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The amount of equipment my husband and I carry with us as we travel around the world has been described as extraordinary to insane. However, we use it all to capture various bits of content (text, photos, video, audio) for our website and other projects.

That said, we do use some more than others. Here are what we’ve found to be the 6 pieces of essential gear for the nomadic travel photographer.

1. DSLR Camera

When choosing a DSLR for travel photography, opt for flexibility. We carry a Nikon D300 with an 18-200mm VR lens. Although a bit bulky and heavy, this combination yields professional quality photos with range and reach, from landscape to close-up portraits. For Nikon fans, the D90 is similarly feature-rich, but lighter on the neck and pocketbook.

Price: $2,029.95 | BUY

Other camera accessories
Grab the following to boost your travel photography:

2. Laptop

Obviously a piece of essential gear for reviewing, post-processing, captioning, and titling our photos. I carry an old 12-inch Mac Titanium PowerBook. I still love it because of its size, durability and reliability. My husband carries a PC. If we were to buy new today, we’d probably both go for a 13-inch aluminum MacBook or one of these travel friendly laptops.

Price: $1,229.99 | BUY
3. External hard drives

The sheer number and size of digital photos (particularly if you are shooting RAW) makes storage a major concern. To ensure we never have to delete anything, we carry two ultra-portable external hard drives – a Buffalo 320 GB MiniStation and a Western Digital (WD) 500 GB Passport. WD drives are an exceptional value; they are inexpensive, sturdy, reliable – and with each new release -smaller in size.

Price: $134.99 | BUY


Price: $119.99 | BUY

Low-tech backup

Carry a few DVD-Rs to burn photos and videos, and mail them back home. My mother is familiar with this trick; she receives a package from some new far-flung location every couple of weeks.

4. GPS data logger

A GPS data logger cannot tell you where we you are or how to get to where you want to go like one of these GPS handhelds. Instead, it keeps a log of where you’ve been. These devices are small and can usually hang off the side of a camera bag or belt loop so you don’t even notice it’s there keeping track of your every step.

We use this location information to geotag our photos (i.e., embed location information into the EXIF data of each photo.) We used the Sony GPS CS-1 for two years, but recently changed to the Amod AGL-3080 because of its compatibility with Mac.

Why geotag photos? It’s a simple way to keep track of where each photo was taken. Additionally, we like how the Google Map that appears below each of our photos adds geographic context to the image. For these reasons, the GPS data logger has become a piece of essential gear for us.

Price: $69.99 | BUY
5. Compact camera

It may seem redundant to carry two cameras, but when the situation requires something less imposing and less conspicuous than a DSLR, a small handheld is the answer. If you choose well, it can actually do a decent job capturing simple video and audio clips to supplement your travel photography.

We carry the Casio EX-V8 and are thrilled with the 7X optical zoom that it achieves without extending its lens (our last compact camera died because the lens got stuck).

Price: $214.95 | BUY
6. Camera / laptop bag

Hauling around all this essential gear becomes heavy on mind and back. As a professional travel photographer, it’s worth investing in a durable, well-designed bag that protects your stuff, doesn’t scream “please steal me, I’m an equipment bag” and feels comfortable on long walks.

I can’t recommend the Crumpler Puppet (replaced by the Crumpler Keystone) camera/laptop backpack enough. It has survived tough climates and chicken bus rides, and remained flexible enough to carry all of the equipment above…and a little bit more.

Price: $150.56 | BUY

* * *

Stoke your interest in travel photography with these articles:

* If your goal is to be a travel photographer, the MatadorU Travel Photography program has the resources you’re looking for.

About The Author

Audrey Scott

Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll left their secure jobs and their expat home in Prague, Czech Republic at the end of 2006 to explore the rest of the world. Twenty months into their journey, they still have a long ways to go. They serve up their latest adventures, street food escapades and travel photography at Uncornered Market.

  • Jack snaps photos

    That's a seriously heavy load. I'm sure you're getting some excellent photos with it though. Another tip would be to carry a Holga camera as well, the results can be well worth it. That is, when the back doesn't fall off or the exposure is so bad the whole negative is a pale blue…

  • soultravelers3

    Great post! We don't use all of this, but have a similar list. We are a 3 laptop family, 3 years into our open ended world tour. We do lots of videos so like to have a video camera with us as well and we are fans of Canon ( all 3 of our cameras). We often go off for months at a time with just a daypack each and that includes at least one laptop, cameras and homeschool supplies! ;) We love the Targus backpack and ofen carry 2 laptops and all photo gear in it. It has gotten tons of use from the Sahara to Norway fjord country and one of our best purchases. With a kidlet the refrigerated zipper pocket is a bonus for keeping healthy snacks cool for our picnics. We have a mac pro and a macbook which we use most, but also glad we have a PC vaio laptop as sometimes it is handy to have a PC for various reasons ( plus most of kidlets educational CD's don't have mac version).

  • eileen

    Great article, and you know, there’s this inverse relationship between how heavy the bag feels and how much you like what’s in it. If you didn’t love photography, I’m sure you wouldn’t feel as strongly about that particular cargo.

    Great tips, and once again I am reminded that I want a camera body upgrade!

  • Dave and Deb

    Great list. We use similar equipment to what you mentioned above except we are Canon Fans ourselves. A good addition can also be a 2X tele-converter for your long lens. We like our Lowepro camera bag (a backpack that also carries our Macbook Pro) We have a Canon HD video camera as well. So, like you, we love our gear! Cheers. Deb and Dave

  • Amanda, Bay Area Photographer

    Keep in mind too the you can put your padded backpack INSIDE a rolling luggage bag. That’s what I do ( I do weddings and have to have two peices of each item of equipment ) . The rolling luggage makes all the difference. The camera and lenses stay padded and your legs/neck/back are saved by being able to mostly roll your gear. The gear also stays hidden inside that way and doesn’t look obvious to theives as something they might want.

  • Christin

    Epson has a fantastic “Multimedia Photo Viewer” that’s basically a hard-drive with a screen and a card reader for the most common memory cards. I’ve had mine for 5 years now and it’s been all over north america as well as a bit of central and so far it keeps truckin. It’s an alternative to a laptop and easier space-wise too.

    And crumpler bags are awesome!

  • Hussain

    Hi everybody,

    Very nice tips and trick. There are very very useful and a gr8 experience. I am also starting an expedition first time from Asia ” Walk around the world”. So I need some information about DSLR and Camcorder that which camera I’ve to buy because I’ve to survive on the base of photography and documentary.

    Thank a lot.


  • Adri

    Hi Audrey, thanks for sharing the tips. I wonder though, do you carry a tripod?

  • Beth

    Great list. I have everything on that list except the GPS – never really thought about that. I also only travel with one lens. I’d love more but I also prefer to stay as light as possible. I do travel with a very lightweight, cheap tripod I bought in Mexico.

  • Audrey

    Adri, we do carry a monopod, but do not carry a tripod. We did carry a small tripod at the very beginning of the trip, but found we didn’t use it much so we dropped it. When we started doing spherical panoramas, we picked up a monopod that is pretty light and easy to pack in the bag.

    Hope this info helps!

  • Thomas Locke Hobbs

    This gear list is a thief’s dream. In some places in the world carrying this amount of gear is an invitation to have it stolen. My advice would be to just carry a high-end point & shoot like the Canon S90 and enjoy the trip.

  • Christoph Hammann

    Aw, c’mon. HCB used a lot less, and his method is still viable (refer to Salgado).
    So, a Leica 3f with a collapsible 50 mm Summicron in one coat pocket and film in the other. A lightmeter if you can’t eyeball it.
    Ça suffit!

  • ayngelina

    You lost me at GPS, I can tag the location when I edit them. I also don’t carry a specific bag for my camera, I carry what I need in my day bag and leave the rest at the hostel.

    Two other things to consider are:
    a) polarizer
    b) stabilizing device, I use a small gorillapod as I need precious space in my backpack since I couldn’t pare down to one lens (10-22, 50mm1.4, 17-85)

  • João Almeida

    That Epson device is neat but a bit overpriced, with roughly that amount of money you can get a netbook, which is slightly bigger and has more features

  • João Almeida

    I second these tips!

    Although my regular travel gear includes not one but two DSLR’s (a D90 and a D300s) my advice would go for a Micro 4/3 (like an Olympus Pen or a Panasonic GF1), those camera’s relatively small size combined with excellent image quality and interchangeable lenses probably makes them almost perfect travel cameras (at least until we can afford a Leica).

  • Andy Bryant

    I’ve been lugging a Canon 500d and Tokina 11-16mm around on a couple of long distance hikes, but now i’m looking to optimize space and weight with a micro 4/3rds based system.

    Sensor size is a lot closet to a slr than on a compact camera, and you have enough controls to shoot hdr, and panoramic shots. I can also get a good ultra wide zoom, and I see that panasonic has a fish-eye on the roadmap.

    I think now’s the time to downsize. Thoughts?

  • JaccoW

    @Andy: I got myself a Sony nex, also one of the ‘system’ cameras.
    It’s ideal for travel and less visible than a dslr. I do wish for some more choice in lenses but I am certain that will come later this year.
    Now I just need a mini tripod that can support this little thing without costing an arm and a leg.

    I started using a Q-starz gps logger and it works quite nicely. Not very usefull in large city when you are using the metro/underground transport a lot, but very fun to see.

    I always thought of crumpler of weird, ugly looking bags, but now that I’ve got one they’ve started to grow in me. I use a Jimmy Bo 200 around my waist and a regular 30L daypack (Camelbak) for everything else.

  • Merle

    I just returned from two months in Turkey and Central Europe and had a setup similar to Audrey’s. I packed a D700, a few lenses ( a ‘walk around’ 24-120mm, a great 17-35mm, a longer 70-300mm, a backup 35-70mm, and a 50mm with and extension tube for macro). I also carried a Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod with a Manfrotto hydrostatic head. I only used it twice in the two months, but cheaper, lighter ones won’t support a pro or pro-consumer DSLR (don’t even consider them!). I added a few smaller items: a polarizer, a shutter release, many CF cards, an extra card reader, and two spare batteries.

    I also brought a small Sony Vaio, two 1/2 TB Iomega drives (you need two – ‘one is none,’ as they say) that easily held my 6,500 photos (a jpeg and raw image for each) . I also burned two sets of DVDs from time to time, and sent one home. My bag is a two-piece LowePro (padded case on the bottom, day bag on top) with the branding cut off.

    It was a bit much, but I wouldn’t have carried less. Small point and shoots don’t hack it if you’re serious, nor does a single or no (!) backup of your photos.

  • Duane Storey

    Thanks for the list of gear you guys have been toting around. I was going to do something similar, but I’ve heard too many horror stories about huge bags and not much fun. I’ve recently decided to go fairly light, and am only bringing a DSLR and one lens. Here’s a list of the photography gear I’m taking traveling.

    I may end up picking up a lens or two along the way if my bag ends up being light, but I’m only taking a 28mm lens and a Canon S90 right now.

  • darmabum

    A hefty list indeed, thank god you aren’t carrying video equipment TOO . . . as I do :) My list: Nikon d90, four lenses; Sony HDR FX-1 video camera, with beefy video tripod; Canon G12 point and shoot – over 10mp; Hero Helmet Cam; Zoom sound recorder = Total Coverage :)

    Granted I don’t (and can’t:) move much, but I find that once all is said and done, when I’m back home, editing stills and film, I forget all about the load.

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