Photo Tip: Traveling with Photo Equipment

Frequently, I am asked how I travel with my photography equipment, a topic that has been a hot one for the past few years, particularly since 9/11. It seems that as soon as we settle in with a suitable packing/transporting regime, something in the system changes. Either the TSA or the Airline Carriers changes some of the rules, making our routine null and void! So how do I travel?

Well, the first thing I mention is that I always try to avoid airlines, if at all possible. This may mean some additional driving, but that’s okay. Now that I don’t have a “day job”, I’m essentially free to drive to my destination. This allows me to bring along equipment much easier than trying to fit everything on a plane. How do I travel to Alaska? Well, I do have another option available to me. Instead of using airlines, I drive to Anacortes or Bellingham, Washington and board the ferry (from Anacortes, you can catch the WA state ferry to British Columbia, or in Bellingham, you can catch the Alaska state ferry), leaving my car at the terminal. Their weight limitation is essentially what you can carry onboard yourself (be sure to check with them on these regulations before you travel), and I can cram in a lot in a good, wheeled duffel! Thus, I wear a photo backpack with camera bodies/lenses and laptop computer; everything else goes into the rolling duffel, along with my clothes.

In the event I do need to fly, I always do a search on the internet, reviewing the latest TSA guidelines and the Airline Carrier’s rules. I then pack accordingly, making sure I follow all the rules. On a plane, I carry my photo backpack onboard (my “carryon” luggage) as well as a small duffelbag (my “personal item”) that is packed with other important photo equipment (batteries, chargers, portable hard drives, other things that I “couldn’t live without” if they were lost). Any other item is then placed in my checked bag with my clothing. Never put any valuable photo equipment in your checked luggage. There are an awful lot of honest people out there, but there is always at least one that is not. Also, valuable equipment in checked luggage is begging for something to get broken … and the airline will not likely stand behind your damage claim. Another “trick” I use when flying is to wear a photography vest over my regular clothes … you’d be surprised what all I can fit into the pockets!

Some other considerations include making sure that what equipment I’m taking is absolutely necessary. To follow this guideline, I always do my homework upfront and determine which equipment is most likely to be used for the subjects I’m likely to encounter. Then, I take only that equipment, leaving everything else at home. When possible, I try to maximize the use of all equipment I take. If I’m not sure my 180mm macro lens will be used, I will leave it at home; but I will take my screw-on closeup filter that fits my other lenses. Then, I can always add it to a lens and get some macro shots if the opportunity comes up.

Regarding clothing, I always put in the “essentials” that will be needed, such as rubber boots and rain gear for my Alaska trips. Regarding the everyday clothing, I skimp on what I take. Instead of taking 6 t-shirts, I may take 3-4 and throw in some single-use laundry packets. As I soil items, I can always wash them out in a sink along the way. When talking to others, I always joke that about 90% of my baggage is photography-related and 10% clothing! Probably not too far off when traveling by air.

In the future, I’ll likely be doing more travel by RV. We’re planning on getting a new one after the first of the year and will put it to good use as I travel about the lower-48 states.

So, in a nutshell that is how I travel. I’m sure that not everyone has the time to travel as I’ve outlined here, but for those that can, I’d suggest considering it. And I hope that maybe something in this tip will be useful for you and your travels.

Do you have a tip that you’d like to share? If so, please e-mail me at and I will include it in my next edition of Show-Me Nature Photography Newsletter. Traveling with photography equipment can be challenging, especially if you have a lot of equipment! 


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