Traveling with a full camera kit is tricky business. You’ve got a lot of expensive, fragile gear that you’re lugging through airports and around cities. It’s no simple task.
That being said, there are a handful of tricks you can employ to make sure your gear stays safe during your travels. My team and I just brainstormed many of these tips while creating our guide on how to choose the best camera kit for travel. I also learned a lot of these the hard way during a year and a half of perpetual travel.
Here are my seven tips for packing your photo gear for any trip. And to be clear, I’m assuming you’re going the one-bag travel route (or at least using a backpack, not a suitcase).
1. Don’t skimp on your pack
Whether you’re planning on buying a camera-specific bag or an all-around travel pack, it’s worth spending a good chunk of change on something that will handle your needs well and stand the test of time.
Organization is key when it comes to camera gear, so it’s best to find something with a good bit of organization for your SD cards, chargers, and other accessories. A good harness system will also make a huge difference. Camera gear is heavy, so you want to get a pack with comfortable shoulder straps, a good hip belt, and some load-lifter straps to distribute the weight correctly as you walk from shot to shot.
2. Get some padded packing cubes
When it comes to your camera body and primary lenses, a padded packing cube or small camera bag can give you some extra peace of mind. It’ll keep your stuff safe, plus it allows you to quickly grab what you need from your main pack without having to rummage around for individual items. A bag with organizational dividers is a plus, but not 100% necessary.
3. Use a daypack strategically
If you’re going the one-bag travel route, having a compressible daypack makes a huge difference in your ability to move around once you get to your destination. I like to toss a few items in a daypack—like the Matador DL16—while leaving my cumbersome travel pack at the hotel/Airbnb. If you’ve got a padded packing cube with your camera essentials in it already, this switchover is a cinch.
4. The best camera is the one you have with you
Photography is all about timing, especially when traveling. Things can be a little hectic when you’re out and about in a new city, but if you see a great shot you’ll want to snap it when you have the chance. Make sure you’re packing your gear in an accessible area—AKA, not at the bottom of your bag. Try to keep your gear located near the top of your bag and near the zippers. If you want to be ready for anything at a moments notice, consider grabbing a camera base layer.
Alternatively, smart phones and point-and-shoots are a good auxiliary item to have on hand for grabbing those quick shots. Whipping your phone out is a lot quicker than setting up your DSLR.
5. Use socks and clothing to your advantage
If you’ve got a few extra lenses or accessories that you will only be using sparingly, don’t be afraid to wrap them up in a few socks or a beanie. It will protect your gear and you won’t be forced to spend money on more cases. Plus, you’re saving a good bit of weight by re-purposing that clothing that will be in your pack regardless.
That being said, for those extra special lenses—or if you don’t mind packing on a few extra ounces for some extra protection—the Matador lens base layers will far outclass any sock you can get your hands on. These provide some extra durability, waterproofing, and a convenient carrying clip.
6. Watch your weight
When it comes to one-bag travel, keeping your weight down is essential. Try to analyze exactly what you’ll need in terms of camera gear for your trip and stick to that list. A versatile lens and camera body will go a long way—rarely does the casual traveler need a full DSLR kit with a quiver of lenses.
7. Two is one and one is none
The golden rule for photography—always backup your photos twice! Make sure to bring multiple SD cards and even multiple hard drives to backup your photos in a few places. One foolproof method is to keep a hard drive at your Airbnb or hotel (preferably in a safe!), then keep a few SD cards with you while you’re out on the town. At the end of the day, transfer all your photos to the hard drive and you’ll sleep soundly knowing your photos are safe.
Written by Guest Blogger Tom Wahlin of Pack Hacker.
Tom Wahlin took his digital design and creative direction career on the road in May of 2015. He sold nearly all of his belongings, packing up his New York City life into a 40L backpack. As of October 2017, he’s been living a fully nomadic lifestyle traveling to a new country every couple of weeks.
The process of deciding what to pack became more laborious than the travel plans themselves. Tom became obsessed with figuring out what to pack for long-term travel and how to make it all fit in one piece of carry-on luggage. He shared his learnings in the Medium article, “Everything You Need to Travel The World in One Backpack” and found that he wasn’t alone. The article was a hit, and the idea for Pack Hacker was born.
Now, Tom leverages his design background from tech companies like Apple, The Infatuation, and space150 to find minimalist gear that will maximize your travel experience.