I´ve often been asked what kind of cameras I carry and what type of backpacking equipment and gear are best to take on a longterm trip. As a longterm expat and traveler, I have certain opinions on what is important and what isn´t. In this section I will offer up some advice, recommendations and actual gear that I use when hitting the dusty trail.
In my opinion the most important piece of gear a longterm budget traveler owns is the main backpack that they carry around with them. If there is one thing that I recommend one ´should not´ cheap out on, it is the backpack. It´s your mobile house, protective drawer and lifeline to your material possessions. If you buy a cheap pack it is likely going to break on your in the most ill-opportunistic of moments when you are going to have a difficult time replacing it or having another option to comfortably carry your kit along with you. When choosing a backpack go with a reliable name brand and make certain to test out the pack thoroughly by having it weighed down heavily to see if it feels comfortable, sturdy and capable of withstanding the rigors of a serious backpacking trip. Check the zippers, lining and frame of the pack and compare it with others in the store to see what feels right for you. Finally consider the size, weight and expected gear that you will be hauling along for the journey when considering pack size. Most backpackers go with a 65 to 80L bag, as a reference point to base your selection upon. This is the pack (Pangea 75L) I have used for over 4 years and it has been tested physically on numerous occasions and still performs like a champion, as if it were being used for the first time:
CLOTHES & TOILETRIES
Clothes & toiletries are by far the LEAST important thing to consider when backpacking. If you are traveling in developing countries the cost of purchasing t-shirts, shorts, pants, fleeces & jackets is considerably cheaper than what you would pay back home for the same items. Furthermore, the rigors of travel and wearing the same clothes far more frequently than you would back home is going to equal things ripping, shredding and falling apart over time. It´s best, in my opinion to go with cheap and comfortable clothes while leaving the polos back home in the closet. Not only will it be far more affordable but it will make you less of a target for thieves and pickpockets if you dress down a bit. Another quite common mistake of novice travelers (myself at one time) is/was to load up on toiletries and first aid supplies like Armageddon is coming tomorrow. The truth is that everything you could possibly need will be available in the host country you are visiting. I have traveled mostly in developing countries and regardless of how poor a region is compared to back home, locals still wash their hair, lather up with soap and use mouthwash in EVERY country I´ve ever been to. Thus, it is highly recommend you just take small samples of everything that you need and replace it as you go. Nothing is worse than hauling a bag full of junk causing strain on your back for unnecessary reasons. Go light and replace your products easily as you move along on your journey. I´m not even going to recommend anything under this section because it´s simply not important.
This is one of the most subjective topics of all. What kind of camera you should bring on your trip is going to vary enormously on your budget, photography skills, frequency of taking photos and what kind of results you are after. If you´re the type that just loves to take pictures of friends, family and shots next to famous inanimate objects you´re simply not going to need anything more than a basic point and shoot with simple features. However, if one has more of background in photography and wants to capture the moment exactly to perfection with the highest imagine quality a small point and shoot camera is just not going to get it done. When I first started out I had limited knowledge of photography and a desire to take photos once in a while. A small point and shoot pocket-able camera was perfect for my needs at the time. For those who fall into this category consider getting a camera like this one that offers a sleek design, decent optical zoom and some advanced features such as high speed movies and taking 40 frames per second. I find Casio, in the point and shoot market, is very innovative and ahead of the game in terms of features when compared with the bigger, more famous and expensive companies such as Canon and Nikon.
I now use exclusively a dSLR for my still photography but this little bad boy was what I used to capture the high speed footage on my train rides across India and my Thai snake show video. I found it invaluable for these specific situations as it allowed me to make possibly my best youtube videos to date. Check them out:
Finally for those who are more serious about their photography nothing less than a dSLR will suffice. If you care about such things as frames per second, depth of field, low light performance, bokeh and image quality you certainly are going to gravitate towards a camera that will offer high performance in these specific areas. In my opinion, it´s less about brands and more about features when choosing ANY type of camera. Before you decide on a dSLR it is extremely important to think about what types of shots you are after. If you want to take beautiful landscape photos it would be wise to invest in wide angle lens to squeeze in as much as possible along with specific filters (such as a polarizing filter and nd grad) for specific lighting situations and optimal exposure. However, if you are into candid or action photos a camera body with excellent frames per second and a lens with enough reach (telephoto capabilities) is far more important. Personally, I like to take travel photos in a wide range of situations, but my main focus is on candid shots with features such as live view, tilting screen, frames per second and a telephoto lens as the most crucial considerations that allow me to take natural photos of everyday life as it unfolds before my eyes. I use a Sony dSLR body (Alpha a500) that has live view, articulating screen and shoots at five frames per second along with a 18-250mm lens as my primary system:
Finally I use a 50mm SAL f/1.8 fixed lens that I use as a carry around lens at night to take sharp low light candid shots, portraits during the daytime and for creative shots where having a large aperture allows one to selectively focus on a specific area and creatively manipulate for a shallow depth of field throwing everything else out of focus. This is such an invaluable and inexpensive travel lens that is roughly available for most systems at a price range between $100 to 150.
The all purpose 18-250mm and 50mm lens forms an all-star team of lightweight lenses that one can take while traveling on a longterm trip. The added weight of a dSLR system is enough as it is and carrying around bigger bodies, multiples lenses and extra gear really prevents one from traveling lightly. I highly recommend this type of system that can be found with nearly any major camera brand. I personally enjoy Sony for some of its features (live view performance and competitive price point compared with other rivals, but to each their own.
As a final note It´s far more important to focus on learning photography techniques, artistic composition skills and developing your ´eye´ than it is getting boggled down with what gear or brand to select. Nerds focus on gear whereas photographers are more concerned about taking great photos and enjoy their gear as much as a wine connoisseur fancies their wine glass 😛 Anyhow, since photography is a newfound passion and I´ve literally taught myself on my own, I plan to share more tips and create articles specific to photography which you can find here (coming soon) 🙂
COMPUTER & GADGETS
My final section under ´gear´ will deal with laptop/netbooks and gadgets one might consider to take on a trip. For those who are traveling on a gap year or something that extends beyond just a few weeks/months I feel very strongly that it is worth investing in a netbook. The price of a netbook is not expensive and over the course of a year will ´literally´ pay for itself over time in terms of the amount of money one saves by having FREE access to wifi in hostels, cafes, and airports without having to pay for the internet. I do not have any specific suggestions for a particular brand but would recommend something that has enough storage (hard-drive space) to keep your photos, videos, music and scanned documents safe and secure. A portable hard-drive kept in a different area of your backpack provides you with even more security for these items that you can easily backup. Finally, whether or not you have an iPhone, mp3 player, tablet or other psp is entirely a personal preference. I find such devices provide for great entertainment on long journeys but others find reading books, knitting or playing card games more amusing. It´s entirely a based on personal preferences and how much you value or rely on gadgets and technology in your day to day life.