Tips for traveling with photo equipment

31 Aug Tips for traveling with photo equipment

For more than ten years now,​I​’m a professional photographer and cinematographer. In the last few years, without knowing exactly how, I have specialized myself in travel photography and the technique of Time­lapse.
This involves traveling to remote destinations, often by plane, and with an expensive, heavy and bulky photo equipment. As a consequence, I have had some problems at airports, customs and means of transportation. On the other hand, those incidents have given me a great experience in the art of adapting yourself to the situation and finding ingenious and economical solutions.
I hope some of those tricks will be useful to you.

Your camera, lenses and laptop always with you.
That could sound quite obvious, but there are still some people that check­in part of their equipment because is too heavy or bulky.
My trick is : I carry all the equipment (camera and lenses) in a large Benro trolley, where everything fits quite well. I also carry a small shoulder bag with the laptop, an external hard disk and a snack. While I’m doing the check­in, I show the shoulder bag as my only hand luggage and try to hide the Benro trolley. After the check­in, I put the shoulder bag inside the Benro in case the only allow one piece of hand luggage. Usually the Benro weighs much more than allowed, but when you reach the boarding gate they no longer control the weight of the hand luggage. It worked for me 100% of the time.


Tripods and slider in a golf club’s bag.
If you are going to a place where it’s cold and your bag is already shaving 20 kg, but you also want to take two or three tripods plus a slider, as in my case, it’s impossible to fit everything in a single bag. The most economical option is to hire a suitcase as “sports equipment”. Usually all the airlines have this service, which allows you to carry a bag up to 23 kg for about 60 or ­70 €. That will be cheaper than the 10 € per kg that you have to pay for excess weight.
I use a travel bag of golf clubs, where my motorized slider, mSlider, and my Benro tripods fit perfectly, and if I have some space left, I can put some clothes that will also protect the equipment.

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Bring extra battery chargers and power strip.
Depending on where you are traveling and the battery consumption, to have some extra battery chargers is almost essential. In cold places the batteries could perform less than 50%. It doesn’t matter how many batteries you take, if you just have one charger, you might end up stranded. I usually take two chargers for each camera, or double chargers. In this way, you can charge two
at the same time, but you can also be sure that if one breaks down (something that usually happens), you will have another one.
Depending on the model of your camera, it can be very difficult to find a spare charger, especially if you are in a remote location.
Another useful accessory is a multiple connector with 4 or 5 plugs. Who hasn’t been in an hotel room with a single plug ? Without our friend, the multiple connector, you will have to charge in turns your three batteries and your laptop, and that may complicate even more the load.

Plan your trip carefully
Hire extra luggage in advance and try to use a reliable airline with a good customer service policy.
The low­cost airlines are fine for shorts trips with hand luggage, but when you are traveling with equipment, is far better to use a trustworthy airline. Compare the conditions of each airline, their baggage weight allowance, number of bags, etc. You can have an unpleasant surprise, if you haven’t plan everything right, and the trip can get more expensive than you imagined.

An insurance is almost essential.
While it is true that airlines should be responsible for your bags, in most cases the economical compensation that will cover for loss is very low. In addition to that, the difficulty of their claim, make almost essential to hire a travel insurance. The more economical option is to buy your tickets with Visa or AMEX. These cards already have insurance that usually works well in case of baggage loss and other incidents. But if you want to secure your equipment in the best possible way, I recommend you to use a specific insurance, they could be more expensive, but if you’re going to a troubled place or one with adverse weather conditions, it may be worthwhile.

Be polite to the airport staff.
They have to spend many hours there, and sometimes they don’t like the job they have to do, so whether it’s the person behind the check­in counter or behind the scanner, a smile and a friendly greeting can make a difference between they looking away or imposing the regulations. The rules are there and they are equal for all, but they are applied differently depending on who does it and the attitude you have that day. If you start whining and pouting, the airport staff will find a way to make it more difficult for you.

Be careful with Li ­Po.
Every day more electronic devices use Li ­Po batteries. I use them a lot for my motorized slider, the mSlider, because they provide a lot of autonomy with an optimal weight and size. But these batteries are often controversial at airports, because they run the risk of catching on fire. Get informed on the number of batteries allowed and total amps. Never check­in them as hold baggage, because all those bags are passed through the scanner, and if the staff considers that it’s unsafe for the flight, they will block your bag and it may not reach its destination. So better
put them in your hand luggage, so you can show them to the staff and explain them it’s for audiovisual purposes within the allowable limits. I have 3 batteries 5A and never had any problems, but they always ask me about them.


Always go early to the airport.
As you have already seen in the tips above, is not the same to check­in your luggage for a beach trip than to overcome the adventure of check­in and go through the scanner with all your photo equipment.
Therefore, it is essential to get to the airport with plenty of time, otherwise if you have any problems in the check­in counter or at the security control, you might end up missing the flight or running through the halls, to reach the gate, like crazy.
I remember once in Iceland that I left a tripod on the airport bus, and I realized it when I was at the gate. Because it was early, I could go back to the bus, picked it up and went through the security control again, returning to the gate on time.

Save the photos on two separate external hard disks.
While Raid hard drives are very useful and depending on which format, they even increase the speed; I always recommend saving all the material in two separate external hard drives, which I keep in two different bags.
I have absolute panic of losing material after the trip, so I always make two or three backups. There is nothing more terrible as returning from a 10 day trip, where you have invested a lot of money and time, and find out that you lost or broke the external hard disk. I use 2.5″ external hard drives of 2TB, and I carry one copy in the camera bag and other in the shoulder bag, where I also have the laptop and the snack. And this is also important, never eat the food they offer you in the plane. Or you want to spend the entire week sick ?


Depending on the number and value of the equipment, and your travel destination, you may need to fill the ATA carnet.
This carnet is a kind of record of the material you are going to bring to that country. You will have to include a specific list with each piece, its value and serial number. In the customs, they can ask you for this document to check if what you carry and these list match. It can also happen that when you are returning, they ask you for it to verify that you haven’t sold or left some of the equipment in the travel destination.
If your photo equipment is small, you won’t need the ATA carnet, but I recommend you at least to travel with the bills of the cameras and lenses, in case they ask you for them at the customs. A scanned copy on your laptop should be enough.