Monday, July 6, 2009

Traveling to Europe this summer? Keep your camera equipment and valuables safe!

Philadelphia SkylineSince I published my two part article Tips for Urban Photography, I have had many requests to write a follow-up article on keeping your photographic equipment safe while traveling.

If you travel with or without a camera, you need to take precautions against having your camera, valuables and other belongings stolen.

Alice, a Rome theft victim relates, “Hah! Well our camera was stolen last March (2007) from between our 'bottoms' in the middle of a mass in a church in Rome where we sat in a pew!…While the camera was not at all valuable, the first half of our trip's pictures were all gone.”

Here’s some precautions that travelers should take when anywhere, plus some for those engaging in travel photography, and since I’ll be in Europe later this year, I’ve included a few tips specifically for European travel.
  • Paris MetroBe aware of your surroundings — Don't just look, see! Study your surroundings for things that make you uncomfortable, and go elsewhere if it doesn't feel right. Don't stroll blindly into a crowd.
  • Research the areas to which you’re traveling, for safety — Know what areas in the city are safe and what areas are not. Know where it's alright to go during the day and where to avoid at night. Check with the concierge at your hotel. Talk to your travel agent. Use travel books. Review the US State Department’s “Country Specific Information.
  • Blend in as much as possible — Wear clothing similar to the locals; no shorts or jogging suits, sports team clothes, baseball caps, white sneakers, shirts with funny sayings or political opinions, and absolutely no flashy jewelry.
  • There are pickpockets in major tourist destinations like Rome, Florence, and Barcelona — Day or night, locations like Barcelona’s "La Rambla" are both a great place to take photos and a major pickpocketing area. Consider carrying your valuables (money, passport, credit cards) in a sturdy, below-the-belt security wallet. Don't carry them in your back pocket. At least use your front pockets. Keep your passport, separate from your cash, and credit cards. Take 2 different credit cards on your trip. Carry one, and leave the other in a safe at the hotel.
  • Secure valuables left in your hotel room when out — Use the room or hotel safe. Put excess equipment and valuables in a concealed bag secured with a steel locking mesh.
  • Minimize the amount of cash you carry on the street —  Leave your excess cash in the hotel or room safe. Use ATM’s, carefully protecting your PIN number, to obtain cash as needed.
  • Don’t advertise your camera — Keep your camera in a bag, preferably a plain non-neon bag, not one that has Nikon, Canon or Kodak plastered all over it. It's much safer for the camera and you.
  • Make sure your camera and equipment are insured — Then if something happens you won't be inclined to save it, at your own peril.
  • Leave your used memory cards in your room — If your equipment is unfortunately stolen, your valuable photos will be safe if you don’t have them with you.
  • Amsterdam, on the Damark viewing Central StationWatch out for cut-snatch-and-run thieves for cameras around your neck, sling bags and shoulder bags — Thieves grab at cameras and bags, then with a very sharp knife cut off the strap and quickly disappear into the crowd with your equipment. Use a steel cable reinforced neck strap on your camera with a steel cable. Consider using an anti-theft camera bag to carry your extra lenses and other equipment.
  • Don’t put your camera and equipment down when you rest or eat — Avoid snatch and run theft at sidewalk cafés and while resting on park benches. Put the strap of your bag around chair legs or your legs, and keep the bag in between your legs, or just keep them on you. Don’t put your equipment on the café table top.
  • Watch out for the little motor scooters weaving through areas heavy with foot traffic — They’ll be eyeing your camera bag. If you hear or see them "be aware of them!" Hold onto your bag tightly and be prepared to kick the bike away, if it's not going too fast. Let go if they've managed to grab on. Whatever's in there isn't worth losing an arm.
  • Watch out for the “Cardboard Gypsies” — They’re the unwashed kids coming toward you carrying a piece of cardboard with gibberish written on it. The cardboard is to distract you while they pick you clean.
  • Beware of women with over-swaddled babies in the heat of summer — If you're on a crowded subway next to an overdressed woman holding an equally overdressed toddler, it's likely the excess cloth is hiding her wandering hands. Don't be distracted by the cute, sweaty kid. Move away from them.


Stan said...

Ned, those cut-snatch-and-run thieves are out there right now. I've been in Amsterdam and the surrounding area for the last few days and I've seen these guy steal a couple of women's bags and one fellow's DSLR.

Travelers need to follow your advice.

Great article.


Bill H. said...

Ned, just yesterday my wife and I were having a gelato at a sidewalk cafe on the Via Veneto in Rome. I had warned my wife to be careful with her bag. She put both the bag and her camera on top of our table so she could "keep an eye on it." We weren't half way through the gelatos when, quick as a flash, a guy came from no where and snatched the bag and camera, along with a couple day's worth of photos on the chip in the camera. He vanished as fast as he came.

I wish we could have read your column yesterday, so I wouldn't be writing to you now, while we're away.

Sally said...

Hi Ned,

You're absolutely right about La Rambla in Barcelona. We were there last month and my husband was pickpocketed there twice in one day.

I thought it was just him (LOL).


Marv said...

Ned, how many memory cards do you travel with to keep from loosing photos in case of theft, and what size cards do you use? While I'm asking, do you use a specific brand?


Ned S. Levi said...

Marv, you can't judge memory card usage by me, plus you didn't tell me what camera you use, what size, and quality, and format, so I don't know how many MB's are in each of your photos.

That being said, I'll tell you what I do.

I only have 5 memory cards, 3-8GB and 2-4GB. I take my photos using RAW format, which means each photo takes up about 15-16MB of space on my cards. That gives me about 1,900-2,000 photos if the cards were all filled. On a trip to the Galapagos (You can see many of my photos of the Galapagos in my galleries at I took an average of 1,100 photos per day, so you can see that I can go through cards quickly.

Each night while traveling I generally copy each of my photos to both my laptop and my portable external hard drive. That way I have two copies of every photo between the two, which gives me a high comfort level. I then format my memory cards so I'm ready for the next day. There have been times I've gotten to my 5th card of the day.

I use Sandisk CF cards. You can't go wrong using either Sandisk or Lexar memory cards. While there are other brands, I prefer to only use these as I'm sure of their quality. I use the Extreme brand of the Sandisk cards. I like their read/write and operating temperature specs.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Katherine said...

Hi Ned,

We'd always asked the concierge to help us get a reservation at a restaurant, or show, and asked directions to get to a particular location, but we'd never thought to ask advice about safety.

We have a new GPS that we use in the car, and also when we walk around in a city, so we haven't needed to ask directions recently. We took your advice and asked the concierge about a location we were going to walk to last night in Rome. He told us it's ok during the day, but not at night.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Ned S. Levi said...

Katherine, Bill, Stan ... what are you all doing reading my Blog while you're on vacation?!?

You're supposed to be enjoying yourselves. (LOL)

Thanks for your comments.

Bill and Sally, I'm sorry to hear you've run up against crime while away.

Regards to all,


Darren said...

I'm in Barcelona. I went to the Tour de France today. With such a huge crowd, it was a big day for the cut-snatch-and-run thieves. I saw a few tourists loose their cameras and bags. I felt more comfortable on barriers taking photos of the peleoton now that I put a anti-theft camera strap with slashproof wire built-in on my Nikon. No one tried to take my equipment, but it's always better to be prepared.

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Darren,

I might have seen you on TV. I watched the entire stage. I'm happy to hear you've had no trouble.


Marv said...

Ned, thanks for your reply to my comment. What portable external hard drive do you use to backup your photos while traveling? Can you tell me what capacity it has?


Ned S. Levi said...

Marv, you caught me just before going out to see a client.

I use a 500GB HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA. I did a review, "Review: Portable Battery Powered Hard Drives" earlier this year. The HyperDrive was one of the products. You can find the review at:

Marv, at this point, what do you do about your photos? Do you back them up while traveling?

Marv said...

Ned, I recently purchased a Nikon D90, which I love. I've been looking at various backup methods and storage ideas. So far I've just been keeping the photos on memory cards, but there is a problem with that.

The D90 can make videos, but if I make a video, I run out of space and cards in a hurry.

I'll look into your review and check out the Hyperdrive. I hadn't heard of that one. I've been looking at the Epsons, but they seem to be very expensive for what you get.

Camera Flash Units said...

Great Post. I love reading your posts

Ned S. Levi said...

Thanks very much CFU. I really appreciate it.

jade said...

separate from your cash, and credit cards. Take 2 different credit cards on your trip. Carry one, and leave the other in a safe at the hotel. travel in europe

Ned S. Levi said...

Great tip Jade. I've been doing that for years.

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