There are two major domains in which photographers, much like all travelers, carry their gear on trips; “in-transit,” and during shooting. In Part I, below, I discuss the problems of “in-transit” travel, which affects how you pack for your trip. In Part II, I'll discuss bags for carrying your gear while “in-transit.” In Part III, I'll discuss carrying your gear while shooting.
Whether traveling by bus, train, ship or plane the issues of “in-transit” travel are similar. When traveling solely by car, the traveler is restrained only by the car's capacity and the traveler's personal convenience, so I'm won't concern myself with auto “in-transit” issues.
By “in-transit” I mean when you are traveling from home to a destination, between destinations, or returning home at the end of a trip.
When traveling by bus, ship, or plane, all travelers pack their belongings for convenience, necessity, potential emergency, and their overall needs throughout the trip, while taking into account the contractual relationship with their transport companies. In fact, the “contract of carriage,” or “ticket contract,” which governs the relationship between travelers and their transport companies, often with extensive rules and defined limits of liability, may be the overriding factor determining how travelers pack their belongings while “in-transit.”
When you examine these contracts, three critical factors are impossible to miss, two limiting transport companies' liability for lost, delayed, stolen or damaged luggage and their contents. The first is a list of items for which they won't accept any liability. The second is the low liability limit they will pay for items aggregately, for which they accept liability. The third is that large bags or suitcases must be checked-in, are handled directly by the transport companies, and aren't available to you while you're “in-transit.”
The transport companies, in general, due to their contracts with their passengers, have no liability for breakables and valuables, such as: camera equipment, electronic devices such as Mp3 players, laptops or netbook computers, jewelry, or cash.
Even if the airlines accepted liability for your missing or damaged photography equipment, since domestically their maximum aggregate liability for all your belongings is $3,300 flying domestically and about $1,807 flying internationally, you wouldn't get much of a reimbursement. Many cruise lines limit their liability to only $300.
Based on liability issues alone, bus, ship or plane travelers must carry their photo equipment in their “carry-ons.”
What photo equipment we take, how we pack it, and what it's packed in, is also dependent on what else we need to take in “carry-on” bags.
Many of us take convenience and entertainment items, for “in-transit” travel. I take my iPod classic, filled with movies and television episodes, a non-woven wash cloth and towel to refresh myself, and an inflatable travel pillow for comfort among other items.
Each traveler should pack those items they absolutely, positively must have while traveling, since you never know the fate of your checked luggage until you arrive at your destination(s). Prescription medications you take regularly or take for emergencies fall into this category. It can be very hard and time consuming to obtain prescription medication while traveling internationally, or even in another location of your home country. Traveling internationally, it may even be difficult to obtain specific non-prescription medication you normally use.
“In-transit” emergencies occur. You can prepare for many of them. I can't tell you how often I hear from travelers who, while flying, had some kind of beverage spilled in their lap. It's happened to me. I carry a complete change of clothes in my carry-on, in case my checked-in bag doesn't make it to my destination, and just in case I need fresh clothes while “in-transit.” Who would want to sit in wet underwear and pants for hours in a plane traversing “the pond.”
Have you ever take a long flight or train ride, only to find the lavatory has run out of toilet paper, with half the ride left? I always have a roll or two of travel toilet paper in my carry-on.
Like most people, I carefully chose the “toilet articles” in my “kit.” I have favorite brands with which I'm comfortable and not allergic. Whether my checked luggage arrives at my destination or not, I want my “kit” with me throughout my trip.
I take my photo gear, valuables, breakables, medications, toilet articles, electronics (iPod, laptop, noise canceling headset, etc.) and a complete change of clothes, in my “carry-ons” for all trips. Somehow all these items must fit and be carried safely in my “carry-on” bag, and as the airlines call it, my “personal item”
TIP: I carry my camera/lens as a separate item around my neck to give myself extra room in my “carry-on” when necessary.If you have considerable non-photographic travel gear, I suggest using a roller carry-on bag, plus a photo equipment bag as your “personal item,” for your “in-transit” travel.
On most trains, the rules rules are different, as you don't have to check-in your large suitcase, but can take it with you in your train car. As a result, unless you have to check your large suitcase, you don't have to use a “carry-on,” although when traveling by train (or auto) I normally suggest putting your camera gear, and some items for your convenience, plus your laptop or netbook computer in a roller “carry-on,” while the remainder of your belongings are in your suitcase.
If you're just going on a weekend jaunt, you might be able to fit your non-photographic gear in a small bag, which would free you to put your photo gear in a roller carry-on.
Next time, we'll discuss “in-transit” photo gear bags.