Over the last three years now of traveling abroad, I have learned a thing or two about how to protect my camera gear. I would highly suggest to those considering traveling (pretty much anywhere) to bring some kind of camera. It doesn't have to be a fancy DSLR, it can even be your phone. After all,
"The best camera is the one you have with you" - Chase Jarvis
Though, if you decide to take more than your iPhone with you on your latest adventure - I thought I would share a few tips and tricks.
1. PLAN AHEAD
Before you leave for your latest destination, do your research! Researching where you can and cannot take pictures is important. For example, when I went to Italy I knew ahead of time that some of the Basilicas do not allow photos (while some do). Being prepared ahead of time to put your camera away can save the embarrassment of the security guard telling you no (legitimate fear I have) but also being respectful. I wouldn't recommend planning ahead so much to the point where you do not allow yourself to get lost in a city and the beauty of it all, but do know ahead of time where it is safe and not safe. Putting yourself in unsafe areas runs you the obvious risk of being mugged or having your gear stolen. People coming from other countries are often the best targets to steal from, because they are not in a familiar setting.
2. LET'S NOT SHARE
Sounds like the complete opposite of what your mother has always told you, right? When it comes to keeping your camera gear safe, I would always run on the safe side and not allow any strangers to take a photo for me. This can obviously depend where you are and who you would trust, but I would stick to letting your bff or mom snap a picture of you (or if you need a personal photogrpaher for your trip...;).
3. CONCEAL YOUR GEAR
When traveling, one of the places you are most vulnerable to being pick-pocketed is on the subway/underground. Often times you are cramped and close to strangers (say goodbye to personal space). This is a perfect opportunity for someone to slip their hand into your bag or steal your camera. A few tips for keeping my gear safe while on the subway:
a. If it feels more comfortable, put your camera inside of your bag. No need to let everyone on the train know you have a fancy little photo taker along with you! If it feels safer to keep it around your neck, that's okay too. I would recommenced holding your camera by the strap as well by the body then.
b. Hold your camera bag forward always and keep your hand on the part where the zipper starts. Never (ever!) let your bag fall behind you or to your side. You can't see it there, and it's a very welcoming sight to thieves.
c. Avoid using bags that have "Nikon" or "Canon" advertised on the front. Another welcoming sight to a thief. (More on bags lower in this post).
4. CHOOSE YOUR GEAR
Depending on the purpose of your trip, you'll need different types of lenses for different trips. I like to keep simple when it comes to camera gear when abroad. I shoot primarily with a 35mm lens. It's a prime lens that is wide enough for scenic shots, but also not too wide for a closer look. When I am out, I prefer to keep one lens and one camera body on me. This saves my shoulders from carrying the extra gear. Simple is significant. I would also recommend making sure you keep organized and track of lens covers and memory cards. I keep all my memory cards in this holder (from Amazon) and it is literally a life saver. Speaking of memory cards, I would also recommend using multiple cards instead of keeping all of your images on one card. (This also applies to weddings!). My camera can shoot onto two cards, but it is much safer to assure that you have your images split up onto different cards. I will often change a card for each day that I'm traveling.
5. LET'S TALK BAGS
There are so many different options when it comes to camera bags for traveling! So, I am just going to share what I have used that has worked well for me. There are many options for bags to purchase out there, so find one that's the right fit for you and the most comfortable. My biggest piece of advice would be to avoid backpacks! Let me explain, I use a backpack for my airport travel. It is so easy and handy. I place a camera insert into my North Face backpack and then I carefully pack whatever else I need for the plane. If needed I can use a lock. When it comes to going out into the city and leaving the airport or hotel - avoid the backpack (unless you're planning something intense like hiking, I am talking more city). A backpack is a very easy target for sometime to pick pocket or steal. Many museums will not even allow you to go in with a backpack, too! I always opt for a cross-body bag while traveling. The bag I use is not a camera bag. That is right. Nope, not made for cameras! While I was searching for a solid bag, I found that many of them were just too expensive. So, I invested in a nice leather cross-body bag from Madewell and I put a camera insert into the bag. Ta-da! You now have a camera bag (because this is honestly what most casual camera bags are anyways). I cannot find my specific bag on Madewell anymore but it is very similar to this one.
Things to look for in a travel bag:
a. Zippers galore. Don't keep things visible and out in the open if you can help it! Zippers are your friends.
b. pockets galore. Pockets are also your friend. Because organization is key to stress free travel! I found I prefer more pockets on the inside opposed to the outside of the bag.
c. Comfort strap. This is a BIG one for me. The first time I went to Europe my bag had skinny straps, which dug into my shoulders. So painful. Find a bag that has a wider piece of fabric or leather on the top of the strap where the majority of weight is held.
c. Stylish. Keep up with those stylish Europeans. Leather is classic.
d. Durable. Chances are your bag will be on the ground, in weird bathroom stalls (I was in a stall that had clear frosted doors once. "help me" were my thoughts), and taking a bit of a beating. Don't sweat it- it will happen and it's keeping your camera and belongings safe!
6. WATCH THE WEATHER
While I was in Switzerland it was beautiful and rainy. It wasn't a total downpour, so I was able to keep my camera out most of the time and just hide it under my jacket when needed. But if you want to take photos in rain or snow, consider having a plastic bag ready. Maybe looks silly, but it's a cost effective way to guard your camera. Don't forget that heat and humidity can fog up your camera. This can cause condensation inside of your camera, which isn't the best. This happens when you go from being inside a cool building, to the humidity outside. Give your camera time to acclimate to the weather.
7. TAKE IT ALL IN
It is okay to put your camera down sometimes and just enjoy the sights. Don't spend your time worrying about your gear (like I have) and just shoot what feels right. Take time to be intentional and make images that mean something to you in that moment.
8. FINAL TIPS AND TRICKS
a. Some airport securities will now require you to take our your camera gear. Be ready and always ask if you're not sure.
b. Never pack your camera gear in your checked bag.
c. When traveling with your camera's batteries, always keep a cover over the battery (the plastic one it comes with). These are lithium batteries which are known to catch fire. Never pack these in your checked bag.
d. Bring a camera wipe for your lens.
e. Ask people if you can take their pictures (always ask if you can).
f. Photographing inside of airports is generally not accepted well by security.
if you have any more questions, I am happy to answer! firstname.lastname@example.org