A consistent challenge to photographers is how to pack when traveling, especially internationally. Global travelers will often face some exciting but daunting combination of planes, trains, and automobiles. I travel abroad perhaps ten times per year, and it is the rare trip that is a holiday or purely for photographic pursuits. I’m often forced to pack both my work materials and to make sure I have along the camera gear that I want to be able to use in my leisure time. Over years of trial and error, and witnessing in the field some of the most heinous luggage choices many of my students make, I’ve developed some best practices that may help packing for your next journey abroad.
DO closely review what clothing you’ll expect to need for each day, and then bite the bullet and shave off a few days worth. If you can manage traveling with one pair of shoes, don’t take two. Can you make do with a few days of quick-dry travel clothing rather than a set of clean clothes for each day? Keep in mind that most hotels will launder almost anything for you, many with same day turnaround. Almost everyone overestimates how many changes of clothes they actually need. Too many times I’ve returned home realizing that I packed a shirt or pair of slacks that I never ended up wearing.
Both Rohan and Bluffworks make light, quality, comfortable, and subtle travel clothing for shooting, and that still look great for meetings or cocktails and dinner. My wife often travels with a few Patagonia dresses—they can be completely abused during the day (e.g. she’s gone swimming in the Adriatic in one) and still look good enough to be out on the town the same evening.
DON’T ever, EVER check a bag. Not only your valuable camera bag (that goes without saying I hope), but any bag at all. Checked bags can get lost, they slow you down at the airport, and checked bags encourage over-packing. I pack one bag exclusively for camera gear and a second bag for everything else. I haven’t checked a bag anywhere in the world for at least the last seven years. Get used to traveling with just that one bag for all your clothing— and ladies, before you say it, I’ve even coaxed my wife into adopting the strategy. And no bags with wheels. Wheels make the bag heavier, cut into packing space, and also encourage over-packing. If your bag hurts on your shoulder, lighten your load. If you can’t barely lift your bag overhead into a bin on an airliner or train, you shouldn’t be carrying that much—you have overpacked. Once you get used to traveling with just a pair of carry-on bags and the freedom that comes with it, you won’t be able to believe you used to travel dragging things behind you.
I’ve owned a number of good shoulder bags over the years, but this is by far the best carry-on luggage I’ve ever used—I’ve traveled for two weeks in India with just this one bag. I recommend the use of packing cubes; they both organize and discipline your packing choices.
DO consider just how heavy camera gear can get on your shoulder or back. Ask yourself the hard questions. Do you really need that tripod or 70-200mm f/2.8? Would a nice mid-range zoom be lighter than a bag full of primes? My typical travel rig is a full-frame DSLR, 15mm, 35mm, and 100mm fast primes. All are relatively small and can be carried in a small shoulder bag. But a 24-70mm and an ultra-wide prime may really be all I (or you) need for most days. And invest in suitable, quality camera bags that offer both protection and mobility. Photographers love bags and I’m no exception, so here are a few suggestions that have proven themselves in my travels:
If you end up needing all your gear with you, the Manfrotto is a great choice. The integral tripod sleeve is marvelous, and it has spaces and pockets for just about every accessory.
If you still need most of your gear, and also want space for your laptop, work materials, books, etc…, the Tenba DNA 15 messenger bag is a superb choice, especially for someone like me who needs to accommodate both my work and my photography.
If you only need a small sling bag, the new Miggo is a clever choice with a solid waterproof rating.
May all who come as guests… leave as friends®