I have unfortunately been the victim of theft from my own home. While in the bathroom, someone came into my house and helped themselves to my two week old Macbook Pro. Since then, I’ve been extra cautious about security and insurance. Thankfully I’ve never had anything stolen while travelling. But I know the horrible, sinking feeling of loss, when your laptop or camera gear goes walkabout. Camera gear safety is one of the most important factors in travel for a photographer. Here’s how to keep your camera gear safe when travelling.
Without a doubt, the Pacsafe mesh stopped a thief from plundering my camera gear on my world trip. While my husband and I were sleeping on an overnight train in India, a sticky fingered individual went through our bags. Thankfully, the only things they stole were the deodorant, body wash and hygiene supplies from my husband’s shopping bag, which was on the top bunk next to him as he slept. All our other luggage was locked up. Although I couldn’t care less if someone pinched my bag of dirty backpacker clothes, my entire camera kit is another matter.
While I’d often risked my gear by spooning it on overnight trains, I’d decided to invest in the Pacsafe 35L Stealth mesh, a discreet option for locking your gear up to objects that are bolted down. Even though it takes up a little bit of space in my backpack, with my love of overnight trains and travel, I think it’s a valuable investment. Beneath the black fabric casing is a slashproof mesh, which locks up tightly so that you can’t slip your fingers into open the bag. I used the 35L bag to lock up my Lowepro Fastpack backpack and my husband’s laptop bag, which just fit. If you only have a camera bag, then this is the perfect size for a larger backpack with a laptop compartment. If you’ve just got a sling bag, I’d recommend going for the smaller size.
I used the mesh several times in our trip, especially in backpacker hostels in shared dorm rooms. You can bolt it to just about anything, including bunk beds and railings. I also used a Pacsafe cable lock to tie down our luggage on overnight trains.
Make your camera look cheap
No, I don’t mean trashing your camera. There are a number of ways to make a camera look less attractive than it actually is to thieves without damaging it. This includes hiding the branding with duct tape, using a generic camera strap and putting it in a plastic bag.
Use a camera bag that’s difficult to steal from
A sling bag or a backpack is much more difficult to nick than a shoulder bag. Always wear satchel bags across your body. Pick a discreet colour with minimal branding. For point and shoot cameras, don’t keep them in an outside pocket. I used a Lowepro Fastpack 250 during my world trip, which I pretty much trashed over the space of two years (it’s a great bag to survive what I put it through). I’ve since updated to a Lowepro Transit, which is another great design in a neutral grey colour, with enough space to keep my laptop in the back. It would be pretty difficult for someone to get my camera out without me noticing as the access is on the side.
Keep your gear in front of you
In crowded transport areas, there will often be signs warning to keep your bag in front of you to prevent pickpocketing. While you might look like a pregnant hippopotamus, at least you can see all the zips on your bag. Same goes for carrying your camera out and about. Wear it in front around your neck, not loosely on your shoulder.
Use your common sense
This should probably be point number one, but if you wander around looking like a tourist, pointing flashy camera gear at everyone you pass, then yes, you’re probably a likely target for theft. Don’t walk around poorly lit or quiet areas at night by yourself. Ask your hotel or hostel to mark out dodgy areas on a map. Discretion is key here.
Backup your photos
The worst thing that could happen if your gear is stolen is the loss of your precious travel photos. Cameras and laptops can be replaced, but photos can’t. If you don’t take a computer travelling, transfer your photos at a local shop to CD or USB. If you do take a laptop travelling, transfer the photos each night and leave your laptop at the hotel (if it’s secure). I recommend using a cloud backup service such as Backblaze to automatically protect your photography.
Even if you do follow all these precautions, things still get stolen. Don’t let the fear of having your gear stolen stop you from taking great shots. Do yourself a favour and make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers your equipment. That way, if something does get stolen, you won’t be heartbroken.