You might know that I’m not a gear gal. I like to go light - as light as possible - in everything I do. I shoot with one camera with one fixed lens. I zoom with my feet. I don’t use a camera bag. When I travel, I like to pare it down to the bare essentials so I’m free and flexible.
Travel guide extraordinaire Rick Steves once quipped, “There are two kinds of travelers, those who pack light and those who wish they had.” Words to the wise.
I’m packing for a month-long trip right now (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Italy), and I thought I’d show you what my ideal suitcase looks like. All of this fits into one small carry-on and a medium-sized purse. I never check a bag, no matter how long I’m traveling. The total weight of the two, fully-packed bags is 21.5 pounds. Freedom! None of the links provided here are sponsored, by the way. They’re just items I own and love.
Ok, here’s the rundown from the top row, left to right:
Water-resistant, lined snow coat (I’ll be wearing this on the plane so I don’t have to pack it)
Light down puffy jacket for layering
Pajamas for cozy lounging (light pants, tank top, long sleeve top)
One pair long underwear bottoms
Three tank tops for layering
Three long sleeve quick-drying shirts (two are identical Boody shirts - my favorite) and one long sleeve Smartwool shirt
One wool sweater (I’ll be wearing another on the plane)
Two pairs of jeans (I’ll be wearing a third pair on the plane)
One pair of boots (I’ll be wearing a second pair on the plane)
Three pairs of regular socks (I’ll be wearing a fourth pair on the plane)
One pair of fuzzy, comfy socks to use as slippers
One cashmere wrap (good as a scarf or a shawl)
One wool scarf (unnecessary, but I’m willing to splurge on space for a little variety)
One older model cell phone (I keep an old one on hand just for travel)
U.S. to European plug adaptor
Two battery packs for charging electronics during long travel days
Passport with Global Entry number written in it
Sony battery charger for my camera with one additional battery (the other battery is in my camera)
Sony to USB charger cord, just in case
Hard shell camera case, so I can toss my camera into any bag without worry
Sony A7rIII with 35mm prime lens (yup - that’s it). I’m going totally digital this trip.
Mini iPad 4 with keyboard case (minis are super cheap right now because Apple is discontinuing them! I love mine because I can run my entire business from it and it’s great for viewing images and light image editing. With the Kindle app on it, it’s also my “book.”)
Keyboard charging cord
iPad to SD card reader, so I can upload larger image files to the iPad (rather than the compressed files sent via Bluetooth). See more on this method below, under Random Tips.
Toiletries (including aspirin, cold meds, echinacea, just in case)
My underwear (three bras and five panties). Thought you probably didn’t need a visual.
Seven 64GB SD cards (they fit in a little pocket in the hard camera case)
The outfit I’ll be wearing on the plane
Set of three compression bags for all the clothing
Travel packets of clothing detergent
Fleece lined mittens (a little elf told me I’m getting these for Christmas)
I think I might get one of these, just in case I pick up gifts or souvenirs on the road. I’ll be able to fit my purse and extra purchases into this bag so I’ll still just have two carry-ons on the return trip.
Small wallet with credit cards (ones without foreign transaction fees), cash, Priority Pass for airport lounges
A plastic bag or two for my camera, just in case it rains. I don’t use anything fancy - just old shopping bags.
My Digital “Suitcase” (apps I love):
Pocket Earth (indispensable!)
Insight Timer (a meditation app)
Happy Cow (for vegans/vegetarians)
Kindle (I borrow e-books from my local library before a trip)
I never bring a tripod. Unless you plan to do night photography or shoot long exposures of moving subjects, save yourself the trouble and leave yours at home. You can always prop your camera on a handrail, lean against a telephone pole, or fashion a tripod out of books or chairs if push comes to shove. The exception would be if you’re shaky for some reason and can’t handhold your camera even at faster shutter speeds.
I never bring more than one lens. If you’re shooting wildlife from afar, you might want to bring a telephoto, but other than that, it’s nice to keep things simple. I think it was Ansel Adams who once said, “If you have fewer lenses, you lessen your chances of choosing the wrong one.” Have just one lens? You win every time. I never have to guess where to stand to get my shot - my framing is internalized because I know the lens so well. When you’re intuitive with your gear, you spend less time fiddling and more time seeing.
I never bring a camera bag. I like my camera to be at the ready or tossed into an unassuming purse (with a zipper top) in a small, hard case (see above). Obvious camera bags, especially bags with company names emblazoned on them, are never a good idea. They’re a great target for thieves.
As I mentioned above, I upload larger image files to my mini iPad with an SD card reader dongle. This is not a strategy for uploading everything, because it’s not that fast. But, when traveling without a laptop, it’s my favorite way to backup (and play with) my favorite images. Bluetoothing (is that a word?) the files from a camera to an iPad will compress them substantially, so it’s better to go the dongle route here. After the images are uploaded to the iPad, they can be uploaded to the cloud (if you specify that in your settings). I have a larger cloud subscription to accommodate, and it costs me something like $0.99 USD per month. Not too shabby. Special note: if you have an older iPad, you might find that your image uploads (via dongle) are compressed. My mini iPad 1 compresses the images to about a quarter of their original size. My mini iPad 4 is much more robust and accepts the full resolution RAW files.
A friend just turned me on to this nifty gadget for backing up from an iPad. I haven’t tried it yet, and can’t order one in time for my trip, but wanted to list it here since it’s such a compelling option.
Book AirBnBs with clothes dryers. Outside of the States, dryers are not a given. You can filter AirBnB locations by dryer availability. If you end up needing to air dry your jeans in a cold, humid climate, it could take days! It’s never fun to wear (or pack) damp clothes when you’re on the move between locations.
Quick-drying fabrics are ideal.
All clothing items should match so everything is 100% interchangeable.
I always get travel insurance from World Nomads.
Coats/jackets with inside pockets are the best!
Don’t buy a heavy carry-on bag. Some of them sound great, but they’re 10 pounds (or more!) when empty. The carry-on I linked to above is just under 5 pounds when empty. See here for additional lightweight options.
Hope this was helpful! Wherever your path may take you this winter, I’m wishing you well.
p.s. Did you know I teach a travel photography e-course? It’s called Traveling Light. It’s all about the creative side of things - how to make truly unique, personal images when you travel (as opposed to touristy shots). If you have a trip on the horizon, join me! Or…if you’re itching to get a trip on the calendar, join me for my upcoming retreat in Eastern Tibet! If you’re staycationing this next year, join me for Gathering Light - one full year of weekly photography lessons, creative prompts, and meaningful conversations about the heart and soul of photography. It kicks off January 1st!