Travel Packing: What's in My Bag? / by Michael Zwack

My Travel Gear

By the time you read this I'll likely be on a beach in Croatia patiently waiting behind my camera for that perfect shot of the setting sun slowly fading over the Mediterranean's crystal azure waters.  For as you see, even photographers need vacations...although let's be honest, photographers never really take a vacation do they?  I can't imagine the nightmare scenario in which I'd be caught overseas without my camera.   This trip however, I'm compromising;  part photography/travel vlog and part vacation, I'll be spending 2 weeks traveling the coast of Croatia and Plitvice National Park, where a majority of my photos will come from.  I'll also be heading to Budapest in search of my long lost history, and ending in Munich for Oktoberfest.  With a lot packed into 2 weeks, it's important to pack accordingly.  That's why this post will be dedicated to packing...more succinctly, what I pack and how I fit it all in a Kelty Redwing 44 carry-on pack.

So lets get packing!


    BUSINESS ITEMS:

  •     15” Mac Book Pro:  The nerve center of my equipment.  A lot of digital travel professionals seem to get by fine with a Macbook Air, but I find the Pro has the performance power I need to run photo editing platforms such as Lightroom and Photoshop.  This is enhanced by adding additional RAM to help multiple platforms run simultaneously.  Weight comes in at 3.5 lbs so dropping half a pound on a lighter computer is very tempting
  •    2 TB Seagate Backup Plus External Hard Drive:  Small, lightweight, and with 2 terabyte I have plenty of room to back up my laptop and audio/video files taken on the road.  Weight. 4.8 oz
  •    Samsung Galaxy Edge 7  Smartphone:  I recently upgraded to a new smartphone.  This is the first time I’ve been without an IPhone and I admit the transition was scary. I did a lot of research and found In the long run a much smarter choice for me on a business level.  Great camera/video resolution and with an expandable 256 GB card I don’t have to worry about running out of storage.  Weight equals 5.5 oz, be sure to check international plans/fees before leaving.
  •    IPad Mini:  I’ll admit having a tablet is convenient; however, most of the time this stays at home. It’s nice to have digital books, movies, etc. as a source of entertainment on the road, but I spend most of time working/exploring. When you see how much weight my camera gear comes in at, you’ll understand why the extra 10 oz sometimes just isn’t worth it.
  •    Moleskine Cahiers Notebooks:  I’ll admit I’m a sucker for good marketing. Inspired by the likes of Hemingway and other literary expats of their time, Moleskines tug at the nostalgic heartstrings found in every traveler. I always have a couple on hand for notes and writing. Weight equals 9.6 oz for a pack of 3.
  •    Pens: Can’t work without pens. Another item that gets replaced often. Usually can pick them up from hotels, hostels, etc.

CAMERA / VLOG GEAR:

Inside my pack I have an F-Stop Small Shallow ICU. If you’re not familiar with an ICU, it stands for Internal Camera Unit and if you’re ever around a camera bag, you’ll notice individual components separated by dividers in which you can strategically organize camera equipment.  F-Stop created a portable ICU case that zips shut and is easily accessible from a pack.  A very handy way to organize and store gear while traveling.

Inside the ICU:

  •    Canon EOS 6D:  20 megapixel full frame camera body.  Not as many focus points as I would prefer, but coming in a grand less than the next level full frame EOS Mark III or upcoming Mark IV, I’ll make do.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a great camera body and works extremely well in low light, but I warn against investing too much in camera bodies.  With the next best thing being released on a yearly basis, find one camera and stick with. Camera bodies don’t retain value, better to invest in glass.  Weight for body alone is 1.7 pounds. If Canon ever comes out with a mirrorless system that fits my needs and performs to my expectations, I’ll likely switch to save on weight/size.
  •    Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS:  A standard kit lens made of L series glass which weighs considerably more, but is professional grade construction.  This lens is usually attached to my camera in the ICU ready for quick access.  Weight for lens 1.48 pounds.
  •    Canon EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L II:  Wide angle lens great for landscapes.  Another L series lens adding 1.4 pounds to the pack.  Between the two lenses I cover 16-105 mm of focal length which offers a great range of perspective and shooting opportunities.
  • For shorter trips I sometimes sacrifice space and weight to swap a EF 70-200 f.2.8L IS for the 24-105 f/4.  Added weight on my back is 2.9 pounds.  

The ICU also has space for a spare batteries, charger, filters, memory cards and cleaner. We’ll say this all comes in at 1 pound. At this point my business and camera gear weigh just shy of 15 pounds.

  •    Rode Smart Lav+:  A small lavalier microphone I can plug into my smartphone or camera to record audio...much better than standard audio from cameras/phones. In the Vlogging world, good audio trumps good video.  Weight 1.6 oz.
  •    Manfrotto Befree Carbon Fiber Tripod I have my tripod strapped to the side of my pack; hidden by a pocket, it’s barely visible.  An essential piece of photography gear, yet coming in at 2.4 pounds, the stability is less than ideal for certain types of photography.  The inconvenient truth of travel photography.
  •    Manfrotto PIXI:  A very small tripod.  I tend to attach my phone via an adaptable mount w/ smartlav+ microphone attached for my on the go vlogging needs. Weight .5 pounds.
Vlogging Rig.  Samsung Galaxy Edge 7 on Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod w/ connected Rode Smart Lav+ Mic.

Vlogging Rig.  Samsung Galaxy Edge 7 on Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod w/ connected Rode Smart Lav+ Mic.


MISCELLANEOUS NECESSITIES:

  •    Targus World Power Travel Adapter:  Universal Charger; important to remember that electrical outlets differ country to country.  This charger covers them all. 5.4 oz
  •    Monster MP Power Strip:  Additional Plug-ins on the road is key. Plug this into your universal charger for 4 AC outlets to maximize the number of accessories that can be charged. 8.6 oz and bulkier than I would like but very handy when running a business from the road.
  •    Packtowl (Large)  2.9 oz- Used as bath or beach towel and blanket.
  •    House of Marley Earbuds:  Obviously not much weight here, but I’ve been increasingly interested in Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones.  The hum of plane engines and ambient noises can be quite distracting.  Hoping to upgrade someday soon.  I tend to carry these in my pocket when traveling for easy access.
  •   Chargers and cords for computer, camera, phone, etc.
  •    Medkit & Toiletries:  Personalized for individual needs. Just make sure to not leave home without it.  (toothbrush/paste, razor, needle/thread, band-aids/gauze, anti-inflammatories, Imodium, prescriptions, hair/body wash, and disinfecting wipes) Let’s say 9 oz.  
  •    Headlamp:  Couldn’t find specs on mine; must be outdated.  Many different styles out there.  Be sure to get one that is lightweight and small; many come water resistant.  A hands free light source is very helpful on the road. Use sparingly as they can eat batteries quickly.
  •    Water Bottle:  Classic Nalgene. Been with me since 2004 and not trading in until it breaks. 6.4 oz empty.
  •    Reading Glasses: I’m getting old and starting to go blind...ok not really.  Still a cheap pair of readers is essential for when I’m staring at a computer screen or reading a book.
  •    Sunglasses: It’s bright out there. Protect your eyes. Been through many pairs. Usually just pick up some cheapies from a local vendor.

CLOTHES:

  •    4 shirts (wear 1), 3 pants (wear 1), 6 undies (wear 1...I hate laundry day), 4 pairs lightweight socks (wear 1...usually wool to prevent odor). Shorts (1 pair for sleeping or hot days).  Wear hiking shoes, hat, and lightweight jacket/fleece.  Weight usually comes in around 5-10 pounds.
  •    Flip Flops: Small and easily packable. Perfect for hostel showers, the beach and lounging. Roughly 9 oz

Rule of thumb when packing for long term travel is 10% of your bodyweight.  Being I’m a mere 5’ 6” and 150 pounds it doesn’t take a mathematician to determine I come in over the allotted weight limit. 15 pounds over to be exact, and although that sounds drastic, with the right pack it really isn’t bad.  The weight in my pack is distributed evenly and fits perfectly on my back. I try to stay in decent shape, but when it comes to physically demanding trips, I pack much less.  

So there it is, a detailed list of items that travel with me on a majority of my trips. The main reason I posted this is to show how little you can get by with as a travel photographer, and also show that travel isn’t a walk in the park.  At the end of the day this is still work. I may travel to exotic and interesting locations, even on "vacation", but I do work from the road as well and need gear to do so.  Although it isn’t always easy, or lightweight, I wouldn’t change it for the world. 
To be completely transparent I’m constantly adjusting my gear, but as of this post it’s an accurate list of items that I currently travel with.  The items above are linked to my Amazon Affiliate site, a great way to support the site if you're in the market for any of these items.  Also check out the accompanying You Tube video for a better visual.  I won't be posting video until my return, so in the meantime be sure to follow me on Instagram for realtime updates.

Have any suggestions on how I can save room, or pack lighter to make my life on the road easier?   Or, just share your system...I love suggestions.  Feel free to post below and maybe together we can come up with the perfect system.  Thanks for now and see you when I return; travel awaits!