PhotographyTips & Advice

Tips on Traveling Safely with Cameras

Within the last month, two people have asked me about advice on what cameras to bring while travelling and how to take care of them while on the road. I thought I would share my thoughts today.

Cameras to bring for travel

The way I see it, we all have several options for photographic gear at this moment. You can bring your smartphone, which can truly produce some amazing images. You can bring a small point and shoot camera, which has the advantage of being small and easy to carry, as well as comes with the ability to shoot video (which means you can vlog your trip! woohoo for vlogging!). Lastly, if you have one or are willing to invest in one, you can bring a DSLR.

Travelling with a big bulky camera such as a DSLR might throw a lot of people off.

It’s true. DSLRs often take up 3/4 of your bag and give you back/shoulder pain after a while. Plus, there’s the risk of it attracting negative attention in certain areas of the world, putting you at risk for pick-pocketing or theft.

But, there’s one simple reason why all of that is worth it: incomparable high quality images.

Montana travel

An image I took with my DSLR in rural Montana on a recent road trip through the US.

If you are interested in photography and cannot imagine a trip without great images, my wholehearted advice is to bring your DSLR. The images will be worth it, and you will be shocked at how much your photographic skills improve by using your camera regularly.

The way I usually travel is I pack my camera body mounted with a small lens, such as the 35mm 2.0 (a great inexpensive wide lens that gives images a photo-journalistic feel), in my main bag, which I keep with me at all times. If I think I’ll want a variety of images, or that I will be doing portraits, I’ll also bring along a second lens, such as the 50mm 1.4. Make sure all your camera gear is with you in your hand luggage, especially if you are flying – never pack it in your checked baggage.

DSLR while traveling

To carry the gear, I usually have it either wrapped tightly in a large scarf or in a small camera bag inside my backpack. I know the scarf method is not the most secure, but sometimes space truly does limit you and this is a good way of keeping it somewhat secure.

Something I learned back in 2010 while backpacking through South America for 4 months is to never carry your camera in a camera bag. In less developed areas of the world, especially ones with a high pick-pocketing and theft rates (about 80% of foreigners I spoke to who traveled through Bolivia, for example, experienced some form of theft), a camera bag is the equivalent of wearing a red sign in the country’s native language saying “I have valuables!”

You’re just better off if you don’t.

Carry your camera in a bag, preferably a shoulder bag as backpacks are easy to open or slash, and keep it tight against your body. A less elegant but highly efficient alternative is to carry a reusable material bag from a local grocery store, if they have them. They are durable enough to use and scream the very opposite of valuable.

Sucre, Bolivia street

A street in Sucre, Bolivia from my time there in 2010.

I am proud to say that during my 4 months in South America, which included a full month in Bolivia, I took my DSLR out everywhere and did not get pick-pocketed or confronted a single time. Ok, well there was one time in Sucre, Bolivia, when a man came up to me on the street, put his arm around my shoulder and asked me loudly and strangely “¿Que hora es señorita?” (What time is it, miss?). I had heard many stories of people being pick-pocketed by distraction, whereby the pick-pocketer or an associate spills something on you or attracts your attention elsewhere while taking something from you. Being aware of this, I was immediately on guard and closed my beat up purple reusable Argentinian grocery bag, with ripped handles that I had re-tied, as tight as I could. To this day, I swear I felt him try reach down into that bag.

But I can’t be sure. For all I know, he may have just been trying to charm me with his Latin looks and lack of a better pick up line.

Either way, neither of his attempts were successful.

I’m curious what your tips and experiences of traveling with cameras are! Let me know in the comments below!

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