Safety, Travel, and Photography should all go hand in hand…
As travel photographers, we often explore new horizons and go on remote adventures. While this is exhilarating, it can also lead to safety concerns. So to keep as safe as possible when you travel, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten travel photography safety tips.
"Safety is as simple as ABC - Always Be Careful" ~unknown
Do Your Research
There is an abundance of information available online for someone who wants to travel the world. Use this to your advantage by researching any potential dangers in the region you are planning to visit. Some areas might be prone to pickpocketers. Some areas might have recently undergone political turmoil. Assess all possible risks of your travel destination. I also recommend researching and learning a few keywords in the local language so you can call out for help once in the location if needed.
Make a Checklist
While packing, make a list of all valuable items you are taking with you on the trip. Write down the serial and model numbers, and take a photo of the equipment for your records.
Get insurance for yourself and your belongings
In addition to your general health insurance, I highly recommend travel insurance. Staying healthy is the number one thing for safety! A good travel insurance policy covers you in case you need medical attention when you travel, and some will even airlift you out of a country if necessary.
Also, make sure your equipment is properly insured. Is it covered under your homeowners or renter’s insurance? Is it covered under your travel insurance? If you’re unsure if your equipment is covered, read through your policy details or call your insurance company. If it isn’t covered, you should consider finding a company to underwrite the items.
"There's an old saying that if you think safety is expensive, try an accident." ~Dr Trevor Kletz
Plan for Emergencies
Hope for the best, plan for the worst! This is again where travel insurance comes in handy. If you need to cancel your trip, your insurance could cover the losses.
Once you leave for a trip, keep an updated itinerary with family and friends, so they know where you’re supposed to be at all times. Keep a list of emergency contact numbers and addresses. For example, you could write down the information for the nearest U.S. (or your home country’s) Embassy to where you’re traveling. From an equipment perspective, you could write down the information of a local camera store, in case you need to repair or buy new gear on the fly for your photography project.
Travel With a Buddy or Group
While you can’t always afford to travel with a friend or group, there is an extra level of security, safety, and comfort in having friends nearby. If you’re using expensive equipment or have bags with you, one of you can keep a lookout while the other has his or her eye to the camera.
"There is safety in numbers" ~Euripides
While en route to your destination, here are a few things to consider. First, check airline regulations before you fly. You’re going to want to keep all your expensive equipment on your person at all times. This means carrying on your gear. So you’ll need to make sure your bag is small enough to fit above your seat.
If you’re bringing or renting a car, remember to not leave valuables in plain sight in the car when you leave it. If it is a rental car, see if you can make it look less like a rental and more like a local car. Put a local newspaper on the dashboard. Get rid of any “touristy” items.
Blend In and Stay Vigilant
Try to blend in as much as you can to the destination. Avoid clothes that make you stick out as a tourist. Don’t don fancy attire or wear expensive watches or jewelry, either. What’s your photography bag look like? Is it brand new and shiny? Does it scream “there are thousands of dollars of equipment in here?!” If so, choose a different bag. Watch your surrounding as you explore your new destination, and keep your distance from crowds. Learn how to keep your gear close. If can’t help but be in a logjam of people, move your backpack to your front side, and put one hand on your pocket over your wallet or place it deep in your bag in a separate zippered compartment.
Protect Your Wallet and Passport At All Costs
When traveling, your passport is your most important belonging. Your wallet is second. Without these, you have no money and no way to make it home. I recommend keeping the two items separate from each other. If you lose one, you’ll still have the other. If your hotel has a safe, you can leave your passport there. Just remember to collect it upon departure! For your wallet, put it in a pocket that has a zipper or Velcro, so no one has easy access. And I like to keep my cash further separated from my wallet/credit cards. So if my wallet gets stolen, I still have some cash.
Take Care of Your Equipment While In the Field
You travel for photography, so you obviously don’t want to have your gear stolen! Here are a few considerations for your gear while out in the field. Conceal the brand and model of your camera. Pack only the necessary gear for your trip. If you’ll be in a city doing street photography for example, you’ll have no need for a gigantic, expensive wildlife lens. When traveling around during the day, keep items you don’t need that day in your hotel. Don’t put your bag down while exploring. Invest in some cable locks to secure your bags to something if you’re on a train, and some locks to keep your bag zippers closed.
Watch out for the typical tourist scams as well. We are all easily distracted when taking photos or in a new place… be vigilant.
Listen to Your Gut
Finally, just be open with yourself and your instinct. Remember, a photo opportunity doesn’t come before your safety. If a situation feels too dangerous, leave. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing!
“Her intuition was her favorite superpower.” ~Anonymous