How to travel as a photographer (and a minimalist)

travel as a photographer

Friday, June 12th, 2020



I’ve gotten pretty good at traveling, with the Minneapolis International Airport in my backyard. But even more so, I’ve gotten great at traveling for long periods of time using ONE backpack. I’m not a huge fan of airline baggage fees – I’d rather spend that money on an experience or more travel. So I’ve compiled my best travel advice for packing lightly as a photographer and traveling minimally.

Note: these pieces of advice may change with your location – this advice is more geared towards domestic travel in cities. If you’re traveling internationally or somewhere with extreme weather, be sure to adjust these accordingly!

The best rules for travelling minimally as a photographer:

Prioritize lightweight gear, and keep the extras minimal – avoid checking a bag

You’ll want to avoid overpacking gear. I know the temptation to bring everything possible is strong, but take a good look at the items you most frequently use. Checking a bag is typically where gear is damaged (from shifting and temperature changes) so avoid doing this when able.

BONUS: Shooting a wedding out-of-state or country, and worried about traveling with gear? Arrive a day or two sooner than you normally would, and have rental gear delivered to your location.

Have a flexible arrival/departure schedule

Most airlines overbook planes to account for passengers who don’t show up – meaning somebody has to get bumped if everyone does show up. Make this benefit you by volunteering to be bumped. Usually it makes your arrival just a few hours later, and you’re usually compensated with a credit to the airline: sometimes as much as $500! While this doesn’t necessarily happen often, by keeping your arrival/departure times flexible, you maybe just be able to afford a second trip this season after all.

Do not be afraid to handwash

There was a time before washers and dryers existed, and I assure you, clothes were still cleaned. Drop a few extra items from your pack by being willing to hand-wash items should the need arise (or if you’re booking an AirBnB, book one with a washer!). You’ll save space in your pack for souvenirs or more camera equipment.

Cheap Travel = More Travel

The less you spend on each travel excursion, the more often you can do it. For this reason, I never pay for checked bags (and only pay for carry-on bags for weddings). Everything I pack can fit into a personal item, which comes free with every airline.

If you can’t use it more than once, don’t pack it

With exceptions of underwear and swimwear, everything you pack should be used more than once. There’s no need to pack 4 pairs of jeans – jeans can be worn MANY times before they even start to remotely smell. Most of my travel I only pack a single pair, and spot wash them should I clumsily spill on myself. Same for t-shirts: I usually wear them more than once, and if they get dirty, I handwash them to maintain their status in my bag.

Pack items that serve dual purposes

One of the most NEAT things I own is an adaptable phone charger – it has the setup to charge all types of phone ports in one cord. This thing was purchased to live in my travel backpack, so my travel mates and I can just share the cord if needed. It’s been a lifesaver!

Other items I have that serve dual purpose? My phone, laptop, and clothing. I always bring items that could be both casual and dressier, and can be interchanged and still look great together.

Skip the extras

This may be hard for some people, but many items you pack really aren’t necessities and can be left at home. I totally understand how they can make you feel like a million bucks, but at what cost of taking up space in your bag? If you really want to bring something, just bring a blowdryer – you can straighten and lightly curl your hair with it, which follows the dual purpose rule.

My week-long packing list:

This list varies a little for each event, but this is what my typical bag looks like – with space leftover!

Phone/Laptop Charger
Notebook + Two Pens
Headache/Nausea medication
Water container
Dark pair of jeans (worn on plane)
Black pair of jeans
3 t-shirts: light, color, dark (one worn on plane)
Grey Flannel (worn on plane)
Grey sweatshirt (worn on plane)
Light Jacket (worn on plane)
Camera + Spare Batteries

Always keep a notebook

You’ll notice on the above list I have a notebook with two pens listed as an essential item. Traveling is often a creative and inspiring action – you’re seeing new places, put into new environments, and this usually leads to bursts of ideas or creativity. You never know when it’ll strike – so always keep one on hand.

Buy Groceries

On the Las Vegas strip, a bottle of water can usually run you about $4 – but if you hit up the Walgreens nearby, you can pick up two gallons for that price. Not to mention the plethora of groceries and snacks to keep you sustained for most of the day! This can be more difficult if you don’t have a microwave or fridge in your reach, but at least it cuts down the price enough to make it worth it. Plus since you’ll have a water container packed, you can just refill it.

So those that’s my best minimal advice for travel as a photographer! What tricks do you have up your sleeve? Share them below!

Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN. 

I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.

This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.

Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.


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