How to Backup and Manage Your Photos When Traveling Without a Computer

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With the summer holiday season coming up, you may have already begun the painstaking process of dividing your equipment into what you will take with you and what will stay home. If you are like me, you will have a hard time leaving stuff behind. The problem is that, whether you are going to backpack in the wilderness or take a plane to an exotic destination, there is only so much weight you can carry with you. So how do you backup and manage your photos without a computer? Let’s have a look.

When hiking high in the mountains, every pound of equipment matters. By Geraint Rowland

Leave the laptop behind

Traveling lightweight is an art difficult to master as it requires a change in mindset. The easiest way to shed some pounds from your luggage is to leave your laptop at home.

At first, it sounds like a crazy idea but, on second thought, it does make sense. “How can I manage my photos without a computer while traveling?” is, in fact, one of the seasonal questions that pop out here and there over the internet every time the holiday season approaches. It is the question I will try to answer in this article.

Smartphone and tablet

The obvious candidates to replace your laptop while traveling are your smartphone and tablet. With the exception of professional photographers on an assignment, most of the tasks we do while on vacation (mailing, social networking, photo sharing and blogging), can be done using any recent smartphone.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - smartphone

Size comparison between a MacBookPro 15”, iPad, iPhone 7 and the RAWPower File Hub device (more on this later). When you need to travel light, every inch and ounce saved matter.

Some of the considerable advantages of smartphones and tablets over most laptops are fairly obvious; smaller size, less weight, better connectivity (gsm, 3g, 4g and gps networks and better battery life, just to name few. They are also easier to hide and keep safe and are typically sturdier than a laptop.

Until recent times, though, the chances of a mobile phone being able to fulfill the needs of the passionate photographer were pretty slim, as backup and raw image management (visualization and editing) capabilities were close to none. Luckily, nowadays there are a number of strategies and gadgets you can use to manage and backup your photos directly from your smartphone.

The “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” strategy

This is the number one strategy suggested on the Internet for how to backup photos while traveling without a computer. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, means you should have multiple SD cards and rotate them so that if one fails, you will still have some photos to show.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - eggs in a basket

Using multiple SD cards allows you avoid putting all your eggs in the same basket, provided you do not store all of your used cards in one place.

While this is a great advice you should always follow, you must understand this is not a backup strategy. Should you lose or damage one card, all of its content will be lost for good. The whole concept of backing up is that you have the same data stored in multiple places, so that if one set of data is lost, you can retrieve it from another source.

The “cloud” strategy

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - cloud

Another strategy often suggested is to upload your photos to the cloud. This strategy has some limitations, though. You must have access to an internet connection other than 3g/4g (you definitely don’t want to use your internet mobile connection for this) and you must have a reasonable amount of data to upload (not overly large), both because of the limited amount of data you may have on the cloud and because, usually, internet connections are much slower for upload than download.

Luckily, there are much more interesting solutions that can be successfully applied when it comes to backup and manage your photos on the go.

The “minimalistic” solution

Currently, many smartphones and tablets have only a fixed amount of internal storage, which is quite limited. But if you have the possibility of getting an Android-based smartphone with an internal micro SD expansion slot and an On-The-Go micro USB port (refer to the phone manual for this), then, by connecting your camera or a card reader to the phone via an OTG cable adapter, you can use an app to backup your photos on micro SD cards inside the phone.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - old phone

My old Sony Xperia Ray has a micro USB slot and OTG usb port. Too bad it cannot be updated anymore, to take advantage of the latest apps. Together with a high-end, pocketable compact camera as my Sony RX100 Mk2, this is is the ultimate solution for the lightweight photographer.

As micro SD cards are cheap, small, light, rugged, and now available with high storing capacity, this is really the perfect solution for lightweight photographers who want to backup their work on the go with minimal gear involved.

Should your phone lack the micro SD slot, but features a OTG micro USB port, then you can still backup and manage your photo by using a USB hub to connect both your camera and storage device directly to the phone.

The “all-in-one” (and rather expensive) solution

If you do not have a OTG USB port on your phone, or prefer to use dedicated hardware, you can get devices such as the Western Digital My Passport Wireless in its basic or PRO version.

These devices allows for direct backup of your SD cards into their internal hard drive. Your images can be accessed from the phone via an ad-hoc wi-fi network. Some models can also act as power banks, allowing you to recharge mobile phones, compact cameras, and other USB devices.

While these systems are certainly good, their price is quite steep, particularly for the casual and amateur photographers who may be reluctant to invest at least $150 USD for a dedicated wireless hard drive.

The “Swiss-knife” solution

If you are on a budget, you should look at the FileHub family of compact and lightweight devices from RAVPower. They are a reputable company mostly known for their power banks.

The latest model of FileHub devices, the RavPower RP-WD03, can be purchased from Amazon for about $40 USD.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - ravpower FileHub

The FileHub RP-WD03 (in black) compared to the more basic model RP-WD01 (in white), having internal battery of 3000 mah and no ethernet port, and my Sony RX100 Mk2 compact camera.

In terms of features, this device is similar to the already mentioned WD My Passport Wireless PRO. It has an SD card reader and USB2.0 port, it create its own wireless network while bridging existing wi-fi networks, and it’s an access point allowing you to share your internet connection with up to five devices.

What makes the RavPower RP-WD03 really interesting if you travel with just your phone, is its ability to act as a portable router, allowing you to turn any wired connection into wireless. Plus, it sports a 6000 mah battery, powerful enough to fully recharge your smartphone and compact camera.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - recharging

Using the RP-WD03 to recharge the battery of my pocketable compact camera Sony RX100 Mk2.

Flexibility is the key

The main difference with respect to the wireless hard drive solution is that the FileHub devices have no internal storage, hence you also need to carry a portable hard drive or flash drive with you.

While this may seem like a drawback at first, it really is an advantage, as you can combine the RAVPower devices with different storage hardware. Thing you may already have like; the portable hard drive you usually take to work the rest of the year, that old unused drive you have sitting in your bottom desk drawer, or a flash drive (you can buy a 128GB pen drive on Amazon for about $30). You can even add a USB hub to connect more USB devices at once.

If you are traveling in a harsh environment, you will appreciate this freedom of choice even more, as you can ditch the somewhat fragile and cumbersome hard drives in favour of a more compact, lightweight and rugged flash drive. Have you ever washed your pants with a forgotten pen drive in your pocket to discover, later on, it still worked just fine?

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer

While backpacking in the wilderness for a winter astrophotography trip, you probably don’t want to have to carry a laptop or an external hard drive along with you.

Options

As for the WD wireless hard drives, a free dedicated app is available for iOS and Android to interact with the FileHub.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a Computer - FileHub Plus app

The File Hub Plus app on the iPad.

I found accessing the RavPower FileHub with the third party app File Browser allows me to not only backup the photos but to preview raw images as well.

Traveling Light - How to Backup and Manage Your Photo on the Go Without a ComputerPreviewing Sony .arw raw files on the iPad, connected wirelessly to the RP-WD03, with the File Browser app (for iOS only).

Tip: In order to speed up the review process, you may want to shoot in RAW+JPG mode using a low/medium setting for the jpg quality. Plus, having your photos in jpg format also makes it easier to edit and share them on social media networks, a blog, etc., right from your phone.

Conclusion

To become a lightweight travel photographer is hard, but not impossible. I hope I have convinced you that it is possible, at least, to leave your laptop behind without regretting your decision. The next, and much harder step to take, will be to acknowledge the fact that you probably do not need to carry all your photographic equipment with you.

Disclaimer: The author is not associate in any way with Western Digital, RAVPower or any other company whose brand has been named in this article. They are simply products he uses personally, and recommends.

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Andrea Minoia

is an enthusiast, self-taught photographer and freelance writer based in Brussels, Belgium. He is mostly active in tabletop photography (food and still life) and studio portraiture, but does not disdain to step outside looking for interesting landscapes. You can follow his work on his personal website or on 500px.

  • ??? ???? (?)

    nice article
    i use Sanho HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA 3 Wireless Storage Device (2TB) it’s much better u can even preview images, full back up or incremental back up. it has access for SD CF cards. mine came with preinstalled SSD drive u can get it without a hard drive and install urs

  • Glad you like the article. Yes, your device is neat… but it also costs almost 500$ 😉

  • Thanks for this article, after I lost my SD cards at a recent trip I have become very cautious.I am glad that you have given various options and one can chose as per the need. I now mostly take a copy in my Phone SD card and wherever I have free WiFi (e .g. hotel where I stay) even if it is slow I try to upload them on the cloud.

  • Great article with lots of suggestions.

    How about the way I do it. Smart phone or tablet with micro usb port and OTG adapter. A small usb hub with built in card reader and a 1tb-2tb portable drive. Connect the drive and smart phone/tablet to the reader/hub. Plug the camera card into the reader/hub. Open a file manager on the smart phone/tablet (like ES File Manager on Android). you will see both the flash card and the hard drive listed. Just copy the files from the flash card to the hard drive and you’re done. Instant backup with only a few small parts and inexpensive if you already have a small backup drive lying around.

  • yes. I have been there. Thanks.

  • That’s a great variation of the minimalistic approach I suggested in the post Thanks

  • Michael Bucknell

    I’ve been travelling through a number of Eastern European countries for the last two months and believe I have a simple and lightweight system that may appeal to some photographers: The Nikon D750 with a 28-300 Nikkor lens. No lens changes needed and it suits almost all situations. I use a Joby Sling camera strap and sometimes carry it all day with ease. This camera features two SD card slots that can be used in a number of ways: Use the second card as a backup and store it separately from the camera gear. I shoot RAW but this camera generates a JPEG file for the viewing screen or WiFi transmission and has built in WiFi which can be used to send JPEG images to my iPhone. The D750 has an inbuilt flash that’s good for fill flash and the camera shoots great video too with adequate sound quality. I left the tripod at home, take one spare battery and the charger so it all fits easily fits into a canvas shoulder bag that’s easy to carry and access on the move.

  • Thank for sharing your experience

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