Rugged Travel with Digital Camera and Laptop

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by idalake, Dec 28, 2004.

  1. idalake

    idalake Guest


    I recently spent 6 months in Guatemala with a 35mm manual SLR. I plan
    to return in several months but this time with a Nikon D70 and my 12"
    laptop. I am pretty new to digital photography. I need ideas on:

    1. Discrete bags to carry my equipment
    2. Insurance
    3. General 'extreme condition' travel advice for digital photography

    I will be focusing on people more than nature photography. I will be
    going off the beaten path, traveling in chicken buses, and staying in
    places where I am the only white person. What kind of unforeseen
    problems might I run into with my camera and do you have any creative
    solutions for them?

    I realize that my question is pretty open ended, but I would like to
    hear back from anyone with experience doing this kind of photography on
    any information and ideas that they might feel pertinent to someone
    starting off with this.

    Many thanks,
    idalake, Dec 28, 2004
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  2. idalake

    C J Campbell Guest

    Your biggest problems will be personal security, hygiene, and then your
    photo equipment.

    For your camera, waist and fanny packs work well. See Lowepro's Street and
    Field series for examples. Be sure to scuff it up so that it does not scream
    "expensive camera equipment in here!" If you have a lot of equipment, a
    battered looking backpack. The computer can be carried in a canvas portfolio
    wrapped in garbage sacks. Keep all your equipment in garbage bags when
    stored. Use clear plastic bags, like Zip-Loc, to protect your camera when it
    is raining -- just shoot through the plastic.

    Take along extra batteries. Several memory cards of 256 or 512 megs are
    better than carrying around a one or two gigabyte sized cards.

    Use a money belt and clothing with secret pockets for valuables. Scan your
    passport and keep copies scattered around your possessions.

    Pay your models -- don't be a cheapskate, and they will take care of you in
    C J Campbell, Dec 28, 2004
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  3. idalake

    paul Guest

    I had my wife make a soft bag out of black velvet inside out with a
    semi-rigid rubber handle attached with small carabiners to carry the
    camera. It's small enough to wadd up in my pocket when I'm shooting &
    very discrete with the camera in it. It carries like a small woman's
    purse in my hand but looks more like a lunch bag or something. It can be
    clipped to my belt loop for climbing if I need both hands. The velvet
    provides a bit of protection from banging & absorbs dust & light rain
    adequately. You could make a similar bag for the laptop to keep it dirt
    free in a small day pack.
    paul, Dec 28, 2004
  4. I'll bet you want discreet bags. :-> One of my friends uses a diaper
    bag. It has an insulated compartment for such fluids as babies are wont to
    spit, er, drink, and which he uses for padding. It has a diaper changing
    shelf which he uses for changing film and lenses when otherwise he'd be on
    the ground. He's confident that no one has have stolen a diaper bag.

    I use khaki-colored Domke bags and a Lowe Pro backpack, which don't scream
    photo gear. Many less well off persons travel with all their clothes in
    backpacks, and no one seems to notice my pack has camera stuff in it. At
    this stage in its career, its worn and scuffed and dirty on the outside.
    Check your home owner's insurance if you have any. That company can likely
    provide adequate coverage at the best rate, since they already have your
    business. Otherwise, I'd check and for
    High humidity can be an issue. I don't know how well-sealed the D-70
    is. Bring plastic bags to put over your gear that will be out in the
    rain. If you stay in an airconditioned room, get everything out and open up
    stuff to the extent possible to let the AC dehumidify your gear.

    Bring lens cleaning stuff, brushes, lens tissue, lens fluid.

    Find out voltages and socket sizes so you can bring plug converters --
    voltage converters _generally_ aren't necessary, as most appliances will
    take 110 and 220, but check your bricks and confirm this. See
    for links to resources for converters, telephone adapters, voltges, and
    such (it's near the middle of the page -- just scroll down past the French
    West Indies stuff) for the section "Staying Online Abroad."
    has links to an online calendar, currency conversions, how to place an
    international call from any location, flight status, Zotophoto (upload a
    digital photo via the web from where ever you are, and have it mailed as a
    postcard in the US -- not free, but cheap), weather (just enter the city),
    and more.
    for links to first aid kits, overseas medical insurance (including
    medivac), trip insurance, and war, health, and disease reports. Emergency
    telephone numbers which can be used where you're traveling. Oh, yeah -- and
    training in first aid.
    sigh With that perspective, you're going to cause yourself more problems
    than you know. When I look up Ugly American in my dictionary, is that your
    photo there? You _are_ American, right?
    It's not your camera that's going to get you into trouble, hon. And I have
    no creative solutions for your real problem.
    Phil Stripling, Dec 28, 2004
  5. idalake

    idalake Guest

    The diaper bag option is a unique idea, I will keep that in mind.

    Thanks for the concern you noted for my personal safety, but I am
    familiar with Guatemala and I have an idea of what I am getting into.
    I have been to all the places I am going to and have local friends in
    many of them. I said that I was going to be doing rugged travel to
    avoid lots of comments about sticking to tourist spots and general
    travel advice.

    Yes, I'm from the States.
    idalake, Dec 28, 2004
  6. idalake

    Ken Weitzel Guest


    Let me share with you my "accident", perhaps you
    or others might like to duplicate it on purpose.

    Went shopping at a superstore, big camera dept. Just
    off the camera area a large display of bags, low priced,
    just 4 dollars and change canadian each.

    Beautiful. Hand strap, shoulder strap, and a solid
    clip to attach it to your belt loop or another
    piece of luggage. Two zippered compartments,
    one perfect for the camera, another perfect for
    big glass, or battery charger, etc. Several stretchy
    cargo nets - ideal for spare batteries, cards, what have
    you. Well padded. Just what I needed, cheap, assorted
    colors. Bought many of them, thinking that each member
    of the family would like one (we're all into photography)

    Had to wait for eldest grand daughter to come home from
    school to ask why I'd bought so many lunch bags :)

    Still perfect. And I submit that a good side benefit
    is that if we were to leave it on a car seat, we'd be
    much less likely to lose what others think is a lunch
    bag than we would an expensive camera bag. Or you, should
    you nod off on a "chicken train"

    In fact given the price, in your case I might even
    scruff one up a bit, add a couple of mustard or
    ketchup stains, leave a crumpled napkin or bit of
    wax paper stuck in the zipper :)

    Just my 2 cents worth. If I haven't described it well
    enough email me and I'll be happy to send you a picture.

    Take care.

    Ken Weitzel, Dec 28, 2004
  7. idalake

    idalake Guest

    Thanks for the reassurance that the computer doesn't need a fancy case.
    I was thinking of wrapping up more or less as you have suggested. I
    don't have enough stuff to warrant a back pack with space for three
    bodies and five lenses and a laptop.

    Shoot through the plastic - brilliant and affordable.

    I had good experiences photographing people during my last trip. I
    think I will put a better effort toward paying models this time around.
    I can't remember who told me that you can't steal a portrait. I found
    that to not only be true photographically, but the people deserve more
    than that anyway.

    Thanks for all the good ideas.
    idalake, Dec 28, 2004
  8. idalake

    C J Campbell Guest

    Well, don't use freezer bags -- they are a little foggy, not as clear as
    regular sandwich bags.
    C J Campbell, Dec 28, 2004
  9. idalake

    C J Campbell Guest

    That all worked for me very well in Belize a couple months ago. The D-70
    worked like a champ the whole time, but the Minolta Dimage A1 hiccupped a
    couple times.
    The only solution to that problem is to travel -- a lot. But I doubt the OP
    meant to be tactless. After all, it is just as tactless to assume that the
    OP is an American; I have found Europeans can be even worse.
    C J Campbell, Dec 28, 2004
  10. Oh, _I_ didn't mean to be tactless! So no problem, right?

    Uh, "even worse" in what way, CJ? Tact?
    Phil Stripling, Dec 28, 2004
  11. idalake

    C J Campbell Guest

    Yeah. Even Americans have feelings, Bub. :)
    C J Campbell, Dec 28, 2004
  12. idalake

    Ken Guest

    Sounds like fuzzy logic at work here.
    Ken, Dec 28, 2004
  13. idalake

    idalake Guest

    I apolagize for the lack of tact on my part. I didn't mean to offend
    or annoy anyone.
    idalake, Dec 29, 2004
  14. I didn't think it was tact you lacked.
    Phil Stripling, Dec 29, 2004
  15. idalake

    Alfred Molon Guest

    I'm currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and am about to finish a 40 days
    trip through China, India, Singapore and Malaysia. I've been travelling
    with an Olympus 8080 digital camera and lots of equipment (a notebook
    computer, Vosonic XS-Drive portable HDD, external DVD burner and a spare

    The aubnotebook is an IBM Thinkpad X31 which now has a 100GB HDD (with
    12 MB RAW files the HDD fills up quickly).

    To avoid having to carry always the notebook with me (I have only 1.6GB
    of memory cards and sometimes this is not enough for a day of shooting)
    I use the Vosonic device (with an 80 GB HDD), which also doubles as a
    backup in case the notebook HDD fails.

    When you do such rough travelling there is always the risk that
    harddisks might break, so it is too dangerous to keep all photos on just
    one harddisk.

    Every three days or so (i.e. every 4.5 GB of photos) I've backed up the
    newest photos to a DVD (using a Lacie external slim DVD burner).

    I carry a spare 40GB HDD with me in case the main one in the notebook
    fails (I also carry the software installation disks with me, so that I
    could reinstall everything in case of a crash). The harddisk in the
    Vosonic device could in theory also crash.

    You might think that I'm a bit paranoid, but the fact is that I
    travelled in SE Asia in 1999-2000 for 10 months and the notebook
    harddisk died in the middle of the trip.

    I don't have insurance on the equipment, but I carry the notebook in a
    special small rucksack for notebooks with shock absorbers. The camera
    and Vosonic device are in a camera bag, also fitted with shock
    absorbers. I took care when travelling to put both the camera bag and
    the notebook rucksack on soft surfaces.

    Heat and humidity are not a problem, meaning that I have been travelling
    with computers and digital cameras in tropical environments since 1999
    and never experienced problems due to heat or humidity. Perhaps the fact
    that I used quality equipment from Toshiba, IBM and Olympus helped.
    Olympus cameras by the way are quite strong.
    Alfred Molon, Dec 29, 2004
  16. idalake

    idalake Guest


    All this information on storage and backup is very useful. I find that
    is the one thing that I have been asking photographers over and over
    again to get a feel for what system I should set up for storing all
    this information and protecting against crashes. How long have you had
    the Vosonic drive for? Is it holding up well for you? I have a Lacie
    160GB drive, but I am going to leave that behind with all my work up
    till now.

    Did you loose all your photos when your notebook died during the 10
    month trip? What a horror.

    Someone suggested to me having an external hard drive, but also burning
    two copies of everything and FedExing one set back to the States
    periodically. Any thoughts on that possibility?

    idalake, Dec 31, 2004
  17. idalake

    Big Bill Guest

    That's definitely a possibility.
    I would think it depends on your level of paranoia.
    Do National Geographic photographers on assignment FedEx their film as
    soon as it's shot? I don't think so.
    Big Bill, Dec 31, 2004
  18. idalake

    RonFrank Guest

    I purchased a portable CD burner. When I'm on the road, I burn two copies
    of everything. This assumes you have some way to charge the batteries, which
    can be done easily in a car, but for some that is not an option.

    With storage meda as inexpensive as it is, my recommendation for those that
    want it all is just to purchase a LOT of media. SI photographers typically
    burn through about 30 gig of cards when covering a game, and they mail that

    RonFrank, Jan 1, 2005
  19. idalake

    Alfred Molon Guest

    I bought the Vosonic Xs Drive in July 2003. Works pretty well (have
    never lost a photo) and now contains an 80 GB hard disk.
    I lost a bit over two months of photos (since the last backup), but
    fortunately I had copied the Nepal photos to my brothers conputer before
    the crash.
    As I said I was travelling with a subnotebook, the Vosonic device and a
    Lacie DVD burner - just to be on the safe side. Sending back copies of
    burnt DVDs is an option, but it raises the cost.
    Alfred Molon, Jan 3, 2005
  20. idalake

    Bob Lashley Guest

    About four weeks into a five week trip in Southwest China, I bumped
    my portable computer while powered up. It immediately shut down.
    I restarted and Windows98 booted up to the point where it said I had
    disk problems and proceeded to "fix" them. A minute into it's
    business, I realized I had bigger problems and did a hard shutdown.
    I left the computer alone the rest of the trip and survived on the
    media cards only for my photography.

    When I got home, I opened up the portable to see what happened.
    The connector to the disk drive had detached but only partially, and
    Win98 then thought the disk drive was corrupt, so had started
    cleaning it up. I removed the hard disk and mounted it on a desktop
    system, where, using other recovery software, I managed to pull
    all but one day's worth of photos off the disk. If I had powered down
    sooner, I might have been able to recover some of those, too.

    I was lucky. I've heard stories about others who weren't.

    Bob Lashley, Jan 8, 2005
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