Lessons I've learned as a Travel Photographer
Last year, I was preparing to board a flight from the United States for an international press trip and spent over twenty minutes adjusting the weight of my carry-on suitcase. The tourism board I was working with had booked my flight on a budget airline, and there were weight restrictions for carry-on luggage: six kilos per bag and no more than four kilos for a small personal item (I was carrying a backpack). Weeks before, I researched the airline's website for weight restrictions on luggage, but missed the guidelines and overpacked.
Usually, the extra baggage weight wouldn't have been an issue. I would have merely taken less essential items out of my carry-on and placed them in my bag to be checked, but the airline agent had already sent my checked bag down the conveyer belt behind her. So, I sat stooped over my black bag with furrowed brow trying to solve my problem: I needed to remove expensive camera gear out of my carry-on, and had nowhere to place it.
The airline agent suggested I check the bag, but I didn't feel comfortable with that solution; therefore, I began a lengthy process of redistributing packed items between my backpack (airlines allow one carry-on and a small, personal item) and my camera bag. In the end, I did meet the required weight restriction, by leaving a plethora of things from my backpack (none of it was camera gear) on the counter next to the airline agent.
Take my advice: Before leaving on an international trip, call the airline you are booked with and ask about weight restrictions.
And a few more lessons from this particular trip:
1) DO NOT CHECK YOUR CAMERA BAG. CARRY IT ON THE PLANE WITH YOU.
Let me repeat: Do not check your camera bag. The agent in the above story tried more than once to persuade me to check my camera bag. I refused. A tourism board had selected me to do a job for them, and I could not risk losing my gear.
It’s a good thing I didn’t, too. When I arrived at my destination, my checked bag wasn't there. I filed a report at the airport and left with the clothes on my back, my carry-on camera bag, and a small backpack. Three days later, the airline delivered my lost luggage to the hostel where I was staying.
What if I had checked my camera bag, and the airline lost it? The tourism board had purchased my airline ticket, lodging, much of my food, hired guides, and set up an extensive itinerary. Do you want to call your contact at the tourism board and tell them you didn't have camera gear? I didn't have to because I carried my gear onto the plane.
2) PACK AN EXTRA CHANGE OF CLOTHES IN YOUR CAMERA BAG.
Because the airline lost my luggage, the only clothes I had were the ones I wore on the flight. I wore them for three days. My lost luggage also had all of my toiletry items in it: my toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, underwear. Luckily, my first assignment was in a major city. I walked down the street to a corner convenience store and bought a few personal hygiene items. Then for several evenings, before the airline delivered my luggage, I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink before going to bed.
Pack a change of clothes in your camera bag. You may need it.
3) YOU DO NOT NEED AS MUCH GEAR AS YOU THINK.
I packed three cameras for the above trip. I only used one. You will need a backup camera, so packing two cameras is essential, but beyond that, resist the urge to pack additional gear. Give yourself a break and pack light.
4) INSURE YOUR GEAR.
I had one piece of camera gear in my lost luggage. It was a Zhiyun Crane. When my bag was delivered to the hostel, I honestly did not think the Crane would still be in it. It was. But if it hadn’t been, my gear was insured through the Professional Photographers of America.