Travel Photography in the Time of Underpants Bombs…

….will be much tougher than Love in the Time of Cholera.  I just flew down to a job in Miami from Newark Airport (good old Terminal C, my home away from home and the same one that was shut down the other day because somebody waltzed up the down staircase) and while it wasn’t too bad, it’s not going to be the same either.

The time of one carryon and one carryon only is coming. Especially on overseas flights. I’m flying to Tanzania in a couple of weeks, right through Amsterdam, and I’m currently figuring out how to jam two carryons worth of stuff into one bag.

It’s a safari and I thought my only concern was the 33 lb. limit on my checked bag for the regional charter in country. Now I have to get the long lens gear, audio stuff, and the backup stuff in one bag that will pass muster in Schipol Airport (and weigh less than 13 lbs). Remember the Minox?  I might be the first guy to shoot a safari on a cellphone. What the hell, it worked for Chase Jarvis!

Hit the jump for a couple of strategies to consider:

1. We’ve been digital long enough that it may be entirely possible to shoot an entire trip on a set of cards. If you don’t already have a slew of cards, consider buying a bunch of 8GB or 16GB or bigger cards as an investment in your sanity. Bring an Epson P7000 and back them up once, but don’t erase them. Two copies should do it.

2. If you don’t have to edit on the road, consider a tiny netbook. I hate the Windows XP system on my cute little  Asus, but that little computer practically fits in my hip pocket, and it’s not too bad if you use it just to download and backup pictures and pick up email.

I wish Apple would do something like this, but I’m not hopeful about the upcoming Mac tablet….I think it’ll be too big to be as convenient as the iPhone, and too under-powered and under-ported to be as useful as a laptop (what makes me think this? Two words: MacBook Air—the most stylishly useless bit of kit to come out of Cupertino since the Newton). Of course, I liked Beta over VHS too, so you know what my tech predictions are worth.

3. You really need those 23 megapixels?  Smaller, lighter cameras will not be a choice, but a necessity (unless, of course, you travel with someone with whom you can split your carryon allowance).

For a long time I’ve thought that only way this whole thing would shake out is if the airlines charged for carryons. That way, only the really committed would tote on stuff, and folks would leave their stuffed animals, dirty laundry, and hypo-allergenic pillows in the hold, where they belong.

But nooooo, those airline geniuses went and started charging for the checked bags instead, wreaking total havoc in the overhead bins as folks tried to carry on everything to avoid the fee…and totally f’ing up the security lines.

Soon the easiest way to get to Africa, or anywhere, will be by boat.  A nice steamship. Like the one in Love in the Time of Cholera…..

This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Okay movie review first. I thought the movie was almost unwatchable. Very pretty but the story was sloooowwwww. That comment aside, I love the analogy.

    The mechanics of travel, getting through airports and screening, being crammed into tiny seats (for those of us who are, shall we say “posterior enhanced”), the food (or lack of) all stopped being fun a long time ago. But now we’re entering a brave new world of abject misery. I’m going back to Thailand in March for 9 weeks and trying to figure out how to get my gear into one relatively small carry on.

    The time is coming when we strip out of our street clothes into the terminal, put on a TSA approved hospital gown (I hope they close in the back) and walk down the jetway with our own TSA escort. Carry ons? As some in Jersey would say “Fuggadaboutit.”

    Be sure to let us know how airport adventures enroute Tanzania go!


    1. Jack: I only read the book (and loved the title) and didn’t see the movie, but thought the movie posters made a better graphic. I thought it might be a stinker though, because with that cast and that book, I should have heard of the movie and I hadn’t. Good luck on the Thailand trip! Bob

  2. Hi again. On the netbook topic. Have you considered a Hackintosh? I’ve seen a couple of folks in Phoenix using them and I am toying with the idea of getting one before my Thai trip to backup my MacBook Pro. Basically get an appropriate Netbook (not all of them can be hacked) and install 10.5 or 10.6 on them. Here’s one how to: and here’s one user’s impressions at Wired:

    Since I’m not enough of a geek (and I mean that lovingly) to do it myself, I would need to find someone to do it for me.


    1. Jack: Like you, I looked into this, but can’t do it myself so I gave up on it. Let’s see what the Apple Tablet brings and see if we have to revisit the Hackintosh. If somebody offered such a service, I’d risk a $400 netbook on giving it a try. Bob

    2. Have you considered Ubuntu Netboox Remix? I took my little Acer with this OS to India recently and it worked perfectly for backing up cards, Internet access, etc.

      1. Matt: I’ll do some research on it. I picked Windows originally because my cellular modem would only work with Windows or Apple, but not Linux. But I don’t have the modem anymore, so it may be time to reassess. Thanks, Bob

  3. Bob,
    Ok now I am in full blown Bob Krist Panic mode. Unfortunately I do not have a Peggy to calm me down. My problem is how do I get my Gear on the Plane to South America with all these new limits. Obviously checking gear in is insane and my Gear Bag is well over 33lb and with 120-400mm lens in separate case what do I do?
    Any suggestions would go a long way to calming me down and you know how that goes.

    1. Tim: You’ll be fine. Just try not to have two carryons….jam the computer into the camera bag. Getting out of the US is not the problem, coming back in is where they may get sticky. Bob

  4. Bob:

    Thanks for the timely post. On a recent trip to my annual conference in New Orleans, I and some other passengers asked the stewardess why the airline did not charge for carry-on instead of checked luggage. Her response was, “Please contact the airline because they won’t listen to us.” I have little hope that this will change.

  5. Bob, I think that you already have this beat with your round the world NG trip by private jet. If you need an equipment mule let me know. I have been surprised by the quality of the images from my little Panasonic GF1, and more so by the quality of the lenses. Safe travels and sometime I will share my more unusal experiences in Tanzania!

    1. Hi David: Yes, the private jet thing eliminates a lot of hassle, but it moves very fast. I would love to hear those Tanzania stories one day….I’d love to hear any of your stories! Bob

  6. Hi Bob-

    Thanks for all the useful info on your blog, it’s always a pleasure to read.

    FWIW, I recently returned from Tanzania via Amsterdam, and KLM has revised their carry-on limits to 12kg/26lbs. Here’s their web site:

    I passed though AMS both directions with everything tucked into my Lowepro backpack without any issues.


    1. Paul: Thanks for that great info. Bob

  7. ‘Travel photography’Isn’t that an oxymoron?;-)

    1. Sorry Dave, I don’t get it! BK

      1. Hi Bob,

        Sorry for any confusion. I was picking up on your comments and refering to the fact that given the problems we now face in this particular genre of photography, the two words ‘travel’ and ‘photography’ seem to now be in contradiction to each other (an oxymoron).

  8. Hi Bob!

    1. What do you think of wrapping lenses in clothing? Too risky?

    2. Do you know if there is a smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) to Nikon DSLR cable in existence? That way I could back up to my phone’s 16GB memory which I leave empty save for a few podcasts.

    1. Yes, wrapping the lenses is a little risky. I know nothing about the adapter cable….I’m behind in my Smartphone smarts. Bob

  9. Bob, I have been wrecking havoc with my cases this week trying to figure a way to put the necessary equipment in one bag. First, pull out all the partitions & put Think Tank pouches with lenses in the case. Leave the computer @ home & take one Epson p7000 & a bunch of 8 & 16 gig cards. Photo vests will be making a comeback. Carry your netbook in a large pocket, or another Epson for backup. Edit when you get home & pick the lenses & bodies you take carefully.Not that much difference between a D90 & a D700, esp. if they are in a pouch. If you must use a bag with a strap, pack it in your checked luggage with plugs, adapters cords etc. in it. You’ll have to get right to editing when you get home if on a tight deadline, but editors will have to try & understand the travel problems now confronting photographers.I picked up a Think Tank Streetwalker Hardrive case as soon as all this craziness happened. Holds D700 & D3,18,14-24,35,60,85 & a 180+ Epson P5000,SB-800 & a SB600 & misc. stuff & a 13″Macbook Pro. Total weight is about 28lbs. & it has straps for carrying. Some of the stuff is in pouches so I can just attach to a belt & I’m ready to shoot & it easily fits in an overhead bin.

    1. Maynard: I’ll have to look into that system. I think you’re right about the vests though. Bob

  10. That’s easy, first you get really rich, quick. Then hire a mule to travel with you to get that extra 33 lbs carry-on. Mebbe a leggy Italian model would do nicely.

    xo, Biggles

  11. Bob,
    Love reading your blog! Hope you’ll update us on what you carried and how when you return. I’ve got 4 weeks scheduled in southern Africa later this year and am already nervous about how I’m going to manage everything.

    1. Romaine: I’ll keep you posted as I figure it out. BK

  12. You guys have it easy. I’m travelling from Toronto to Miami next week on American – no, repeat, no carry-on allowed!

    I don’t know what to do. I’m taking two bodies, four lenses, a couple of speedlights and Pocket Wizards, as well as my (big) laptop and extra hard drives. I’ll have to check them in and pad the case as well as I can. If I put a lock on the bag, it may deter random theft, but does it just send a signal of “valuables inside. Please steal the whole bag?”

    Any advice appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Andrew: You might consider FEDEXing the gear. I’m not sure about the customs issues (FEDEX might be able to help you there), and it won’t be cheap, but I think it’s more secure than checking the stuff for the reasons you point out. I’m down in Miami now (bring your hat, gloves, and raingear….it’s horrible down here), and I had to shoot some aerials, so I UPSed my gyro stabilizer, which is so suspicious-looking I never try to fly with it anymore in my baggage or carryon, to my hotel before I left.
      On the way back, you should have no problem getting the gear on.BK

      1. Bob – you’re right, coming back is no problem, this is a Canadian government thing in order to reduce line-ups at security screening. What an admission of disorganized incompetence!

        Don’t worry, I’m already wearing my touque – it’s minus 25 degrees celsius here today. Brrrr.

  13. “(unless, of course, you travel with someone with whom you can split your carryon allowance).” – CALL ME
    Kidding of course – I have been able to pack a ton of gear in one bag and flex those ab muscles as I grimace from the pain. I usually get the “profile” second look over at security which I actually appreciate. My wife lugs the small strobes and the Mac.

  14. Hmm think I’ll stick to places I can drive the Jeep to. Bob you could always just take jobs in places like Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians nobody cares what you take out there.
    Hopefully it all shakes out soon and there is a solution, it isn’t exactly progress is it.

    1. Ray: It’s a long soggy drive to Dutch Harbor! cheers, Bob

  15. Liked your idea of using a netbook to save on weight and space so I bought an Acer Aspire 1410, which runs Windows 7 (Vista fixed!). It has an 11.4 screen, which allows Lightroom and CS4 to be displayed without having to scroll around like one has to do with a smaller screen. Comes with 2GB RAM ungradable to 4 and weighs less than 3 pounds. It’s tiny and it’s great. And the price was right – about $425.

    1. Stewart: That sounds good….just that much bigger than the 8 inch jobs to be user friendly but not as hefty as the 13″ mac books. Tell me how “fixed” Windows 7 is after you’ve used it for a while! ciao, Bob

  16. I was in Canada when the Canadians implemented their no carry on policy.

    Thinking my beloved lenses were about to be crushed to P&S dimensions, I was surprised to find they actually let me take my bag plus laptop bag on the plane. OK, the tears at check-in may have embarrassed all involved but glad to see sense prevail. In the security line, I did have multiple (dare I say jealous) people tell me I couldn’t take the bag through but had no problems through security either. And then the bliss of being able to board the plane last knowing there was plenty of overhead space. Last time I could do that was at least 10 years ago.

    On bag, I use a Kiboko. Even on small regional jets/props, I haven’t yet had a problem fitting it in the overhead (despite a few anxious moments as I lifted the bag up). Doesn’t have space for a laptop however.

  17. Yikes, after reading all of this, I’m not sure I want to even try to get on a plane to DC on Thursday – continuing on to West Palm before coming home. In March I leave for Morocco, we’ll see what restrictions there are by then. This idea of cramming it all into one carryon is possible, but not at the ridiculous weights they set for carryon limit!! I was standing in line to check in in Venice two years ago and they were weighing everyone’s carryon. The delay was unimaginable, and in fact they got so behind they finally had to stop doing that to make sure everyone could make their flights – 5 people in front of me! I had meanwhile spent the time emptying the carryon of stuff that I could throw into an extra bag I was checking. I care less about losing it on the way home than GOING somewhere…

    Hey, great video with you and McNally by the way. I had tears streaming from laughter the whole time, passed it around to colleagues too. Too funny.

  18. Bob,

    Great blog info as always. Libby and I are flying back from Kilimanjaro through Amsterdam on the 27th. If that’s before you leave, I’ll fill you in on how the return goes. Internal Tanzanian flights on Precision Air have not questioned our two large carry ons each. We have gotten dinged for extra checked weight, but only a fraction of a dollar on the kilo overage.

    Those lessons learned in your Maine workshop have really been paying dividends on this trip. Thanks again.

    Hope you have a great trip!


  19. I think you hit it with Point 3. I have been experimenting with Micro 4/3 gear, and the E-P2 in particular may be the solution for me. Camera, finder, 7-14 zoom, 14-42 zoom, and 45-200 zoom covers most things, and the whole outfit, with extra batteries, flash and slave flash, etc. fits in one Pelican 1150 case plus a separate case for the 45-200 zoom, and that all fits in the backpack my computer goes in, with room to spare for other stuff. Image quality is, in my opinion, about equal to the D2X I was using until a year ago, and better than it at ISO 800 and 1600.

    1. Sounds great Ross….I like small. Bob

  20. Bob, I went through Schipol last week (to get on the same flight as the Christmas bomber!) and was also through Schipol a couple of days after Christmas. I had no problem bringing two bags on my flights. (My bags were a ThinkTank StreetWalker Pro and a Change Up.) Other passengers boarded with very, very large bags. There seemed to be no new controls for carry on baggage, which was quite a relief. (Otherwise I’d have been stuffing things into my cargo pants and eVest.) I’ve been on 13 flights since Christmas, and my only problems at airports involved fog in Delhi – not new carry-on restrictions.

    As for a Hackintosh… um, well, let’s just say that I know somebody. Contact me if you’d also like to know somebody. 🙂 I have one that I use when I’ll be doing a lot of traveling. When I just have one destination I lug the MBP.

    1. Jeff: That’s comforting news, thanks! I’ll drop you an email about the Hackintosh. I think the time has come! cheers, Bob

Leave a Reply

Close Menu