Wanderer

The Big Luggage Dilemma…

I have this problem every time I go travelling. In fact, I think everyone has this problem before they go travelling: Backpack or suitcase?

Backpack:

Up until now, I’ve mostly always travelled with one of these:

And yes, I know I should have bought a lighter, specifically fitted to my torso measurements, women’s rucksack. Tried it, ended up with crippling back pain. So I bought this, and yes, after a month of carrying around my camera equipment, I still have back pain, but in my eyes, if my back hurts either way just from carrying around so much equipment, I may as well buy a smaller, fashionable bag than struggle with something ugly. And I hate looking like a backpacker.. like this:

I like that so many people don’t really know what I’m doing. They look at me and think ‘ok, that bag’s too small for a backpacker.. but too big for a local.. who is this girl?!’ and then they ask me, and we start talking, and then we add each other on facebook.. rather than just being another backpacker who blends in with the 1000000 others.

If I could, I’d take the canvas backpack on all of my travels, but I just can’t see my back surviving months – or more likely, years of carrying around all of my photography equipment and laptop on my back. I’m just not strong enough, in fact, I’m a teeny tiny little woman who has never set foot in a gym in my life!

However, for someone who doesn’t have to carry around bulky cameras with them, I honestly strongly recommend a small canvas backpack like that one (£20 on Amazon!) For a start, as I said before, it’s a conversation starter. And you just don’t need a huge great big backpack that is practically as tall as you are, like most backpackers seem to think they need. What could they possibly have in there that they really need?!

On my last travels, I managed to squeeze into my little 46x32x15cm rucksack:

  • Canon 5D Mark II with two lenses & charger
  • Mini polaroid camera and film
  • IPad & charger
  • Manfrotto travel tripod
  • Clothes! Two tops, one thin jumper, jeans, a dress and a maxi skirt.. and underwear!
  • Makeup and toiletries
  • The compulsory copy of On the Road that I have to take with me whenever I travel, and a journal and pen. Done!
  • And then the obvious.. passport, wallet, documents.. etc etc

I can fit all of that into a tiny rucksack, what on earth do people fill their huge ‘backpacking backpacks’ with?!

Pros

  • Literal definition of ‘backpacking’
  • Better for rugged, off-the-beaten-path travelling
  • Easier for carrying up and down stairs
  • Perfect for camping/hiking
  • Both hands are free while walking (useful for shooing away beggar children)

Cons:

  • Back pain is a common problem
  • Heavy. Can be tricky to lift onto back as well as then having to walk around wearing it.
  • Harder to organise belongings.
  • Almost impossible to stop clothes from creasing!
  • More of a target for pickpockets

Suitcase:

Nevertheless.. the backpack is being replaced this time. I don’t want to come back to England (if and when I ever do) with a hunchback. I’m going for a teeny tiny 20cm suitcase. Something similar to this:

Most of the time I can just wheel it along behind me, but there are options for carrying a suitcase when it is not possible to pull them along. Monkey straps are an option (http://www.monkeystrap.com/order.php), though I could save myself $30 and spend a few pounds making one, they’re basically just backpack straps sewn to a few adjustable buckle straps and then a separate luggage strap is used to lock it all around my suitcase.

Front View Front View

No doubt I’ll be posting a tutorial on that at some point…

Pro:

  • More accessible, you are not rummaging for things!
  • No back ache!
  • Easy to wheel around
  • Hard cased suitcases are much more durable
  • It fits better into small spaces. Or so I’ve found. Even if I had a small backpack and larger suitcase, once I’ve filled the backpack, there is always one odd little lump that means the backpack won’t quite fit into a space (usually the annoying Ryanair measuring ‘cage’), and then I therefore have to rearrange my entire backpack to try and bring it back down to an acceptable size.
  • Pickpockets are no longer an issue
  • Better structural protection of possessions & souveniers

Cons:

  • Cobbles and uneven surfaces can be a pain in the bum!
  • Carrying up and down stairs even more so..
  • Not suitable for hiking or camping (but very much suitable for glamping)
  • I’ve found if you only have one free hand, beggar/gypsy children swarm you.
  • You look more touristy and therefore you’re also swarmed by people trying to coax you into expensive hotels etc etc

Suitpack/Backcase:

I’ve never tried out one of these bad boys, but I’m frequently told that they’re the way to go. It’s just a matter of balancing out requirements that can prove tricky: if I choose a backcase/suitpack with extra light wheels, they may turn out to be flimsy and useless, but if I go for strong, sturdy wheels, how much weight will that be adding to my back when I have to carry it?

Pros:

  • Combines the pros of backpacks and suitcases
  • Avoid backache from carrying but also easy to carry if necessary

Cons:

  • Wheels tend to make the bag significantly heavier
  • Less protective than hard-cased suitcases.

Overall…..

I may be leaning towards something like this:

Cabin Max wheeled backpack. 44L Carry on size (55x40x20). It’s not as pretty as I’d like… but it looks like I’m going to have to be sensible for once and choose practically over fashion… though they do also have it in purple!

I have 50 days before I leave. 50 days to make a decision!

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Wanderer

Travel Gadgets…

As a photographer, I can’t travel gadget-free, as much as sometimes wish I could. I need my camera, and therefore lenses, memory cards, card reader, laptop, hard drives, chargers for everything… blah blah blah.

In the past I have always left my laptop at home, which has never been a problem. I can always find somewhere to empty out memory cards onto online storage and the external hard drive that I always take with me, and last summer I purchased an IPad 2, which has gotten me out of quite a few jams this past year (I’ve lost count of how many times I have found myself stranded at 1am and the IPad has helped me find a bed for the night).

However, as this time I won’t be coming home for uni in September, the IPad is going, and the laptop is coming with me.

So.. my gadget essentials:

  • Product Image I’ll have to sell both of my laptops (I never did find time to sell my old one…) and my IPad and buy myself a new laptop. Mine is brilliant but so bulky, with a 15in screen, and so heavy, its just not practical for travelling. I’m a little torn… do I finally give in and switch to Mac and go for a teeny tiny 11in Macbook Air, or stick with PC and buy a 13in Dell XPS13? image To be fair, they’re pretty much identical, the XPS13 is definitely a Macbook Air clone.. but do I go Mac or PC? 11in or 13in? 1.08kg or 1.36kg? Decisions, decisions…
  • My Canon 5D Mark II. The most important thing in my suitcase (as well as the lenses that go with it, of course!) For months I wondered if I should upgrade to the Mark III.. but no, I decided that I’ve been perfectly happy with my Mark II for two and a half years now, and it has never given me any trouble (touch wood), so why upgrade just because everyone else is? For tech geeks.. you probably already know everything there is to know about it as its now oh-so-vintage. 21.1MP, 3.9 frames per second, ISO range to 6400 (expandable to) 25600)… etc etc. I love it.image
  • Lenses.. I only take two with me now days, as I find any others just sit in my bag… and I’m just such a minimalist when it comes to photography. image 50mm f1.8 Canon lens. Prime lens. So teeny tiny and uber light so perfect for travelling. It’s rare that I push the f/stop above 1.8, as I’m way too obsessed with dreamy, blurry backgrounds. I solely use it for portraiture and fashion. image 24-105mm f4 Canon lens. Much bulkier, bigger and heavier than the 50mm, but basically its my ‘for everything that the 50mm can’t do’ lens. Eventually I’ll switch it for the 24-70 f2.8, but right now I’d rather spend my money on making memories to photograph rather than on the equipment used to capture it (I mean, we’re talking about £820 for the 24-105mm compared to £1800 for the 24-70mm.. that’s £1000 difference!!). I can think of several photography friends of mine who will read that with disgust, so I’m sorry!
  • The little thought of stuff that comes with my Canon. Charger.. battery.. spare battery (I only ever use Canon batteries).. several memory cards. Personally, mine are never bigger than 4GB; I like to spread my images out across dozens of memory cards and have to switch card every half an hour. As mildly irritating as that can be at times, I’d rather do that than risk losing more than 100-150 RAW files if something happens to one card. And I only ever use Sandisk Compact Flash Cards. I used to carry around a memory card reader, but now I have a multi-charger pack which also fits my camera-to-laptop perfectly.
  • image I always take one of these, A Yoobao 11200mA portable battery pack, just because I tend to wander for a few days off the beaten track and then find myself needing to charge my laptop so that I can get onto the Couchsurfing website, or whatever. £20 on Amazon, so definitely worth it.
  • Worldwide plug adaptor. Because it’s just so much more practical buying one plug that can work in any country rather than collecting various adaptors as I travel around the world. Personally I use the Micropix Worldwide USB travel adaptor, which is designed to work in over 175 countries. image which cost me about £4 on Amazon. Most of my hitchhiking friends have instead spent more and bought either the £9 Swiss travel adapter or £16 Skross travel adapter, but after two years, my Micropix is still working fine for me.
  • External hard drives.. these are really as important as my laptop and camera. I’ve tried dozens of portable hard drives over the years, and there are only two that I would trust to take travelling with me: image Toshiba STOR.E Basics 1TB portable hard drive. They’ve never yet let me down (touch wood), though I make sure that when travelling I carry it carefully in a very padded case.. you can never be too careful. At the moment its about £70-80 for a 1TB, or £45 for 500GB. Worth it. image     Or, I use LaCie Rugged Hard drives, which seem to be a favourite with many travel/travelling photographers. They already come with their own casing, so that’s one less thing for me to think about, though I just use the HDD Hard case recommended for LaCie hard drives for my Toshiba imageFor long, long travels like this one, I take two 1TB hard drives, and I use online storage too… I’m a little paranoid about losing images to say the least.

And that’s it.. no teeny tiny hair dryers or straighteners or ridiculously small and useless irons. This lot already takes up enough space in my bag, thank you very much!

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