what i packed for a photography gig to costa rica

I have  never  done this before.  Also, this was taken with my iPad, since I'd already packed my camera, and I was NOT pulling it out again.

I have never done this before.  Also, this was taken with my iPad, since I'd already packed my camera, and I was NOT pulling it out again.

I am a notorious overpacker -- for any given trip, I consistently pack about twice as much as I actually need.  One of my dear friends, Allison, once laughed in horrified shock when I called for her for advice (she's a champion packer), and told her how much I was packing for one week-long trip.  But even after she tried to talk me off the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink packing ledge I was on, I still snuck a few items that I had taken out of my bag during our conversation back into my suitcase. 

But this trip, I was determined to take only carry-on, for two reasons:  (1)  it's a group trip, and we were encouraged to take only carry-on, and (2) as one of the few adults on this trip, I thought it best not to have to worry about lost bags, etc. of my own.  Besides, we'll be gone for not-quite-a-week -- surely I could handle this.

I just finished packing, and am sort of stunned that I made it happen; especially since, as the trip photographer, I'm taking quite a bit of gear that most normal travelers wouldn't have with them.  I boasted that managed to get everything in carry-on on Twitter, and several folks asked me to do a packing tutorial.  While I'm not going to unpack everything and show you (because trust me, it was like Luggage Tetris trying to get everything in), I thought I'd share the list of what's coming with me.   Admittedly, I still overpacked -- old habits die hard -- but the fact that I managed to do it all in carry-on luggage is still big progress for me.


the trip:

6 days in Costa Rica with 20+ teenagers, and 5 or so adult chaperones


the challenges:

  • Our itinerary is varied -- we will be in urban areas, on construction sites, and in rainforest.
  • The weather will likely be hot and humid, with rainshowers every day, followed by cool nights.
  • Our days will be filled with sweaty activities, followed by a few evening dinners with locals, requiring a couple of clothes changes most days
  • As the official trip photographer, also tasked with keeping families back home up-to-date on what their kids are doing, I need to bring considerable camera gear, as well as my laptop to process photos.


the bags:

  • SwissGear Victorinox laptop backpack (shown in the image above, on the left.  Mine is ancient -- I've had it for years -- but this one is similar)
  • Eddie Bauer Rollaboard (on the right --again, I've had it for years, and I can't seem to find it online, but this one is similar)


what i'll be wearing on the plane:

  • T-shirt
  • Jeans
  • Long navy blue cardigan (similar to this one, I like that it has pockets, and should keep me warm on the plane and if the nights get cool in Costa Rica)
  • A dark-grey American Apparel circle scarf (I always travel with one of these regardless of season; they're huge enough to act as a swimsuit cover up, or a shawl)
  • These boots. I bought them a couple of years ago before a trip to England:   they're incredibly comfortable, and they're waterproof, which will come in handy on the rainy days and in the rainforest, I suspect.  Also, they're easy to zip on and off, which is important for airport security.
  • My dive watch.  Although I don't wear a watch every day (and I won't be diving on this trip), I always like to travel with one, preferably analog -- I set it to the time zone of my destination as soon as I board the plane, in the hope that it will help with jetlag.  (Not that I'm expecting jetlag on this trip, mind you -- it's only an hour difference from Houston.)


what's in the rollaboard:

Following my friend Allison's advice, I rolled each of the items I could, to maximize space in the rollaboard.  It was amazing what I was able to fit.

  • 8 short-sleeved t-shirts  (all solid-coloured, with no graphics. I like graphic t's, but I figured these plain ones would work both day and night, particularly if paired with the scarf above, and the skirt, below)
  • 1 long-sleeved t-shirt
  • 2 cotton shirts (sort of kurta-pullover-style -- a bit dressier than the t-shirts)
  • 3 pairs of khaki trousers.  I don't wear khaki trousers as a rule, but I learned on previous travel photographer gigs to Africa that they tend to be cooler than jeans, but just as rugged.  One of these are full-length, the other two are capris.  I could probably leave one of these at home, but again, because they're not denim, they pack really small.
  • A jersey-knit black skirt.  Again, this is primarily for dinner, but I might wear it during the day as well, with a pair of yoga shorts underneath (since we photogs tend to squat and find ourselves in strange positions to get a photograph)
  • 2 jersey knit short-sleeved dresses.  For dinners
  • A pair of silver ballet flats.  This is one of the most used travel items I have -- they're these -- and I love them because not only are they crazy comfortable, but also because they're silver, so they look a bit dressy at night.  Great for when you don't want to pack heels, but you want to look put together.
  • A pair of Nike Rifts.  They're incredibly funny-looking, but they are the most comfortable shoes of all time.  Unfortunately, I don't think they make them anymore, but you can get them on Ebay, I think (I actually buy pairs anytime I see them, just in case -- I've been wearing them forever).  They're my throw-down athletic shoe.
  • A pair of flip-flops, mostly for use as shower shoes (did I mention I'll likely be staying in a dorm?)
  • A swimsuit.  No plans on actually going to the beach this time, but you never know.
  • A hooded, crushable, zip-up windbreaker/rain jacket.  This one.
  • A long t-shirt and 2 pairs of yoga shorts -- one for the skirt above, and one to use with the long t-shirt as pajamas (again, dorm)
  • Underwear, socks, etc.  Obv.

Also in the rollaboard:

  • Immodium.  You never know when traveller's tummy will hit.
  • A prescription of Cipro, that I got from my doctor earlier this week, for any serious case of traveller's tummy, should it arise.
  • Some fever/pain relievers.  Just in case.
  • Insect repellent, in this form and in this form.  Because, you know, rainforest.
  • My 70-200mm lensin its own padded case.
  • My 50mm lensin its own padded case.  Even though I suspect I'll use this lens less than the other two I'm taking, it's sort of my throw-down, go-to lens, so it comes along nonetheless.
  • Various chargers, cables, powercords.

And in the front pocket of the rollaboard:

My laptop and a clear ziplock bag of my travel-size toiletries, for easy access when going through airport security.


what's in the backpack:

  • 2 camera bodies.  Whenever I'm shooting in the field, particularly on a gig, I hate changing camera lenses, because dirt can get into the camera bodies.  So I always have two ready to go -- one with a zoom and one with a wide angle. 
  • My 16-35mm lens, in its own padded case.  I'm keeping this lens in my backpack for easy access, so I can take photographs of the journey.
  • Spare batteries for both cameras, spare memory cards
  • iPhone and portable charger
  • My iPad mini, with books and music loaded on it.
  • Earphones.
  • Journal with pens.
  • Passport and other travel documentation.
  • Wallet
  • Small make-up case
  • Empty water bottle (will fill for shooting days)
  • Reading glasses.  Because my eyes have decided to age before decided to. 
  • Halls Vitamin C drops.  I always pop these like candy when I travel -- trying to keep away from the cold germs on the flights!
  • Hair scarves. For when the afro starts to bug me.


The bags are heavy, and I know I probably could pack even fewer things, but as I said, I'm a chronic over-packer, and besides:  the bags closed easily, without me even having to sit on them!  I'll let you know how it worked out when I return.