Travel and Photograph with Peace of Mind
While traveling in locations that do not seem camera-friendly, I have often encountered people who say, “I was going to bring my nice camera, but I didn’t want to hurt it (or have it stolen).” I’ll admit that this mentality used to cross my mind as well, until I started to think about photography and film in a different way. Those spectacular travel adventures were exactly the times when I DID want my “nice” cameras, and I eventually started thinking of the equipment as a tool only, and not as a personal friend. To alleviate the pain of having a nice camera stolen, swallowed up in the Colorado River, dropped from a cliff, ripped off your neck in Italy, or frozen in the tundra as you watch the nice polar bear drag it across the ice, here are some thoughts that may help.
Well, insurance seems obvious, but it is important that you really get into this concept and find the insurance that will cover your equipment no matter what happens. If you are not a professional and do not run a business with your photography, you will likely be covered under an extension of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. The key here, though, is that you should call your agent, tell that person where you are going and what coverage you might have under this plan. Some insurance companies will extend this coverage to certain countries (but not all) and some will cover theft, but not breakage. When I first started, my insurance company did extend this policy to all the random countries I was going to and even covered breakage costs, meaning that if I just dropped it accidentally then the camera would be covered. (I even asked them if I needed a police report for stolen photographic equipment and they kept telling me “no.”) That changed, however, when I owned my photographic business and was making money. I needed a separate policy and paid an extra $250 or so a year for coverage on a lot of equipment. At this point, they forced me to have a deductible as well, but the coverage was still great. For either system, consider calling your agent and giving them the serial numbers and values of the equipment, so that there really is little hassle in case you leave your GoPro on top of a taxi in Kathmandu. Oops. (Yes, there is a happy taxi driver in Kathmandu now).
GET A PELICAN CASE OR SIMILAR
If not a Pelican case, then at least get the right bags and cases for your precious gear. The Catch-22 with a Pelican case on an airline is that sometimes they will force you to check it at the gate along with all the other roller bags. I always carry two padlocks for this moment, snap them on, and hope the baggage throwers don’t do any damage. Safe so far, but I’ve often wondered about those travelers who lost their rollerbags even one leg of a journey in this fashion! Other bags that may be imperative are dry bags for the water: sea kayaking, river rafting, canyoneering (even if you think there will not be water – even GoPro has a waterproof case). A dry bag still calls for a padded system inside the bag, and sometimes I’ve doubled-wrapped cameras in a soft case which was going inside a dry bag which was going inside a backpack (see photo of The Narrows in Zion National Park above). Lowepro and others make a dry bag-type backpack as well.
KEEP A LOW PROFILE TO AVOID THE STEAL
This is one reason why I always choose bags that look less like a standard photographer’s bag. Why telescope the fact that you have $5000 of equipment or more in your bag in a Rome train station? Think Tank and Lowepro have started making more unassuming bags. When I’m traveling way out there or in a “dirtbag” style, I generally only have a medium-sized bag and my camera gear. The camera gear never leaves me, as if I were traveling with a child. Even in international airports when I am sleeping in the transit lounges, I have found unique ways of tethering my bags to me: a long piece of webbing, a belt, or using the bag as a pillow (with an arm wrapped through the shoulder straps). Companies make locks and leashes for those sketchy overnight trains in Europe and elsewhere, but you can make your own for only a few bucks.
AVOID TAXES – GET THE CUSTOMS FORMS
If you are a professional who comes and goes from the United States regularly, then you are aware of Customs Form 4457. If you are not, then you may experience the rush of your life when the US Customs officer asks for this form after you have written down some truthful value to your equipment…like $10,000. This rarely happens if you do not declare any electronics equipment or you do not appear to be carrying any great amount of electronics equipment. Otherwise, your equipment that you legally purchased in the US and paid for in full could be subject to another tax, up to 19 percent! The reason for this is that the US government does not know that you purchased the equipment in the US and you could be importing it without paying your proper taxes. Avoid the hassle and the payment of a lot of money and go to a US Customs office BEFORE you travel and fill out Form 4457. (There’s another one as well that will suffice, but I was so nervous that I was going to have pay $1900 on the spot that I forget the number). Here’s a link to what the form looks like.
All in all, take your cameras to the best places! You bought them to use and to get great pictures, so get them insured and then take care of them. Have fun!