Minimal Gear for Maximum Enjoyment

I am not a professional travel photographer, but I like to travel. And when I do I like to take photos.

I never really started to travel much until around 2012-2013 which is pretty late for me as I was in my early 30s. I try to travel at least twice per year now and it has been somewhat consistent until the year 2020. In May that year, a Scotland trip was scheduled with flights booked and daily plans noted but unfortunately, we had to cancel. As so much was unknown in early 2020 it was the safe thing to do. That Scotland trip has not yet happened but all of our ideas are still there and we should be able to do most of the things that we wanted. But since we are looking at the fall of 2023 for that trip we will need to revisit the plans leading up to departure to see what has changed.

Anytime we start planning or even discussing travel I create a note using Evernote and start jotting down ideas and what prompted the interest in the first place. Moving forward I add links and potential costs, and as things are confirmed I add flight info, expanding notes, things to pack, and gear to bring. (the free Evernote has limitations both in devices and content uploaded but for travel, it works well enough for me.)

What I Brought Previously

When travelling my previous list of gear included the following:

  • Canon 5D Mark II with 24-105.
  • Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55.
  • Sony RX100 for video.
  • Think Tank Photo Retrospective 7 for my bag.

I also had memory cards and extra batteries and I may have brought my 70-200mm with me two times. The 70-200mm didn’t fit in the bag well and I ended up leaving it back at the AirBnB while I was out. It was just uncomfortable to use and I could potentially be asking for trouble standing out with a big camera and lens in an unfamiliar place.

I didn’t really need to take two cameras and I brought the Fuji because of the limitations of the Canon. (it was big and heavy) Looking back today it was a bit of overkill and although I managed just fine that gear can be heavy to walk around with, especially in high temperatures. The Retrospective 7 is a shoulder bag and it was easy to switch cameras quickly, but after hours of walking, I found I had to switch shoulders periodically due to fatigue from the weight of everything in that bag.

What I Bring Today

Recently my travel consists of much less in terms of gear, but I also take a lot less for clothes too. Lately, the 5D Mark II has been limited to automotive shoots so it stays home and the Fujifilm X-E4 has become my sole travel camera. I picked up the X-E4 earlier this year. In fact, my recent gear includes:

  • Fujifilm X-E4 with 35mm and 18-55mm.
  • GoPro 9 for video.
  • Thule Aspect DSLR Backpack.

The Thule bag has more space than the Retrospective 7 although you lose the ability to wear it as a shoulder bag. And even though the Thule is bigger it really doesn’t have as much storage space as I assumed. It’s designated as a DSLR bag and has a nice side pocket to slip in a camera with a lens but that pocket alone takes a substantial part of the real estate of the bag. In addition, I do have the option to travel with my MacBook if needed as it has a slot that can fit a slim computer and that slot is also against your body which is nice for protection and security. What I also like about this bag is that there is more room to carry various items such as water bottles, snacks, souvenirs, documents, and books, to an extent. That makes it a much better bag overall for carry-on and walk-around exploration. It is also padded much better than the Retrospective 7 both in the shoulder straps and the entirety of the bag and has zippers throughout making it much more secure.

The X-E4 has a titling screen which is really nice for composition compared to the Canon and I bring the 18-55mm although I find myself sticking with the 35mm as it will go to f/2 allowing me to use it in lower light when needed making it more versatile and the 35mm is super compact.

It took me a while to try not to plan for every possible photograph but I’m getting much more comfortable with the intended lack of choice.

Packing light has many benefits as there is less to worry about and more time to enjoy the destination. I suggest trying to go as light as possible, avoid checking a bag and enjoy your time with less hassle.

  • Nothing to check saving you over $30CA each way!
  • No wait to retrieve your luggage at the airport.
  • Easy to pack and repack on return.
  • No worries about losing anything.
  • Less weight, less fatique.

Conclusion

My recent trip to New York in June was the first substantial change to what I bring for gear. That trip also highlighted why it is so important to me to pack as light as possible as the current landscape of travel is not great. Flights are being delayed and cancelled and luggage is being delayed or lost completely.

Frequently mentioned in travel photography posts is a reminder to never check your camera gear and I agree that you shouldn’t. Previously if I did check a bag I would put my battery chargers in there but I would not do that now. With the state of travel chaos, I’d suggest not checking a bag at all if possible. It’s going to save you a ton of time at the airport and there is no possibility of losing your luggage.

Bringing less gear helps me focus on the travel and destination experience instead of getting wrapped up in what I want to shoot with. When you have limitations you work around them and if you are travelling for personal reasons, not client work, I’d suggest evaluating what you are bringing and truly consider if it is necessary. 

A man in silhouette in New York - 2022.
Buildings at night in New York - 2022.
People clean up seaweed on the beach at El Dorado Maroma - 2022.
Palafitos-Overwater Bungalows at sunrise - 2022.
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