Tips for Traveling with Camera Equipment
Have you ever been standing in line at the TSA checkpoint trying to figure out how you are going to get your laptop, liquids, and large electronics on the conveyor belt, all while taking your shoes off, without holding up the line? I'll be honest, I've been that person one too many times. Bringing photography equipment makes traveling 10x more difficult and you are forced to carry twice the amount of luggage. There's no way around it. It's the price you pay to have beautiful photos. :D After many trips and many struggles, I've finally perfected the art of bag packing, and am excited to share some tips with you on how to make traveling with your gear SO MUCH EASIER!
While this tip may sound obvious it's really easy to overpack, not only camera gear, but clothing and other items too. Do you really need 2 outfit choices each day and your whole line of skincare products? Probably not. The same goes for your camera equipment. Pack lenses and camera accessories that are important for your specific trip. For example I probably wouldn't bring my 16-35mm lens with me if I wasn't going to be doing underwater photography. I try to limit my camera bag to 2-3 lenses each trip.
Choose the Right Carry-On Bag
This might not seem very important to some people, but having the right bag for your camera equipment is actually really important for several reasons. First of all, having a good bag can help protect your gear. You want to make sure there is adequate padding so that nothing gets damaged during transport. Look for bags that have removable, padded dividers that way you can re-arrange your bag depending on what gear you are carrying.
Secondly, a good bag will make going through TSA much easier. You want to look for one that has multiple openings or sections that way you don't have to take everything out to get an item at the bottom.
Lastly, having a bag that is not obviously a camera bag is always a plus. If you have a bag that has the word "Sony" or "Canon" printed on the front, you are going to put yourself at a much higher risk of having something stolen. I once bought a bag off of Amazon that had the words "Photography Backpack" printed in bright green letters on the front. While I didn't think twice about it at the time, while packing for some excursions outside the US, I suddenly realized that this probably wasn't my best idea. I ended up putting some duct-tape over the lettering and trying to make it look like my bag had a hole. When you are on a budget... you do what you can. :D
There are all different styles of camera bags, but I generally prefer backpacks for traveling and the type of photography that I do. I'm currently using the 31 L WANDRD PRVKE Series bag. I can't recommend this bag enough. I've tried a lot of others and nothing compares to its design and usability. Lowepro also makes some great bags, and you can also find many others for a good price on Amazon. Just do your research and remember, you get what you pay for. If you are traveling for a wedding or a shoot that requires a lot of equipment, it may be smart to invest in a hard-sided camera case that can hold more.
Learning to pack smart is probably the most important tip of them all. First of all, I highly recommend packing all of your breakable camera gear in your carry-on and personal item. I don't know if you've ever seen how airline personnel handle checked baggage, but I can promise you, it is not pretty. Every airline is different but most airlines are not going to cover the full cost of your equipment if it is broken in their hands. The highest I've seen an airline's damaged baggage policy is $3,500, which would barely cover the cost of many camera bodies.
When packing your carry-on bag you want to first make sure all of your camera bodies and lenses are packed tightly and safely into the padded compartment of your bag. It's best to detach all lenses from your camera body when packing it. If you have a lens attached to the body and stress is applied because of the way it is positioned in the bag, you could ruin the threads that connect the two together.
All of your spare batteries need to be packed in your carry-on (TSA does not allow Lithium batteries inside of checked-baggage.) I usually put each of my spare batteries inside of its own zip-lock bag and store them next to my lenses. Other camera items I include in my carry-on are extra memory cards, lens wipes, and my camera battery charger. If I'm bringing a tripod for the trip, I usually try to put it in my checked bag, if I have one, to save space.
In addition to your camera equipment you also want to make sure your laptop is kept in your carry-on or personal item. Sometimes I'm forced to bring two laptops with me when I travel and I keep one packed nicely inside the laptop sleeve of my backpack, and the other inside a padded laptop sleeve inside my personal item. You want to make sure these are easily accessible when going through TSA.
I usually try to include at least one spare outfit with me in my carry-on, along with a few essentials I would need if my luggage got lost (sometimes I put everything in my carry-on if it is a short trip.) It's also good to leave a little extra room in your personal item in case you are forced to gate-check your carry-on. If this happens, you want to be able to pull out the most important equipment and keep it with you underneath your seat!
Above you can see what equipment I bring on an average trip and how I pack it into my carry-on (below). Without my water housing, I can usually get by with my WANDRD bag counting as my personal item and still having a whole other bag for clothes and personal items.
I highly recommend getting insurance on your equipment if you have a lot of expensive gear. It's great for peace of mind, especially in busy airports.
My final piece of advice is to invest in TSA PreCheck if you are a frequent traveler. TSA PreCheck allows you to quickly go through security without unpacking your bag and removing your shoes. At the time of writing this it only costs $85 for a 5 year membership. To sign up you just have to submit an application online and schedule an in-person appointment at one of the many enrollment centers in the US. The appointment will include a background check and fingerprints, and then you just have to wait to be approved.
I hope reading all of this information takes a little stress out of your next trip! Do you have some travel tips for photographers of your own? Comment them below!