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Let me first address the obvious that while this article talks about safety tips for women photographers, it does not mean that these tips don’t apply to men as well. Most are general tips that could be applied to both genders. Being a woman photographer who has started to venture out alone for photoshoots and solo photowalks, these are things that I notice and practice as I do travel photography.
It all started with a single trip. A couple of years ago while visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the US, I decided to flex my muscles and go for a solo hike with my young kids. This was supposed to be a bonding experience as well as a confidence booster that I could do this alone. So off we went, water bottle and camera in hand to hike a two to three mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.
Half way into the trail, my confidence took a nose dive, as I realized I had done several stupid things – I vaguely remember telling my husband the actual trail we were going to take, we only had one bottle of water among the three of us, I was carrying 20lbs of photo gear and I had no emergency kit or even a phone. My kids, then 7 and 3, were hot and cranky and there was no end in sight. In my paranoia of either being attacked by a bear or a crazy psychopath on the trail, we literally sprinted the entire way. Thankfully, my husband had started off at the other end of the trail and met up with us. While it was an adreallian pumping, nerve racking experience, it did make me realize that with a few simple tips, one can travel smart, safe and actually have a wonderful time.
There is no lack of informational resources for someone wanting to travel anywhere in the world. Between maps, guide books and online forums we can pretty much take a virtual tour in our pajamas and not have to leave the comfort of our homes. But if you are anything like me, the wanderlust bug is very prominent and the urge to escape the clutches of everyday life too urgent to ignore. Make sure you know everything there is to know about the place you want to visit. Scope out all the possible locations that interest you in detail. There are many online photography and travel forums where you can post questions around photographic opportunities for specific locations.
This is one of those business expenses that may seem like it is discretionary but trust me, it is absolutely critical especially if you plan to travel extensively. Having that peace of mind that your gear is as protected as it can be is very liberating.
With a camera in one hand and a map/guide book in the other, chances are you already stand out from the local crowd. Try not to make it more obvious in the way you dress or behave. The smart thing to do is to blend in with the locals. Dress like the locals wherever possible, then if you have done your research and planned out your excursion you don’t need to hold on to the map (a sure giveaway that you are a tourist).
This seems like a no-brainer but often times is easily overlooked. It’s one of those travel smart strategies that could literally save a life. This is one time when having a game plan for where you want to go, and when you want to get there is advisable particularly for solo travellers. Avoid changing plans on the fly – especially if you have taken the time to research and scope out the best photographic opportunities for your trip. If you have to change travel plans, make sure changes are communicated to the right people, at the right time.
Lets face it – this is life, not a scripted, rehearsed, movie set. Chances are things are going to go wrong – travel plans may change, equipment may malfunction, batteries may run out. Regardless, have a plan of action for some of the more obvious mishaps. Keep numbers handy for any local camera shops in case you need to use them in a pinch – definitely a much cheaper option than having things shipped or mailed to you, especially if you are out of the country.
Words like “gut feeling” and “woman’s intuition” do actually exist, and more often than not, they are spot on. Trust your instincts. At the end of the day missing a photo opportunity is not as critical as being safe. Don’t do anything that you are not comfortable doing.
We photographers LOVE our gear and cannot imagine being away from it. Most of us feel we need every lens and gadget for every shoot for those what if situations. But challenge yourself to pack light. Maybe you only want to shoot with a wide angle lens or the nifty-fifty. Carry only what you need and not all the gear you own – your body will thank you.
No, I am NOT advocating carrying a gun or other such personal protection mechanisms. Personal protection can mean different things to different people and can also differ based on the situation. For a while I carried pepper spray in my purse. Then I switched to a swiss army knife. Then I decided that my 90lb german shepherd dog was my best defense mechanism especially for local sunrise and sunset photo excursions. Choose what is appropriate and practical for you.
Do you have any safe travels tips to share based on your personal experiences? Feel free to share…