I was in Boston this week, speaking with a pretty rad group of photographers about Marketing. One of them asked me about traveling - since I do a fair amount of it. With that in mind, I've compiled a list of my top 10 travel rules for photographers. This isn't a brand new list - I've actually shared it before, but it's timely - so here it is!
1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS insist on making your own travel arrangements.
No matter what, you should always be in control of your travel. This includes hotel, air, rental car, subway, whatever.
The moment you allow a client to book your flight, etc is the moment you find yourself on a 3 connection red-eye on an airline that is one pretzel cart away from bankruptcy.
Sometimes clients want to use their frequent flier miles to pay for your ticket thinking it saves everyone money. First, It actually doesn’t save you anything. Second, Award tickets are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to travel disruptions. They’re right above Non-revenue passengers, which means that when your flight is canceled, you can count on being the last guy to get a seat on the next flights.
You can pay now, or you can pay later
2. Take advantage of Frequent Flier programs.
This applies to hotels and rental cars too. Not only are frequent flier points nice, the real benefit is in the Elite Programs. If you travel enough to qualify for even the lowest tier of most programs (around 25,000 miles a year), the benefits can make travel much more enjoyable.
Sure, upgrades to first class are nice – but even better are some of the other benefits. Access to priority customer service reps on elite lines can mean the difference between a dream trip and a nightmare. These people often have the ability to do things that you wouldn’t think possible. Not to mention that they’re usually based in the US, speak english, and answer the phone without waiting on hold for hours.
The same is true for hotels. Many programs like Hilton, Marriot and Starwood Preferred Guest, will guarantee availability for their top tiers, and offer amenities like free wi-fi, and free upgraded rooms when available.
3. Plan for the worst
When traveling internationally, I always book two tickets. The itinerary I plan to take (usually a cheaper fare, non-refundable, etc) – and a fully refundable, full fare ticket that routes through a different airport/etc in case the first is canceled. If I HAVE to be somewhere on time, I HAVE to have a backup plan.
If I make my flight, I simply call and cancel the refundable ticket – and I get all my money back – no sweat. If I end up needing the full fare ticket, It will cost more, but I can usually fight to get my other ticket refunded (again, by accessing the elite line CS reps), and even if I can’t, the additional dollar price is worth the peace of mind that I won’t miss shooting a wedding in Venice, or wherever.
4. Go early
Time is your friend. It’s always better to be there excessively early. Never mind that travel almost always includes some kind of complication – even if it doesn’t, you just bought yourself time to relax and prepare for your job. I always plan to be at least 24 hours early. Internationally, we build in even more time.
5. If it’s Mission Critical, keep it with you
Never, Never, Never, check anything important (in my case, camera gear). Airlines won’t reimburse you for lost/stolen camera equipment. They specifically decline liability for it. Get a carry-on camera bag so that you can keep it with you.
It helps to make sure your flights are on planes that won’t require you to gate check this either – gate checked bags aren’t covered by the Warsaw convention and are subject to even less airline liability. If you are asked to gate check it, and you know your bag is a legal carry on – refuse to check it. I have a Tenba roller bag – which is as big as a carry on can be for domestic travel, and I personally know it will fit under the seat of a CRJ. It won’t fit in the overhead, but I can still carry it on if I have to. That said, I go out of my way to avoid regional jets for this very reason.
You’re better off to FedEx your equipment ahead of time (seriously).
6. Airport “clubs” are your friend
If you travel a lot, it might be worth joining. They aren’t cheap, but can be worth it. Or, the AMEX platinum card includes membership to most of the major clubs. The card isn’t cheap, but considering you get about $2,000 of club memberships, it pays for itself if you use them. They also have a travel concierge service that is top notch.
Otherwise, it can be worth it to pay a daily fee (either in cash, or miles) if you have a long layover. Depending on the airline, they can offer amenities such as workspaces, TV, showers, free drinks, snacks, top-notch customer service agents, wi-fi, comfy places to sit (or sleep), quiet, newspapers, etc. I happen to think that NW’s world clubs (now Delta Sky Clubs) are the very best – especially considering that they don’t charge for alcohol OR wi-fi.
7. Use resources that are available
A few of my favorite:
http://www.flyertalk.com (you won’t believe how much information is here about EVERYTHING travel related)
http://travel.state.gov (helpful to understand international travel requirements)
http://www.kayak.com (my favorite travel search engine)
8. Carry at least a days’ worth of cash.
Or traveler’s cheques – especially internationally. They charge a small fee, but if you loose them, they replace them. I carry cash because if your credit card is lost, stolen, or otherwise unusable, it’s no fun being stuck somewhere with no money.
It’s also worth noting that some cards are better about helping you when you need it than others. With AMEX, you can purchase travelers cheques against your account, even if it’s lost or stolen.
9. All airports are not equal. It pays to do a little research on your airports. For example, it helps to know that out of LAS, you can expect it to take at LEAST 45 minutes from the time you arrive, to the time you get through security. In ORD, if you’re on UA, or AA, it helps to know in advance that a connection can require a good 20-30 minutes. IMO, the best airports to travel through are DTW, MSP, DEN, SFO, and PHX.
The worst are ORD, ATL, IAH, CVG and LAS.
10. The iPhone is a travelers best friend
I started writing #10, and realized this was a much longer subject. Check back tomorrow and I'll share my absolute must have iPhone travel apps.
Your turn! What are your best travel tips and advice for fellow photographers?