The following are a couple of my meandering thoughts about travel, while on the road.  I hope you can put them to good use…

Airline tickets are easy, and we have all done that.  But there are lots of nuances about travel as a photographer that are worth talking about.   Flying as a photographer has dramatically changed since I began my career.  The big pain in the ass these days is all the security measures coupled with the insult of having to pay for every scrap of checked gear.   It is getting harder and harder to have an easy travel experience.

• Try to keep your travel gear down to eight total pieces.  This would include 4 checked bags (stands, strobes, grip gear, etc…) and 4 carry on bags (camera cases, video cases, laptop, and personal bag.)  This is for two reasons.  One, you will have to pay extra if you want to check more than 2 per person, and two, once you are at your location, it really sucks to try to handle more bags than that in and out of taxis, trains, and city streets.

• Buy cases with WHEELS!!!!

• Before you leave your house, do a test.  Take a short walk down the street carrying everything you are bringing with you.  See how you handle it.  Bags with shoulder straps are a must to turn yourself into pack mule.

• Own large travel cases…  You are penalized for weight when traveling, not size.  For the stand bag, we use the largest body bag by Tenba.  This more than accommodates the grip gear we need. But having the extra room is key.  Lots of times when we are out on the road, we have no room for personal luggage.  The extra space in the roomy Tenba bag is great for personal effects like cloths.

• Dont be a cloths whore on the road.  3 days and under equals 1 pair of pants, 2 extra pair of underwear, 2 extra socks, and 2 extra shirts.

• Look into Eagle Creek products as a nice solution to pack cloths.  Their shirt burrito or “Fold It” products keep shirts wrinkle free and looking sharp.  You can also stuff it most anywhere.

• Invest in the Bose Comfort 2 headset.  BEST THING EVER!  The noise reduction really does mitigate the stress of travel.  Puts you in your own world.  I use it with a 120gig iPod containing tons of music, as well as lots of TV shows for those long flights.  I recommend LOST.

• When booking a day flight, try to get a seat more towards the front.  On today’s airplanes, they don’t give you squat for food anymore.  If you are running through airports with a quick connection and have no time to grab some food, you may want to purchase a sandwich on the airplane.  Unfortunately, most of these flights don’t supply enough food to sell to everyone who wants one, and more times than not, the cart is empty half way down the isle.  The attendants start serving from the front to the back by the way.  In case you need to eat, its better to be closer to the front.

• When booking an evening flight, (especially a red eye) reserve a seat in the 2nd or 3rd row to the back.  This will give you a much higher probability of scoring your own row, or the ability to move over to an open row if one exists.  People don’t want to sit in the back, and the airline likes to keep the weight closer to the front and fill the middle over the back.  (never the last row as they rarely recline)   The back also puts you near the flight attendants.  Treat them with respect, and be friendly.  They often hook you up with goodies and make the flight a lot easier if you are friendly and chat it up.

• Don’t pack the silly BS on the TSA list in your carry on…. I used to always carry a Swiss Army Knife, or Leatherman WAVE in my camera case.  No more!  I as well as lots of my assistants have donated many of these expensive items to the TSA Army.  Today we keep them permanently in cases we NEVER carry on board.  The large Pelican Case that contains the Profoto Strobes contains a large Swiss Army, and the stand bag always has a Leatherman.

• Wear slip on shoes!  (I love Sketchers.  very comfy.. no laces) We are often running behind and you can save time by not having to tie those damn laces on your sneakers or dress shoes.  Wear pants that fit… No belt to set off the alarm, and then fuss with after you go through the X-Ray.  No crazy jewelry.  Keep that stuff out of the travel experience.  I wear only my watch, and a bracelet that I know will NOT set off the detector.

• Some might think a laptop shoulder bag is a keen way to go.  I do not!  I use a  backpack that has a padded laptop area in the back.  This give me added space for personal things.  It also has lots of zippered pockets that can separate my small BS from the big.  Much more efficient than a small shoulder bag.

• Dress in layers….  I always fly with a fleece or windstopper jacket regardless of the weather.  The reason is this:  When I am in the security line, I am able to remove everything from my pockets and stuff them into all the zippered pockets of those kinds of jackets.  Sunglasses, wallet, iPhone, spare change, etc…  The key here is the zippers.  I can be confident that nothing will get lost and fall out as I toss the jacket on the conveyor belt.  Also, on the other side, I can just grab the jacket, slip on my shoes, and jet.  I don’t have to mess about with pulling all sorts of loose crap out of those dishes and putting each thing back in my pocket.  Remember, the key is streamlining your passing through security.  The soft fleece also doubles as a nice pillow for me against the window.  (just make sure the jacket has two chest pockets as well.  the North Face Denali jacket is a favorite)

• ALWAYS put your shoes first, and your camera bag on the x-ray belt last.  Why?  This is the bag that they will want to check (if you packed your personal bag correctly)  Put the stuff in first that you want to put ON first.  Why wait in your stocking feet while the TSA dude is squinting at your camera case x ray?  then they call over a supervisor, then you have to walk over to the checking table in your socks.    Shoes, then jacket with all your stuff in the zippered pockets, then your backpack, then the camera case.

• Dont check ANYTHING under the plane that would kill the shoot if the bags didn’t arrive!  Always carry with you your cameras, a small flash, batteries, cables etc… so you can make do in a pinch.   One year we had to run to Walmart in Puerto Rico and buy a cheap tripod because NONE of the gear arrived until we had left the island!  We ended up shooting wonderful picts with an SB800, the pocket wizard, a human light stand, and the cameras, all of which we had brought as carry on.

• Here’s a goodie… Not a lot of people realize that as photographers, we can take advantage of the “Media” benefit some airlines have with regards to overweight or extra bags.  Our bags are ALWAYS overweight, and we often have more than two to check per person.  Your client will appreciate you looking out for their bottom line, and saving them some cash.  To do this, we simply made some silly badges that say “media” on then, and hang em around our necks.  When the person at the ticket counter looks at the 92lb weight of the stand bag, we just pull out the home made badge from our necks and voila!

• Most flights these days are usually packed, and over head space is highly prized.  The last thing you can afford is to be forced into checking your camera gear below.  When your at the gate, politely approach the gate agent early on and explain that you are a commercial photographer and that you have been on the road all week… Tell them politely that you have very expensive gear in your bag, and was wondering if they might allow you to pre-board.  9 times out of 10, we are sitting comfortably in our window seats with our cameras safely stowed before the crazy masses are making their sprint to their seats.  I started doing this after this crazed traveler grabbed a camera of mine from the overhead bin, and tossed it aside so he could take the space the camera occupied.

• When you land, there is always time to waste before you gear comes out onto the carousel.  Use this time to take a quick stroll outside to the curb.  Here you will find free carts for your heavy gear.  (always start at the taxi stand)

• Keep in mind, that in lots of airports, you larger bags (like the stand bag) may come out at a different place.  Look for the “oversized” area.

• Although it is usually a little bit more expensive, always try to use Hertz for your rental car.  They focus on the business traveler, and have really put some good thought into the experience.  They also pay the highest premium for rent at airports, and are usually the easiest to get to, and the closest.  Also, take the time to sign up for the Hertz Gold Program.  It is free, and is amazing when you need it.  It can be the difference between 3 minutes at the rental place versus 45 min.

• We always get the GPS from Hertz.  They call it the Hertz Never Lost.  We call it the “Always Lost.”  But worth it none the less.

• Don’t wast $$$ with the rental car insurance.  Get yourself an American Express Card.  BEST THING GOING for a small business.  They charge me $20 every time I use the card to rent a car, and I am covered much better than with the agencies coverage at a tenth of the price.

Hope some of that helps…

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