The Traveling Photographer Column on Photofocus.com
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The Traveling Photographer: Planning for a Laptop Ban

There is a lot of buzz about the “laptop ban,” a general term used to describe a requirement that electronic devices larger than a smartphone be placed in checked bags for flights into the US and UK from certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The ban includes laptops, iPads, and camera equipment.

Travel Plan

It appears the current ban will not be expanded to include all international flights flying into the US, as had been previously contemplated, if airlines implement stricter security measures. However, it is still important to think about a possible expanded ban in the future, should a major alert or event take place, or should an airline not effectuate the stricter security measures. I have decided to base my travel preparations for international trips on the assumption that a ban may be implemented while I am traveling or immediately before I leave for an international photography trip, and to plan accordingly.

My laptop ban “travel plan” includes not only a means to safely check cameras and other electronic equipment in a suitcase or other container to an end destination should a ban be implemented, but a means to keep personal information and emails out of the hands of third parties should a laptop or iPad be stolen from my suitcase. I also have an insurance policy that will provide adequate coverage for any losses or thefts.

I adjust my plan depending on the amount of gear I am carrying. For example, if I have a small amount of gear that will fit in my suitcase, and can be padded by clothing or dirty laundry, my plan is to put my camera equipment in my suitcase and to use camera wraps to further protect my equipment. I also use a hard-sided suitcase.

If a travel ban materializes while I am traveling and if I know I will not have enough room for my camera gear in my suitcase, I plan to carry a fold-up duffel.  I can transfer non-breakable items from my main suitcase into the duffel, and place my camera gear into my main suitcase, padding it with clothing and camera wraps.

Laptop, iPad and External Drives

I would be hesitant packing in my suitcase an iPad or laptop computer containing personal information and emails. Therefore, I bought a used, inexpensive laptop for travel that has no direct email access (I access my email accounts through the internet or my iPhone) nor personally identifiable information. If I ever have to check the laptop in a suitcase I will also deactivate my Adobe Creative Cloud account and be certain I am signed out of iCloud and iTunes, or similar accounts, and I will clear my browsing history.

I store my images on small external drives. The SSD drives are smaller that a smartphone, so I should be able to take them in my carry-on bag. I do not erase my memory cards during a trip, in case I have to pack my back-up drives.

Hard-sided Camera Cases

For situations in which my gear will not fit or be sufficiently protected in my suitcase, I use a hard-sided case specifically designed to give the necessary protection. There are several hard-sided cases for sale that can adequately protect your gear, one of the more popular brands being “Pelican“. Several models of the case like this Pelican 1535 AIRWD Wheeled Carry-on Hard Case, as well as other hard-sided cases, are available at B&H. You can discuss the different options with a B&H sales associate.

I bought a carry-on size Pelican Air case to carry my gear. (Pelican “Air” cases are lighter than the original models of the cases.) I also opted for the padded interior that provides inserts for camera equipment. The case comfortably fits in the overhead bins of regional airline carriers, or under an airline seat, so I use it as my carry-on camera bag. If a laptop ban is implemented the case will become one of my checked bags with the airline. When I use my Pelican case, my camera backpack becomes my “personal item” on the airplane.  If you normally carry your camera gear in a carry-on bag or back-pack you should be able to find a hard-sided carry-on bag that will fit your needs. You can always packed some of your gear that just doesn’t fit in your suitcase.

If you do require a larger, separate hard-sided case for your equipment, you can check two bags with the airline–your normal suitcase and your hard-sided case. If you prefer not checking your camera equipment unless you have to (my preference and recommendation), the hard-sided case can be filled with nonessential gear or clothing or checked empty. If the laptop ban is implemented while you are traveling you can safely secure your gear in the case, and move the nonessential gear and clothing to your suitcase and a carry-on case (possibly your folded duffel that you have packed). Another thought is to buy a big enough hard-sided case such that your camera backpack or bag fits right into it if you have to check your camera equipment.

Insurance

No matter how well you lock your bag, your equipment of course is always subject to theft. It is thus important to have the appropriate insurance in place before leaving on your trip. Be careful relying on your homeowners’ policies. If you have a sold even one photograph, some insurers may determine that you are in the photography business and refuse coverage. Photography organizations such as NANPA and the PPA offer policies to members.

Whether or not you want to plan for the possibility of an expanded laptop ban is up to you.  At a minimum, think about packing a fold-up duffel and some camera wraps when you travel internationally. They may come in handy.

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