This year, I crossed the million mile mark. That’s more than one million miles flown through the air over my lifetime. I’ve flown just about everywhere and seen just about everything you can see from a plane.
I’ve seen plenty of travel pitfalls and my goal in this post is to help you avoid at least some of them.
Here are 10 tips that I think will make it easier for you if you are a traveling photographer. (Non-photographers can also learn from my experience.)
1. PACK LIGHT!
This is the most important tip of all. Everything you pack, you also have to carry, and take care of, and watch over, and worry about getting lost, broken or stolen. So if you don’t REALLY need it, leave it behind. Less really is more.
In my early days as a traveling photographer I used to bring it all for fear I’d need something and not have it. Those were excruciating years that I wish I could get back. Seriously, if you can, limit your gear. You can bring one or two bodies and two lenses and you should be able to cover everything. Bring only the accessories you use every day and find a way to carry it easily and discreetly.
2. BUY GOOD SHOES
One word of advice – Skechers! (Okay, I know – I am an old man so fashion doesn’t matter to me but comfort DOES!)
Seriously – travel means walking – if nothing else, through airports. So many times I made the mistake of grabbing shoes that looked good rather than shoes that WERE good. Comfortable shoes, with good, quality arch supports, make it MUCH easier to stay out shooting all day and even all night. BAD shoes can turn 15 minutes of photography into a nightmare. I do allow myself the luxury of two pairs of great shoes on every trip and then I rotate them. It keeps the shoes staying fresh and your feet will appreciate it.
3. IF YOU’RE IN THE USA – GET TSA PRE
I cannot tell you how much this changed my life. When the TSA made the new rule requiring photographers to remove every camera and lens for inspection, I just about lost my mind. What a hassle. I was always worried they would drop my gear or worse, steal it. So I bit the bullet, and paid the $85 for five years coverage. With TSA Pre, I don’t have to take my shoes off. Now I speed through security and I also don’t have to take my gear out of my bag. Peace of mind. You can find info on TSA Pre here – https://www.tsa.gov/precheck.
4. BE NICE
Let’s face it, traveling USED to be fun and even glamorous, but today it just mostly sucks. Just about everyone at the airport is stressed out – especially the folks who work at the airlines. They get yelled at all day – and I get it – sometimes they probably deserve it. But it doesn’t help. At all. Just be nice. No matter how hard things get, be nice and I guarantee you that if nothing else, YOU will feel better. Be nice to everyone in the airport and I bet they will in turn, be nice to you.
5. ARRIVE EARLY
There’s nothing more stressful than running for a plane. By arriving at the airport early, you can make sure you can take your time and not be stressed. Most airports have free WiFi – or other entertainment and dining options. I always join my airline’s lounge program and spend my free time there – away from the hustle and bustle and then I am totally relaxed when they call my flight.
6. WHEN IN ROME
I travel internationally, which means I go places where English isn’t the primary language. I also travel to places where the food, religion, political and business practices are very different from the USA. So here’s my guide for coping. Just get with the program. When in Rome – do like the Romans do. Don’t expect everyone to change what they do to suit you. There are lots of tools today to help with everything from language translation to coping with different customs. Avail yourself of them. And don’t worry – be happy. Just let the things that happen – happen and roll with it. The more you fight against it, the more it will come back to bite you. Just accept that you’re in someone else’s house and live by their rules – wholeheartedly – even enthusiastically. And when you come home, you can revert to your old ways with no problem.
I have a simple rule – a checked bag, is a lost bag. So when I travel, I do my best to make sure everything I need can be carried on. It’s not always possible, but it’s a goal. I save time when I get off the plane because I don’t have to wait a half hour for luggage and I save my strength because I have less to carry. It also costs less on most airlines to fly without checked bags. I’d rather ship my gear via UPS than trust it in a jet’s cargo bay.
8. AIRLINE LOYALTY
Take advantage of your airline’s loyalty program – but not because you want frequent flier miles. That is a trick. Most airlines require you to use so many miles to get a free ticket that it’s simply not worth the bother. The reason to pursue your airline’s loyalty program is status. I fly a LOT of miles on Alaska Airlines. Their hub is Sea-Tac International which is my home airport. Because of my status on Alaska, I cannot be bumped. I also get free checked bags, free entertainment and food options on the plane and a special hotline for booking travel. While the frequent flier miles may end up benefitting me every year or two, it’s the status that saves my bacon more often than not.
9. SAVE MONEY
There are lots of ways to save money when you travel and still go in style. Take the free airport shuttle to the nearest hotel and then book your rental car with Enterprise. They will come pick you up at the hotel for free and you don’t have to pay the airport rental car taxes – which can be 25% of the rental. Buy your snacks BEFORE you go to the airport. An energy bar at Safeway costs $1.25 – and $3.25 at the airport. Try to fly on Tuesday and/or Wednesday. These are most often the cheapest days to buy a ticket. Book hotel rooms at brands that cater to business people when you are traveling on weekends. During the week, these hotels charge an arm and a leg because business travelers use these spots for meetings. On weekends, most of these hotels are ghost towns and you can get cheap rates for very nice rooms.
10. KEEP YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU
This is a very important tip and it’s tied to tip number one. The fewer pieces of gear you bring, the fewer pieces of gear you have to worry about. Leaving your gear in your hotel room is a crap shoot and eventually, the house always wins. I always have my gear with me and that way, I know where it is. I carry it discreetly in bags that don’t look like camera bags and I have never had any issue.
If you are a US or Canadian citizen and you travel internationally, download the free app called Mobile Passport. It doesn’t work everywhere, but it does work at 25 major US airports and three different cruise ports. It speeds you back through U.S. Customs and in my experience, gets me to my car as fast as my buddy who has Global Entry. And it’s free. You can get info on the app from CBP.
I could write lots more posts like this – filled with lots more travel tidbits, but I decided 11 tips were enough to get most people going in the right direction. I hope you find some of these helpful.
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