I've spent most of my adult life travelling places with my camera. On planes, busses, my own two feet. And I've learned a thing or two about what I need and what I don't need in my travel kit to help me create photos. Some of these things were obvious (once I'd left them behind once). And some, not so much. But, after a lot of trial and error, I've landed on a few items that I will not travel without having in my camera kit. I'm not saying I'm right, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but for people wondering, this is a great place to start building out your travel photography kit. I won't get into what lenses you need or anything like that. We've talked about that plenty - go check out episode 17 for a specific look - and it's totally subjective in how you shoot. This is all about those other things that every travel photographer should really have. Alright, let's get into 'em.
I love my 1-litre Nalgene in day-to-day life. They're tough, the perfect size, and I take them everywhere with me. But when you're travelling for an extended period, they get big and cumbersome. And those Nalgene’s take up a lot of valuable space in that carry-on bag. My solution? A good collapsable water bottle that you can refill no matter where you are. Now, specifics here. I hate those flat collapsable water bottles with no structure. When it has liquid in it, I need a water bottle that will stand on its own and has some structure when you are drinking from it. I also want it to be at least 1-litre so you can carry enough water with you. When you are looking for your collapsable water bottle, here are the things you should consider: size, material, collapsed size, and if it is dishwasher safe.
My personal favourite is the HydraPak Stash 1 L. I've used this water bottle for trips all through Canada, Europe and Africa. It has a wide-mouth top, meaning it's compatible with most water-filtration systems, has a hard bottom so it stands on its own, and can take both hot and cold liquids (not boiling though, that's how I ruined one of them). The bottle also collapses down to less than a quarter of its filled size and can easily be stashed in a side pocket while not in use (or going through security).
One of my big complaints is actually going through security with it, as the residual water inside and the strange size and shape will typically mean that security wants you to pop the bottle open. If you're rushed heading into the airport with this water bottle, I'd suggest you pop it open and have it ready to show the guards.
Lithium-Ion Rechargeable Power Bank
Every photographer should be travelling with a rechargeable power bank. It's a necessity today. You can recharge your phone, smartwatch, headlamp, GoPro and keep your primary camera going all day long. Today, most new cameras can be charged via USB-C, meaning a rechargeable battery pack can charge your camera. Limiting the concern around batteries running low.
You will want a power bank that holds at least 10,000 milliamp-hour and has USB-C charging capabilities. The 10,000 ensures you will be able to charge your camera at least once as well as refuel some of your other devices. One of the downsides to bigger power banks is their size. The more charge they offer, the bigger they get and the longer they take to fully recharge. Most new power banks offer USB PD charging, cutting charge times by about two-thirds. If you're buying a new bank, ensure it provides the ability to charge through its USB-C port as it's much faster than micro USB.
Headlamps are a must-have in your photography kit. You should be up in the dark frequently, using your hands to shoot, carry gear, and get in and out of locations. You will need your hands free, so get yourself a headlamp. I've found some people resistant to them because they 'look funny.' But they are practical, give you the use of your hands back, and you can use them to help light your scene or your subject. I'd specifically recommend that you get one of the newer styles that feature a rechargeable lithium-ion battery rather than one that you need AAA batteries for. My favourite part of this is not needing to hunt for AAA batteries while you are travelling or worrying if you will be able to get some as you just need to plug in at your accommodation or use the lithium-ion power bank you should carry with you. Getting a rechargeable one also reduces the amount of waste you create (and possibly needing to carry back out of somewhere). Another awesome bonus!
One of my favourites is the BioLite 330 headlamp. It's tiny, sits nicely on your head and has an outstanding balance of features with size and weight. My favourite part of this headlamp is the way it sits on my head. Most headlamps feel like they are pulling you forwards with their weight, this one balances the weight in the front, and the back keeping your head balanced better and not feeling like you are constantly fighting to keep your head upright. There are brighter headlamps, more durable ones, and smaller ones. Still, to me, this headlamp is a happy medium point for all of these features, and it is comfortable while running, hiking, or puttering around the hostel early in the morning.
The other headlamp I love is the Black Diamond Spot 350. This is a much brighter headlamp than the BioLite and has a longer burn time. But it's a bit bigger and bulkier. Take a look at both and decide for yourself, but go and get a rechargeable headlamp for your travel bag.
Waterproof notepad & pencil
This is a bit old school, but honestly, one of my favourite travel items—a waterproof notebook (and a pencil to write in it). So often, I find myself wanting to sketch the idea for a shot, plan a location, or just write out some notes, and I would much rather do all of that not on my phone. I spend so much time with screens in front of me that when I want to buckle down and create something, I don't want to be doing it with yet another screen. So I use notebooks. Waterproof ones are amazing for travel because you can write notes no matter where you are. I've used these on canoes, in the ocean, and in the middle of a rainstorm. And my notes were all safe and happy. They are a bit more expensive than a regular notebook, but not needing to worry about getting rain or splashes on the pages while working is worth it.
I like to use pocket-sized notebooks from Rite-in-the-Rain. The paper quality feels good; they're nice to write on and slip into any pocket almost unnoticed. The expedition Notebook from Field Guides is another personal favourite with durable pages and beautiful designs. They are a much more aesthetically pleasing book than Rite-in-the-Rain.
Never go anywhere without a small towel while travelling. They are helpful no matter the season and won't add anything noticeable to your bag size if you get the right one. But they make a huge difference when you need one.
I love having these while travelling because you never know when you're going to want to just jump into the ocean for a quick dip, rinse your feet off in a nearby river, or a sudden shower soaks your gear.
Make sure the towel you get packs small but is at least the size of a hand towel when pulled out, is a high-wicking material and dries quickly.
This is the one piece of dedicated photography gear I'll mention here. The Rocket Blower. This is the standard for cleaning dust and debris off of your camera and lenses. It blows clean air to eliminate dust from sensitive or hard-to-reach surfaces, such as those on lenses, cameras, and filters. You need this if you are out and about frequently anywhere, but especially if you are off the beaten path. You can use this blower to get things off your lenses before cleaning the front element or getting dirt out of the lens mount before switching. I even use it all the time to get the dirt out from around the eyepiece. Really, anywhere that dust may accumulate, I use this item. The best thing is, they are cheap and small and can tuck into most pockets.
My goal with these six items is to get you thinking about what you need for travel photography. A lot of the gear you bring will be location-dependent. But these six items are a must-have in my bag no matter where I'm going to travel. And I think if you don't have them already, they will make a massive difference in your travel photography as well.
Do you have things you love to take with you travelling? Or that random accessory that just makes all the difference? Then let me know! I love hearing what other people have and what they are using.
You can follow along with Robert’s adventures on Instagram @RobertMasseyPhotography