a bag of rocks!
July 11, 2012 09:35 am
Learning good handheld techniques (and use of ISO) can lighten the load a bit as well.
July 11, 2012 08:26 am
On our first overseas vacation as a family (2 adultts + an 11 year old) we left home to travell around the world for 8 weeks (Australia - USA - England - Europe - Australia) with just carry on baggage only for each person. We used buses and rental cars.
Photography wise I took a video camera and a Canon SLR (film) with a standard zoom lens.
After 5 weeks my wife decided she wanted a suitcase with wheels and a bit more room.
July 11, 2012 06:52 am
Going to France by car this year my gear will be my 7D+24-105L+100-400L and my 50mm for low light. 2 batt's plus charger. 3x16gb cf's, My Asus tablet with 80gb usb ext hd and card reader. White DIY flash defuser and my Manfrotto 055/pro tripod. Would love to take more but space is limiting (Tent+gear and kid stuff) My camera bag, slingshot 200 is always with me.
In Africa I would carry everything in a metal box as we were always driving a big 4x4 car there. Plenty of space and safe storage at night!
July 11, 2012 06:50 am
Everyone who knows me, will agree; I jump at any chance to grab a day pack and go somewhere with a couple of cameras (one video and one still). It's what I live for. I envy you being able to travel across the many miles.
Terrific photos and a great post. Thanks, Taylor.
July 11, 2012 05:23 am
Something that I would like to share here.
July 11, 2012 03:53 am
In what world is a a body with 3 lenses, laptop, and tripod travelling light? Those aren't very small lenses either (the 45 TS especially).
You want small? D300s + 40mm f/2.8 macro. That's travelling light.
Your "light" is not light. it resembles my "take everything" travel kit, when Im feeling ambitious: D300s, 10-24, 18-70, 40, 70-300, flash. It's not something I would recommend to anyone that isn't already used to it.
July 11, 2012 03:34 am
I like to travel light, especially in urban setting where large lenses and stable tripods can get in the way and draw sometimes unwanted attention. I like the Gorilla Pod from Joby for some urban work - it is small, portable and resonably stable for when you are in low light. This picture was taken with a Nikon D90 on a Gorilla Pod inside this church....turned out OK!
July 11, 2012 03:14 am
Hi. I am just curios, so what did you actually bring and have used during your adventure trip? thanks. Harold
July 11, 2012 02:20 am
I loved this article. And while I am no pro I faced a variation of this. I was hiking up to the Everest Base Camp and after a while the altitude just messed me up so badly that I could hardly take pictures except for the flash off mode. 12 of them still made to a stock agency but I have not got a good answer to this as of now.
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