A Practical Approach to Travel as a Wedding Photographer
If you regularly sit in a fixed office space with a desktop computer, fibre optic internet and draws full of everything you could possibly need for any task – then staying productive on the move might come as a little challenging. Your current schedule might not exactly package up into a 4 day trip on the road? On the contrary, if your life is already one of coffee shops and a little more ‘nomadic’ -then this might come a little more naturally.
It’s amazing how easy it is to stop being efficient when everything you ‘need’ to stay productive has to fit under the ‘seat in front of you’.
Are you Offline or Online? One of the things I have implemented over the last few years of travelling has been becoming strict with myself about what tasks are online, and which are offline – and with that same intention, which can be done on my 11” MacBook, and which tasks require me to be sat for longer periods at a larger display. By organising your to-do list into a system whereby you know what to be doing when, can be extremely time-saving, and remove a lot of frustration!
For example; you don’t want to board a flight to write emails, only to realise you haven’t downloaded your emails on your laptop – We have all done it! Likewise, it would be silly to plan on doing all your culling in an airport, only to then not be able to do your social media whilst in the air.
Personally, I find splitting my tasks between online/offline and then home/away a very useful activity. My day-to-day or week-to-week tasks get saved up and scheduled for the most efficient times to be doing them. It’s easy to do, but also easy not to do.
On a flight for a few hours; I would recommend culling, writing, podcasts and reading.
In an airport; I would recommend social media, blogging and emails.
In a coffee shop with internet then research, travel planning and some big thinking are normally the order of the day.
I find different environments, like inspiring coffee shops, really great places to switch my brain into top gear and therefore put me in a good place to learn and write. ( like right now! )
And then home at your desktop, I would recommend the heavy internet tasks and large screen tasks such as you main editing.
Splitting your tasks this way is vitally important because if you’re away from home for 3 or 4 days, and then get home having only really worked one of those days, the ‘travel time’ becomes ‘dead time’. When I am on the road, I consider my travel time as ‘super productive time’, I plan to arrive home without a massive ‘to do’ list, but with time to relax and work on editing and bigger tasks.
Cloud Syncing. One of the best value subscription tools I have is Dropbox. Dropbox is my fail safe back up on the road, and also my way of transferring files quickly and efficiently between my various computers. Some people store things on Hard Drives and their Desktop, I store everything within Dropbox.
In practice I use Dropbox for 4 keys tasks:
- Backup JPEG copies of all my images on the move. As soon as I have some internet, normally overnight in a hotel room, I will allow all my files from a wedding to backup to Dropbox in a JPEG form. This is worst case scenario and on top of the four RAW hard copies, I already carry.
- Sync Lightroom Catalogs between my own computers, to Poppy (my other half), and to any outsourcing company. Whilst a typical wedding is approximately 100GB of Raw files, once selected and rendered as Smart Previews in Lightroom, this comes down to under 2GB and is easy to sync with some good internet in a Hotel or Airport. (if the internet is rubbish – don’t attempt it)
- Nomadic Backup. If I was to have my laptop and phone stolen/broken/lost then I could log in to my Dropbox account from any device and access any files I might need in any place, anytime. Not just my photo files, but literally anything on my Mac, nothing is on my computer that is not synced, with the exception of original raws.
- If you have a fast internet connection at home, I have also started to use Dropbox as a means to backup DNG copies of all my files too (thanks to Photographer Chris Giles, for this one).
Be sure to use Dropbox’s selective sync option, especially for RAW or DNG syncing. Of course, there are alternatives to Dropbox, I have been using Dropbox for years and it’s a classic example of being invested in their technology.
Checklists/Systems. Alongside Dropbox, I use another online tool, Trello. If you have followed me for a while, you will have read about all the ways I use Trello to optimise my business tasks and post-production workflows, thus I won’t repeat that now. What I do want to mention is the importance of having some form of system or checklist for your repeatable workflows. Not only does having a checklist of tasks save brain power for more creative tasks, but they also help you stay organised and schedule what you can and cannot do when you’re on the move.
I believe this to be crucially important at the best of times – personally, I go as far as making a checklist for my morning routine. For example; I’m terrible and forgetting to eat breakfast at the moment, so a morning checklist is great for that too. However, without going that far, it would be my recommendation to create a checklist for some of the following scenarios…
- Camera Bag Contents Checklist
- Booking Checklist
- Travel Plans Checklist
- Backup Checklist
- Editing Checklist
I use these, and many more, for every single wedding and client so that; I am providing the same high standards to everyone, lessen the chances of forgetting something, and have everything in one place, all the time, anywhere!
Trello is a great free online tool that will allow you to do this, but there are many others. I would suggest a digital one so that your not reliant on having a notebook with you and you can easily copy and paste for each new client/couple.
Whenever you do the same task twice, you know that you need to add it to a checklist. Poppy hates me endlessly adding things to our business workflow, but the consistency, quality, customer service and brain power we can save is superb, and it’s scalable too.
The more you can automate and checklist your life, the less energy you burn thinking about it, modern technology can be your worst enemy, but I suggest making it work for you and letting it become your best friend. It’s taken me years and several good books to realise this, but getting a grasp of some basic systems and you’ll be hooked and begin to save energy for more deep and creative work.
Environment to Work. Without a doubt, my number one hack for staying productive on the move is the mantra that ‘Cheap is not always best’ it’s obvious, but so easily forgotten when you travel. Whilst you might scrimp on the airline you fly with, or the luggage you carry, please save a few £$€, for putting yourself in a good place when you’re in an airport, enter – Airport Lounges.
I am amazed how late people leave this idea in their travelling thoughts, and yes they do become a lot more affordable if you travel frequently. However, for me, and for anyone else I have converted, they are so incredibly important to being productive on the move. Even more so if you’re flying long haul and find yourself at the airport for 2+ hours at a time.
As a result, the time I spend away from my laptop when moving through an airport is very minimal, probably about 30 minutes on average, allowing 10 minutes for security, 5 minutes to walk to the lounge and a further 15 minutes from lounge seat to my onboard window seat.
And who doesn’t love a 30-minute podcast?
Working in a lounge with coffee on tap, food, plug sockets, wifi, clean toilets, maybe a shower, and at times – proper working desks, or cubicles – for me, a total no-brainer!
A lounge for a one off visit will probably cost you around £25 if you book in advance. If you take 10+ flights a year, check out a basic Priority Pass that will bring that down to around £15 per visit and grants you access to the vast majority of non-airline branded lounges.
If you travel more than that, then I would ask you to strongly consider an American Express Platinum Card which comes with a top spec ‘unlimited’ Priority Pass – you can’t even buy this one.
Another option is building mid-level status with an airline alliance, but that’s for another day. Priority Pass is the best option for most, especially if you fly regularly with non-alliance airlines such as EasyJet, Ryanair and Norwegian.
My Throne. 12A, on most flights this is where you will find me sat. Why? Extra Legroom, Exit Seat, No Kids sat behind me and a window seat. I could also choose 12F for the same reasons.
I travel most frequently on British Airways A320’s and hence the layout of the plane becomes familiar to me, however, you can use SeatGuru, or your airline’s seating map, to work out the best seat for you. If you use EasyJet seat selection then you pay a modest £20 per flight for these seats, plus you also get speeding boarding and can take TWO bags into the cabin with you.
The reason I mention my seat preference here is coming back to the idea of creating consistency and knowing what you are doing ahead of time. The less I have to use my limited daily energy on the topic of where my seat is each time I fly, the more productive I can be on the road and in turn the less I have to do when I get home.
12A and 12F normally work for me on British Airways & EasyJet, but check the configuration of your flight! As I write this, Easyjet is rolling out some new spec A320’s which are slightly different and British Airways are following the same process soon.
The A321’s are even better! (full stretch out leg-room). – Different seat number.
Mobile – If you travel frequently, even just within Europe, you’ll want to highly consider activating a travel-friendly phone plan, this has got MUCH cheaper in the last 2 or 3 years. For example, I now have a UK phone number that charges me zero extra fees anywhere in the EU. Therefore I rarely use my Spanish number at all.
New EU regulation has eased the cost pressure for those travelling within the EU. However, if you’re based outside the EU and travel into Europe frequently, it’s probably worth getting a local SIM at the airport, keeping it and using that as your ‘in Europe’ number.
There are also many services online now that will allow you to forward calls between international numbers that you own, or you can create a Skype number. Invocco is another option.
For those travelling from within the EU to other destinations across the world, I would recommend a local SIM on arrival, but only if you need to be connected to data frequently and you are away for more than a couple days.
Personally, if I am away shooting a wedding I am unlikely to need to use my phone for calls, so for simplicity, and because I am normally on the ground for as little as 2-3 days, I will simply use my UK number and pay the fees.
For longer trips – Yes, a local sim card!
Or learn to live without 4G and plan lots of off-line tasks. It could be the precious time you need to spend on some long-term goal setting, or educating yourself with a good book.
SatNav. What about when I need to use my SatNav? I will need data roaming then, won’t I?
It’s a little-known fact that you can download offline maps to your phone and use your phone as a SatNav when you travel without ever being connected to data, in fact, you can even use it in flight safe mode.
Okay, I admit, you won’t get real-time traffic updates, but hopefully, you’re not driving anywhere like the M25 anyhow and very few countries actually have such a service.
Instead, all you need is £20 to spend on phone maps. I would recommend ‘SatNav by Scout’ and their worldwide downloadable plan – £20 or less. Then all you will need to carry with you is a small car phone cradle and a car charger.
I use the Kenu Airframe, a Griffen Dual Power Jolt, and an Amazon Basics Lightning Cable – all of which takes up minimal room in my bag and fits in every car I have ever rented. You’ll be set up for driving in any country!
And what do Avis want to charge you for a SatNav rental anyway? – no, thank you.
Tip: Before running away from Wifi at the airport, be sure to make sure all the venues/meeting places and hotels are marked on your maps, as you can’t search for place names once offline. Even better, checklist this for the week prior.
Kings & Queens of Concentration. Headphones are so important for keeping me in the ‘zone’ when I travel, so much so that I carry as many as 3 sets – just in case. Many people prefer over-ear and noise cancelling headphones for travelling on planes, and whilst I totally understand why, I find a simple £20 Apple set work just fine. They take up very little room, and it’s easy to carry spares.
If flying long-haul and you like music to sleep or the silence that noise-cancelling can provide, then maybe consider them. When I want to sleep on flights, I use a 20cent pair of earplugs and a free eye mask I was given on an Emirates flight once. This works for me, and noise cancellation works for other people.
You’ll need to trial what works best for you, but you might want to try my approach before splashing out on a £300 pair of bulky headphones.
Whatever you do, headphones can keep you productive and in the ‘zone’. Consider creating different Spotify playlists for concentration, workout and chill-out time. And, for that ‘dead time’ during taxi, take-off and landing, you can switch to a good podcast.
If you like geeky articles on photography, travel and productivity, just like this one, please tell me.
For more productivity hacks, you should also check out my Productivity Hacks for 2017 post.
Barney’s Top Tips:
(1) If you’re hiring a car when you arrive, take a phone cradle with you so you don’t have to buy one when you arrive, or worst, have to hire a SatNav you’re not used to and get charged an arm and a leg for it.
(2) Pack your clothes around your camera equipment. I wouldn’t be able to travel for 4 days hand baggage only without this common sense approach. It also provides your equipment with more padding when you’re lugging it in and out of the overhead bins. Non-crease clothes are a winner!
(3) Wear your sunglasses onto the plane. It might be raining, it might be snowing, it might even be a force 5 hurricane, well I hope not as you probably won’t be taking off at all. Anyway, whatever the weather on the ground, remember once you’re a mile high – there is no weather. Sunglasses on! You’re welcome.
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