I have the joy of traveling a lot for my work, flying out for roughly 70% of my clients! Last year alone saw me in Spain, Vancouver, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Connecticut. I’ve spent a LOT of time in transit, and I love it! Getting to photograph in new locations is a thrill- never the same thing twice, which definitely helps keep me inspired and fresh.
And with all that travel, I’ve collected quite a few “best practices,” as well as “NEVER AGAINs,” which I would define as the opposite of a best practice. So I think it’s high time we pull all those together into one big blog post which you can save, laugh at my own absurdity, and then implement to make your next travel shoot a breeze.
This is a LONG post, so go ahead and bookmark this link to refer back to next time you’re looking for flights!
>> Psst- interested in how to book more travel brand shoots? Check this episode of The Artisan CEO podcast!
I used to cram everything into a carry-on photography bag + photography backpack, which inevitably required leaving some stuff at home due to lack of space- I generally bring professional lights, back-up cameras, and multiple lenses to every shoot. It was also REALLY stressful when getting onto a small, regional plane, because my ThinkTank Airport bag doesn’t fit into smaller overhead bins. So that meant sitting at the gate and pulling all my gear out of the protective bag, and holding it in my lap for flights on small planes.
(If you *do* have to go that route, make sure to have a sturdy canvas bag like this one tucked into your carry-on so you can load your gear in and slide it under the seat in front of you! That pink gingham bag has saved me more time than I can count)
These days, I travel with the Pelican Air 1615– it wasn’t cheap, but it allows me to bring everything I need to do my job, without compromising for the sake of space/weight limits. I can check that bag and have total peace that my gear will be fine when I arrive. All batteries get removed from camera and lights (because, lithium) and I pack those in my ThinkTank ShapeShifter backpack, which comes on the plane with me along with my laptop, card reader, and any reading materials I take with me. (I know that backpack is pricey- I agonized over buying it, but I’ve had mine since 2015 and it’s still in great condition!)
I also have a light stand bag with rollers that gets checked- it’s about the size of a ski bag, and houses light stands, softboxes, and a few odds and ends that won’t fit into my Pelican. I don’t have a link for the exact model I use, but this one is pretty similar. Prior to flying with the light stand bag, I had two smaller light stands (I think they were 10′ stands) that could fit diagonally into a standard checked bag. My personal items (clothes, toiletries) get put into a hardside carry-on.
I’m obviously not a financial advisor, but the cost of the annual fee is more than worth it when you consider the cost of baggage- I fly with two gear bags, which would cost $80/way. I get two bags free with my United card + club admission, which means I always have a place to go before my flight to grab coffee + snacks (assuming the airport has a club- the airport closest to our home has several, which is part of how we chose the United card).
We’ve got Global Entry as well, and it makes security a breeze (especially coming back through customs from international travel!). I’ve staunchly refused to sign up for Clear because I’m annoyed that they’re created a new tier of elitism when I thought TSA was supposed to accomplish that…but that’s just me being immature. I’ll probably end up signing up for Clear soon, too (though, for the record, I won’t be happy about it).
I do my best to avoid booking the last flight out at night if my shoot is the following morning- firstly, because I don’t want to arrive exhausted. But secondly, because if there’s any kind of flight cancellation, I likely won’t be able to rebook until the following day.
This also helps with baggage delays! I had a flight just last week where BOTH of my bags (containing *all* of my gear*) were left in Denver, while I continued on to Oklahoma City. Because there were two more flights from Denver to OKC scheduled for that night, my bags came in overnight and I was able to retrieve them the following morning before the shoot. Obviously, not an ideal situation, but better than being left without any of my gear!
This way you can keep tabs on equipment without waiting for the airline to alert you when something’s been left behind. Because I had a tag in my bag last week, I could tell while sitting on the tarmac that there was NO way my bag was going to make it onto the flight. So after taking a couple minutes to panic, I called Matt and then my assistant, Dennah to explain what was going on, and by the time I landed in OKC, we had a backup plan in place (that we, thankfully, didn’t end up needing!).
Without the tag, I wouldn’t have found out that my bag was delayed until after I arrived at my final destination, after the local camera shops had already closed for the night.
Travel is fun- YES! It totally is! But it also requires more from you. A travel shoot requires at least two days out of the office, and even though I’m able to work from the airport and on a plane, it’s not the same level of productivity as when I’m home at my desk. There’s also an increased load put on Matt’s shoulders, solo parenting for the time I’m gone, and the impact to his productivity for him since we don’t have a babysitter on days when I travel.
There’s also the cost of food while traveling, baggage fees (if you don’t have an airline CC), parking, ubers, and all those little “extras,” like the trips to Target to pick up whatever you forgot at home. We let my clients know that they’re responsible for the cost of travel including flights, rental car/rides, and hotel, and then instead of calculating the cost of individual meals, we simply bill for per diem to keep things simple.
But the extra time spent? That’s where it’s up to you to make sure your rates are covering you. Because as fun as travel is, the glamour and excitement of it wears off when you realize your travel shoots are actually costing you a LOT, because you forgot to account for the extra day or two (that’s 40% of your work week!) out of the office.
This way you don’t have to waste time compiling a list every time you’re packing for a trip, and running the risk of forgetting contact solution again. Just write out a list of all the toiletry items you use daily once, keep them on a Google doc or Note, and run through your checklist as you pack. Even better if you can compile a travel kit with duplicates of all your daily essentials so you can simply grab + go.
Maybe this is just me, but I hate deciding what to wear on the plane! Like I want something breathable, in case it’s hot on board, but I also want layers in case it’s cold. My outfit also needs to be presentable enough that if I run into a client or make a connection at the airport, I don’t look like a total slob. So I wear the same pair of olive green linen joggers on almost every flight, along with a loose black top and white leather sneakers, with a denim or canvas field jacket on top.
From a brand shoot for Alicia Lacey Photography
Never [again] will I ever…
Did this once on my way to Paris, and… no. Just, no. Not worth the money saved because it added on half a day of extra time in transit, and the Moscow airport wasn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. When booking flights, you *have* to account not just for price, but for convenience- I know now that paying a bit extra to get a direct flight (especially on long internationally hauls) is worth the cost to arrive less exhausted and more ready to hit the ground running. Plus- the more layovers you have, the more likely your bag will get lost in transit. If at all possible, I book direct flights!
Especially on a redeye flight, when you’re tired and not thinking straight when you get off the plane. It’s a great way to lose a $2,000 MacBook Pro, which the airline never found. OUCH. (Thank goodness for business insurance which got me a replacement within a couple days)
Left that one on the flight home last week (I’m still not sure how that happened!! I’m normally so careful!), and then PANICKED when I opened my bag the next morning. Fortunately all of my professional work is backed up on a NAS here at home, but my family photos were *not* as backed up, and I lost a few images of my kids from this past Fall. Plus the cost of replacing the hard drive. GAH.
What did I miss? Drop your best travel hack in the comments- I’m all ears!
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© ABBY GRACE PHOTOGRAPHY 2023
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What are your thoughts on the risk of gear theft if you check your luggage? Everyone has always said never check your gear for that reason. It could be replaced by insurance but most likely not in time for your shoot upon arrival!
I’ve never had an issue, but that being said, I’d be much more careful when flying internationally. With the United card we have, my bags are marked “priority” which I feel like makes them less likely to have an issue, if for no other reason than their status has been elevated. I also include a TSA lock on my Pelican bag. It’s funny, prior to use the TSA lock I used to open my bag after flying and ALWAYS found a note inside letting me know my bag had been opened and inspected. With the TSA lock, that doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
What a great post! Thank you!
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