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Digital Photo Storage On the Road

Today Peter Carey explores different photo storage options for when you are traveling.

Copyright William Hook It’s very easy today to take more pictures in a single week long vacation than ever imagined possible ten years ago. For one thing, not many people had digital cameras ten years ago and those that did had a lot of problems with ample, cheap storage. Compact Flash and SD cards weren’t as inexpensive and voluminous as they are today. And yet today, images coming directly out of the camera can regularly exceed 10MB or more.

As I see it, there are two main paths to take when a vacation is planned and the camera will be tagging along. Either purchase more memory cards or purchase a digital storage device. I’d like to take a look at both options and lay down some pros and cons to help you decide which path might be right for you.

Portable Storage Devices

Portable Storage Devices(PSD) are what their name describes; a harddrive in a case that lets you transfer storage card data without a computer, and is easy to carry around. Most of these devices a bit bigger than an iPod (you can even use and iPod with an adapter), weigh less than two pounds and range in price from $100-$400.


  • Ample storage, ranging from 20GB-120GB+
  • Read many different cards
  • Some have viewing screens to review and edit images
  • Various models have video/audio out cables to use the unit as a slideshow viewer on a standard TV
  • Most run on AA batteries which are available everywhere


  • All your eggs in one basket. If the drive goes missing, you’re out of luck.
  • Extra batteries needed
  • They can be bulky in a day bag
  • Time spent transferring can vary from a few minutes to a quarter hour or more
  • If the unit has a sealed battery chamber, you’ll need to bring a charger along

Personally, I use a PSD on longer trips. While the size can be an issue, I use a stripped down version sans image playback and other bells and whistles so battery life with a set of rechargeable AA’s well worth it. While it is not something I’d take hiking, it works well for all other trips. My unit also has a user replaceable harddrive allowing me to upgrade size when my needs exceed capacity. Or, if I were on a longer trip, I could swap out the harddrive midway through a trip.

Multiple Storage Cards

This idea seems straightforward enough but can have some trade offs to using a PSD.


  • Lighter, more compact
  • Easily adjust size depending on trip (take a few or multiple cards)
  • Little initial investment, only buy what you need
  • Expandable while on a trip as cards are available in all major cities
  • Can be shared with friends on a trip
  • Easy to send home when full


  • A storage pouch or hard case is still advisable, adding bulk
  • A system is needed to make sure cards aren’t overwritten (easier with cards such as SD that have a tab to lock the card)

It may seem the Con list is a bit light, however the last point is the deal breaker for a lot of travelers. The fear of overwritting precious memories can be too great for some and if you’re normally a disorganized traveler, the thought of six or seven cards bouncing around loose in the bottom of your bag can send shivers up your spine.

There are two other options which can be used with either idea above. They are quite simple: don’t overshoot and delete on a daily basis. Overshooting is more of a habit than an accident with today’s camera abilities. Stopping to accurately compose and meter a setting before snapping a picture can save a lot of space and organizational headache when you return from your trip. But if your finger gets a little too trigger happy anyway, take some time each evening to delete all the duplicate or bad images. While this may seem like it’d take time away from the vacation while you’re on it for a task better left at home, the 15 or 20 minutes of reflecting on the day helps put things in perspective and can slow down a busy vacation.

Keep watching DPS for a future post helping you choose a personal storage device.

Peter is an avid photographer who enjoys travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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