I recently traveled to Costa Rica to photograph a wedding, and I quickly realized that traveling with all of my camera gear is a monumental undertaking. Below are a few tips that made my travels go smoothly, and a few suggestions for you to take into consideration before you travel with your camera gear.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but how you pack is one of the most important elements of traveling with your equipment. If at all possible, try to get your most valuable equipment into your carry-on luggage, just to be on the safe side. Even if you have insurance, imagine how devastated you would be if you arrived at your location and your equipment was gone because your checked baggage was lost. That would be a nightmare! There are plenty of great camera bags on the market that look like small, carry-on suitcases. They have sections and pockets that make it easy to get a lot of equipment into a small bag.
The one problem in packing your equipment into your carry-on is that some airlines strictly enforce a maximum carry-on weight. The airline I was flying with on this particular trip did not weigh my carry-on, but that isn’t to say that the next airline wouldn’t weigh it. My suggestion would be to check with your airline beforehand to see if they have a weight limit. If they do not, keep your carry-on at a reasonable weight, attempt to check it, and if you have any trouble, politely explain that you are transporting valuable equipment that the airlines are generally not liable for in a case of loss/damage.
When booking your flight, if you are not flying first or business class, try to get a seat towards the back of the plane. In most cases, economy boards back to front, so if you are one of the first to board, you’ll have plenty of space in the overhead compartment to put your camera bag (or bags). If you are one of the last to board and the flight is completely full, your bag may not fit in the overheard storage, in which case your bag will then be checked, which defeats the purpose of having your most valuable equipment in your carry-on luggage. When I was flying to Costa Rica, I was towards the front section of economy, but thankfully, I had friends with me who boarded first, so they were able to get my camera bag on before the bins filled up. Otherwise, I may have had some trouble.
If you are having a layover, make sure that you have plenty of time to transport your gear to your next flight. While your camera bags may not seem heavy at first, after about 30 minutes of walking/standing with them, you are going to get tired, trust me. Just do your best to schedule your flights in a way that you’re not rushing through the airport with a lot of weight on your back. This will also give you a moment to grab a bite to eat. Staying energized = extremely important when traveling!
If possible, take as much equipment as you can. Extra memory cards and batteries will add very little weight to your luggage, and can be a life-saver. Also, if you are traveling to a foreign country, before you leave, check to see if you need a special adapter for their electrical outlets to charge your batteries. In terms of equipment, I carry two DSLRs with me when I travel. I carry my main camera, and then a back up camera, just in case something terrible happens. Nothing terrible has ever happened, but I figure it is better safe than sorry, especially when photographing an important event such as a wedding. I also carry my lenses, iPad, and flash in my carry-on. Tripods and light stands go in my checked luggage.
If you are traveling with film, check the TSA guidelines on traveling with film. Roll film, as long as it is under ISO 800, is safe to put through the x-ray machines. If you are traveling with sheet film, or film that is ISO 800 or higher, you will need to have your film hand-inspected. On this particular trip, I had a disposable, underwater film camera with me. I thought the ISO was 400, but it was actually 800, so my film was completely destroyed after going through the x-rays.
Make sure to pack your film in your carry-on luggage. The x-rays used for checked luggage are more powerful than those used for carry-on, so it is best not to expose your film to the checked luggage x-rays, even if the ISO is below 800.
Here are the TSA guidelines for film: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1035.shtm
These are just a few of the many tips for traveling with photography equipment, but hopefully, they will steer you in the right direction before your next trip. Do you have any tips you would like to share about traveling with your equipment? If so, we’d love to hear them!