If you fly with you cameras like I do, you know the last thing you want to do is to have issues with your gear, whether that is having to check a bag full of $15,000 worth of equipment or just getting hassled. Here are 5 tips for traveling smoothly with your DSLR and lenses.
Use a dedicated rolling bag for photography gear
The use of a dedicated camera case like the Think Tank Airport International will help keep your cameras well padded, nicely organized, and save your back from strain while running through airports. Even if you're not bringing a kit large enough to fill it, dedicated camera rollers will protect your gear the best and their modular designs will let you pack other items like cloths to fill the unused space.
Carry a backpack as your “personal item”
A backpack like the Think Tank Shape Shifter is the perfect “personal item” as a companion to a rolling camera bag. In the off chance you need to gate check your larger rolling bag due to space limitations or completely full overhead bins, just move essential pieces of your kit to the backpack. The Shape Shifter features five neoprene pockets that can fit two full-sized pro bodies and three lenses, including lenses as large as a 70-200mm f/2.8.
Avoid filling exterior pockets on luggage
The dimensions for most luggage (including camera cases) are measured when the bags are empty. Whenever possible, avoid using the exterior pockets of any bags you intend to stow in the overhead compartments of planes, especially if you know that you'll be traveling on smaller plans where overhead space can be extremely limited. Using the exterior pockets can increase the dimensions of the baggage just enough to push it out of airline spec and what can physically fit in the overhead bins.
Use clothes as padding to save space
When space is at a premium, using clothing as extra padding can help make use of every square inch of available room, especially when carrying a large volume of camera equipment. Clothes can help fill in the gaps in your luggage and help absorb impacts. Small items like socks and underwear are ideal for this use.
Upgrade, lie, cheat, or beg for a better boarding group
Even if you do everything right, on a completely full flight, sometimes you may be at the mercy of your boarding group if the overhead bins fill before you board. To this end, paying a minor premium to upgrade your boarding group can be well worth it. Appealing to a gate agent to allow you to board out of turn is always an option as well, but this should be (very politely!) done before boarding starts.
- Use a dedicated rolling bag for photography gear
- Carry a backpack as your “personal item”
- Avoid filling exterior pockets on luggage
- Use clothes as padding to save space
- Upgrade, lie, cheat, or beg for a better boarding group
While very basic, these tips have kept my cameras carry-on and saved them from a dreaded gate-check on multiple occasions. If you want to know more about how I fly with my camera gear for music photography jobs like festivals and music tours, I've written a post about flying with camera gear and the specific setup of Think Tank Photo bags I use like the Think Tank Airport International and Think Tank Shape Shifter. (Read the full post on Traveling as a Photographer: Packing & Flying with Camera Gear.)