Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gearing up: What's in your average travel writer's suitcase?

As a travel writer, many people often ask me: "What exactly do you pack for a trip?"
Travel writing: it's more than just keeping a journal.

Of course, they're not asking me for tips about packing general stuff like clothing, toiletries, etc. Besides, the type of clothing that I take will always depend on where I'm going and can vary widely. For example,  if I'm going to the Arctic, I'll pack much different clothing than what I would for a trip to the Amazon.

That's pretty no-brainer staff. But what they really wonder about is, what I take as a travel writer, different from all that. If they were thinking about maybe trying their hand at travel writing, they like to know what kind of gear they should take.

Now in this day and age, we've gone way past the standard paper-and-cardboard cover travel journals, pens and camera gear.  In the digital age we have to have different kinds of equipment  - in some cases there is more gear, in some cases, less.

A lot of what we take depends on what else a particular travel writer does in terms of work. Some travel writers also have other writing gigs on the side or media consulting work that may not involve travel writing  - but they have to keep performing those particular functions while on the road.

That brings us to our first piece of equipment that has only become part of a travel writer's equipment in the last 10 or 15 years.

1. Laptop computer. This is essential. Again, depending on how you operate as a travel writer, you may be expected to blog about your days' activities while you're on a particular trip. You can't do that without a laptop computer of some kind. Also, more and more, travel writers on a trip are expected to be able to post photos, videos, or at the very least a few comments on social media platforms while they're traveling, even if it's just to the two biggies, Facebook and Twitter. Now some of that can be done with a smart phone.

These days, a travel writer is lost without a laptop.
Aside from blogging while on the road, laptops are also used for storage of the day's photos and videos. If you're an extended trip, you may end up using all the cards before your trip is over. So you have to be able to download them into a laptop, and perhaps from there, onto a portable hard drive.

The other thing a laptop does it provide you with easy access to your email. You may have other story pitches out there, and while you're traveling, a magazine editor may be trying to reach you with an assignment.  You really cannot afford to wait two weeks, most editors need to know in a day or two that you can write the story that you pitched them by their required deadline.

None of this is really possible without a laptop.

2. Smart phone. The last five years, I've found my iPhone becoming an increasingly valuable resource. Obviously, it's nice to be able to keep in touch with tour operators and tourism boards on the ground in any particular location, but that's just a tiny fraction of the use I make of it.

With the increased stress on posting  to social media - some hard copy magazines even require it, if you want to write for them! - I find it absolutely essential to take photos and video to post on Facebook, Twitter Google Plus and even on my blog.
Smartphone: communicator, back-up camera. 

Most of the photos and videos you see in this blog were shot with an iPhone; I also have a Canon DSLR, but the images I take with that are the ones I use for publication in newspapers and magazines.

To show you how invaluable a smart phone is, I have even had some photos I've taken with my iPhone published in glossy magazines, shots I didn't get with my DSLR, but captured with the iPhone.

It also acts as a back-up, in case something goes wrong with my big camera.

Last but not least, it's the easiest way to post on social media. If you've taken a photo or video with your iPhone, it's a lot quicker and easier to post it on a social media app on the phone rather than transfer it over to a laptop and then upload it.

3. A good quality DSLR camera.  I've shot with two camera brands, in both SLR and DSLR photography. I learned to shoot 35 mm film with a Pentax;  my next camera was a Canon.  I went back to Pentax for my first DSLR but I really didn't the images I shot with it, so when it was time to get a new camera I went back to Canon.  Most professionals use either Canon or Nikon DSLRs.  I prefer a Canon because it's a little less expensive for the same kind of camera features and I'm used to it.
My current camera of choice: a Canon t5i
Something else to consider these days is a DSLR with video capability.  More and more emphasis has been placed on the ability to acquire video for online publication of travel stories, so it really helps to have a good quality product.

4. Photography accessories. This may include a really long zoom lens if you want to shoot wildlife or a a little shorter zoom if you don't.  Other accessories: a tripod or monopod for steadying a camera when shooting (pretty much a must for any kind of video), lens cleaning fluid and tissues, batteries, a battery recharger, photo cards, cable release - and a bag to carry it all.

If you have a lot of photo gear you need to have a really good quality camera backpack. Don't skimp on the quality - you may end up regretting that if you have really expensive camera gear in a cheap bag and the bag rips or breaks or gets wet too easily and ruins your camera.  I've been using a LowePro camera bag since 2000; I've had to replace a few of the zippers from time to time, but other than at, it's help up very well.

Love my LowePro camera bag.
5. Wall socket converters.  If you travel to South America or Central America or Africa or Europe or Asia, you're going to find any kind of electrical appliance you have will not plug into the wall sockets there.

That's because the wall sockets for accessing electricity are different, so you need converters to fit over your plug and overcome this. You can get them at any travel store, like Wanderlust or The Travel Bug or any store that specializes in travel products.

Don't leave home without it.

6. A suitcase. This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but all suitcases are not created equal. Five years ago I purchased a suitcase - fairly large, fairly durable - and one that's guaranteed for 20 years.

If it breaks or loses a wheel, or gets a hole in it, they replace it, no charge.

Around the globe with Geary! A suitcase no one can miss.

Another thing to think about when purchasing a suitcase: get one that stands out a little bit. Mine looks like a map of the world and as you don't see many of those come off the luggage racks in airports, it's hard for someone to mistake it for their own. Plus, it's a great conversation starter; I've rarely I picked it up at an airport and NOT have somebody remark about it.

7. A suitable hat. This is not crucial if you're going to spend most of you time in museums, restaurants, or a lot of indoor cultural/historical sites that protect you from the elements. But if you spend any time outdoors - and most of my travel writing revolves around ecotourism and adventure - you need to have a good hat. Maybe two, in case you lose one. I've had a Tilley hat for 10 years now and I hope to continue using it for least another 10.

 A man without a hat ... is a man whose head is sunburned.

8. A passport. Unless you're going to travel only in your own country, you have to have one of these. Make sure it's up-to-date - and be aware of "transition periods" that are part of a passport's  documentation. By that, I mean if there are less than three months to go until your passport expires, even though it's still good, you may be denied access into a country. It almost happened to me going to Alabama in 2014.

Make sure it's signed, too. (Yep, guilty!)

9. A Nexus card. This card is a godsend if you travel more than once a year. With increased security and long lineups through checkpoints in airports, this can really help speed the process up. It's good for crossing the border between Canada in the U.S. if you're driving, too. It also helps speeds up lines domestically in Canada.

Take note, it's only good between Canada and U.S. Getting one does require a fee and a security check by both U.S. and Canadian officials. But if you haven't done anything illegal, you should not have any problem.

10. Pens, notepads, and journals. Yep. I know I said earlier that this is the digital age, but even though you've got your laptop and your iPhone and your DSLR, it still doesn't hurt to take along a notepad and/or a journal and some pens and pencils. At some point, you may need to write stuff down or maybe you're at an event or tour where you have to take notes and it might be impossible to pull out your laptop and start typing about what a guide or speaker is saying.

So there are still some uses for old school travel writing tools, after all.

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