|Safe Traveling with Your
Cameras & Film
by Jim McGee
When traveling with a bag full of film and expensive camera equipment you need to be aware of some things that your fellow travelers can blissfully ignore. Thieves may covet your gear, x-ray machines can fog your film, and baggage handlers will try their best to turn it all into a bag of miscellaneous camera parts.
Luckily a little common sense and preparation can go a long way toward eliminating these worries.
Airport X-Rays - Checked Baggage
New high powered X-Ray machines for checked baggage have become more common in the last 18 months. Airports using them scan checked bags with a low powered X-Ray to look for suspicious items. If something looks suspicious, or is opaque to the low level X-Ray, the machine does a second pass with a high powered X-Ray. It is this second high powered pass that damages your film by fogging it, causing color loss, or causing color shifts. This damage affects ALL speeds of film.
Lead Lined Pouches Aren't the Answer
So packing your film into lead lined containers may actually CAUSE your film to be damaged because they are likely to prompt a high powered scan. Because they may still show up as opaque to the second scan (depending on the thickness of the lead) they may also cause your bag to be pulled for a hand inspection.
Airport X-Rays - Carryon Baggage
Hand inspection goes much faster if the film is in a see through film pouch such as those that come with Tamrac & Lowepro bags. I use a similar, but larger, pouch from Eagle Creek that I found at a luggage store. It has a mesh top and can easily carry 50 rolls of film. You can find similar bags at most camping and travel shops or in the travel section of most department stores.
Remove all film canisters from their boxes. Not only does the film store in a much smaller space, but airport security may require you to remove all film rolls from their boxes for inspection. If you do this at home it's less mess, faster, and you can record expiration dates on all the film canisters.
What does that mean? I'm sitting in an airport restaurant. My brightly colored camera bag with the CANON logo stitched on in even brighter colors is sitting on the floor behind my chair. I'm having a beer and watching the TV behind the bar, and I haven't looked at my bag in 10 minutes. Can you say target?
When I travel I keep all of my gear in one of those carry on bags with wheels and a handle. Airports are big places. The wheels make it easy to move around my shoulder appreciates it. My camera bag is loaded in the carry on and invisible to thieves. I look like every other bored traveler with a bag full or dirty t-shirts and socks - not an interesting target for the average thief.
Don't leave your bag unattended, and when in a bar or restaurant put your bag so that it's in your line of site or has a strap looped around a leg of your chair.
In third world airports you may be approached by someone offering to carry your bags through the airport. This is very attractive when you're tired and jetlagged. If you are tempted, you might trust your porter with your checked baggage (on the return leg), but never with your carry on and equipment. It's too easy for bag, camera, and porter to disappear.
Don't Ever Put Your Gear in Your Checked Baggage
He arrived home, unpacked and went to work. A couple of days later he received a call from AMEX about suspicious charges to his card in Miami. The thieves had taken the time to search his bag, find his DayTimer, search it, pocket the card, and repack his bag neatly enough that he never knew it had happened. Another time traveling through Miami all of our checked bags were left sitting in several inches of water on the runway during a storm delay. Most cameras don't appreciate a water immersion test.
Forget about locking your bag to deter theives. All the lock does is help keep the catch from springing open when the bag is thrown around by the baggage handlers. For one large luggage manufacturer there are a total of two keys that open all of their bags. That's if the thief wants to bother carrying the keys. You can open many luggage locks with a bent paper clip - as was demonstrated to me by a luggage repairman recently.
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