The following is a guest post by Effy of Effy Images.
My camera is my baby. I only let people I trust hold him, and I constantly worry about how he’ll react when it’s too hot or too cold. But I also don’t want him missing out on any of the sights, which means he comes with me everywhere, making travelling very stressful and giving me no break from the endless mini heart attacks I get when I set him down somewhere and forget where he is.
Now obviously I’m not a mum, and I am certain my camera won’t crawl away from me, but my point is this: I’ve spent so much money on lenses for every occasion, but I’m sometimes too scared to even take them out of the box, partly because of my butter fingers but also because I am constantly being told to be careful and avoid going anywhere unfamiliar, alone, in the dark, near the water, near dense trees, near empty bus stops, near dangerous animals, in alleyways, underground, bars – the list goes on!
So how does a solo female traveller, who has been warned about every place on earth she needs to avoid, feel safe, and on top of that while carrying £2000 worth of equipment? Well, for starters, what are you doing carrying £2000 worth of equipment with you?!
The first step for how to stay safe while travelling with a camera is to decide which lenses you’ll actually need for your trip. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding what to bring on your photographic excursion:
- How long are you travelling for?
- What kind of images do you want to capture?
- What time of day will you be photographing?
- Where or with who are you staying?
If, for instance, you plan to travel by train around Europe for three months while staying in hostels, and your plan is to photograph daytime landscapes, then I’d recommend taking a wide angle lens and a 50mm lens, with one spare battery and a few memory cards, depending on whether you have somewhere to back them up at the end of each day. Remember that most hostels have lockers, so if you do want to have that extra lens on you just in case, take it and lock it up during the day when you don’t need it. Charging batteries isn’t a problem as outlets are easy to find in hostels and also often on trains too.
On the other hand, if you’re deciding to hitchhike for six months while camping and couch surfing, and you plan to photograph people, places, and perhaps take a few videos as well, then you may need to take a few extras with you. Whether that means bringing a zoom lens, tripod, or spare batteries, if you are able to carry it, you’ll probably make use of it. Remember, thought, that it is a lot riskier to leave your equipment in a stranger’s house or hiding it away in a tent.
After you’ve decided what you need to take, the next step for how to stay safe while travelling with a camera is to decide which bag you will bring. You’ll need something comfortable and discreet if you’re walking alone, regardless of whether it’s day or night. Pickpocketing is common in city centres and tourist areas, and although you may think your camera is a risky thing for someone to try to steal, it can still happen. I always go for a non-branded/unpopular named bag which would not advertise the bag’s contents to the general public. This is my newest bag from Yaagle, and even though it’s slightly on the larger end, I can fit all my equipment, including a Macbook Pro, and with its hatchback opening, I feel safe that no one could unzip it in crowded areas.
Now that you’ve got your bag and your equipment, the next step for how to stay safe while travelling with a camera is to let your common sense kick in. I’m all about taking risks and finding the shots that others haven’t found yet, but you need to weigh the consequences. For example, in Stockholm I wanted to photograph nighttime landscapes. I would explore the city in the morning, grab some food, learn about the city, sleep in the afternoon, and then before sunset I’d go back to the places I’d been and set up my tripod (which FYI can be used as a pretty good weapon, as I realised after accidentally stabbing myself in the foot with the spiked feet numerous times).
By retracing the same route you took only hours earlier, you can be assured that you are familiar with the place you’re in, the way back to your accommodation, and locals may recognise you from earlier in the day, which means you don’t stand out as a tourist. This gives people less reason to approach you. You will generally have a sense if you’re somewhere that feels unsafe to you, or if you feel like you are being watched or followed or in a situation where a conflict could ensue. In those instances, either get your shot and get the hell out of there, or come back another day.
After travelling solo to eight countries and with friends or family to numerous others, I have never had my equipment stolen or felt the need to pack up and leave. One of my first encounters that taught me to be more aware of my surroundings and the perception I was creating for myself was when I was approached by a man one night while travelling alone. He told me I shouldn’t be wandering the street at that time with my camera, as it wasn’t a safe area, and pointed me towards the city centre where there were more people and wished me good luck with my photography. You’re only a bigger target with your camera than without it. Also, remember that insurance isn’t expensive. I use protectyourbubble.com, and it at least gives me a sense of security in case a situation does take a turn for the worst.
Let me know what you think of these tips, or if you have any other tips for the solo traveller who’s just trying to take some good photos! Happy snapping!
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Travel photographer and writer from the UK. With 27 countries under my belt, I’ve continued to expand my portfolio as I aspire to be an explorer – photographing and documenting some of the most remote places on the planet