Packing for a trip, especially one centered around photography, is generally a huge undertaking. It just so happens that I very much enjoy this undertaking. For lots of people, packing is a process full of questions and uncertainty. What do I pack? Should I bring this? Will I need two of these? How will I keep my gear protected? Will I be able to carry that on? What if something breaks? What are the essentials? Would that be nice to have? What will the weather be like? And on and on and on… Hopefully, I can help you answer some of these questions by sharing a little about my preparation process.
I used to leave notes all over the house of things to do and things not to forget and things to purchase before I go. Personally, I hate chaos so this was a nightmare!
I find I’m a pretty efficient packer and quite good at staying organized (thanks Dad). The following is a quick break down of what I do when preparing for a trip. And with two trips coming up, this will be a bit of a play by play as I really prepare. I hope it helps.
I have lots and lots and lots of lists that I keep in a dedicated notebook entitled“Lists” (revolutionary I know) that I store in Evernote. Here are a few of the lists that I have that I’ve found to be helpful:
PHOTO EQUIPMENT LIST
This contains all of the equipment I currently own (including computers and software) as well as purchase price and serial number. Besides being a life saver when filing an insurance claim, it helps to print a copy as I review what I will need on my upcoming trip.
SPORTS EQUIPMENT LISTS
In addition to photography equipment, I have listed equipment used for climbing, canyoneering, car camping, backpacking, fly-fishing, and hunting. When a trip is approaching, I can take out all of the potential lists and review the equipment I might need. I generally use these to create a final master packing list that helps me see what I’m missing and what I need to do before I go.
PREVIOUS MASTER LISTS
I hang on to the lists I’ve made from past trips as a helpful place to start for an upcoming trip. This may just be obsessive-compulsive behavior on my part, but for some reason I think it helps.
If it’s a road trip, there a several items I like to take care of before I leave like oil changes, spare tire air pressure, insurance cards, emergency kits, and the like. A list of these things is a good reminder to review.
TO DO LIST
I generally make a list of important things to do before I leave. This usually includes backing up my computer, updating all of my software, color calibrating my laptop, charging or replacing batteries, formatting memory cards, updating personal information stored online, filing a trip plan with an emergency contact and sometimes search and rescue, as well as sharing my itinerary.
The final list I put together before I go is a shot list. I like to do some basic research around what I’ll be shooting and get some ideas together of what I’d like to capture to tell a complete story. Often, I’ll include images in an inspiration folder on my travel hard drive. Obviously, a shot list is open to interpretation once I’m on site and in the moment, but it’s nice going in with a plan.
The right bag can make or break a trip. I have several blog posts from earlier this year that discuss camera bags I own and use, so I’ll spare you the details. A few nice things to remember when purchasing a new bag include international flight regulations regarding size and weight, portability, protection, and accessibility to your equipment. That last one is a big one for me. I've sold many a camera bag due to inaccessibility.
I like my laptop cleaned up and backed up when I travel. Aside from wiping down the screen, exterior and keyboard, I take a 500GB hard drive that stores my necessities and some niceties. This includes: software backups and license numbers should I need to restore my computer, all company documents including insurance, my portfolio of images, and folders of music, movies and audiobooks to make travel easier and more entertaining. I keep a second copy of company documents and images in Dropbox in the event my hardware gets stolen. I can access these via phone or internet café. I also keep secure copies of my driver’s license, passport, insurance cards and the like online (LastPass) in case they get lost or stolen. It’s also smart to make sure all memory cards and field hard drives are downloaded, emptied and backed up while you’re still at home. Nothing’s worse than being short on storage and not knowing what you can erase and what you should save!
I always send an updated equipment list to my insurance provider when I purchase or sell a piece of equipment. Knowing my stuff is covered lets me focus on being creative instead of worrying about equipment.
I started using TripIt to manage my itineraries and share information with friends and family involved. It auto-updates based on my inbox and reminds me to check in for my flight. It’s nice traveling with all of my confirmation numbers in one place and close at hand.
Side note: it’s a good idea to check your reservations for hotel, rental car, and other items by phone before you leave. Set a mental reminder to do this when you get your "It's time to check in for your flight..." email. Don’t be the idiot at the counter who thought he had a reservation but doesn’t.
I charge batteries, format cards, and clean lenses and sensors before I go. If I need to rent equipment, I reserve items in advance and make sure I have a time buffer for returning the item. As a final equipment prep, I lay everything I'm bringing out on the ping pong table and snap a shot. This helps remember what I took and people seem to love these on Instagram.