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Miscellaneous Travel Tips

I recently listed a few of my favorite accessories for traveling photographers.  Here are some more general travel tips that you may find useful even if you’re not flying long distances with loads of camera gear.


Always Carry a Jacket!

Jenn with a great gray owl

We flew owls at a falconry in Scotland… while wearing newly-bought winter gear.

Back in 2006, pilots for the airline I was flying to cross the Atlantic went on strike in midair.  Yes, they landed the plane, but we (along with thousands of other stranded passengers) were forced to connect on a different airline and in the ensuing chaos our bags were lost.  This was in winter, and we were traveling to Scotland.  All of our winter gear happened to be in those lost bags, so we were freezing our buns off in London until we finally managed to get some shopping in for replacement clothes.

Ever since then, I always take a jacket/fleece with me on the plane when I fly (along with a warm hat and gloves, usually stored in the jacket pocket).  It doesn’t matter if I’m heading to a warmer destination.  I’m not taking any chances, in case I get stranded in a connecting city or airport that’s not exactly warm and tropical.

More recently I’ve been glad to have my jacket for other reasons.  Traveling as a wildlife photographer has become more and more challenging due to increased carry-on restrictions, particularly when traveling internationally.  I’m running into more gate and ticket agents trying to weigh and subsequently check my photo gear (which exceeds the more stringent carry-on weight limits).  The airlines won’t pay for damaged or stolen gear that has been checked, so my only option is to sneak my valuable and fragile equipment past agents time and again.

As I detailed recently, a jacket helps cover up the Think Tank Skin pouches (which are great for toting extra gear) around my waist.  I’ve even had to hide my photo pack from hungry gate agents scouring the waiting area for heavy bags.  Having a jacket to drop over one’s legs (and the photo pack behind them) has become an unfortunate but all-too-common strategy I’ve been forced to employ in order to keep my equipment safe and intact.


Sign up for TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry Early

I was silly for not signing up for the U.S.’s Pre-Check and Global Entry sooner.  With five international trips this year, I should have taken care of it a lot sooner than this summer.  When I did finally get around to registering, I thought I’d get things done in time for my July South Africa trip.  What I wasn’t counting on was the long wait for the in-person appointment one is forced to schedule.

The soonest appointments at the offices closest to me were over a month out.  In Portland, the earliest available times were three months out!

So if you are considering signing up for Pre-Check or Global Entry, be sure to register months ahead of your next trip, if possible.


Jet-lagged?  Go for a run!

Jenn in Sydney

We hit the ground running in Sydney, which allowed us to enjoy the city right away.

Jet lag is never fun.  It usually affects me (and most people) more traveling eastward, but I don’t sleep well on planes, so I’m usually fried no matter which direction I’m flying.

When Jenn and I made the long journey to Australia earlier this year, we were pretty exhausted upon arrival.  Unfortunately, we arrived early in the morning, so we couldn’t just hit the sack right away.  And I worried that a midday nap would ensure waking up in the middle of the night.  I didn’t need to be awake at 2am.

So we tried something I’ve never done before to combat jet lag: we went for a run.

Hey, I hate running, but if time allows we do try and jog every now and then.  This was a great excuse to get out and get a little exercise, something there’s rarely time for on many of my vehicle-based trips.  Plus, it was a great way to see a bit more of downtown Sydney.  A little workout combined with a little tourism.  And we managed to stay awake and adjust our sleep schedule really quickly.  Not a bad way to start the trip.


Warn your credit card companies about travel, including connecting airport countries.

Even if you plan to take nothing but cash with you on an international trip, it’s a good idea to have a credit card (or cards) with you as a backup option.  However, there are a couple things to remember if you’re going to be using your cards overseas.

First, call your card provider (or log into your online account) and warn them you’re traveling internationally.  If your bank or card company sees charges suddenly coming in from overseas and you haven’t warned them, they may freeze your account, leaving you high and dry in case of financial emergency.  So set your travel alerts ahead of time, and be sure to include any stop-over countries or places where you’re connecting, in case you need to make a purchase at the connecting airport.

Also, make sure you have a PIN number set.  We’re used to having a pin for our debit/check cards, but most of us have never had to use a pin for a credit card.  Overseas you may need to use your credit card to withdraw money, so be sure you have a pin set up for it before you leave.  Also note that even in the cases of “no overseas transaction fee” cards, you should expect to get charged for ATM transactions (for example, Capital One charges $10 per overseas ATM withdrawal).


Lots of pockets, the deeper the better

Going back to the issue with carry-on baggage restrictions, it’s a good idea to have lots of pockets, and deep ones at that.  I recently had to rush out and purchase a last-minute replacement for my convertible NorthFace pants, which had torn in the Costa Rican jungle (a common occurrence).  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the same model of pants any more, and was forced to buy another brand.  What I loved about those NorthFace pants was that the main hip pockets were really deep.  I never had to worry about items falling out, including plane tickets and photo accessories.

It’s a good idea to wear some sort of cargo pants so you can stuff your pockets full when traveling, but those with larger/deeper pockets give you extra security and storage space.


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