For the holidays this year, I took my family of four (wife and two toddlers) on a sixteen day European vacation. We had a great deal on a hotel in Paris so we planned around that and ultimately packed too much travel into too little time. We flew into Amsterdam, spent the day there before catching the train to Paris for seven nights. From there we flew to Lisbon for three nights before flying to Barcelona for another three nights. We got a great deal on a flight home from Copenhagen so we spent a day and two nights in Berlin on our way there.
Knowing we were going to be spending a lot of time in airports, trains, metros and walking, I decided to add some key components to my travel bag to make the trip easier and allow me a greater opportunity for photography in the rush. Below are nine items I decided I got to help my travel and photography. Overall, I think I chose really well.
ThinkTank Airport International V3.0
This carry-on suitcase is probably the nicest luggage a travel photographer can get. It's quality is reflected in the price. Coming in at $399.95, this suitcase is a luxury a hobbyist photographer probably won't spring for, but if you travel with a lot of gear and have the budget, you cannot go wrong with this luggage.
As an American, the international size feels small to me. If you are not planning an international trip, ThinkTank has a whole line of similar bags that will offer more size and convenience traveling within the United States. Even with the smaller international size, this bag offers plenty of room for all your camera gear. I have the ThinkTank Streetwalker Harddrive (which I love) and this suitcase is basically the same bag in luggage form (and slightly larger).
In addition to the main compartment, there is a large zippered pocket with a laptop compartment and room for additional items. I loved this for my laptop as it was easy to get in and out of the bag going through security and I was able to get the weight of my computer out of my backpack. There is also a side pocket that can fit a tripod, which is something I have never seen on any other luggage.
All the small things on this bag were among the best I have ever experienced. The zippers are typical ThinkTank (my favorite zippers on any bag), the inside pockets are clear, sturdy plastic so you can see what is in the pocket while protecting it and the handles are heavy duty enough you don't have to worry about them breaking. The telescoping handle is very smooth and extends much further than normal luggage, which made using the bag very comfortable.
The only downside here, other than the price, is the weight. Because this luggage is made of great materials and is heavy-duty, it is also fairly heavy. It's not a big deal for comfort and convenience, but budget airlines in Europe can be stingy with the weight so it is a shame to lose some in the weight of the bag. You can currently get this luggage at Amazon or head over to ThinkTank as they have offered a free gift to our readers with any purchase.
Platypod is the ultimate travel tripod. It is a small base with leveling screws that you attach your ball head to. You need to set it up on the ground or another surface as it doesn't have legs, but it provided a solid surface for you to take an image anywhere you can't take a tripod.
I own both the Platypod Pro and Platypod Pro Max and find that I use them both quite a bit for different situations. I feel more comfortable with the Pro Max as the added size adds more stability. Because I often put the Platypod on the ground and shoot up, my camera is tilted up quite a bit and I have to balance the Platypod Pro just right to ensure stability. With the Pro Max, there is no issue. I even set up a camera on the Pro Max and placed it directly under the hoop at an NCAA basketball game. I then used my trigger trap to shoot whenever movement crossed the screen. This allowed me to shoot with my other body and get some unique additional shots.
For international travel, I really wanted to cut down weight and size so I only took the Platypod Pro. There was only one situation where the smaller size was a concern–the rocks on the shore in Lisbon. I set it up for a family photo and was nervous leaving it balanced where a gust of wind would have taken it down. Luckily, there was no issue.
I love the bag the Platypod Pro comes in as it has space for your ball head too. It fit my Acratech ball head perfectly, but you won't have much luck with anything larger than that. The bag has a carabineer on it so you can easily hook it to your camera bag. After not being allowed into the National Pantheon in Paris, I stopped carrying my camera bag with me most days. Luckily I had a big carabineer with me for winter jackets. I used that to hook the Platypod bag to my stroller and it was perfect. It allowed me to have a tripod with me at all times while I was out with the family, but it took up no space, was completely secure and was not inconvenient in the least. You can pick up the Platypod Pro or Pro Max at Amazon.
After seeing so many great reviews on the Acratech GP, I decided to give the new Acratech Nomad a try given its smaller price tag. At $299.95, it is still an investment, but I feel like it is the range for more photographers than the $399.95 GP.
When traveling, you want a light, low-profile ball head and this one fits the bill. I love the design of this ball head. It is smooth and easy to use. It is very easy and quick to get in any position you want. I really loved using this ball head up until I got to the freezing temperatures in Berlin. While there, the quick-release lever started to stick on me. Toward the end of the night, the lever completely locked in on my camera. I could twist the knob, but the clamp would not release my camera. I eventually had to pull it apart manually. After playing with it for a little while, it is back to working great.
This was a big hang up for me so I can't recommend getting the quick release knob. I have seen several reviews and know people using the locking lever clamp rather than the knob and none have suggested any problems when using the locking lever clamp. I would probably get this ball head again as I really loved using it, but I would definitely opt for the lever clamp rather than the standard knob or spring for the GP model. The Acratech Nomad is available on Amazon.
Mindshift Gear Filter Nest Mini
If you are like me, you have a handful of filters rambling around in your camera bag. Wanting to be more organized this trip, I decided to get the Filter Nest Mini from Mindshift Gear (another of my favorite companies). I opted for the mini because four filters is plenty for my use and I didn't want to add unnecessary bulk.
The Filter Nest is a small pouch with compartments to hold your filters all together (with adequate separation and protection). To be honest, this was one of my favorite additions for this trip even though it was one of the simplest. I often separate out my necessary gear to take in jacket pockets so I don't have to dig through my bag when I am on location. Having all my filters in one easy to access case meant I kept my filters on me and used them more than I normally would. I highly recommend this to anyone that uses filters. I wish I would have gotten one a long time ago. You can pick one up for $24.95.
Peak Design Range Pouch
Anyone that follows me knows Peak Design is another of my favorite brands. The Range Pouch is a new lens pouch that offers a few unique features. I like keeping my lenses in lens pouches, even in my camera bag, for added protection. I also like to be able to quickly remove a lens to take with me when I do not want to carry my camera bag.
While you can use this pouch to carry anything, I used it for the two spare lenses I took. Because this pouch has a section of padding that folds down, I could stack my two extra lenses on top of each other to carry them in the same pouch without giving up any padding. My only complaint about this pouch was it was a little bulky as it is designed to fit lenses wider than those for my Fuji system. That can be nice though as I could fit an extra battery in with my lenses and have a quick go bag if I wanted.
This pouch has a nice Velcro top so you can expand or contract it to take up less space or fit more gear. It also has a really nice belt loop to attach it that you can attach to anything because it detaches with strong Velcro rather than being a true loop. It comes in three different sizes and starts at $34.95. I couldn't find it on Amazon, but Peak Design has offered our readers ten percent off with the code bdh12.
Peak Design Field Pouch
Another new pouch from Peak Design I added to help make traveling a little easier. This pouch is wider and compares almost to a small fanny pack. While it can be strapped to a belt, it can also be attached to a backpack or used as a small sling bag. My idea with this bag was to take all my accessories and put them in one place. This bag quickly became our go-to carrier for anything we needed to take with us for an outing. Because it can expand or contract like the Range Pouch, it was really nice to pack each day with whatever size load we needed and throw in our stroller. On most outings, it held my spare batteries, memory cards, lens cloths, remote, a diaper and a package of diaper wipes (for the young one).
I really loved this bag because it was perfect for just about anything. If I really wanted, I could have thrown a spare lens in there and not needed to take my camera bag with me hardly at all. Unfortunately, I usually threw it in the bottom of the stroller and didn't pay much attention to it. Somewhere in Lisbon, it fell out of the stroller and found a new home. Luckily, I didn't have anything too important in the bag at the time, but I am still bummed about losing it as it had become one of the biggest conveniences of the trip. Before our next big family trip, I will have to bite the bullet and buy a new one. At $39.95, it is not cheap for a pouch, but it is one of those things I don't want to be without now that I have used it. Peak Design has offered 10% off with the code bdh12 or you can get this one on Amazon.
Bluffworks Travel Clothes
Bluffworks is a company I discovered when I heard the founder talk on a podcast. I was immediately intrigued as he talked about clothes designed to be compact for travel, easy to wash, stain and water resistance and fashionable. Wanting to travel light and still look decent, I had to get some of these clothes and put them to the test.
The company offers two kinds of pants, shirts, shorts and a blazer. Since I was traveling in Winter and wouldn't need a blazer, I opted for a pair of chinos and a shirt. While I would have loved to have outfitted myself for the whole two weeks, these clothes are not cheap and I wanted to put them through a good test first.
I can now report they passed with flying colors. The fabrics are unique and perform very well for travel. I knew I was going to love them when my 2 year old dumped a drink on me at the airport our first day of travel. As I started to get upset knowing I was about to get on a 10 hour flight all wet, I realized the drink had not penetrated the clothes. I wiped them off and there was nothing but a little damp spot that quickly dried. I put these clothes through the ringer wearing them multiple days at a time and washing them in sinks. They stayed mostly clean, were very comfortable, and were a breeze to wash as they dried quicker than any of my other clothes.
Beyond that, there are some great features added to these clothes. The pants, for example, have zippered pockets underneath the regular pockets. I used these all the time to store cash, my cell phone, memory cards, batteries or other things I did not want to lose. The only complaint I had was I should not have picked light gray chinos. While I loved the color, they showed black really easily and I was constantly rubbing stroller wheels against them going through the airport. Those black streaks washed off easily, but they probably wouldn't have been an issue at all with a darker color.
If you travel at all, do yourself a favor and check out Bluffworks. Especially if you are doing extended travel that requires laundry or packing light, you will thank yourself for money well spent. The shirts are also on a great sale right now so get that while you can.
ThinkTank Travel Pouch
I have been eyeing travel pouches for a long time. There is not a whole lot to discuss here. Travel pouches are super thin and light pouches you put inside your luggage. They add practically nothing in size or weight, but allow you to organize better. In theory, I would love to have four or five of these to organize everything, but I only had one that we used to hold all of our winter clothes like gloves, hats and wool socks. Since we were changing climates between Paris and Lisbon and again from Barcelona to Berlin, this worked great to keep all that gear organized and out of the way when we weren't using it. There are a lot of cheaper options out there, but I went with ThinkTank because I knew it would be high quality and have a zipper that wouldn't break during the trip. You can pick one up at Amazon or get your free gift at ThinkTank.
Chances are you have not heard of goTenna. It is a relatively new company that has found a way to let you text and use maps on your phone when you don't have service. goTenna uses a small radio device you hook on your bag that pairs with your phone via bluetooth. It then uses smart protocols and radio waves to allow you to text other goTenna devices within a few miles. It also allows you to access downloaded maps and use GPS.
After going nearly a week in Glacier National Park with no cell service, I thought this would be a life saver in Europe so I got a pair for my wife and me. Cell service has changed a bit since my last Europe trip and I actually had the ability to text and use data almost everywhere on my trip. While that ended up making the goTenna unnecessary, I turned off my data for a while to give them a test. The texting worked flawlessly and my wife and I were able to communicate without issue. The maps also worked well for the most part with some GPS troubles. While the GPS worked most of the time, there were some times in Amsterdam where I had the map available, but was not able to track my location.
So while these weren't much use in Europe, I am still excited because the experience I just had in Glacier. If you are a photographer that gets out of the city and likes to shoot with other people, these are a perfect tool to keep in touch and not get lost. One of the coolest features is you can actually use the maps to send your location to other goTenna devices so meeting up is easy no matter where you are. If you lead workshops, a couple of these could be a lifesaver for keeping your group together. You can get a pair at Amazon, but check out their website to learn more.