The Big Trip

by Steve Simon

I've said it before, my travel fantasy is to be all packed and ready, looking at my watch to see if it's time to mosey on over to the airport and check-in.

But the reality is always a bad case of chickenwithoutaheadia, because there's so much to do to make sure life continues in my absence--bills to be paid, plants watered etc.

So in the next few posts, I thought I would talk about everyting I do to prepare for a six week assignment for Oxfam UK , visiting Angola, (if my Visa comes through) Mozambique, South Africa and maybe more places.

I won't talk about the obvious- the vaccinations that are needed and anti-malaria medication (I chose Malarone). That stuff is readily available on the web or at your local travel clinic.

Instead, I will provide you (and myself) with a checklist that we can go over the next time we have the good fortune to take an extended journey with our cameras. In coming posts I will also talk about the shoot, show some pictures and provide info on my workflow with Aperture--internet connections willing.

100 Flights for PDF.009.jpg
Don't forget to breathe and everything will be okay. Copyright Steve Simon


Like many photographers I know, I have a bit of a "camera bag problem". You can never have too many is my reasoning, since each assignment demands different equipment configurations. My strategy is to find the lightest, strongest bags I can, since I'm always close or exceeding weight limits, a fact I've resided myself too. That said, I pack as light as I can. Ikea sells a bag for a dollar made of a durable material that lets you hold a lot of heavy stuff in a pinch, and folds small.

I have a medium-sized suitcase on wheels, a Crumpler "7 Million Dollar Bag", a LowePro Versa 200 back pack and a Domke Vest and a smallish fanny pack. Because this is an assignment and not strictly personal work, I feel the need to take some extra stuff to make sure nothing needed gets missed.

When I finally loaded myself up and haled a cab, I realized I may have been a bit optimistic in thinking I can lug all this around with some ease. But the jury is still out; it all depends on how secure my base will be when I'm out in the field. If not, taking too much stuff can really hinder shooting, so I'm hoping I can leave some stuff safely behind and take what I need, when I need it.

I like to get to the airport early, especially for guys like us carrying so much stuff, with wires, batteries and chargers bursting out at the seams.

On this occasion, a new TSA rule had just been implemented: "WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The TSA has announced a new security enhancement that could affect the way you pack your carry-on bags.
Effective Saturday, August 4th, passengers must remove all electronic items, such as DVD players, video cameras, and MP3 players, from their carry-ons at security checkpoints for inspection".

I did not know about this.

My security guy, required me to remove all the electronics from my bags, and place them in those gray bins! Well this is a first for me, but I've heard many a nightmare- airport security experience and this one ranks up there.

I managed to unpack my backpack and camera bag quickly, into four gray plastic bins with expensive loose unsupervised gear, (not a happy moment) taking a ride through the X-Ray machines. Fortunately, I was able to get it all back in the backpack and camera bag safely, but if this was to be the new norm, I would have to come up with a better strategy for carry-on stuff.

As I re-conbobulated my stuff, another (nice) security person I chatted with briefly said that yes, you're supposed to take out at least the big items, but not necessarily everything, and she said, whenever a new rule is enforced, some take it to extremes especially at the start. She also mentioned that she thinks the old way works better. The luck of the draw I guess.

These are not the security guys that made me empty the contents of my carry-on camera bags into gray bins. Photo Copyright Steve Simon

But I digress. Here's the stuff I'm taking. I'll list the equipment next week.

Travel umbrella
Sunglasses (Polarized)
A light foldable Gortex hat for protection against the sun and elements.

I throw a bright-colored ID tag making it easier to see checked baggage and I always like to get to baggage claim early to insure I see the bags quicker than any potential thief would.

It should be mentioned that I think it's best to have the expectation that stuff is going to get lost, stolen, or broken. It's not a doomsday scenario as much as being professional, and having a back-up plan should bad things happen. Have your stuff insured for full replacement value. Make arrangements to have stuff sent to you when possible if you need it. Make sure you have travel health insurance.

As far as what you take on, you need to be able to function when your suitcase is lost, so make sure you have everything you need, including chargers, plug adapters, drugs of course; with you. I tend to maximize (exceed) carry on allowance weight by keeping my bags small (but heavy, about four gray bins worth) and wearing a vest packed with essentials, which allows more carry-on stuff "legally".

Shadow of my big jet reflected in the clouds. Copyright Steve Simon

My recent photographer-meets-airport-security experience, was not pleasant, and I have heard that some countries and airports can be better or worse. Therefore, you need to know there is a chance your carry-on could be refused and moved to check baggage; so have some sort of quick fix to handle that unfortunate case. (Ikea Bag or vest with big pockets)

More airport/photographer stories here. I'd be curious to hear your photo-travel strategies. More on my big trip and the stuff I take with me next week.


2007-08-23 07:06:54
Really, really helpful stuff! And best of luck on this next trip. We're waiting to see the resulting images...