One of the most overly romanticized genres in the photo industry has to be Travel Photography. There are a lot of people out there that think travel photographers simply get paid to travel to beautiful places all over the world and that our lives are simply a cake walk. However in reality, most of us have to hustle just like any other entrepreneur…and do so while dealing with jet lag, food poisoning and increasingly hostile airlines when it comes to bag fees and weight restrictions 😉
That being said, I wouldn’t trade my career for any other, especially after doing this for the last 12 years. Over that time, I have learned the value in finding products and services that make my life easier and more enjoyable as a travel photographer, which is why I wrote this blog post. Here you won’t find advice on what camera or lenses to purchase, but rather a mix of some of the most helpful tools I find myself using on a daily basis while I travel all over the globe. I hope you enjoy!
My Favorite Apps for Booking Travel Logistics
One of the biggest expenses for any trip usually comes down to the cost of airfare, hotel, and vehicle rentals. It can cost thousands of dollars to travel around the world, depending on where you are flying from, where you are flying to and when you want to travel. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few of my favorite Apps/Websites that constantly help me save money when I am booking flights.
As one of the longest running online travel services, Kayak is a great way to compare flights, check out hotels and rent vehicles for your adventures. You can research various different itineraries and save them to your account so that you are notified of price fluctuations. While other apps tend to do this better, it is a nice addition to what is probably the most well-rounded option available.
This popular IOS and Android app allow you to set your home airport so that it can notify you of great deals on adventures around the globe. From last-minute getaways to suggested trip itineraries and everything in between, Hitlist is one of my favorite ways to find trips to locations I didn’t know I wanted to go, simply because I found a killer deal on a trip.
As an alternative to Kayak, Hipmonk is one of the best ways to not only find the best prices for a flight, but also the flight that is the least stressful. You can sort flights by “Agony” where the service helps you balance finding the cheapest flight with the ratings of the airlines, the duration of your layovers and much more. In addition, price alerts for saved flights are more aggressive and accurate than Kayak, letting you know when you should buy a specific flight. At times it has told me to wait a few days and low and behold prices dropped. Can’t recommend it enough!
While there are many options for you to choose from when it comes to booking hotel rooms, one of my favorites is Booking.com. The more you use them the more discounts you get when booking a room. They have solid IOS & Android apps, great customer service and tend to find the best deals for me when I am looking to book a trip. My “Genius” discount for booking so much with them is usually 10-15% off the lowest prices I find other places, which adds up over time.
Easily one of the best services I use as a travel photographer is wrapped around my cell provider. These days I use Google’s Profect Fi cell service that uses a mix of T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular networks when I am home in the US, but switches purely to T-Mobile’s international partnerships when I travel abroad. In most countries (170 to be exact), I simply turn off airplane mode when I land and instantly connect to the local cell provider via T-Mobile’s business partnerships. No buying local sim cards or paying extra for international data as it comes right out of your standard data allotment each month…the service just works!
Currently, Project Fi is only available to people that use Google’s own cell phones (such as the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL) but at some point, they will probably expand. For everyone else, you can sign up with T-Mobile and get this same international travel service, with one caveat. Project Fi doesn’t regulate the speeds you get when traveling internationally, so LTE means LTE. With T-Mobile I believed you are capped somewhere between 2g and 3g speeds.
Sony WH1000 XM2 Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headphones
One of the most important things every traveler, let alone travel photographer, needs in their carry on bag is a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Nothing can make a long flight, train ride or even car ride more enjoyable. While the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 has historically been a favorite among travelers, the new Sony WH1000 XM2 is the new king of comfort, sound quality and battery life (30 hrs via a rechargeable battery).
Technophiles and casual travelers alike have been giving this pair of headphones rave reviews, so feel free to do a Google search to back up my findings. My pair has been in my bag with me ever since I picked them up, replacing last year’s model, the Sony MDR-1000X. Can’t recommend these enough!
White Noise Machine/Ear Plugs
Speaking of noise, a crappy night of sleep can easily ruin a day on the road, which can be a big deal if you only have a few days in a new location. You already have to deal with an unknown bed and pillow, why add noise to the mix?
My sure-fire solution is two-fold…
LeCrut Portable White Noise Machine
At home, I have an awesome white noise machine that helps me sleep at night, but it is way too big to bring with me on the road to help drown out a noisy hotel neighbor. Luckily I recently found a super portable white noise machine from LectroFan that has a battery life of 16 hours (rechargeable via micro USB) and even doubles as a portable blue tooth speaker. It is so small that it easily fit into a pants pocket if needed.
Soft Ear Plugs
While earplugs are a dime a dozen, not all earplugs are created equal. I tend to prefer the soft and malleable kind that form to your ears as most other earplugs tend to hurt my ears after a few hours of sleep. I found THESE at CVS for pretty cheap and they seem to do the job.
Anker Power Brick
One of the best accessories any traveler should have is a good power brick to keep all your gadgets charged while traveling. There are times when you simply can’t find an outlet or you have used up all your juice and you are out of options and in these situations, a portable power brick can be a lifesaver. While there are plenty of options at various different sizes and price points, I use an Anker Powercore+ 26800 as it comes with two standard USB ports as well as USB C for rapid charging. It isn’t the smallest or lightest option available, but it can charge almost anything (including USB C Powered Laptops).
Additionally, this particular model has an advantage over nearly all other power bricks out there in that it too can be charged rapidly. Most large power bricks can take 8-14 hrs to charge, but not the Powercore+ 26800. Assuming you use the wall charger that it came with, you can be fully charged in just a few hours at nearly twice the speed of its competition.
Best Travel Plug Adapters
It is ok to admit it…as travelers, we are often addicted to finding outlets to keep our devices charged. We are easy to spot as we walk through airports or shuffle around our hotel rooms looking for options. Speaking of which, why is it that the only open outlet in a hotel room is often behind the bed? This problem is exacerbated when traveling internationally because we almost always need an adapter to get our plugs to fit. So who makes the best travel adapters?
A company called Ceptics seems to know what they are doing. Not only are their adapters small and portable, but each one contains TWO plug options for you…at different angles. This makes it easy to use a single outlet with multiple devices that have odd power connectors.
My Favorite Portable Laptop
While this section will probably be a point of contention for some of you readers, especially those that prefer laptops from that fruit-based company, my favorite go-to travel laptop right now is the brand new Dell XPS 13 (9370). Unlike most laptops it’s size that sport a less powerful dual-core CPU, the 9370 has a brand new Quad Core 8th Generation Intel CPU, 4k wide gamut touch display with almost no bezels, a fingerprint reader (+Windows Hello login) and it weighs just 2.68lbs. Throw in Dell Cinema support (for expanded color and sound)), USB C ports and Dell Mobile Connect and there is a lot to love about this laptop.
While I am still working on my full review, this laptop easily handled all of my photo editing needs as well as light video rendering as well. While it might not be the perfect machine for creating 4k videos, it handles just about everything else….Lightroom, Photoshop, On1 Photo RAW, Capture One pretty easily.
Best Camera Backpack
When it comes to photo backpacks, most of us have a plethora of bags hanging in our closets or tucked away in our basement. The truth is that it isn’t easy making a good camera backpack. From Lowepro to Tenba to Think Tank, over the years I have gone through tons of bags that were too heavy, too cumbersome, not tough enough or simply poorly designed. A number of years ago I found F-Stop Gear and while they checked a lot of boxes and still make great packs, I found myself wanting a bit more. Recently moved on to Shimoda Design, which wasn’t by chance as they are designed by the former lead designer of F-Stop Gear.
Since moving to Shimoda I have traveled all across Africa, SE Asia, and Canada with these packs in tow. They are simply the best-designed packs I have ever used. Every pocket, every zipper, every piece of material has been handpicked with adventure travel photographers in mind. They just wrapped up a highly successful kick starter campaign and are now in a position to begin taking pre-orders through their website.
Best Travel Shoes
Those that know me know I have an affinity for flip-flops. It is kind of my thing. To give you an idea, I have been known to walk off the plane above the arctic circle wearing sandals and a winter jacket. With all that in mind, I confidently can tell you that I have found the worlds most comfortable shoes.
Based out of Hawaii, Olukai focuses on making high-quality Hawaiian inspired shoes and sandals to fit nearly all your needs. Currently, my favorite shoes that go with me on nearly every trip are known as Nohea Moku. They are super breathable, lightweight and the like nearly all of Olukai’s shoes, the heel can fold down allowing you to use them as slip ons.
Best Hiking Shoes
While my heart is set on Olukai for my general shoe and sandal needs these days, my needs are pretty demanding when it comes to my more adventurous activities. When you are hiking on glaciers, climbing mountains or photographing waterfalls, you want something that offers a bit more support, waterproofing and ruggedness.
These days my go to hiking boots come from Salomon. I have a pair both the Quest 4D II GTX boots as well as X Ultra Trek GTX. Both of these boots have lasted for years, offer unparalleled comfort and support and have been hiking throughout the Himalayas in Nepal, the Andes in Patagonia, the Rockies in Colorado & Canada and many more locations around the globe.
Best Travel Tripod
When it comes to tripods, I feel many photographers usually treat this important accessory as an afterthought. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a $3000 camera with a $2000 lens on a $50 tripod. While you shouldn’t need to sell a kidney to get a good tripod, a little research can go a long way.
For most of my outings around the world, I use one of two different tripods, depending on my needs and the style of my trip. When I really want to go fast and light, I often opt for my Induro CLT204. It packs fairly small, has a decent height range and is pretty light as a carbon fiber tripod. For trips where the weather is a bit more formidable and dynamic, I usually prefer to bring my Induro GIT304L because it is a bit sturdier, taller and can handle heavier camera/lens combos.
Best Smart Watch
When it comes to smartwatches, I am not shy when it comes to sharing my thoughts on the current popular available options. When talking about the iWatch or something from Android Wear, I feel that all options fall short. Not only do I not find them too terribly useful, but I really don’t want to add something else to my gear bag that needs me to charge it every day.
I maintained this mindset until I came across the Garmin line of adventure and outdoor watches. For the last two years, I have been using a Fenix 3 and recently upgrade to the newer Garmin Fenix 5X. While generally marketed towards helping to train outdoor athletes, the Fenix series of watches are rugged, durable and actually practical. I can log my routes via GPS and sync that info to my RAW images, view sunrise/sunset times based on GPS location (without internet) and enjoy a battery that lasts for two weeks. Add in the fact that you also get standard SmartWatch features such as easily changing your digital watch faces, and the ability to receive notifications from your phone and the Fenix line becomes even more appealing.
This list is made of many of my favorite go-to travel products and services that I use both personally and professionally. Everything listed here has been used by me extensively. Occasionally when I find products that work exceptionally well via companies that I believe in, I choose to work closely with those brands in an ambassador role. This can be said for a few of the companies above such as Garmin, Induro, Shimoda Design, Dell, and Olukai. That being said, I wouldn’t have partnered with these brands if I didn’t stand by their products, customer service and shared ideals.
Many of the links you find in this blog post are affiliate links, which is just one of the many ways I make a living. If you happen to purchase any of these products I recommend, I often get a small cut of the sale, which is a great way to support the work I am doing and gives me more time to write more helpful content like this!
What Are Your Favorite Travel Products?
If I missed something, please share your favorite products or services in the comments below so that others can check them out!