The vacation season is fast approaching and naturally you will be taking your digital camera along for the journey. After all your vacations are far and few between and it is nice to look back on those memories as you slave away at your job. However, when you travel with a digital camera, it is a completely different experience from that of traveling with a film camera. This is a lesson that far too many travelers seem to be learning the hard way, especially if you're traveling to Europe. After a couples years of relying solely on digital for taking photos when I travel, there are things you should consider before you head off on your next trip.
Charging Batteries is one of the biggest stumbling blocks you'll face when you travel. Outlets can be scarce in hotels. On a recent trip to Europe, only one of the five modern hotels I stayed in had more than one outlet available for use when charging up electronics. Charging your battery can be more of a hassle if you're traveling by train: If you take an overnight train in Europe, they don't have power adapters at the seats (certain trains do, but it's not something you can count on). I suggest bringing at least two rechargeable batteries, three if you plan to travel with overnight trains, or don't think you'll be able to charge every night. If your camera uses regular AA batteries, consider yourself lucky-you'll find those everywhere. Scope out the situation in your room when you check in: You should get at least one usable outlet, but don't count on more than that.
Bring your plugs. Some digital cameras typically come with a power brick that can handle international voltages, so you won't need a voltage adapter. However, you will need a power plug adapter to convert a US outlet plug to the local plug. Most of Europe is on the same outlet now-but not all countries accept the general "Europe" plug. Be sure to research what you'll need to jack in, and try to buy it before you leave (try CompUSA, Radio Shack, Rand McNally, or your local luggage store). If you don't have a chance to get what you need Stateside, don't fret: You should have no trouble finding an outlet converter overseas.
How do I offload my images? For fellow travelers using digicams, this was the number one problem I have heard repeatedly. Many comments from folks traveling for a week or more are: "I'm taking more pictures than I expected to." "I'm not shooting at the best resolution, because I need the room on my memory card." "I'm only halfway through my trip, and I have only 50 shots left." When you travel, odds are you'll take more pictures than you expect to also. A 1 GB card is very useful, and should suffice for low-usage shooters. But for those of us, who can go through a gigabyte or more in a day, not a week? Whether it's because your a high-volume shooter, shooting in RAW format, or a combination of the two. What I discovered is many who had digital SLRs, that had 5 megapixel or more reported they were traveling with a laptop to off load their images. None of these folks were traveling on business, so they didn't need to bring a laptop along. The sad fact is, for now, a laptop remains the most efficient and usable means of off loading images. Epson and Nikon have dedicated handheld units with a hard drive, card reader, and LCD display for copying over and viewing your images. But neither has a full-blown keyboard. If you're first buying a laptop, and intend to travel with it, I suggest going for the smallest one you can. Fujitsu, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony all have models under four pounds.
A laptop provides several additional advantages. For one thing, you can see your pictures on a big screen-to view how you're doing, and if you see any problems you want to correct with your exposure, for example, or if your pictures are being affected by dirt. For another thing, you can properly label your folders, so you know which pictures were taken where. Most newer laptops have integrated memory card readers, but otherwise, you can buy a small external card reader. For the wire-free approach, use a PC Card slot adapter for your memory card; and invest in a 32-bit Cardbus adapter (Delkin and Lexar Media offer these), for speedier transfers. Nothing's worse than coming back to the hotel after a long day of sightseeing, and needing to stay awake another 40 minutes just to off-load two 1 GB cards, at about 20 minutes a pop.
If you bring a laptop, I also suggest investing in a portable hard drive. A portable hard drive can serve multiple purposes: It can be a means of backing up your photos on the go; a means of giving you a way to take your photos with you if you have to leave your laptop unattended; and a means of expansion, if you somehow manage to fill up your laptop's built-in hard disk. If you don't want to bring a laptop, and already have an Apple iPod, Belkin sells an attachment for using your iPod with memory cards; or, consider the pricey units from Nikon and Epson. And if you're in a bind, remember you can always buy memory overseas. I was surprised that when I went to Europe, the prices were high, but not so outrageously so that I wouldn't buy another card if I were in a bind. Cards were more readily available, too, than they were when I last traveled through Europe three years ago. Look at it this way: Even if you overpay on the card, you can still reuse it-which beats overpaying for a single use 35mm film cartridge when you were in a bind in years' past.
Be prepared for problems. Things happen when you travel and I've had more things go awry carrying my digital SLR than I have had with my 35mm over the years. Lens paper is always useful to have on hand, but if you have a digital SLR, another supply is absolutely critical: An air blower bulb, to blast out the dust and dirt that will inevitably get trapped inside your camera. I never had problems with my 35mm SLR, but with my digital SLR, I constantly find dirt gets trapped inside, when I change lenses. And there's nothing worse than having a splotch marring your otherwise awesome shots. Finally, remember the philosophy of redundancy. Whether your battery dies and you have no way to charge it, or you run out of space on your memory card(s), and don't want to buy another at a higher-than-usual price, I suggest packing a second camera if you can. A digital point and shoot is a good option but I usually carry a point and shoot 35mm to use if I run into any problems just so I won't lose any precious pictures.
Doug Rogers has worked as a freelance photographer for the past 25 years in various fields of photography.