Last week we talked about What DSRL Lenses to Take when Traveling and in response had another question from the same reader, Trish:
“Thank you for your article on lenses, it’s helped a lot. I was wondering if you might do a follow up article exploring what else I should consider taking on my trip? I want to travel as light as possible but also want to be as prepared as I can. How much should I pack?”
Thanks again for your question Trish. Packing for a trip is a camera bag is a very personal thing and each traveler will have their own preferences as they attempt to balance weight issues with functionality but let me share a few of the items I pack as well as a few other options you might want to consider depending upon your own destination and requirements (Trish is a DSLR user and so am I so this will largely be aimed at people like us, although a lot of it will translate to point and shoot users):
• Extra Batteries – depending upon how many shots you tend to take in a day I find that most digital cameras these days don’t tend to run out of batteries in a days shooting. However it’s always important to have extra batteries for long days and those days when you forgot to recharge your batteries the night before. Some point and shoot cameras will take AA (or different standard size) batteries but I would recommend investing in a couple of sets of rechargeable ones as you’ll end up saving considerable money in the long run with them.
• Recharger – of course when you have a rechargeable battery you’ll want to remember a way to charge it up.
• Power Adapter – if you’re traveling overseas always do a little research before you leave on what power sources they have an what type of adapter plugs you’ll need. Most travel shops will be able to set you up with the right types.
• Cleaning Gear – I generally take some basic cleaning gear including a lens cloth, a cloth for wiping down the outside of the camera and a bulb blower. I don’t clean my own image sensor (I’d rather have a professional handle that delicate part of my camera) but regularly clean the outside of my camera and it’s lenses and filters while on the road.
• Filters – all of my lenses have UV filters (for protection as much as anything) and I generally carry polarizing filters for most of my lenses. These are great for cutting out flare and have a considerable impact when photographing water, glass or sky. I used to travel with warm up filters when I shot with film but find that most other effects can be done these days in post production.
• Flash – external flash units can be very handy to have while you travel although can add significantly to the weight of your kit (and you’ll need more batteries for them of course). The improvement in results from using a dedicated flash that can swivel, bounce and with manual controls are significant over a built in flash. If I’m traveling and do take one with me I generally don’t take it out with my unless it’s night or if I know ahead of time that I’ll need it due to weight considerations.
• Memory Cards – gone are the days of having to haul mountains of film around with you but giving careful consideration to the way you store you images while away is definitely worth some careful consideration. Memory cards come in a large variety of capacities in most cases ranging from small ones (my first camera came with a 16MB card) through to cards with gigabytes of memory. One might be tempted just to get the largest size available but should consider the risks of this approach also. What if your card becomes damaged, what if it’s stolen, what if you lose it? In any of these scenarios hundreds and hundreds of photos will be lost unless you have some sort of a backup plan. The options for combatting such loss are many. On my last trip abroad I came across people who were doing everything from sending images home via email (imaging the bandwidth) to backing up photos on their iPods, to using multiple memory cards so if they lost one they’d still have some photos from their trip. Whatever your strategy (I’ll write a post on more of the options in the weeks ahead) you’ll need to pack the equipment concerned.
• Camera Bag – personal preference also comes into play here. If you are traveling with a few lenses, filters, flash and more you’ll need something that is reasonably sizable. Backpacks might be an option for you, although they are not easily accessible for quick lens changes. Should slinging bags can be more accessible but are probably not as good for your back. I have both a backpack and shoulder bag (the Crumpler one pictured which is available at Amazon. They also make bigger and smaller ones) which I swap between depending upon the trip I’m taking. The main thing is to pick something that fits everything in and that is comfortable. You should also consider how weather proof the bag is as well as how much it looks like a camera bag (and therefor makes it a target for theft). Another option that some photographers use is to take two bags – one to transport your gear with on travel days (ie as hand luggage on a plane) and the other which you use on a day to day basis for taking what you’ll need that day (usually smaller and lighter). To be honest, I’ve never found the perfect bag or combination (as much as I’ve searched) – if you find one, let me know.
• Tripod – I tend not to travel with a tripod or monopod these days (although have once or twice if I was traveling in a car and not going overseas). Instead if shooting in low light I tend to find fence posts, use my camera bag or find other stationary objects along the way to support the weight of the camera. Some use the mini tripods that are all the rage these days, but they tend to be best with lighter point and shoot cameras than larger and heavier DSLRs.
• Point and Shoot – some DSLR users back a compact point and shoot camera as well. This is for those nights when they hit the town and don’t want to haul all their gear around with them but want to record the night. This is a bit of a luxury and indulgence really but if you’ve got the camera and want the flexibility – why not?
Of course with all of this gear on top of your lenses and camera body you might also need to bring some sort of small vehicle or to hire a porter. Seasoned travelers work out after a trip or two that ultimately you can get by on a lot less than you might initially pack for a trip. On most occasions after I pack for a trip I then challenge myself to remove at least one or two items. Usually by the end of the trip I’m glad that I have!
PS: Don’t forget to make sure your travel insurance covers your equipment!
Update: Get everything You need to Know about Travel Photography in our New Guide
Since publishing this post we’ve put together an eBook specifically on Travel photography called Transcending Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography.