Traveling with your Camera Gear

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I have a couple of trips planned for this summer during which I will be, of course, heavily dependent upon my camera gear. One is a ten-day trip to Maine, during which time my husband and I will be sailing, driving up and down the coast, visiting Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and exploring such landmarks as the Portland Head Light, the Old Port historic district of Portland, the Freeport shopping district, and anything else we can fit into our time there. Then in August we will be spending a long weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway enjoying the MotoGP race (I’m rooting for Ben Spies, though I am also a fan of Nicky Hayden).

For both trips I have the need for my standard zoom lens (a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM), the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens that I will be renting from Pro Photo Rental, and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens, which I will also be renting from Pro Photo Rental.

In addition to these three lenses and my camera body, I will be bringing all of the accouterments one would expect. My battery grip and back up batteries with charger, my lens cleaning kit, my external hard drive, a monopod with ball head, and some filters. I will also be bringing my laptop with the necessary power cord and mouse. All the gear, with the exception of the monopod, can all fit in the Lowepro Fastpack 350 that I reviewed here. In addition to that, I will be bringing my Lowepro Topload Zoom 1 Camera Bag, which will come in handy when I just need a single camera/lens combination and don’t want to tote around all of my gear.

This is a lot of stuff to be traveling with, though by no means as much as some professional photographers are known to travel with on a regular basis. Here are a few tips that I myself exercise when traveling with camera gear.

One – Carry it on, if possible. Personally, I am loathe to check my camera gear in with the other baggage. I much prefer to use the carry-on option, just so I know right where my gear is at all times, and just how my gear is being handled at all times. Because let’s face it, more often than not our checked baggage arrives on the carousel of our destination airport in worse condition than it was when we checked it in. However, in order to be able to carry the gear on, it has to fit within the size and weight standards required. So be sure your bag is of the correct size when fully packed, otherwise you will face the need to check it in.

Two – Have the right travel case or pack. Buy something specifically for the storage and transport of camera gear. By doing this you will ensure that it is structurally sound enough and padded well enough to protect your gear from jostling and bumping.

Three – Lock it if you’re checking it. If you have to check your camera baggage, ensure that you have locked it with a TSA Approved Luggage lock. Any other kind of lock will be denied by the airline and they will request that you remove it prior to checking the baggage.

Four – Remove any liquids, such as lens cleaning fluid, from your carry-on and put it in your checked baggage. Likewise, keep the electronics easily accessible as the security check-in will require that you remove the camera and other electronic devices (such as a laptop) for inspection. Once through security, consider locking up the camera bag – even though you’re carrying it with you, it’s easy for an industrious thief to slip open a zipper and make off with your stuff.

Five – Speaking of thievery, make it hard on the thief. Many camera bags are emblazoned with logos and decals that scream, “I’m expensive camera gear! Come steal me!” Try to choose a camera bag that is nondescript enough to pass as a regular backpack or other kind of carry-on. Also, consider permanently labeling the camera gear that you own with your name and contact information – thieves get discouraged and often pass by (or dump, giving you a greater chance for recovery) the gear that they can’t immediately off-load due to clear ownership labeling. If you DO happen to have your gear stolen, make sure you have a detailed list of every item you were traveling with – right down to the serial numbers – to assist with any investigations or insurance claims.

Do you have any tips for traveling with camera gear? Please share your advice in the comments!

Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “Kata R-102″ by khedara on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Please report any unattended luggage” by Toasty Ken on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Steve Russell

    Very good article. I spend most of my photo time pursuing nature photography and I particularly like the Fastpack 350 for carrying my gear in the field. However, I have a week long photography trip to northern New Mexico planned for October and will be flying to Albuquerque. The trip will require a change of planes in Dallas. I have always been leary of checking any photography equipment but what I want to take on the trip is more than will fit in the 350.

    I'm considering a Pelican 1510 which can be carried on the plane or the larger Pelican 1610 which would hold all the gear I plan to take but would also have to be checked. I am also considering getting the case with padded dividers instead of what they call “pluckable” foam.

    Does anyone have experience along these lines or thoughts they can share.


  • Tyler Wainright

    From what I've picked up on around the interwebs is that many photographers are shipping their gear to their destination. More expensive than carry on but much lighter :-) It also allows you to track your shipments (better than the airlines) and you can arrange for your hotel to hold the package for you.

  • John Dunne

    Great read Tiffany, thanks. I will only carry on as hand luggage though, I'm always happier knowing it is above my head on the plane. You image looks like the Kata 102 though rather then a LowePro referred to in the article. I have the 102 also and find it an excellent bag and have had no problems with it as carry-on.

  • Kim Siebert

    I have several bags for different reasons – I purchased a very expensive, almost $400 bag from Think Tank – it was the Airporter 2.0. It is a TREMENDOUSLY durable bag with adjustable/removeable velcro padded inserts to accomodate any lens size you need, it holds a TON of gear. And, is allowed to carry on the big planes ONLY.

    I live in San Luis Obispo, Ca where we have to take a smaller plane to say Los Angeles, or San Francisco where we transfer planes and get on the big ones.

    So, be sure to know, if you don’t – what size plane you are taking and that will tell you what size bag you can take on board.

    Now, keep in mind folks, that even if your gear is zippered up, and there is a lock holding the zippers together, it STILL can be broken into by sticking a regular ball point pen, or something similar in between the teeth of the zipper and you move the pen back and forth and it pulls apart the zipper. I have actually had to break into my own bag once before and this technique worked, however, I did NOT have to break into my Think Tank bag and don’t want to risk messing up the zipper by testing it to see if I can break in.

    If you do use a reputible bag company, and they come with locks, they are special TSA locks where they have a key to open your bag even if you have it locked. Its a universal key that opens any TSA regulated locks.

    Regardless, I would NEVER EVER EVER check my gear into the belly of the plane. I definately would ship it to myself OR carry on.

    Think Tank Photo stands behind their bags for a lifetime, the wheels are like car tires and I can’t see them breaking or wearing down, however, if they DO, all you have to do is call Think Tank and they will replace the wheels for free.

    Also, if you need additional velcro inserts,all you have to do is contact them and tell them which ones you need and they will send those out to you for FREE too.

    Their customer service is TOP NOTCH – they are pricey, but you get what you pay for.

    Also, their larger bags, like this one – has a serial number where you can register your bag with them, it comes on a metal plate attached to the bag so you never lose the number. If your bag gets lost or stolen then recovered, your info is with Think Tank and they will contact you to get your stuff back. Not that this would EVER happen now adays. But, the option is there and the thought was great.

    Now, for the ladies, what I recently purchased was a Jill-E bag, EXCELLENT price, $189 – it is smaller than the Airporter, but still has a long handle and wheels. It is black leather and suade, the inside is a cream color with large black polka dots. it is a roller bag with a handle AND you can carry it by hand as well. It’s actually manageable in size, but – loaded up it gets really heavy, but again – its super durable and you can load this bag up with quite a bit of gear.

    There is also an attached with a long leather ‘cord’ zippered pouch to put batteries or memory cards or other little things. There are also outside pockets, 4 of them. not very deep or big. But are enough for your remote switch, batteries, your Passport color checker, cell phone, flash lights, cleaning cloths, Pocket Wizards / Radio Poppers, Nutri-grain bars. external portable drives. etc.

    You can put many things in the pockets, they are just not big.(or padded) This is 1 of 2 things I don’t like about this bag, I really wished the pockets on either side of the bag should be padded.

    The inside is NICELY padded, you can not adjust or remove the guts of the bag, so you are stuck there, – but, there is really great amount of storage. Where you can put several speedlights, lenses and even two camera bodies.

    Definately big enough even for a whole day shoot. But, I also purchased the smaller ‘sister’ bag of the roller bag – and it is a shoulder bag – this one was $129, also black leather, nice long shoulder strap, attachable black leather wallet/pouch, padded non removeable ‘guts’t, really cute medium sized black polka dots on tan/cream fabric. Excellent construction/durability.

    The Jill-E purchase, were a great pair of bags, but over $300 was painful, and the almost 400$ for the ThinkTank bag – well, it’s a difficult pill to swallow however, a very necessary evil. (so much for getting my 24-70 L anytime soon…)


    I don’t like the wheels on the bag, they are a hard material and are small, I can see them cracking or getting little pebbles or something stuck in them. I don’t know if they are covered for a lifetime like Think Tank – I should contact them to find you.