Behind the Scenes on Planning for Big Trips

Nesting Turtle Returns to the SeaToday I met with two wonderful colleagues, and we are in the preliminary stages of planning a big trip on the far side of the world. I’m not at liberty to provide details yet, as we’re still ironing out the kinks. However, the discussion got me thinking about the seemingly endless details that go into putting together a big international trip. It’s not easy. Fortunately, my colleagues have had vast experience in our destination country.

Here are some of the issues we discussed. Air routes: What is the best way to get there? Where do we overnight on the way? Who meets us at the airport? What about the food? What’s safe and what isn’t? Can we drink the water? What kind of hotels do we stay in? Two-star? Five-star? What about transportation in-country? How do we work with our local guides to plan optimal photo ops? What is the attitude of local folks toward tourist photographers? Do we pay for photo ops? How do we handle special health needs? What size group should we have? (I’ve usually opted for small groups of ten or less to maximize great photo moments.) What’s the elevation gain on certain hikes? How much baggage can we bring? Will we see any wildlife? What’s the political situation? Will we be doing sunrise/sunset shooting and how do we arrange for this ahead of time? Do people in the country speak English? What about cultural faux pas and how to avoid them? What’s the weather like? What medicines/shots are required? What are the policies on tipping?

If you’re considering a major trip overseas, you as a client also need to ask a lot of questions. Word of mouth can often be an excellent way of choosing a quality organization. How long has the tour operator been in business? Do they specialize in luxury or rough travel? How well does the tour operator know the country? What’s the cancellation policy? Should you get trip insurance? Exactly what should you bring? (Many of my clients tend to over pack.) Ask your tour guide about camera gear. This will vary by country. In East Africa, for example, local airlines limit each traveler to 33 pounds of baggage per person; some photographers get around this by wearing safari pants/jackets with big pockets and stashing lenses everywhere in their clothing. For my Tanzania trips I don’t use local airlines, so it’s okay to bring those big, heavy lenses. For Europe trips you may want to bring a lightweight camera system because there is often a lot of walking around; the new mirrorless cameras are perfect for this. What about backup camera gear?