I love photographing architecture in places I’ve never been. The thrill of capturing new and distinctive buildings in unfamiliar surroundings is like no other feeling for me. Somehow seeing these marvels through the lens intensifies the sensation of discovery and delight in the beauty, ingenuity, materials and ornamentation that humans have used for building throughout time.
In the early summers of my marriage, my husband and I packed up our car with my camera equipment and sketching supplies and drove around the United States and Canada. Our matched set of luggage consisted of black garbage bags and there was always plenty of room for watercolor sets, photography magazines and plenty of film.
After several weeks we would return to New York poorer, but rich in the sights we saw and experiences we had on the road. (And, of course, the hundreds of photos and slides I shot with my 35mm cameras and TLR.)
During later years, after the kids came, the four of us took two five-week trips to Europe. One was a lovely sojourn in England, Scotland, Paris and Wales; the other was a dazzling journey through Italy and Spain. Airlines did not have the same weight restrictions then and, while we did not take a carload of stuff, we needed at least two luggage carts to get from plane to plane.
More recently, my son took me to Europe on three extraordinary holidays: Stockholm, Amsterdam and Vienna. There were side trips to Mora, Sweden, Bruges and Ghent, Belgium and Salzburg, Austria, respectively.
I frequently look at the thousands of photographs I took in these places and to relive my experiences. Each time I put a disk of those photos into my computer, I recognize some new architectural details or a distinct way in which a building was constructed. I can transport myself to the places via my images.
I also can remember struggling with overly packed suitcases and unnecessary gear.
Throughout my travels, I learned valuable lessons in packing lighter and more practically, both in equipment and clothing/personal necessities. It was a solo trip to Australia and New Zealand three years ago (one that required traveling on seven planes in 17 days) that thoroughly prepared me for packing for my upcoming shoot in Germany.
With each and every trip, my main priority was photography. Balancing equipment requirements and personal belongings demands thoughtful and careful planning. That noted, I offer some very basic tips for the road:
- Take camera equipment that fits in your carry-on. Checking cameras, computers, and expensive or not easily replaceable gear can be disastrous. Theft, destruction and loss are serious considerations when checking equipment, especially if your insurance does not reimburse you.
- Pack bulky, replaceable items like batteries, cords and wires in checked luggage.
- Consider the type of photography you will be shooting on your trip. Packing a lens that you may use once or twice can be an unnecessary burden or risk.
- I always take a basic point and shoot as a backup. Sometimes the right moment comes along and you can’t get the SLR or lens out of the case fast enough. Even after I use my SLR for photos I think are going to be fine, I back up my info with the little camera. It never hurts to have too much info.
- Rather than taking a laptop, I pack a small storage unit/viewer. I rarely send photos while traveling, so my iPhone and the hotel computer are fine for checking email, job progress and updates.
- If possible, do not leave equipment unattended in hotel rooms. Many hotels have safes, which are great places to store expensive cameras and lenses while you’re out. It’s also ok to carry your gear with you. I actually take my rolling camera bag with me at all times. Restaurants, theaters and nightclubs are accustomed to having travelers with small bags around.
- Pack your gear in a sturdy rolling bag that meets international or national carry on weight requirements. These vary so check with your airline. (There is a 16 ounce difference between carry-ons to New Zealand and Germany). I find it convenient to use a bag that accommodates a monopod or tripod with a pocket-like sleeve.
- Wherever you go, you can buy a t-shirt. Packing heavy suitcases filled with clothing and shoes is physically stressful and literally a drag.
- Wear layers on the plane. If I’m traveling to a potentially chilly place I wear ankle waterproof boots, polyester pants, a t-shirt, sweatshirt vest, a heavy sweater, and a water repellent coat with a hood on the plane. It’s annoying at check in, but my suitcase is manageable and light. I usually pack another pair of travel pants, several long sleeve and short sleeve t-shirts, a polyester skirt (just in case) and comfortable loafers. I also include basics like undergarments, socks, a hair brush and a tooth brush, but I buy “travel-sized” tooth paste, etc. at the drug store knowing that I can get more if I need it.
- Packing items like shampoo can be disastrous. Even in plastic baggies, liquids can open and ruin the contents of your bag. Many hotels supply shampoo, lotions and toothpaste.
- In rare cases, I’ve had to carry my bags up or down stairs, so only take what you can comfortably carry.
- Ship it. If you are purchasing mementoes, books (especially heavy photography books), or giftware, spend the extra money to have it shipped. Dragging around your purchases will complicate your trip and burden you. I spent $100 on postage in Sweden to ship some rare art/photography books home rather than taking them with me. Every penny was well spent!
- At all times keep your personal documents, such as passports/credit cards and money on your person. Also, make copies of passports and credit cards (front and back) to leave at home with a responsible person who can fax lost document replicas to you.
- Most of all: Enjoy!!