Traveling abroad – what camera equipment to bring, security for you and your gear
When traveling overseas with your beloved camera equipment, it is best to take some preventative steps and precautions to ensure the safety of both your equipment and yourself, while traveling. Here are a few things to think about, and some items you may want to consider purchasing before you head out on your next big trip.
Before You Leave
- Choose a camera bag that is comfortable, and keep it on your body at all times. Do not sling backpacks over one arm, or sit them on the chair next to you (unless you padlock it to the chair, I'm not kidding!). You may also want to choose one that has less zippers or that zips against your back like the one I use, the Lowe Pro Flipside 300 (which also come in bigger and smaller models 200 and 400).
- Make sure you have adequate insurance and that if you opt for a rider on your home policy that your insurance company has the brand, model numbers and serial numbers of each piece of equipment you own. Some camera bodies are considered “pro equipment” by insurance companies and if they deem it to be such and you haven't discussed it with them prior to a claim – they may decide not to cover you. Inusurance companies are funny that way. If they can find a loophole they will! Best thing to do is to ask them before you leave, just to be sure. You may have to pay a little extra for it, but make sure you also get “replacement value” not market value coverage. Your two year old DSLR might only be worth a couple hundred bucks on the market to sell it now, but to replace it with a newer one will cost more. Make sure they cover the latter.
- Register your camera equipment with Canada Customs (or the customs agency wherever you live) before you leave the country – especially if your camera equipment is new or looks new. You don't need any proof of purchases, just show them your gear and they take inventory of it and give you a little registration card (also handy for insurance claims if need be!). When you return home it will save a LOT of hassle at customs if the agents think you have purchased your gear on your trip. Unless you can produce a proof of purchase at that time you could be dinged with a hefty customs and duty fee on your already bought and paid for camera. If the customs desk is not opened prior to your flight you may have to make a special trip to do this – otherwise if you have a midday flight just go a bit earlier and do that at the customs office in the airport before you check in for your flight. Once you've done this you only need to take the card next time, or update it if you buy more gear.
- This may be obvious but I'll say it anyway – bring at least two camera batteries and your battery charger, along with any necessary plug-in adapters if you are going overseas. You don't want to be caught with drained batteries at a place you may never visit again. Be prepared with a second one, or even a third one. You can even get some chargers that have their own battery so you can charge them up and then they will handle several charges of your battery before it needs to be plugged in again. That's what I did and it gets charged in my hotel room at night, then in my camera bag by day my batteries get charged. Also handy if you're backpacking or somewhere there's no power.
On Your Trip
- If you carry a DSLR you become an instant target for thieves in many places. Keep in mind that even an entry level DSLR camera with a value of around $1000 is more than whole families make in an entire year in some countries. A higher end model like a Canon 5D Mark II or a Nikon D3X can really stand out. It makes you look like a professional photographer, whether you are or not, so you may find yourself being watched or scoped by some less than trustworthy looking characters. The biggest pieces of advice I have on this are: always put your camera strap diagonal across your body, not over one shoulder or no strap at all (way too easy to grab and run); and be aware of your surroundings and who is in your “space” at all times.
- get a small travel lock something like the one above left, and use it for securing your bag to your chair or table in busy restaurants, or even to the plumbing in the bathroom at the hotel so your bag itself doesn't walk off while you're out having dinner. Remember to get one that will go through all the zipper pulls and isn't easily cut or broken. Another option is a Pac Safe bag protector (above right) which is a wire mess that goes over your whole bag and locks to something solid.
- one other lesson I learned the hard way is to bring lots of memory cards but perhaps the largest size aren't always the best option. I opted for two 16gb CF memory cards for my Canon 5D on a recent trip to Turkey. One of them failed upon download back home and I wasn't able to recover the over 1000 images on it. Stick to slightly smaller cards, 8gb maximum and just buy lots of them or get a storage device like an Epson Picture Pad P-5000.
- Try to keep your full memory cards on your person, or leave them in the hotel safe. That way if your bag or your camera is stolen you won't lose all of your images.
- Two things to keep in mind if you are a victim of a robbery. First – they probably need the money more than you do and may be willing to fight for it. Secondly, while you may lose some images if they take your whole bag or camera – you still have you memories and your life – fight for your camera gear isn't worth losing that, let them have it willingly.
Now having said all that it seems like I might be a bit on the paranoid or overly pre-cautious side. One might think so – BUT I have NEVER had an issue (other than lost images due to card failure which was my own fault) while traveling. So I like to think that my safety measures and precautions have paid off. If you follow these tips, hopefully you'll have nothing but happy, safe journeys too!
Travel safe, have fun, and look for my follow up post soon on “What to do when you arrive at your destination”