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Protecting Your Photos As You Travel


13 Aug 2008

Traveling is fun.  Taking pictures while traveling is fun.  But the most fun of all – and the point of taking pictures while traveling – is actually having your pictures make it home.

People lose their pictures all the time, through carelessness, theft, loss or electronic failure.  There is no way to prevent every kind of occurrence, but if you follow our advice you can decrease the chances of loss.

Our first nuggets of wisdom apply before you even leave town.

1) When traveling by air, NEVER put any film in your checked luggage!  The X-ray that scans checked luggage at the airport will destroy your film, regardless of whether the film has been used or not.  You must carry on all film.  This includes disposable cameras and cameras with unfinished rolls of film inside.

2) Never pack any camera gear in your checked luggage at all.  Some more professional people check their gear in Pelican cases.  If you aren’t one of those people – and you would know if you were – carry your camera gear with you.

This doesn’t apply only to airplanes.  If you are traveling by bus, car, boat or camel, your main piece of baggage will get dropped, sat upon, thrown, have heavy things on top of it and be otherwise abused.

Your day bag, on the other hand, should stay with you at all times.  It will be your carry-on item, survival kit, souvenir pouch and ultimate travel partner.

We will talk more about day bags later, but the bottom line is simple:  Anything fragile, valuable or important should be in your day bag.

So let’s say, for the sake of this article, you have made it to your destination with all your gear intact.  You’ve been taking pictures and having a great trip.  You want to protect your pictures, so what do you do next?

If you are shooting film:
1) Go to a reputable photo processing place and have your pictures processed there.  Then ship home either the prints or the negatives or both (in separate parcels, in case one of the parcels is lost or destroyed.).

If the photo place offers a reasonable price on scanning your images to disc, do it.  This will save you time later and you can upload those images to an online storage account.

This method is most effective if used every few days and if you are in one place for a while.

2) You can ship home the unprocessed rolls of film.  To do this, you must really trust that the security X-rays won’t harm your film.  You can write “DO NOT X-RAY: FILM INSIDE” on the package (in both English and the local language), which may help.

If you are shooting slides:
1) It’s pretty much the same as film, but because there are no negatives, it’s a little more expensive or time-consuming as you would either A) Ask the photo processing place to make prints of every slide or B) Look at each slide and have prints made of the images you want to send home, which can be challenging without a light box.

Also, having slides processed takes longer and finding a photo processing location that will process slides may be harder to find.

I’ll repeat #2 here, just for good measure:

2) You can ship home the unprocessed rolls of film.  To do this, you must really trust that the security X-rays won’t harm your film.  You can write “DO NOT X-RAY: FILM INSIDE” on the package (in both English and the local language), which may help.

FOR ALL OPTIONS: When shipping, use a private courier service, like Federal Express, UPS or DHL.  Some countries have less then reputable postal services, so a private courier is often the best option.  You should also get a tracking number to keep track of your shipment.  You may also have the option of purchasing insurance.

When packing anything for shipment, consider putting the items in zip-shut freezer bags.  This way, should the parcel get wet, the contents have an extra layer of protection.

Shipping things home may seem like a waste or inconvenience, but while you’re there, lighten your load.  Are there any clothes you don’t need for the rest of the trip?  Did you pick up any souvenirs?  If you have some things you want to send home, now is the time to do it.

If you are using a digital camera:
There really is no reason not to back up your photos easily.  Some simple ideas:

If traveling with a laptop computer with a CD or DVD writer (either internal or external):

First, read our article entitled “Keeping photos organized as you travel".  Then come back to this.

At the end of EACH DAY, copy your images to the computer.  Then make two CDs or DVDs of those images.  Label the discs.  Give one copy to your travel partner (if you have one.  If not, carry it yourself), then go to the nearest PC room (if necessary) with the disc, open up your online storage account and upload the photos.  Then ship the disc home.

It makes more sense to ship home a few discs at once, to save time and money.

If you don’t have access to a PC room, try to keep the discs separate from the laptop.  This way, if you lose one thing, at least you still have the other.
 
To carry CDs/DVDs while traveling, we recommend the following item:  The Case Logic 24 CD Heavy Duty Wallet.  It looks like something Batman would use.  It’s made of hard rubber and can take a beating.  You can buy it via Amazon.com in our store.

If traveling with a laptop computer without a CD or DVD writer:  Bring along a portable USB hard drive, which is good advice for the section above this, too.

At the end of EACH DAY, copy your images to the computer.  Then copy them to the portable USB hard drive.  Then go to the nearest PC room (if necessary) with the USB drive (not the laptop), open up your online storage account and upload the photos.

If you don’t have access to a PC room, try to keep the USB drive separate from the laptop.

This way, if you lose one thing, at least you still have the other.

NOTE: A small, high capacity (4 – 8 GB) thumb drive is good for shuttling pictures to PC rooms and back if you don’t want to bring a larger 250 GB portable hard drive.  The thumb drive may only be big enough to transfer the pictures from that day, but what else do you need?

Even if you have a laptop computer, you need to back up your pictures and information.  Don’t fall for thinking, “If it’s on my laptop, it’s safe.”  Laptop computers get stolen, lost and broken all the time.

If traveling without a laptop computer: First and foremost, it is important you have a way to get your pictures off your memory card every day. 

A digital wallet is probably your best bet, especially if your only other choice to take more pictures is to use more memory cards.  Eventually those cards are going to be full (hopefully before the trip is over) and you’ll need to do something with those pictures.

If you already have an iPod, you may also want to try the iPod camera connector.  Be sure you save room on the iPod for your pictures.

If you are traveling without a laptop computer and you want to protect your pictures, there are a few things you can try.

A)
1) Go to a PC room.  Plug your digital wallet or iPod into their computer.
2) Upload the images to your online storage.

Chances are you’ll have a lot of pictures and a lot of folders, so you’ll want to organize it all somehow before you start to upload.  Otherwise, it could be messy, confusing and time consuming.

B)
1) Find someone who has a CD/DVD writer.  Plug your digital wallet or iPod into their computer.
2) Copy all your images to CD or DVD, then mail the disc(s) home.

NOTE: For these operations, you should not need to install or use iTunes.  This is because the iPod should be functioning as a USB device, not a media player.  This also means you probably won’t be able to view your pictures on your iPod.

If you find a PC room with high speed Internet access and a CD/DVD writer OR a friend with a CD/DVD writer and high speed Internet access, then you should upload pictures to online storage AND make discs and mail them home.

NOTE:  This is thorough article, but for more information, please read our articles entitled “Five ways to store photos without a laptop computer” and “Keeping photos organized as you travel.”

Finally
In terms of protecting your pictures, the worst thing you can do is carry an entire trip’s worth of images with you – and only you, no matter how many places you have them stored.

That’s why we advocate online storage and mailing home CDs, DVDs and film.

If you have not uploaded pictures or mailed them home, you are carrying all your eggs in one basket.  If that basket – be it a laptop computer, portable hard drive or backpack with rolls of film inside – is destroyed, lost or stolen, all your pictures are gone.  To know that all (or even some) your pictures from a once in a lifetime experience are gone, especially when it could have been easily prevented is a horrible, horrible feeling.  Trust me on this.

If you absolutely must carry all your images with you (like on a camping trip or other out of the way place), then have them with you.  Not when you go out for the day, but keep them as locked up and secure as possible.  Pac Safe makes some wire mesh kits that go around bags to deter theft, which you can also lock to stationary items.

Whenever you are sleeping for the night, make sure your pictures (and, by extension, the rest of your things) are in a safe place.  Not, “Oh, I’m sure it will be fine,” kind of place, but as safe as possible for the circumstances.  With you, if possible.

Remember, cars get broken in to (even in a locked trunk), so DO NOT expect anything left in a car to be completely safe.  Hatchbacks especially.  On city streets.  In San Francisco.  Just bring your bags in with you for the night, okay?

Bear in mind, when it comes to theft, thieves aren’t after your pictures.  They want what they can sell.  So if a thief steals your camera, they want the camera, not the pictures.  If you have been backing up your pictures every day, hopefully, if the camera gets stolen, lost or damaged, you won’t lose the memories, too.

Back up the photos and minimize the loss.  Protect the pictures as you travel so you’ll have them for a long, long time. 

© 2008 GetOutTheMap.net

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