Hi, my name is Shannon and I'm a travel addict. For as long as I remember, traveling has been something that my family does. Growing up in Boston but having all of my family in Ireland and Switzerland meant that we traveled home to see them every year or two. As I've grown up, I've had an insatiable desire to see more of the world than just the small parts of it that I've lived in. I've found ways to allow my business to work for me in that sense by booking and photographing engagement sessions and weddings in some incredible locations! In 2015, I'll have been on a plane 10 out of 12 months and will have gone to Ireland, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Virginia, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Switzerland, The US & British Virgin Islands, Dallas, Iceland, Scottsdale, Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore and Monterey, CA. Most of those trip have been for photography or have had some photography involved, so below are a few of my favorite tips for traveling with your gear and making the most of your trips!
Pack only the essentials.
This is valid for gear as well as your clothes. Chances are if you're traveling somewhere to shoot, you'll be working for a day or two and exploring for another couple of days. Not to mention getting to your location and back; do you really want to be lugging around more luggage than you need? I'm sure this all depends on your style of photography – but I prefer to go all minimalist on my gear when I travel. I take 2 bodies of course just to be safe, but really cull down my lens choices and bring just the minimum I need. I bought these light stands that fold down really small and will fit in my suitcase so that I don't have to bring an extra bag and usually end up being able to fit all my bodies, lenses, flashes and triggers into my small fake-camera-bag carry on or my ONA bag.
As far as luggage, pack what you need then take out a third of it. Seriously. Think about how much you want that piece of clothing vs how much you're going to want to carry it! If you're traveling and staying with friends, pack light and do laundry. If you're staying in an AirBNB, try to make sure they have a washer/dryer that you can use. If you're in a hotel, they might have laundry services or a laundromat nearby.
Pack a smaller bag or backpack for adventuring.
When I travel I usually bring my laptop with me so that means my go-to bag when flying is a tote with space for my laptop. The problem is that who wants to go explore and adventure with a giant tote?! I always stow a smaller cross body bag or a backpack in my checked luggage and I'm telling you, it's the best decision ever! It is so much easier to walk around handsfree. Not only does it leave you free to not worry about carrying a large purse, but if you're visiting a larger city, it's safer to have a small bag close to your body. Choose one that's big enough to carry around your essentials (wallet, sunglasses, bottle of water, camera) but still lets you keep your hands free. In case you're looking for a great laptop tote – I use this one and I love it.
I know some people have international SIM cards that they'll put in their phones while abroad and that totally works, but if you don't travel often or don't want to invest in an international SIM, use FaceTime! Depending on where I'm going and if I know I have wifi, I'll stick my phone on airplane mode, connect to wifi and use FaceTime audio for phone calls. When I was in Switzerland this July, I did all my texting and calling via iMessage and FaceTime and it was not only easy but totally free since I was using WiFi, being able to keep in contact with family, friends and clients was a great stress reliever!
Set up Auto-Responder or Voicemail during your Travels
This is a big one for me. The last thing I want to be worried about when I'm traveling is my email and any voicemails I might get. I try to check email once a day anyway to see if there are any new inquiries or time-sensitive emails from clients I need to respond to but other than that, I don't feel the pressure to respond to email every hour! I communicate with clients that have upcoming weddings before I leave so that they know I'll be away – I would never want a bride or groom to get worried because I'm suddenly out of the country and they have a pressing question about their timeline. Other than that, my auto responder is cheery, happy and politely tells people that I'm away and will try to respond to emails when I can and that at the very latest, I will respond by whatever date I'm returning home. Most of the time, you can find wifi and answer a few here or there… but sometimes you can't. Recently I was in the Virgin Islands for a week with absolutely no wifi – and boy was I glad to have the auto responder up then. This also allows you to ENJOY your vacation and really relax!
This one is a little bit harder if you're kind of an introvert but trust me, it's one of my favorite things to do when traveling and I'm an introvert. I've met some incredible people and made lasting friendships just because I was wiling to put aside my “I'm from Boston and we don't talk to strangers” attitude! When I was in Hawaii, I was able to meet this amazing couple through a friend of a friend and we ended up getting along so well, I photographed their engagement session and later, their wedding. In St. John's last month, I was chatting it up with the locals like I'd be living there for months and not only did I have great conversations, I learned about the culture, the island and just had a great time! My opinion is that the best way to learn about a new city or country isn't by reading a guide book – it's by going there and hearing about it from the people that live there! I'm headed to Iceland, Dubai, Thailand and Singapore later this year and I can't wait to get to those countries and make new friends and connections to learn about what I should eat, where I should visit and who knows maybe even snag a couple or two to photograph along the way!
I've always heard the saying that before you marry someone, you should get stuck in an airport with them and see how they react. For the record, I totally agree. I think that you should be prepared for whatever happens and embrace it! Flight delay? Go with it. Hotel isn't what you expected? It'll be a great story one day. Sketchy ferry ride? Look around at the locals – if they're on the same boat and they're not worried, you'll be ok! Some of my favorite adventures have come from delays, things not going according to plan, and being slightly unsure of what's going on… but they've all turned out great and made for great stories! Plus, I've met some amazing people along the way!
Get rid of your “champagne dream” expectations
I don't even know if that's a real saying but If your goal is to travel more, let go of any notions you have of traveling first class and staying in the Four Seasons, unless you're a millionaire in which case, call me – we should travel together 😉
Expect to stay in AirBnb's, have long flights stuck in economy class, and maybe an awkwardly timed layover in a foreign airport. Expect that your lodging isn't going to be 5 stars but that you might be staying with a lovely family that you could learn a thing or two from. Don't expect to dine at the nicest restaurants every night but embrace the local street food and local cuisine that's probably incredibly delicious (I say that but I've heard about fermented shark in Iceland… I'll be breaking my own rule and definitely NOT trying that!)
Once you let go of the stuff that doesn't matter, i.e. – a swanky hotel room and and fancy plane ticket, you can focus on what does matter, like the fact that you get to go experience an entirely new culture for a few days. I don't know about you, but for me, spending 12 hours in a cramped seat in coach is worth it in exchange for spending 2 weeks in somewhere incredible experiencing all that it has to offer. The only reason I can afford to travel so much is because I've made it my priority. I've started to see money in terms of plane tickets…. so a $100 dinner out and a $200 shopping spree equals 3 nights of an AirBnb somewhere and a 1/3rd of a plane ticket. I'm leaning more towards investing in an experience that I'll remember for a lifetime rather than a really nice pair of shoes that I don't really need…and if photography just happens to fall into those plans well then its just an amazing bonus!
So those are a few of my favorite tips – I hope that if you're traveling, they help a little bit! If you are traveling soon, I'd love to hear all about it and live vicariously through your adventures… and of course, see some amazing photos. Happy Travels!
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