Safe travel with gear

I think the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in an airport was on my way to Bali a couple of years ago. I was sitting in Sydney airport waiting for the connecting flight & watched this middle aged gent walk past with something hanging loose from his back… About five metres further the object fell to the floor and he kept walking, totally oblivious. A kid sitting near me jumped up, ran over, picked it up and chased after him & returned it to him. What had he dropped? Just one of those security pouches containing his passport, tickets and cash! I laughed out loud at how ridiculous the situation was, here was someone attempting to be security conscious…. and totally failing! To the point where it could have ruined his holiday; he was obviously transiting and wouldn’t have been flying anywhere without the contents of that little bag.

Keeping a careful track of where your essential documents are is one aspect of travel that you need to learn fast, if only so you can relax. A good friend will never live down the fact he left his passport in the pocket of his jeans while staying at his in-laws in Osaka, his mother-in-law helpfully put it through the washing machine! He likes to pretend its her fault but who leaves their passport anywhere other than somewhere safe!?! Travel documents are at least small and can be locked up in a safe if necessary but how does one travel with a lot of equipment & do it safely? This is a subject I’m researching before my trip to Samoa, not because it is a dangerous place – quite the contrary – but because I want to be able to relax & know all my equipment is safe & secure. Now obviously I am not the first person to travel with equipment – we all do it to a degree – but this trip I’ll have gear that I’ll use constantly, as well as a lot of other gear that will effectively be in storage until the need arises. Talking to the production sound recordist for the Samoan film, the only problem he had last time was having an iPod stolen from his bag while staying at a resort after the shoot. A minor incovenience as its repalceable, but it would also mean no music for the rest of the trip, which would really suck….

carry on baggage?

Working through scenarios, there are discrete stages in travel – the first is of course getting there. It is common sense to pack anything breakable in your carry on baggage, according to my friend who works at a IT Support London company, which would include recorders, preamp, laptop, hard drives, cameras, lenses… But there is also the theory of planning for the worst case scenario: you arrive at your destination and all of your stowed/checked baggage has been lost/misplaced. Now that would be a pain but with a bit of forward planning it should only be an inconvenience, not put the purpose of the trip in jeopardy. So if I think about the core purpose of why I am travelling – in this case to record sound – then my carry on baggage needs to include everything essential that I need to achieve that. So its going to have to include one or two mics, as well as battery chargers for the essential gear. When travelling locally I would usually just put all the chargers into a soft bag and put them in checked baggage, but in the worst case scenario I want to be able to record for longer than one set of charged batteries!

Lockable checked baggage is essential and hard shell cases make immediate sense, whether they are pelican cases or other varieties. But apart from carefully packing the other gear (mics, cables, stands etc) & padding with clothes I’ll also be having to pack my sound recorder petrel bag in there too. So its starting to sound like an excess baggage scenario especially when you consider the empty weight of a large pelican case. Note to self: find out what the baggage allocation is & the potential excess baggage cost.

Once I get there I’ll reorganise all my bags and gear and leave one case at the picture editorial suite, which is secure. But regardless there will be times when a pelican case full of gear is sitting in a hotel room or somewhere unattended and it is this scenario I’ve been thinking about solutions for. With the problem of the recordist losing his ipod, I don’t want someone having a look through my pelican case & just for their own amusement taking the fluffy dead cat thing (with the $3000 microphone inside it) – I can keep the bag locked but I can’t lock that stuff in a safe. How to make it immoveable (ie cant steal the entire case) and unapproachable (ie cant quietly spend half an hour forcing their way into the case)

safe bag?

In doing research I read a few different sites selling products for eg locking a hotel door yourself (eg at night) or keeping passport etc which is as much about personal safety as anything, but this site appears to have products more along the lines of what I imagine and I figure I’ll get these two for each hard case:
– a 130dB alarm that can be rigged to a bag, door or window
– a cable lock for securing luggage to physical immoveable objects

The other two forms of protection I’m going to need in Samoa is (1) from insects and (2) from sudden downpours – I don’t mind getting wet but my recorders & mics sure don’t! Apart from picking up a Petrel bag for my recorders I’m also going to get one of these Rain Ponchos

rain poncho

So whats your experience? How do you protect and secure your gear when travelling? Whether its sound gear, cameras, laptops – how careful are you when staying in a foreign country? Know any resources or links covering such things ie packing gear for travel, keeping it secure etc?

A few links I’ve found since…

pack a starter pistol to get extra special security treatment with your gear? If I was going to be shooting IRs I’d consider this, but not sure its legit for international travel

travel tips for photographers

13 thoughts on “Safe travel with gear

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  2. Matt S

    I read somewhere a suggestion of taking a photo of the contents of your pelican, getting that laminated and slipping that into the case – as a sort of “this is what I packed and where it all goes” for anyone who needs to check out your bag…. I’ve a pelican that is the carryon size (with wheels) but loaded with my usual stuff I have to act like it’s light as a feather…… Which it’s not – it tips the scales and would be considered too heavy for carry on.

  3. Rene Coronado

    Tim, you may want to investigate shipping your gear ahead of you via FedEx or some other similar service. I know of a few people who have traveled with gear in this manner to great success.

    You can track it, the delivery is guaranteed, and the price is certainly comparable to checking it on many airlines.

    You still have the packing and locking issue to deal with, but the actual hauling and transit are dealt with. Just an option…

    1. tim Post author

      Interesting idea! Not sure Fedex have an office in Samoa though 😉
      The film company freighted a container of equipment over a few weeks ago….

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