Ask LH: How Can I Safely Travel With My Photography Gear?

Dear Lifehacker, My DSLR isn't huge, but it's still pretty bulky. When you add in a few lenses, a flash and a variety of other peripherals, I end up with a lot of fragile items that take up quite a bit of space. This makes travel difficult, and I'm worried about breaking something. How can I travel with my photography gear safely? Sincerely, Stuffed Suitcase

Pictures: Maridav (Shutterstock), Leo Blanchette (Shutterstock) and Tenba.

Dear SS,

You'll never find a completely hassle-free way to pack your photography gear. Even if you're able to pack it all in a comfortable bag, that bag will probably be large and unpleasant to carry. Basically, you have to accept that there will always be a downside to bringing a high-end camera and its peripherals. That said, there are several things you can do to minimise these annoyances. First, let's talk about some general rules and then take a look at a few safe ways to pack your stuff.

The Rules

When packing your photography gear, you really only need to follow six rules. We'll get into the details of how to pack safely later on, but if you remember these six things you'll be in pretty good shape:

  1. Use sufficient padding for all fragile items (the camera body, lenses, filters).
  2. Don't pack your photo gear in a checked bag if at all possible. (If your bag ends up getting checked beyond your control, make sure everything is insured for loss and damage.)
  3. Disassemble everything. In other words, don't leave a lens attached to your camera.
  4. Pack lens wipes and cleaning supplies. You never know what may happen on your trip and being prepared with wipes and a brush takes up very little space in your bag.
  5. Don't overpack. You might think you need every single bit of gear you own, but you'll hate lugging it all around. Pack one or two versatile zoom lenses instead of six primes. Basically, take as little as you need to get the job done.
  6. Don't forget your charger, but do forget too many extra batteries. Airlines often limit the number of lithium batteries you can take on a plane. Two batteries should be more than enough for one day, and you can charge them at night.

Read on for some detailed suggestions on keeping your gear safe.

Secure Your Gear In A Camera-Friendly Bag

Buying a travel bag for your photography gear makes travelling a heck of a lot easier than any other option. These bags come as suitcases, backpacks and messenger bags of all sizes. LowePro has long made a reliable set of bags. Personally, I like Tenba as I've found them more versatile because they offer a better layout of storage space with the right material for even unpleasant circumstances (rain and mud). Regardless of what you choose, most photography-centric bags offer sufficient padding and integrated storage for your camera gear so that it'll stay safe and travel neatly with your other belongings.

Of course, if you buy a photo-friendly suitcase you won't want to lug it around during your trip. If you get a smaller bag, you're adding additional luggage you may not be able to fit as a carry-on. This is where things get frustrating even if you have the proper gear. If you run into this problem, or fear you will, read on for a solution.

Secure Your Gear with Any Bag by Using a Padded Camera Sleeve

Many photography bags, such as the Tenba Messenger, come with removable sleeves that organise your camera and lenses. You want removable sleeves because you can pack them in any bag and keep your gear safe, so make sure you purchase a bag that has one if you foresee the need to move your gear around. UNDFIND makes bags designed for swapping out various storage compartments and even the front flap. This way you can take what you want in the bag when you're travelling and swap it with other stuff that you packed in a suitcase (or another bag) easily. When you get a bag with removable parts, you provide yourself with a modular system that allows you to adapt to various needs.

Create Makeshift Padding Out of Your Clothing

Camera bags and sleeves cost money, and you may not want to spend it. You can't travel around with a camera without protecting it. If you only intend to take your camera body and a lens or two, you can create sufficient padding with clothes you'll likely have in your suitcase already. Just wrap your camera body and lenses separately in several shirts (or other soft apparel, like a non-abrasive sweater) and pack the items in the middle of the bag. So long as you take one lens with your camera, you won't really need a bag to carry it all around when you actually arrive at your destination.

Ultimately, your main concern should be keeping your gear safe when you're not in full control of it. If you take enough care to ensure it won't break on a bumpy ride — whether that's in the air or on the ground — your gear will travel with you safely.

Cheers Lifehacker


    I just did a trip through Vegas, Mexico and Peru with a 5d mark2 and only a 24-70mm. looking back it would have been nice to have my 70-200 as well but it would not have been worth lugging it around so many places.
    But most of all I can't preach this enough, theft proof bags and straps. I took a slash proof backpack and slash proof camera strap. you don't spend every worrying about your gear and can actually enjoy the holiday!

    i've found in a pinch a sock makes an awesome lens cover for some extra padding

    addittional handy things to take:

    1) plastic bags (double bag cameras if u think u are going to get soaked.
    2) shower caps (u can use these to cover lenses or bodies when shooting in wet conditions).
    3) big red elastic bands (very handy for removing stuck filters)
    4) a few cable ties (i always find a use for these)

    ALSO if you ever get hit up with too much carry on baggage, grab a few lenses & put them in your pockets. they can't stop u doing this! (most of the time I show them my bag & explain how much my gear costs & they happily let me on, even if a bit over weight limit (expection RYAN AIR - they suck!)

    There are some things you can or must put into checked luggage, such as cleaning supplies (blowers, cleaning fluids etc.), adapter rings and such.

    When you get to the hotel, unpack your entire camera bag, store what you don't need in the room safe (and take a photo of the safe with your phone so you know what's in there, just in case) and pack the essentials. If you've done your homework, you should know roughly what to expect when out exploring, and can pack the essentials.

    I have a dA Pro camera bag from deviantART. Got it as a birthday present last year and it stores a TON of stuff. three lenses (with one attached), 2 SD cards, a phone pocket on the chest strap (doesn't hold my Galaxy Nexus, but that's in my pocket anyway) plus lots of secret compartments and zipped up areas for storing everything including documents. The Nexus 7 fits nicely into the inside meshed area and if your lenses are short, doesn't press against the lenses) and there's even a set of clips to attach a tripod.

    Two camera accessories I never travel without - a Lenspen and a USB card reader.

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