Buy Less Gear: Travel and Experience More

Buy Less Gear: Travel and Experience More


Sure as the sun will shine tomorrow, there is some photographer sitting at home right now reading reviews and looking at photos online from that new lens or camera body they just must have. Forget one, there are thousands doing it. Maybe even you just took a break from shopping gear to read this article now.

We live in an age of immediate gratification, where the things we can tangibly see and possess with greater speed grab our attention. For amateur and professional photographers alike, that urge often manifests itself in the form of gear. A new lens, light, body, trigger, monitor, software – we often work ourselves up to a fevered pitch, convinced that we need these new items. While it’s true many times the right lens or light can really help advance a technical image you’re working to create, most of the time we just want the item because we want it.

American humorist and Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald once said, “the best things in life aren’t things.” I like to think the best things in life are where we can go, who we meet and what we can experience in the short time we are given. Indeed a recent New York Times article, “But Will It Make You Happy?” showed that many people are much happier when they buy less and instead do and experience more with their money.

The day you stop worrying about what you can buy, and instead turn your attention to where you can go and what you can experience will be one of the happier days of your life.

Now I’m not advocating for you to head to your local camera store, sell of all your gear and hop a flight shoeless to a foreign land, but rather to consider how you spend your money on gear. I like to have just enough gear to cover my frequent and basic photographic needs, and then renting equipment I will need for specific, infrequent jobs. Yes, a brand new D3s would be a wonderful thing to have, but the reality is in all but the rarest of jobs do I need such a top of the line piece of equipment.

Think of the places you could go and the experiences you could have if you spent your money on travel instead of every single piece of gear you think you need. You’ll have plenty of photos to cherish. The memories of our journeys stick with us throughout our lives. In fact, years down the road we’ll even remember a mediocre travel experience as a fond one. It’s funny how memory works that way, but thankfully we remember the positive things, ultimately influencing our view of the world.

Traveling doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive either if you know where to look. I almost exclusively find all my flights and hotels through Their new Explore feature allows you to pick your home city and then view a map with flight prices over locations all across the globe. Keep your mind open and you could find a great fare to somewhere you might never have thought to go before. There are lots of travel sites and services out there, be sure to search around all of them or subscribe to special fare alerts.

So think before you obsess over that new piece of gear. Ask yourself if you really need it, or would a trip somewhere around the world be a far more rewarding use of your hard earned money.

As St. Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Immerse yourself in the chapters of the globe.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • Rob Mack May 17, 2013 10:10 am

    I'm afraid I disagree..

    First Buy and EOS5DMK3 and an L series lens...then travel

    The difference between a the 5MK3 and all my previous cameras and lenses, is worth missing going on holiday for a year or two!

  • Michael C December 17, 2010 06:02 am

    What Matthew is highlighting is when having to choose between buying the latest gear or traveling with what you've got lean in the direction of travel.

  • Xavier September 18, 2010 12:12 pm

    @ major bokeh
    you just hit on the nail.

  • Major Bokeh August 23, 2010 02:02 am

    I think the best idea is to have all the best gear AND travel anywhere you want. Why sacrifice either?

  • Didit Mehta August 21, 2010 08:44 pm

    completely agree... since I already have complete gears, now its about time to spend more on locations, on teaching photography (actually you learn more when you teach in class...), learning from the experts (videos, seminar, workshop). Having a good gear is nice since you have the arsenal, but to win the war you definitely need experience... hope I've read this insight sooner

  • Jim August 21, 2010 11:54 am

    Great Post, you would be surprised how good you can do with what you got. Travel is the ultimate Classroom.

  • Jimmy August 21, 2010 02:26 am

    I just need about the right mix of stuff, and I am done equiped for travel shoot. Now that I have the 18-270mm, hoped that i can understand it well enough to produce good shots. In my small bag now is a CIR-PL, a remote cable release and a 500D close up filter (for certain close up only). Happy shooting.

  • Hendro Hailana August 20, 2010 11:48 pm

    Hi John M, you already proved Matthew article with your picture. I just looked at some of your pictures and really like the way you took them. Very good bro. Talent and skill are more important than the gears.

  • Scott Thomas Photography August 20, 2010 10:49 pm

    What a great discussion! Glad some of you will get out and about near your homes. It has been immensely fun and satisfyingly for me to do. If anyone is interested, my blog is filled with people, places and events from upstate New York (with a few other travel destinations). Might give you some ideas of what to look for around your Earthly domains.

    Karen Stuebing, that is a beautiful park! Will be looking forward to some fall foliage on your blog later this year.

  • Karen Stuebing August 20, 2010 10:08 pm

    I don't have a lot of photo gear. I bought a 18-250mm lens for my Pentax K10D. Yes, it has shortcomings but I find I almost never swap out lenses except for the old 35mm from my film Pentax camera.

    I still have and use my Olympus C5050Z. It has a very fast lens so I basically use it for indoor shots.

    As for traveling, well, us poor folks don't have a lot of disposable income to spend on either camera gear or trips abroad.

    I like what Scott said too. I live in West Virginia which is a huge tourist destination and I am embarrassed to say I stay pretty close to home when I could spend 2-3 hours in a car and visit some awesome parks. So that will be my affordable goal for travel.

    Babock State Park with it's wonderful Glade Creek Grist Mill that virtually everyone except me has a photo of in the fall.

    And I do want an Olympus E-PL1 like David.

  • Kelly Carsen August 20, 2010 09:47 pm

    Dying people have said that they wish they had spent more time traveling and interacting with different cultures. Not one has ever said they wish that they had had a new car every year or a bigger house.
    Thank you for this reminder.

  • Alma August 20, 2010 03:44 pm

    What a refreshing article! I feel the same way. It is experience that grows a person. I've been enjoying occasionally leaving my canon 5d in it's case and pulling out my iPhone to snap a quick picture. Sure the quality is less, but it reminds me that it is important to enjoy the moment and live out of the lens a little sometimes. My wife and I have been planning for one big trip a year for the rest of our lives, and it's an exciting prospect. I also really like what Scott Thomas said above and think I will be exploring closer to home more often.

  • Alma August 20, 2010 01:37 pm

    What a refreshing article! I feel the same way. It is experience that grows a person. I've been enjoying occasionally leaving my canon 5d in it's case and pulling pub my iPhone to snap a quick picture. Sure the quality is less, but it reminds me that it is important to enjoy the moment and live out of the lens a little sometimes. My wife and I have been planning for one big trip a year for the rest of our lives, and it's an exciting prospect. I also really like what Scott Thomas said above and think I will be exploring closer to home more often.

  • John M. August 20, 2010 01:27 pm

    Yeah I just came back from Bali shooting with only a D60 and two lens. Pretty happy with the outcome ( ).

    When tempted to update anything I have a look at good photographer's work from a few years ago shooting with what would now be considered obsolete equipment . . . I think to myself "if my work is not up to that standard there's still room for improvement".



  • Sam Obeid August 20, 2010 01:11 pm

    Couldn't agree an ideal world one would have the latest gear and explore a new place!

  • DavidOB August 20, 2010 12:07 pm

    I recently took a trip to Asia with a Canon 7D and four lenses (I used two). Never again. Great images, but too much heavy hardware.

    Next trip I'm shopping for probably an Olympus E-PL1 and only taking two lenses.

  • Pio Danilo P. Cuadra August 20, 2010 12:01 pm

    Yes definitely a good article. I went to Shanghai (2008), Beijing(2009) and Singapore(2010). In each of these places I brought my Lowepro fastpack 350 full of gears; Canon EOS 40D, Canon EOS 1N, 70-200 2.8L USM, Sigma 24-70 2.8 EX DG, Sigma 50-500 EX DG HSM and Speedlites 580 EXii & 430EX. Man, the nearly 20kgs will really drain you and the muscle cramps and pains will take toll on your body. Im planning to bringing only a few gear next year in my next foreign trip.

  • Nomad Baby August 20, 2010 11:12 am

    I can't express how important it has been for our family to ditch the stuff and travel. Normally we wouldn't consider ourselves incredibly adventurous, eccentric, or minimalist. So when we sold our belongings to travel with our 2-year old, it was a substantial decision.

    I would never take it back. My entire mentality of want, want, want has changed completely even now that we are back in the states.

    I also have to agree about getting out there. I try to post a picture a day to, and I find times when I don't have any pictures to share. Why? Because I'm spending too much time inside reading or browsing photography stuff. I'm never going to get a good shot if my camera's not in hand, shutter ready.

    Sidenote: I have always "liked taking pictures" and felt absolutely spoiled to get a Canon Rebel Xti as a graduation gift. I've always had a hard time wanting more when this camera already seemed like such an investment.

    I just completed my first photography course, and I felt embarrassed walking around with a more basic Canon model and the kit lens. But in the end, it hasn't impacted me too much, because I know that I'm traveling around the world capturing memories they may never see.

  • Chris August 20, 2010 11:12 am

    I'd love to travel as there really isn't anything on my "lust list." I just need the time. Working retail does not afford me consecutive days off to travel far from home.

    I like this article as we do get caught up in the next piece I am missing from my camera bag. Or do I need a new camera bag to fit the next piece. Makes more sense to stop travelling on that merry-go-round and go out and do what we love and that is go out and take pictures to share with friends/family or whomever else wants to have a look.

  • Teresa August 20, 2010 11:05 am

    The only thing I really want right now for gear... an upgraded zoom type lens. My idea is always to travel light when possible. I have a P&S but prefer the pics from my Nikon D300s. What I have is an 18-135 kit lens and would love to upgrade that to the 18-200. It may not be everyone's "perfect" lens, but it gives a huge range of shot possibilities without having to carry a ton of lenses. In the meantime - all I really need to do is unplug my husband from work more often so we can travel. We haven't done enough of that in our lives. If I was a pro it would be different. But as an amateur photographer, the less I have to carry the happier I am.

  • Nate August 20, 2010 07:39 am

    Thank you Matthew for that insightful piece! Well written and somehow inspiring!

    I promise, once I've got my computer, 50mm lens, new camera body and remote shutter release, my buying is DONE;)

  • Matthew Dutile August 20, 2010 07:04 am

    Just a clarification. I'm not saying don't buy ANY new gear. I've certainly upgraded my gear and it has served me well to do so. I'm just saying before clicking away think carefully about purchasing something you may not really need. Like a lens you're only going to use for 1-2 shots and then forget about in your camera bag. Think of how you could be spending that money traveling elsewhere. For the price of two good lenses, I can book trips to Hawaii, Peru and Rome for a week each.

  • Ed F August 20, 2010 07:00 am

    Dang it! Where was this article a week ago...BEFORE I bought that new lens!

  • Jen at Cabin Fever August 20, 2010 06:46 am

    Its posts like these that make me feel good about the fact that I have so little gear, but still get as many, if not more, compliments and fans of my work than some who have thousands of dollars invested. Money doesn't buy talent.

    ...but sometimes that new lens WILL make you happy ;-)

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • rebekah August 20, 2010 06:00 am

    AMEN!!! Great article!! :)

  • Scott Thomas Photography August 20, 2010 05:41 am

    As a person who just upgraded his camera body (first in 5 years), I have been enjoying traveling in between with two long trips planned for the fall.

    I would like to add that traveling does not have to be done over long distances or by plane. I have been exploring my home state of New York over the last three years taking long weekend trips to wonderful places. Some as close as 30 miles from my home. My point is, even your home town is a travel destination to somebody. Explore it that way and whole new experiences open up for you and your camera.

  • Steve August 20, 2010 05:27 am

    This is by far one of the best posts I've ever read on this site. I think we get overly caught up in gear all too often. I wouldn't be nearly as interested in photography if it wasn't for travel.

    That being said, sadly, I believe some people actually enjoy pursuing and buying gear more than they actually enjoy traveling.