6 Strategies to Make Sure You Get Those Travel Photos Home

6 Strategies to Make Sure You Get Those Travel Photos Home


Congratulations. You have finally decided to make that big trip on your bucket list. It is natural to get excited in planning the details of the trip from booking the tickets to arranging for tours, excursions, special sites you want to see, hotels, transportation… the list can be exhausting. The one important thing that you, as a photographer, need to consider is how you are going to ensure that you get all of your precious photographs safely home.

We have all heard the horror stories of traveling photographers who have lost images due to a wide variety of reasons ranging from card failure to lost or stolen equipment. While not all circumstances can be avoided there are a number of strategies you can employ while traveling that can ensure you get all of your photos home safely.

Multiple Memory Cards

Travel Storage Strategies-2.jpgMultiple memory cards are a good strategy to have in your approach to travel photography. Purchasing a good quality case to store your CF or SD memory cards can allow you to keep them sorted by locale, or even which ones have been used. Adopting a strategy of changing out your memory cards at a location (similar to what a wedding photographer might do) can mitigate the possible, but unlikely event of a bad card and ensures that you at least walk away with some of your photos.

The difficulty with this strategy is book keeping. If you have a number of high capacity memory cards you may end up with a lot of empty space on them, so purchasing several, less expensive lower capacity cards might be a good idea to minimize the amount of wasted storage by swapping out a half used card. Re-inserting them for another venue is possible, but only adds to the risk of losing images from two places, unless you have made a backup of the previous days images.

Some higher end DSLR cameras have the ability to load multiple memory cards and write to both of them when an image is taken. The Nikon D300s, D3s, D7000, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV or Pentax 645D, to name a few, have dual memory card capability. With this feature you can write your images to both cards and simply store them in different places, minimizing the chance of losing all of your photographs should one of your bags go missing.

Computer Backup

One of the simplest strategies to ensure a permanent record of your trip is preserved is to take your laptop computer along. While this can make it relatively painless for routinely getting the images off of your memory cards, it creates its own kinds of problems.

Laptop computers are not the lightest thing to cart around on a trip. Unless you have invested in a MacBook Air, or a Micro Notebook computer, that extra 5 lbs of computing power is going to start to feel like an extra suitcase once you are into the trip.

Added complications to the laptop solution revolve around security. Having a brand name DSLR can make you a robbery target, but computers are just as lucrative a target for thieves. Not all hotels or hostels will offer adequate security to ensure your peace of mind about leaving your computer behind for the day. Under the most unfortunate circumstances you could find yourself relieved of your camera, your computer and your photographs.

While insurance will replace the hardware, the photographs will be gone forever. So once again, it is wise to retain the photos on the original memory cards and store them in a separate place in you luggage.

Online Backup

If you have gone to the hassle of bringing your computer along, the internet might be a good backup alternative.

If your locale has reasonable internet capacity and upload speeds you have the option of backing up your images to your Flickr site or another online storage site like PhotoShelter, or SmugMug. The limitation of this strategy is the time it takes to make the transfers. Additionally, it might be best to convert your images to a lower jpeg resolution for the transfer if a large number of photos are involved. If you do end up losing the originals, at least some form of photograph will have been preserved and all not lost.

Portable Storage Drive Options

Travel Storage Strategies-1.jpgOne backup strategy that does not require a computer nor internet access is one of several brands of portable memory card viewer/reader storage devices. Models like the Epson P-3000 or the HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA (pictured) have several gigabytes of storage and are capable of reading, storing and viewing most types of memory cards.

Additionally, these units are fully capable of reading and displaying RAW format from most camera manufacturers. Prices for these units range from $300 to over $1000 depending on make and storage capacity. Saving images to one and keeping the original images on the memory cards, stored in a separate location, is an effective strategy. If your hotel has a room safe as these units are small and easily stored in one.

An iPad (or other kind of tablet)

If you are one of the growing number of travellers eschewing a laptop computer in favour of a device like the iPad, you have a readily available storage and viewing device (assuming you did not fill the thing with your entire music library ;-D ) The nice thing about the iPad (in addition to giving you internet, email, music and all of your reading material in one place) is it can be used to store, view and edit photographs. A usb connection to your camera allows for the photos to be transferred to the iPad directly from your camera. Access wifi can allow you to backup the photographs online as well.

iCloud (or any other kind of cloud)

With the advent of cloud technology, upload your images from your iPad or other tablet device, or even your computer to virtual storage is almost automatic. Again, this assumes adequate wi-fi connectivity at your destination, but if available, it can provide a level of automated security for your images that can also allow you to share them almost immediately with others many thousands of miles away.

Many Choices for the Traveller

Regardless of the strategy you employ, with enough front end planning you will have a nice insurance policy in place allowing you to return home with all of your photographic memories.

Doug Pruden is a portrait and travel photographer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has guest blogged with Light Stalking and had his work appear on FlipPhotos. You can read Doug’s own blog on his site at http://prairielightimages.com or find him on Twitter or Instagram.

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Some Older Comments

  • White Petal Wedding Photography January 11, 2012 05:15 am

    Good advice, which also happens to apply to my line of work - wedding photography. Remembering to change memory cards half way through the day is a must, kind of banks all your hard work! Some memoory cards are supplied with a data recovery feature, so shop around.

  • jeorf December 25, 2011 02:41 am

    On my 3 month trip to Brazil last year I brought my little mini laptop, 2 32g flash drives, and 1 500g passport backup drive. It really took very little time to read the cards to the computer and push a copy of them to a flash and to the passport. It was also really fun to look at them in the evening.

    I got talked into not taking the computer to Cambodia and regretted it. I don't trust internet cafe computers but even using the computer at the organization where we were working put viruses on my flash drives. It didn't matter so much when I got home and transferred the material to my mac (it didn't even see the viruses - which was nice except it also didn't make them disappear when I reformatted them. I had to do that on my Dell mini and the whole thing was hours and hours and hours on the phone with microsoft (who, I must say, was very very helpful and patient with me) until it all disappeared (more or less).

    I'll be taking the computer to India this year and doing the same thing. Worked for me. The little card-reader storage devices seem cool but I'd rather spend the $3-500 on the new high-end P&S I'm anxiously trying to decide upon!

  • Maxime Gousse December 24, 2011 02:50 am

    A very interesting subject that I myself covered somewhat here on my blog:


    Obviously, not one single strategy fits the bill. For example, Italy I paid for a 1GB data plan that would not have been enough to sync over the air all my pics.

    The Hyperdrive was very valuable for me. Highly recommended.

  • Cassie December 23, 2011 11:17 pm

    Since most of my travel these days is visiting 'home' (UK from Canada, I simply upload my images to my Mothers laptop and keep the memory card to upload at home. This way, should something happen to my memory cards, Mom can burn a disc and mail it to me. No laptop to carry, no hassle !
    However, a trip to the USA is planned and will most likely result in us taking our laptop, and probably the tablet as well (for our elder daughter to use). I can see that being a heavy bag to carry through the airport ! But will probably take discs to mail copies home in the event of a laptop and memory card meltdown. Cant have too many backups right?

  • Rosanne December 23, 2011 02:20 pm

    I use an iPad for backup of my images while traveling. I shoot mainly in RAW format and these are viewable in Camera Roll and can edited if you wish in Photogene. However, I tend not to edit while away. I backup at the end of every day and separate the used, backed up memory cards from the unused ones. That way, I have two copies of everything. At the end of the trip, I download the images from the memory cards to my computer and back them again (twice) to have three copies. Only then do I clear the memory cards and the images from the iPad. Multiple redundancy is a good thing!

  • ccting December 23, 2011 10:32 am

    iCloud - cloud computing, you can't really determine where you store the images, and I BELIEVE there will be security issue... just guessing. I prefer grid computing. ;D. Unless the "Cloud" is not the real cloud..

  • Matthew December 23, 2011 10:22 am

    I like to burn to DVD. You can use double layer DVD to hold around 8G of data if your laptop can handle them. The reason I like using DVD's is that once you burn them you can store them away from your expensive computer and camera gear, like in a pocket in your luggage, a drawer in the side table, or anywhere really, and while theives may steal your equiptment they are not going to be interested in taking worthless DVD's. Remember theives don't want your photos they just want valuable gear they can sell for cash. This includes hard drives, card readers/storage devices and the memory cards themselves. So if you really want your photos to be safe I recomend burning to disc.Your gear should be insured so that is easy to replace, but you can't replace your photos.

  • Pete Wendt December 23, 2011 09:14 am

    The main point is to cut your risks. I was in the photofinishing busy for many years. I can't tell you how many cases of someone's Wedding got ruined, lost, destroyed, accidentally ruined in development, etc. So here is what i suggest. If it is something REALLY important. I always split it into multiple memory cards, If you can duplicate it, do so. Split up the parts to ship in different suitcases, or different envelopes, or never let them out of your possession. If it were on negatives, you would have them developed on different days. The chance of something going wrong is in direct proportion to the importance of the job!

  • Kate Geary December 23, 2011 07:54 am

    Very interesting discussion. I shoot in raw and might shoot as much as 5 or 6 GB in a typical day. Those of you who upload to an iPad via usb, what is your experience with the amount of time it takes to upload, and how about the transfer time once you get back to your desktop. Any other cautions about using the iPad this way (other than the obvious one of theft)?

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com December 22, 2011 10:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I think this applies not only for travel photos but for any photography job that you do, even professionally. Just like in my line of photography.

    I do car photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com.

    And making sure hte photos make it home is also an essential part of the job. Especially the fast that race tracks are mostly out of town! So yes, it's similar to travelling as well. Haha!

  • Michelle Nahom December 22, 2011 04:39 pm

    Right now I am away on one of those once in a lifetime trips. I have been uploading my card to my iPad daily then uploading to the cloud (not icloud) using Linea, a new app available at the app store. The app is free, but I have an upgraded subscription, currently available with unlimited photo storage, and my photos are saved in full resolution. If I need to download my photos later, I can export them in full resolution. I also can share my photos with family and friends and they can even add their own photos if they are travelling with us. I'll download my cards to my laptop when I get home, and they will also get automatically backed up to an external hard drive when my regularly scheduled backup takes place. But the option to save them through Linea in the cloud gives me peace of mind knowing my photos are backed up and I can get them back even if my hard drive crashes and my external hard drive fails.

  • Angioc December 22, 2011 03:18 pm

    Forget cloud storage. Very impracticable, time consuming and expensive.

    I do not rely in copying from card to computer, then from computer to external drive. I go to an internet cafe or the hotel's internet cafe and burn to dvds and copy to an external ssd drive, direct from the cards while everyone else is asleep. I keep the ssd and send the dvd to a friend's home via mail. Note that the DVDs need to be burnt slowly and are only trustworthy for 5 years as backups. As soon as you get home, copy them to your usual storage mediums.

    I have used a laptop previously but have been concerned about security of accommodation most of the time and also they are a bit prone to damage. Laptops with solid state drives are better off the beaten track.

    If you get a real tablet with no limitations -- not an isteve which does not have a standard usb port and you need to carry around more clutter -- you can hook up a card reader and a solid state external hard drive and copy directly to that.

    You might even get away with a wifi card and zap it off directly to your tablet and sync it with your ssd drive -- would be good to try!

  • David Van Deman December 22, 2011 02:02 pm

    A very good list of possible alternatives for backing up and protecting your images while travelling. not everyone approaches their travels or photography the same way, so I find it interesting and informative to see what options are availalbe...whether it's a pro-level backup portable drive dedicated for photography or an iPad (or other tablet). Thank you Doug, and DPS, for an informative post.

  • Jack Johnson December 22, 2011 01:01 pm

    I generally take my notebook and at least 2 USB-powered external drives such as the Western Digital Passport drives. When I get back to my room at night I back up the cards to my notebook, and from there to the 2 or 3 external drives, which then get stored in different spots (car, room, camera bag) so that unless I lose everything, I should still have my photos. At that point I format the memory cards & get all my gear ready for the next day.

  • William December 22, 2011 12:56 pm

    I take a computer with me when I travel so I can keep in touch. I always take an external hard drive of at least 500GB storage. If I'm going to be gone for longer than a couple weeks I'll burn my photos onto DVDs and then when I get three or four burned I go to the post office and send them home. That way I know that most of my files are safe and that is one less worry for to have to deal with.
    I suppose that if you don't delete the files off of your card then you could just put that in the mail also, after you've backed it up of course.

  • Simon December 22, 2011 11:47 am

    Cloud storage isn't much use, from my own experience. It's too dependent on being able to quickly and cheaply upload large amounts of data, and that's just not the case in much of the world. When uploading a few MB of down-scaled photos to Facebook takes half an hour, you can forget about uploading the contents of a multi-gigabyte SD card...

  • Tyler F December 22, 2011 10:07 am

    My holiday backup solution is from card onto laptop, then from laptop onto external hard drive, then I will delete from the card, I don't want to deal with lots of cards from different days, sometimes, whilst doing some light editing, I might put an image back onto a card, just in case, and I have been known to upload a few photos online as well. I do also take a lot of video though - so I fill up the cards quite quick.

  • Richard Taylor December 22, 2011 06:55 am

    When my wife & I travel we use two Identical portable storage drives (along with 2 power supplies./chargers).
    We do not take a laptop (night time is for for dining out, evening walks, photography etc. Not for me sitting in front of a PC). The data from a days shoot is duplicated to both storage drives and we also do not erase the cards until we get back home.
    My wife carries one of the drives whilst I carry the other. You can keep track of what is on what card by numbering the cards and motes in your travel diary.
    We normally average 100 pics per day (some flying days next to none) and some high intensity days a couple of hundred.
    We have never needed the data from the backup drives.

  • Doug Sundseth December 22, 2011 06:31 am

    A couple of points:

    1) I would recommend that you not use a memory card case that requires you to press-fit the cards into the case. While this reduces the amount of rattling around they'll do, I've had several cards delaminate when pulling them out of the sort of case you show in this article.

    2) If you're a serious photographer, it's possible to use quite a lot of memory on a single trip. (On a recent 5-day trip, I came back with about 40GB of images.) That quantity of data is difficult to store on many small devices and uploading to cloud storage over low-bandwidth hotel internet services is impractical. A 2TB external hard disk can often be found for around $100; one or two of those and a netbook or laptop is fairly practical. Even with that, though, I don't delete from cards until I get home.

  • Gabriel Lapierre December 22, 2011 03:45 am

    is there any way of transfering raw files on the iPad and see the pictures?

    i like the idea of leaving my laptop home and only bring a tablet...

  • raghavendra December 22, 2011 03:10 am

    Traveling is a must for photography
    for recreations, peace and to discover new stuffs
    online back up and portable devices plays a major role!


  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 22, 2011 03:01 am


    We travel quite frequently. I always carry multiple SD Cards for our cameras, a portable harddrive and a laptop. At the end of each day, SD Cards get downloaded to harddrive and also the laptop. Also I never erase or reformat the SD Cards unless they get full. I would hate to lose a series of shots from a great day, like this one from Maui!


  • Peter Garner December 22, 2011 02:24 am

    > Portable Storage Drive Options

    A good option, but make sure your drive can read cards of greater than 2Gb capacity! I found that my fully-functional but old Jobo drive wouldn't read my collection of 4 and 8Gb cards.

  • Mridula December 22, 2011 02:15 am

    You know what? I mostly manage to get the pics home only to lose them when my computers crash and I don't know which hard drive they were on with and who deleted them from where! Not anymore, I have a dedicated hard disk to my self now, no one else is allowed to touch it.

  • Judy December 22, 2011 02:01 am

    What about those wi-fi enabled memory cards? It seems like if you know you'll have access to wi-fi, that you could regularly import photos straight to your computer, no?

  • Average Joe December 22, 2011 01:57 am

    Great tips! Can't wait to use these strategies when I go on an exotic trip someday.
    ...guess I'd better go get myself an iPad. ; )

  • Chris Thompson December 22, 2011 01:44 am

    I LOVE using my iPad for photo storage and backup while I'm on the road. Basic editing is a snap with Photogene and I can upload them directly to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter or wherever else I want them right from the iPad. I also don't have to worry about the security of my memory cards since everything is backed up.

  • Guillermo December 22, 2011 01:21 am

    I don't really get the point of the iPad and iCloud recommendations besides the author probably being an Apple Fanboy. A tablet is never a good tool for storage or image editing if you are talking about serious photography and this website its for people who really invest time in photography. A tablet could be your only tool to storage photos at some point but that does not make it an alternative when you are planning ahead. And iCloud is far to be a serious option for cloud-storage! How is that an OS-specific bounded application can be recommended for photographers?