A Practical Approach to Travel as a Wedding Photographer
As a write this Article in the Spring of 2017, the laptop restrictions have just come into force for a selection of 7 middle eastern airports, as well as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia & Turkey. Currently, the restrictions vary between the UK and the US and it’s important to remember that the restrictions only effects inbound flights at the time of writing. It is beyond the scope of what I had hoped to put on paper for this article, but seeing as though my inbox currently contains a sprinkle of questions surrounding this subject, I thought it worth highlighting here. I am not planning on travelling back to the UK from any of the affected airports until the Autumn of this year – maybe the restriction will be removed by then – I doubt that very much, but optimism is key.
Whilst I will keep myself updated with any progression, or relaxation, of these new rules, I don’t expect to see them adopted globally and thus have not covered them in any further detail here.
(If you’re a couple looking for less travel advice and more Destination Wedding Photography, then you just need to click here.)
A Travel Geek. Is what many of my friends and family would call me, and not in the sense of; ‘What should I do in Nepal, Barney?’ because I honestly wouldn’t have the foggiest clue. Whilst some would say I am well travelled, maybe I am, depending on your own personal travel life, and how much is ‘ALOT’ to you.
Where my knowledge and ‘geekiness’ really lies though, is the method of travel, namely, flying.
What I do more than ‘travel’ is – ‘commute’. It is off the back of this frequent commuting around Europe (and further afield at times), that has led me to write this series of articles about the lessons I have drawn from my time in the air to date.
Every week I get some form of a Facebook message or e-mail from various photography friends asking me about travel tips for weddings, travelling more generally, and how they should best approach it. Whilst this article, and those that will follow, won’t be very philosophical, they will be extremely practical and offer an insight into the frequent things I do, to ensure stepping into an airport 100+ times in 18 months, is both a comfortable and productive, experience.
Answers. On the basis of the most duplicated questions I get in my inbox about travel, I have pulled out five key topics that this, and following articles will broadly address…
(1) Hand Baggage
(2) Travel Money (NOW LIVE!)
(3) Shooting Weddings Abroad with ZERO Hassle (NOW LIVE!)
(4) Staying Productive on the Move (NOW LIVE!)
(5) Introduction to Air Miles (COMING SOON!)
Toward the end of each article, I am will also include a list of some of my top travel tips. These are one or two liners designed to make you think about what you could do to make life just a little easier for yourself.
Two caveats before I begin…
- Europe. The premise of most of what I have to say is built from my experience over the past 3 years flying predominately on a select number of airlines across Europe. Whilst I have travelled as far as Dubai, Bali, Thailand, New York, Mauritius & California in that time too, I predominately travel weekly between the UK, Spain & Italy. Most of what I have to say will, therefore, be relevant most to those living in the U.K and Spain and looking to travel around Europe more conveniently, enjoyably & economically
- Opportunity Cost. This is something I will address more directly later, but off the top, I wanted to let you know that I write this from an opinion that ‘spending a little more’ is often a good thing, and ‘the cheapest option is not always the easiest’.
I’m happy to pay for an easier, simpler and more productive life.
Download The Hand Baggage Size Guide
* Europe 2017 addition*
Probably the group of questions I get asked most are in some way related to hand baggage. Either the answer being a simple, “yes, the way forward is hand baggage ONLY”. Or slightly more interesting, the words ‘how’ or ‘what’ being placed in front of those two magic words – hand baggage.
Before you can understand fully ‘how to travel hand baggage only’, you must first understand which airlines you can travel with. If like me, you shoot with Canon or Nikon DSLRs, as opposed to the rising stars of the Fuji world or other smaller/lighter bodies, then you’re probably going to be more restricted. Like me, you’re going to be restricted based predominantly on the maximum hand baggage weight imposed by airlines.
Ryanair, Monarch, Norwegian and Flybe all impose a weight restriction on their passengers.
Whilst the subject of the size of your hand baggage is often the most discussed topic, it is the weight restriction for photographers, like you and me, that is often the most concerning.
An example. My Think Tank Airport International V2 (there is now a V3 version), fully packed with cameras, lenses, flash equipment, laptop, chargers, batteries & clothes for a 3 day trip in Europe, weighs in at around 15kgs. That’s without including another 4kgs in my shoulder bag. When combined, which is how it should (and can be) calculated for many airlines at check-in or at the gate, we are talking close to 20kgs!
In practice, I have not had any experience of a bag being weighed by ground staff at the gate. However, if they did, I would be in the wrong if flying with airlines like Ryanair, Flybe & Norwegian. Touch wood, it’s not happened to me. I have heard of it happening, and even seen it happening to others, and thus I will always do my utmost to stay on the correct side of the argument by flying other airlines that have less strict criteria.
Side note: It would be nice to see Ryanair, Flybe & Norwegian relaxing their carry on criteria for premium passengers.
Weight. The weight I carry varies from trip to trip, depending on the climate at the location(s), how long I am away from home and if I’m shooting a wedding or not. In all honesty though, my bags never really weighs in below the 12kgs mark, and on occasion can be in excess of 20kgs.
For me, and I’m sure for many of you, this is a problem when frequent weight restrictions from the European carriers tops out at 10kgs (Ryanair, Norwegian, Flybe and Monarch), or as little as 6kgs if flying Thomas Cook.
If you are flying long-haul, Emirates and Qatar (whilst both offering an exceptional long-haul economy product) have a ludicrous (in my opinion) 7kgs maximum for economy passengers!
Of course, one natural answer is for those of use shooting with DSLRs, to switch over to the smaller and lighter cameras when we travel. Enter the Fuji era for many.
Another option is to travel with a small shoulder/rucksack with most of your expensive equipment contained within (2 bodies and 3 lenses for example), whilst checking into the hold your clothes and any ‘less expensive’ equipment. I practise this procedure with Air Nostrum flights, whereby you can wheel your roller to the door of the plane before having it stored in the hold for flight, on arrival, you collect it again as you walk down the steps. (the technical term for this is; Gate Checking)
The only difference is having to move 2 bodies, 3 lenses and my laptop into my shoulder bag for the flight. If only more airlines would practise this, but I can understand why not, it’s certainly a hassle for the ground staff and is only really common on small prop-based planes.
Whilst I would never say never. I’m not a fuji shooter – today.
AND I really enjoy the convenience, simplicity, time-saving, and cost, of hand baggage only.
So what’s the answer?
Enter EasyJet. Orange is easy. Yes, it really is. For many, EasyJet can be your very best friend, unlike many of its competitors, EasyJet does not impose ANY weight restriction whatsoever. You can bring two bags as standard, (guaranteed by paying approx. £20) which is now standard across most European carriers. Yet what’s more, with that small £20 fee (or less), you not only secure your bags in the cabin on every flight, but you can also; select a seat, get extra legroom and board the plane first. Depending on how you book EasyJet call this service ‘Speedy Boarding’ or ‘EasyJet Plus’.
This provides you with ‘status’ like features (more on status shortly) that other ‘legacy carriers’ only provide to their loyal frequent flyers. It’s very similar to ‘Ryanair Biz’ but with Ryanair, you still have the 10kg limit as well as a smaller carrier on size which means replacing my Airport International V2 with a smaller bag such as the Airport Essentials.
(no affiliation with Think Tank – I just love the quality.)
EasyJet also permits the larger cabin bag size of 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.
If you fly or intend to fly EasyJet frequently, then you’ll definitely want to consider using the Nectar programme or the cash back site ‘TopCashback’ as a means of rewarding yourself or simply reducing the overall cost. In the UK, Nectar offers an Amex Credit Card too, which at worst provides 0.5% cash back on your day-to-day spending, which you can then redeem on EasyJet flights or a family holiday. (DON’T use this card for overseas spending – more on that later)
Tip: If you fly with EasyJet more than 10 times a year, then definitely look into becoming an ‘EasyJet plus cardholder’. EasyJet plus negates the need to pay £10-£20 for each flight for the above extras and thus if you fly enough, the £200 fee might well be worthwhile. I personally don’t fly EasyJet for work enough to concern myself with becoming a cardholder, but if I did, I wouldn’t hesitate. You can also get reduced fees for your spouse or children to join too.
So after recommending EasyJet to most people, you might then be surprised to learn that I don’t actually travel EasyJet that often. and here is why…
OneWorld. The two carriers I fly most are British Airways and Iberia. Since 2012, both are owned by the same company, Airlines International Group (AIG). Both have 23kg baggage allowances, both permit two carry-on bags, both permit the larger 56cm x 45cm x 25cm cabin bag size and both belong to the global airline alliance called OneWorld.
Airline alliances, of which there are three main players globally, OneWorld is just one, offer a way in which airlines from different companies can integrate together and offer rewards for flying within that same alliance. It’s a little like a referral system, where one airline recommends the other and visa verse and any ‘perks’ or ‘status’ you have with one – you, in turn, have with the other. We are verging on the lines of discussing air miles at this point, but I don’t intend to get into that here. Your intuition that this is an entirely separate article in itself – is correct.
For now, understand this, as with EasyJet Plus you can receive similar services or ‘perks’ from the likes of British Airways and Iberia, by flying with them frequently. However, unlike with EasyJet where your EasyJet Plus card only works with EasyJet, with British Airways and/or Iberia, your card (or in this case your ‘status’ – as it’s called) is transferable between 15 airlines worldwide.
Service. Many people, especially those who flew British Airways back in the 80’s and 90’s, will try and tell you that British Airways and other national carriers have gone down the toilet since then. Whilst this might be true (I wasn’t even a twinkle in my dad’s eyes in the 80’s – so what would I know), this is not really relevant here in 2017. In comparison today, I would agree there is very little between the likes of British Airways and EasyJet, but for me, it’s about what the rewards system with OneWorld entitles me to and how far globally that reaches. Thus, providing me with one of the most important things – choice.
Airline Tiers. With airline status, it’s worth being aware that there are normally three ‘tiers’ to any status and typically the middle tier is the one required for most of the benefits. However, whilst you can’t buy status, it can be relatively easy to achieve if you know how, especially if you willing to splurge once on a long-haul business class seat every 18 months or so.
As well as the benefits associated with EasyJet plus, a common advantage of having status with an airline alliance is the use of Airport Lounges, something I am a huge advocate of from a productivity (and cost saving) point of view.
If lounges interest you, take a look at the options provided by Priority Pass, American Express and even your package bank account. You can also drop me a line if you want a recommendation for your individual circumstances. Personally, I use both Priority Pass (included with my Amex Platinum Card) and my OneWorld status interchangeably, this works best for my circumstances, but I know several people who fly EasyJet combined with a Priority Pass and make this work well.
Is this really relevant to me? As a guideline status is not something that you will be able to gain overnight and normally involves flying more than 25 short-haul flights each year or upward of 8 long haul flights. (or a mix there off)
The numbers 25 and 8 are a little arbitrary but serve as a decent guideline to where having ‘status’ with an airline becomes easily achievable. As I eluded to above, another way is to splurge once every 18 months or so on a business class long-haul.
For example: My other half did just this a few months back with a £800 return business class trip to Phuket which now guarantees her status for the next 21 months! – as well as being a lovely experience on a mixture of the Qatar 787-9, A380 and A300. There are often some particularly good deals with Qatar to Asia from the likes of Stockholm, Copenhagen & Oslo, but for now – let’s get back to baggage…
Sizes. The worldwide standard cabin bag size is approximately 55cm x 40cm x 23cm (approx. – some airlines use a cm or two each way) and this is certainly 3 numbers to remember when bag shopping. Arguably though this is shifting to smaller sizes around 50cm x 30cm x 20cm, to be safe on many of the more ‘basic’ airlines. Most airlines adopt some size between.
In fairness to some airlines, Flybe included, this is due to the nature of the plane’s design and for a small ‘puddle jumper’ or prop based aircraft, the larger sizes physically don’t fit into the overhead bins anyway. I guess you could argue poor aircraft design.
Ryanair actually has its own size in between the two, currently 55cm x 40cm x 20cm and along with Norwegian, they stipulate a maximum size for the second bag (often referred to as a ‘personal item’), which is 35cm x 20cm x 20cm and 33cm x 25cm x 20cm respectively. When compared to what EasyJet, British Airways and Iberia will allow, this seems tiny! Generally speaking though, if it fits comfortably under the seat in front, your unlikely to have an issue.
If all the numbers, different sizes, and different weight restrictions were a little confusing, then you can Download a Cabin Baggage Size Guide that I have put together, as well as including all the airlines mentioned here, it also contains all other major carriers that operate in Europe. SAS, Air Berlin & Vueling are included, to name just a few more.
Therefore, the reason I love to fly British Airways, Iberia & EasyJet, is not only the fact that I get a very generous weight restriction but also the maximum cabin bag dimensions of 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. This is as large as you will find anywhere!
Cost. It’s likely that as far as factors go when choosing which airline to fly with, the size and weight of your hand baggage, may not be your only considerations. I wouldn’t be concluding this article well without mentioning the cost differences.
Without a doubt, on most routes like for like, Ryanair is the cheapest product, shortly followed, or often matched by Norwegian. Not always, but often enough.
For me though, I would rather pay the additional monies, sometimes as little as £10, and rarely more than £40 (short-haul) to either fly with EasyJet, Iberia or British Airways, even at times when Ryanair’s schedule is at a more convenient time of day. I say this coming from a philosophical point of view that I would rather just ‘keep it simple and stress-free’, travelling hand luggage only.
I have flown both Ryanair and Norwegian in the past 6 months, both are cheap and simple when I am NOT flying with camera equipment. But whenever I am flying for work, it’s imperative I arrive stress-free, rested and in a good mindset. I put myself in the best possible environment – always.
When choosing between EasyJet, British Airways and Iberia, I am simply looking at the combination of the route, time of day, and price. Coming to a conclusion based on the intersection between these three elements will be a personal opportunity cost for you.
Final Note: When comparing prices on Kayak or Sky Scanner, I always add £20 to EasyJet’s advertised prices (each-way), this allows room, within the price, to add on my Speedy Boarding and thus guaranteeing both my bags in the cabin. I have found that normally when EasyJet is cheaper (once adding my £20 buffer), then British Airways is only more expensive by a very small margin, so providing the times work for me, I will choose British Airways as I normally earn the difference back in miles alone. (not to mention adding to my status)
Download The Hand Baggage Size Guide
* Europe 2017 addition*
I do hope you found this useful and if you have had enough of baggage for the day, here are a few other travel related tips for you…
If you like geeky articles on photography, travel and productivity, just like this one, please tell me.
Barney’s Top Tips
- When passing through security, put your phone and headphones in a completely separate tray. When your camera bag gets stopped for a random search for ‘being too busy’, you’ll have something to do whilst you’re waiting.
- Sit in an exit row to avoid being asked to have bags/coats around your feet. Especially if you’re tall like me.
- When booking your exit seat over the wing, be sure to book the row in front if there are two rows (the middle if there are three rows). Children are not allowed to sit on exit rows, so you’ll have no-one kicking the back of your chair.
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