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Michele Westmorlands Unique Tip on Packing Equipment for International Travel

November 30, 2011 Equipment Software, Travel 2 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

Internationally recognized underwater photographer Michele Westmorland recently posted about here approach for packing her gear for international travel.

Who Needs a Pelican When You Have an Igloo?

I am often asked “How do I get all that equipment safely to location?” Diving adds an extra burden to the limits that are currently placed on those of us who travel to distant places. So here are a few tips that I have developed over the years to try and take a bit of the sting out it.

You know those shiny silver cases people often use to protect delicate camera equipment? Well, it’s unfortunate, but those branded cases such as Pelican are just too darned heavy and use up the precious pounds needed for the actual camera equipment. Another thing that bothers me about them is THEY SCREAM STEAL ME!

My solution for the past 15 or so years is a good old Igloo cooler. The 60 quart on wheels works fine but you do have to modify it a bit to secure it. By adding a little metal plate that has a loop on each side of cooler, zip ties can be used to secure the lid. The good news is that most people do not have a clue what is in the cooler and generally only ask if I have dead fish in it. I hope not!!! Is it pretty? Well, NO. But that is kind of the point. westmorland 1037 Michele Westmorlands Unique Tip on Packing Equipment for International Travel

Cooler Zip Tie System

Yup, everything shown goes in the cooler!

When I check in with the airlines, I generally try to get my cooler hand inspected by TSA after it is weighed and tagged. Some of the agents grumble but at least I know all has gone back in the case correctly.

Obviously, this does not work on the return segment of a trip. For that, I write a nice big note to the TSA agent that is immediately visible when they open the case. It has a list of equipment and an explanation of how important it is to repack it carefully.

westmorland 1015 225x300 Michele Westmorlands Unique Tip on Packing Equipment for International TravelThe first line of the note is a huge THANK YOU FOR KEEPING US SAFE – and appreciation for handling the contents with care. It goes a long way. Occasionally, an agent will write back on the note with smiley faces.

I hand carry as much of my delicate equipment as possible – other than the underwater housings, ports, strobes, and accessories.

My roll on bag is by Lowepro and can hold lenses, 2 camera bodies, backup drives and laptop. I also have a smaller backpack for extra gadgets and personal stuff. The problem arrives when a particular carrier has a carry-on weight restriction.

You certainly need to check the individual airline websites for their rules. I will resort to tears, begging and/or tough lectures to the gate people about just how expensive the equipment is and that they do not want to take responsibility for any damage caused in the belly of the plane from it getting tossed around. This generally works.

Some people ask if they should have a carnet (a document listing all equipment). There is an easier document that customs will give you titled “Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad” or simply Customs Form 4457 (110389).

You have to record ALL your equipment with a list of the serial numbers and value. It is a headache but if you are concerned about questions going into or returning to the U.S., it’s not a bad idea to have it. It eliminates needless questions as to where you purchased your equipment and if you plan on selling it in your destination country.

To learn more about Michele and to view her photography, visit her website at Westmorland Images.

Related Posts: The Undersea World of Michele WestmorlandPhotographic Learning and Travel Adventures

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. I’ve used coolers to haul underwater photo and dive gear around too. I even used mine to pack a 600mm lens up to Alaska one time. I added metal hinges and a padlock system (pre 911). Finding one with built in handles on the side helps protect the cooler sides which aren’t that strong. Sharp objects can penetrate pretty easy. Then I made custom foam inserts to pad all the gear. It worked great. Now I use a big pelican but I’m thinking of going back to the cooler because of the weight.

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