Photography Pre-Trip Planning Travel Tips

Tips for Travelling with a DSLR

Lessons learned from travelling with a DSLR.

What tips are worth taking on board, and what ones are just ridiculous!

Before I went on a long-term backpacking trip around Asia, I had one major concern.

My most treasured possession; my new DSLR.

I had dreamed of owning a proper camera since the first time I went to Thailand, in 2008. I had been really frustrated that I couldn’t take the photos I wanted to, and I regretted all the missed opportunities. So, when it was time to head off exploring again, I knew that a DSLR was non-negotiable.

Although I was struggling to save anything close to what my two travel pals had saved up for the tip, I needed a good camera. I’m sure everyone thought I was insane for blowing such a chunk of my travel fund on a camera, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.

Once I had held my new DSLR in my hands, I started to research how safe it was to bring a camera backpacking.

Tips for Keeping Your DSLR Safe when Travelling and Backpacking - The Traveloguer Travel Blog

According to the internet, it wasn’t safe at all! My research painted a risky picture of bag slashers, room raiders and camera danger at every turn.

I knew the type of accommodation I usually stayed at in Asia largely consisted of beach huts and guesthouses with doors as flimsy as cardboard. I also knew that the trip would consist of more than a few nights swigging whiskey from buckets. I didn’t know what I would do to keep my prized possession safe.

I couldn’t imagine the tragedy of losing my camera on the road. I knew that it would make me want to go home. I also knew that I couldn’t not bring it, so I tried to research how to protect my camera when backpacking.

Below are the tips I found during my research into keeping your DSLR safe on the road, and the verdict on whether they are actually necessary to keep your camera safe, or just an overly dramatic waste of time!

 


Travel Insurance

world nomads

This sounded simple enough. Get it insured, so that if (or when) I was to lose my DSLR, I could get a replacement. This was easier said than done, as many travel insurance companies have limits on how much you can get back and limits on the value of valuables you can insure.

I used World Nomads for my travel insurance that year. They allowed me to insure my camera as a separate valuable item. This gave me great peace of mind on the trip.

Verdict :

This is definitely a worthwhile precaution. Knowing that if your camera does get stolen, you will be able to afford a new one really allows you to have peace of mind. World Nomads are an insurance company I would recommend.


Cover it Up!

duct tape - thetraveloguer.com Travel Blog

Another tip I picked up in my scare-mongering internet research was the need to cover all camera labels. Supposedly, if you cover up the Canon or Nikon logo, thieves may mistake your camera for a cheaper model, and will steal someone else’s instead of your own. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I dutifully used duct tape to cover my camera branding.

And then, when the black tape began to slide off due to Thailand’s humidity, I replaced it with a heavy duty silver tape, which I then had to cover with another layer of the black tape, which kept getting all slippy and sticky due to the heat.
By the end of that backpacking stint, my camera had spots of sticky goo that wouldn’t budge, and kept sticking to my hand. Gross.

Verdict :

I wouldn’t recommend this precaution. Although I have no way of knowing if my sticky tape did deter a thief, it really wasn’t worth feeling like such a loser when people all around me were whipping out their far more expensive cameras, sans sticky tape!


Get a Pacsafe Bag!

metro-safe pacsafe-traveloguer.jpg

I was excited to read about the benefits of Pacsafe bags. I made yet another investment from my already tight budget, and bought the large Pacsafe backpack.

This cumbersome Pacsafe felt like an actual child. A heavy child of about five. A child I had to lug around and look after and share my space with at all times, because it contained my camera.
It did provide great peace of mind, though. I was able to attach the locked bag to furniture in hostels and guest houses all over Asia, New Zealand and Australia. It was perfect for travelling by bus and train, because I was able to lock it up and know that no one would be able to steal something from it. It came in handy on the night bus to Chiang Mai, when I woke to find my zipper had been opened and that my valuables were still safe inside.

Verdict :

A definite stress saver when it comes to leaving valuables (not just cameras) in rooms, and perfect for public transport. However, the weight of the bag on its own was really annoying, and it took up way too much space in tiny Vietnamese sleeper buses.

I still use my Pacsafe for long term travel, although the last time, Sean used it as his daypack, so I saved on carrying it around!



Replace Your Camera Strap

nikon strap

Another scare story of the internet was the tale of people who slash your camera strap from around your neck and run off.
It was advised that all travellers should replace their camera strap with a plain one to avoid tempting thieves. This was a good idea, but beyond my budget. Instead, I tried to remember to turn my Canon camera strap around so that the logo wasn’t visible. But, again, there were people everywhere with brand name camera straps.

Another suggestion was to buy a thief-proof camera strap, with metal lining, making it impossible for those camera snatchers. This sounded promising, but I chose not to do it. I also heard, or imagined (I’m not sure) that if a thief tried to steal your camera and you had a super strong strap, they could wind up nearly choking you as they tried to make their getaway.

Verdict:

Not essential, but I sometimes do find myself turning my strap out of habit!



A Faux Camera Bag
.

thetraveloguer.com

I read about these very fancy camera bags that didn’t scream, ‘Hello, I have an expensive bit of kit in here, please rob me.’ They looked attractive and not like camera bags. They were, of course, really expensive and out of my budget.
There was no way I was going to bring the camera bag I already owned, as it would be far too obvious. I decided to bring another bag with me that was just a little handbag, and turn it into a camera bag. More on that next time!

Verdict : Perfect for peace of mind.



The Dangers of Humidity, Dust and Sand

keeping dslr safe

This internet warning caused me some serious stress before my trip. Not only did I have to guard my camera with my life, I also had to worry about a single grain of sand getting into it and breaking it.

Then there was the humidity. Apparently, in hot countries, there was a risk of the inside of my camera getting moisture stuck in it, causing the camera to break or for droplets stuck behind the lens to ruin every photo I took.

This warning made me very particular about going from air-conned rooms to the wet heat outside, and reluctant to change lenses, memory cards or batteries while I was in dusty or very humid places.

I took one piece of advice that I read about preventing humidity damage, and began collecting those anti-humidity sachets that you find in new shoes and bags. By the time we left, I had acquired a nice collection. I kept them in my camera bag for peace of mind.

 

Verdict : 

After nearly five years, I can say that I have gotten sand in my camera, that I have never experienced humidity damage, and that I have changed lenses and memory cards in sandy, dusty conditions, and she’s still going strong. I don’t know if the couple of sachets at the bottom of my bag had anything to do with this, though.


 

Although it is always a good idea to research before a trip, and to exercise caution when travelling somewhere new, much advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

On all of my backpacking trips, I have managed to keep my camera and lenses safe. I was often able to leave them unattended in our accommodation on nights out. The only theft that ever occurred was during the morning after the Full Moon Party, when we all went for a sunrise dip and left our bags unattended for a minute. When we turned around, we were down two cameras and an iPhone. Luckily, it was my point and shoot, as my DSLR was safely inside my large Pacsafe, tied to the sink in our extreme budget accommodation. We were totally at fault here, and all of my safety tips wouldn’t have saved our stuff. So although it’s good to be prepared, there’s no prepping for stupidity!

 

My Tips for Keeping Your  DSLR  Safe when Travelling

 

  • Carry your camera around in a bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag.
  • Invest in a lock or Pacsafe type bag to keep your camera safer when you leave it unattended. This bag can also keep your passport and money safer, but remember that it doesn’t make it impossible for a thief to get in, just a lot more inconvenient!
  • Worry more about bringing enough memory cards with you, and ideally a spare battery!
  • Back up, back up, back up! Your camera will be filled with moments you won’t want to forget, so the most important thing to do is to keep backing up your photos. This way, if you do lose your camera, you won’t loose all of your precious memories. The first time I travelled with my DSLR, I used memory sticks and used to burn my photos on to CDs in internet cafés. Now, I bring an external hard drive and also back up on my laptop and cloud (when the internet is fast enough.)
  • Use common sense and don’t whip your camera out in an area that feels unsafe.

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Tim
    July 27, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Excellent tips and even though, like you, I have not had an issue with marauding camera thieves in Asia or Africa I still think it is a good idea to be cautious. I have moved away from traditional DSLR and gone to mirrorless. Much smaller and less obvious with almost the same capabilities.
    Tim recently posted…Zambezi MoonlightMy Profile

  • Reply
    Susan cooper
    July 28, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Those Are some great tips for keeping thieves from spotting your expensive camera. That would be sure to ruin your trip if you lost your camera and all the pictures you had taken. Very clever.

  • Reply
    Jenna
    July 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    So glad I read your article. Headed on a 3 week long trip to Southeast Asia come to December. I have definitely been contemplating on whether or not to bring my DSLR. I will definitely bring it now and follow your tips 🙂

    • Reply
      Christine Maguire
      September 1, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Hi Jenna, I’m so glad I could be of help! I’m so jealous of your trip to South East Asia, I’m sure it will be great, and that you’ll get some great photographs!

  • Reply
    mery
    July 29, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    great tips!
    I got my camera only some months ago.. and right now I’m doing my first trip with it around brazil.. i have to say I didn’t take it out in the bigs cities…. eventhought there were great shots opportunities… I was scared..
    I will follow some of your tips.. and let’s see if I feel safer!!

    • Reply
      Christine Maguire
      September 1, 2015 at 8:50 am

      Thanks Mery. I know how you feel, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry! I think if you’re aware of your surroundings, and hold on tight, you should be okay, but only do what you feel comfortable doing!

  • Reply
    Kirstie
    July 30, 2015 at 12:27 am

    These are great tips! I’ve had great luck and have never had issues with my DSLR, mostly because I’m always very aware of where it is. I’d be devastated to lose it, though, particularly the photos. I should back them up as often as I can!
    Kirstie recently posted…The Ultimate Sydney Day OutMy Profile

    • Reply
      Christine Maguire
      September 1, 2015 at 8:49 am

      Thanks Kirstie! I’m the same, I would be absolutely devastated to loose my camera! I actually go overboard backing up my photos on the road, but I would freak out of I lost any photos! 😂

  • Reply
    Andrew and Emily
    August 3, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Ah, the internet! Breeding paranoia in a way like no other since 1998! It’s easy before a big trip to read so much that makes you feel like everyone is going to be clawing at your and every interaction with a local is only a prelude to getting robbed! As you say and unfortunately experienced, most often the biggest risk is when we lapse or get complacent and leave things out in the open and unattended.

    We travel with to DSLRs and it can be very frustrating with the extra bulk but it’s worth it for the photography we capture whilst travelling.

  • Reply
    How to Carry Your DSLR without Looking Like You Have One - DIY Camera Bag that looks like a Handbag! - The Traveloguer Travel Blog
    August 27, 2015 at 9:02 am

    […] While I don’t agree with going over the top with precautions while travelling, there are a few ways you can enjoy peace of mind when travelling with a camera. […]

  • Reply
    huh?
    November 1, 2015 at 5:44 am

    Two quotes really irked me. 1. “it really wasn’t worth feeling like such a loser when people all around me were whipping out their far more expensive cameras” and 2. “But, again, there were people everywhere with brand name camera straps.” Wow. You have some growing up to do. You should be concerned about capturing moments not what others think.

    I clicked this article bc i thought it would tell me ways to keep my bulky camera safe while traveling without damaging it, not out of paranoia of the people. i swear, you people. smh.

    • Reply
      Christine Maguire
      November 20, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t think you really understood what I was saying though, or the tone. I said I felt like a loser because I had gone to such lengths to protect my camera (following advice on the internet) and then saw everyone else, with more valuable cameras, not doing the same. It was a tongue in cheek use of the word loser, which is the same tone of the article as a whole.
      I don’t mean that I was so concerned with what others thought, or that my camera wasn’t expensive that I considered myself to be a loser!
      The camera strap comment was in the same vein. I had followed the advice of the internet, yet when I was travelling with my camera, I could see that some of these steps were unnecessary, this was illustrated by fellow travellers not taking precautions. I’m sorry you are disappointed about the article.

  • Reply
    Rand Blimes
    January 5, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Isn’t it funny how the more we travel, the more the things that seemed so frightening at first fade away. I have never used a Packsafe, but when I first started traveling I would always put a padlock on my daypack when I went out, especially if I planned to put my DSLR in it. Now, I only do that when I go to Rome.
    Rand Blimes recently posted…Getting to Mae Chaem, ThailandMy Profile

  • Reply
    Veronica U
    February 19, 2016 at 1:15 am

    Thanks for your great tips! On the camera strap – my husband bought me the nicest DSLR camera strap at a local craft fair! It is fleece lined, SO much more comfortable than my standard Nikon strap. You may be able to find a nice strap for much less than you expect, you never know!

  • Reply
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