After fourteen years of photographing weddings and destination-based shoots from the Southwest to the Northeast, Dubai to Israel, the Maldives and on eight islands across the Caribbean, it’s safe to say we’ve picked up a rule or two on how to travel well. More importantly, how to juggle the jet-lag, stay atop of emails, manage other existing clients or projects and remain fully present at the event or destination for which you’re currently on the go. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s hard enough to stay afloat on the to-do list while in the comfort of a regular work environment. Throw in a few surprises from a bout with airport customs, a foreign language and a new time zone, and it’s almost guaranteed to throw off your A-game.
If we could boil it all down to the three top rules, here’s what they would be:
- Give yourself more time than you “need” to travel/check-in/navigate/get acquainted/everything!
- Maximize access to power sources and wifi
- Prepare as if you’ll have less resources than usual (aim to be as self-sufficient as possible)
But if you’re anything like me, you’d probably appreciate a breakdown of exactly what this means. So for the sake of getting granular, here are our top tips for pre-trip prep, what to pack, our carry-on must-haves and how to handle it all during the trip, so you can roam far and wide without missing a beat.
The easiest way to keep all systems running, while you’re out of the office, is to mitigate any surprises or potential roadblocks while you’re on the go. The best way to do that is with proper pre-trip prep. When you plan well and schedule your time responsibly, you’ll be able to use your in-transit down time to keep up with emails, rather than having to stop mid-trip and figure out solutions to prevent snafus that could have been avoided.
Make sure your travel itinerary has plenty of margin for error
When booking a work trip, such as a destination wedding, always do your best to arrive the day before any mandatory events or engagements. Many people tend to assume that only winter weather poses the threat of flight delays or cancellations, when in fact, we’ve encountered everything from extended delays due to plane parts malfunctioning, to flights being re-routed to alternate airports because massive tornadoes were threatening our flight path. For this reason and the thousand others you can never fully anticipate, give yourself plenty of time when traveling to and returning from domestic (and especially international) trips.
Likewise, we always recommend returning at least two days before your next mandatory event at home. Not only will this prevent the gut-wrenching anxiety you’ll inevitably feel whenever travel cuts it too close to the next event time, you’ll also give yourself a moment to come down from the first trip, do some laundry and mentally re-set before diving in to the next project.
Try to book your own travel
If you’re anywhere near as type-A as myself and my business partner, Sheena, I’d recommend always trying to book your own travel to destination weddings and events. While we bill clients by including the cost of travel as a line item in our package price, we almost always prefer to make the actual reservations ourselves. That way, if something changes at any point, the reservation is already in our name and we’ll have permission to adapt the reservation without having to bother clients or planners, who are likely to already have their hands full.
As a practice, we always stay at the resort where our clients are staying, or where the wedding or events will take place. We do this for multiple reasons. Sometimes because it’s logistically necessary, but most often because it drastically amplifies the storytelling of their wedding weekend, ensuring that we’re able to fully capture the environment they chose to play such a major role in their wedding story.
Otherwise, if staying in the same location isn’t an option, we always opt to rent a car instead of relying on local taxis or Ubers. This ensures we have plenty of flexibility, remain in full control over our schedule and have the opportunity to easily scout or explore the surrounding area for photo opportunities as soon as we arrive.
Buy plane tickets with access to power outlets and wifi
This seems like a no-brainer, but nowadays, many airlines sell baseline economy seats at a standard rate, then require passengers to pay upgrade fees for access to seats with guaranteed power outlets. Reduced access to power outlets and limited wifi is especially common on domestic flights and can make or break your ability to be productive in-air. Also, keep in mind that sometimes, paying the upgrade on a long flight is better than working an event with a stiff neck from a cramped seat.
Check airline carry-on restrictions + weight allowances
When traveling overseas, many international airlines limit carry-ons to dimensions smaller in weight or size than carry-ons advertised here in the U.S. This is incredibly important as your regular carry-on of photo or video gear could end up getting flagged just before boarding and taken out of your sight to be checked below the plane (aka - nightmare). Wheels can also throw a standard overhead bag to the oversized category. There’s nothing worse than an airline stickler, who refuses to listen to your pleas when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt—the. bag.will. fit. (May or may not be speaking from personal experience).
If traveling abroad, check the local laws + regulations
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations in countries outside the US. Work visas might be required in some countries, and drones are rapidly being out-lawed in countries around the world. If you’re carrying a significant amount of photo or video gear, there’s a good chance you may be questioned by airport security and may need to show necessary paperwork proving that the gear belongs to you. Failing these check points could result in critical gear being confiscated by authorities for the remainder of the trip—so be wise!
Confirm your international data plan for projects abroad.
There’s nothing worse than assuming the usual $10/day travel pass will carry you through an international trip, then realizing later you’ve racked up $700 in international charges. Some more remote locations may not even offer cellular data or calling options at all, leaving your resort’s Wifi as your only option. Consider calling ahead to determine your access, and create an automatic reply to email and voicemail if you anticipate slow internet access throughout your trip.
Also, know that some countries, especially those in the Caribbean, have the ability to limit the total data usage of a single wireless device. We learned this while shooting a destination wedding in Antigua. There our resort had a weak wifi signal, so we simply used our international data plan to continue working from the wireless signal. However, after a day of regular emailing, uploading, etc., we apparently surpassed the permitted allotment and our data was docked until the next 24-hour period began. Unfortunately for us, when Verizon and other wireless providers leverage another country’s towers, they also have to play by their rules, and were unable to help us navigate out of data jail until we passed “Go” the next day. Moral of the story—don’t risk getting your data docked. The ‘Gram may need to wait.
Charge all camera batteries & electronics before you leave.
Not all countries have power outlets that charge as quickly as many of ours do here in the United States. Also, remember that differences in infrastructure, storms or other recent events could greatly impact your ability to charge or use your various devices. We shot a wedding in Puerto Rico just six months after Hurricane Maria’s devastating hit to the island, and though our resort hadn’t sustained much damage, the power grid in the area was still somewhat unpredictable. The resort ended up losing power from 9:30pm to 6:30am the night before one of our biggest weddings of the year. Thankfully, we fully charged all of our camera and electronic batteries before leaving New York City and were able to rely on portable batteries to keep our phones charged, instead of scrambling the morning of the wedding when this could have thrown us for a loop.
What to pack:
Portable battery chargers
We carry about four of these on long, and especially international, trips. Battery life can sometimes be the one thing standing between you and your ability to tackle your to-do list on the go.
A USB or portable hard drive loaded with important projects
Pre-load a portable hard drive or flash drive with files for any major projects you’re currently working on or will need to access while on the road. This should include templates for frequent emails, proposals, contracts or high-resolution photos from recent projects. Flights offer a great window of time to churn out longer projects, edit photos, write blogs or create proposals, so you can catch up on any outstanding projects and be fully present with your clients when you reach your final destination. For shorter periods of time where you can’t access a laptop (i.e. waiting in line at airport security), you can transfer photos to a mobile phone and use that time to organize or prep future social media posts.
Bluetooth luggage trackers
If you’re traveling with any important gear or luggage that must be checked, look into securing a bluetooth luggage tracker to toss into the bag. Many of the new trackers include an app that connects directly to your phone, allowing you to keep an eye on all important items throughout your trip and transfers.
Multiple converters for international trips
We always travel with three to four universal power converters to allow multiple devices and camera batteries to charge simultaneously. Again, keep in mind that power levels differ in other countries and some devices may take considerably longer to charge to capacity.
Tips for the carry-on:
Always carry-on the items you cannot operate without
As photographers, that’s obviously our cameras and our most important lenses. For some it may be their laptops, video gear, DJ equipment, makeup kit or other beauty tools for professional stylists. These are the tools for which you were hired, and therefore they should always travel with you in your carry-on, whenever possible. If a checked bag is lost or placed on the wrong flight, you can always replace clothes or basic toiletries much more easily than professional tools, which tend to be more scarce in remote destinations. Not to mention the additional duties you’re likely to incur if you find yourself needing to recover such large purchases abroad.
Always abide by the spare outfit rule
We highly recommend using your “one personal item” to pack a change of clothes, toothbrush, any important medications, a laptop and a hard drive with your most important work files. (Note: See our backpack of choice here). If all else fails and your luggage is lost, you’ll still be able to make-do and accomplish your job there on the ground. Tip for the ladies: we always keep some emergency makeup on-hand for a quick refresh before arriving to resorts or locations where you may be meeting with event planners or general managers upon arrival.
Extension cords, extensions cords, extension cords.
Nothing worse than a single power outlet, set 27 feet from the nearest seat, in a crowded and outdated airport. Or worse, a janky outlet that won’t hold on to your charger. Hence: the extension cord. Admittedly, it’s not the sexiest thing to travel with, but it’s saved my productivity more times that I can count and also allows me to charge multiple devices from a single outlet. When traveling abroad or on multi-layover trips where power sources aren’t always guaranteed, you learn to take full advantage when and however you can. On another note, five-foot phone charging cords are also a win. Because answering emails from the comfort of a plush hotel bed, is always a great idea. :)
During the trip:
Stay on top of emails whenever possible
I jokingly tell people to “obsessively refresh your inbox every 15 minutes,”… except that I actually do this in real life, especially when we travel. Try responding to emails as soon as they come in to account for hours you may be asleep or off the grid while in another time zone. Otherwise, if find yourself with downtime, but without access to Wifi or cellular data, you can always write emails, replies or updates in advance, then send them out later when have a stronger signal.
Manage your expectations and pad your timelines
Laying aside all assumptions of the New York pace/hustle (that we fully and proudly embody) we’re also regularly reminded that “island time” is just as real as a New York minute. The pace of life and "expected wait times” we’re accustomed to in the states are simply part of our culture here. Therefore, we often have to adjust our expectations when we’re guests in another country. For this reason we always make a point to build in extra time for everything from email responses and requesting a car on the fly, to wedding day hair and makeup schedules. Remember to be specific and err on the side of over-communication when working or planning across language and cultural barriers. These can make all the difference between a chaotic trip, and an idyllic, productive adventure.
Gina Esposito is Co-Founder and Principal Photographer of Anée Atelier, a New York City photography boutique specializing in weddings throughout the New York tri-state area and destinations across the world. Together with best friend and business partner, Sheena Meekins, the duo bring a unique spirit of chemistry and artistic adventure to photography; crafting the elevated, aesthetic seen throughout their weddings and the travel content of sister brand, Anée Away.