Dive Travel: The Importance of a List
Make sure you have everything for your next underwater photography adventure
By Ridlon Kiphart
I’m at 39,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Narita and Singapore on my way to Indonesia. Mantagirl and I are spending over a month exploring the archipelago – both below and above the water. It’s a huge place; geographically, ecologically and culturally. So with a big agenda, being gone for over a month and with serious weight restrictions, packing was a big deal.
Having a big or complex packing job is right in our wheelhouse. We’ve been leading diving expeditions for over a decade and routinely carry 300+ pounds of diving and underwater photography/video equipment. I once left to lead a diving group in Malaysia with over 250 pounds of diving and photography gear while stopping off in Tibet for two months to climb one of the world’s highest mountains. Mantagirl was meeting me en route to Tibet after spending two months at documentary film school in Maine. We would meet up in Salt Lake City (SLC) and swap her bags, then fly to Los Angeles (LAX) separately and then from LAX together over to Asia. She would collect her luggage from Maine that was left in SLC on the way home, repack for the diving expedition and meet me in Malaysia. Clear as mud?
Why Use a Packing List?
One of the first rules of packing is ALWAYS use a list. As underwater photographers, things take on more complexity not just because we have more gear to carry but because if we forget even one small part, say a viewfinder diopter, we could end up half way around the world with a system that doesn’t work properly. And it’s not like you’re going to pick one of those up at the mini mart in Sorong.
Another reason is peace of mind. Before a big trip, the last thing you want is to be stressing about whether or not you’ve packed everything you need. Sound familiar? The night before a big trip, I’m drinking a glass of wine and kicking back in my hot tub because I know I’ve got everything I need.
A packing list for SCUBA diving and underwater photography includes 5 sections:
- Dive gear
- Camera/video gear
- Misc Travel stuff
How Do You Make a Packing List?
It’s really quite simple. I sit down with my list and go through a typical day on my vacation for each of the five sections. I visualize the day.
• When I get up in the morning, what do I need?
• Toothbrush and paste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, morning meds
• I have breakfast
• Protein powder and shaker bottle, vitamins (in daily packs)
• I get dressed.
• I keep my clothing simple, casual and functional
• I’m heading out for the day to SCUBA dive ...
• I literally visualize getting geared up to make sure I’ve got everything I need including my C-card.
• What miscellaneous things will I need on my travel days?
• iPod, noise canceling headphones, Blackberry, laptop & charger, passport, paperwork (e.g. copies of hotel reservations, credit cards, passport, etc)
• What type of shooting will I be doing (i.e. macro, wide-angle, topside)?
• Which lenses, filters and/or diopters will I want?
You get the picture. I go through the entire day and the entire vacation. If my trip has a dive component and a land component, I go through my days hiking or whatever else I’m doing.
It would be easy to forget something without a list!
Underwater Photography and Videography Packing Tips
Usually I carry all my camera gear in a roll aboard and store it the same way at home. That way most everything I need is always in the same place. When I get ready to pack, I open the bag, check, assemble, charge and re-pack. The first cardinal rule is to always assemble and test your gear 2-4 weeks prior to your trip. This is important for two reasons:
1. By fully assembling your system, you know you’ve got everything you need, and that it works and has been properly maintained.
2. By doing it 2-4 weeks prior to departure, you have plenty of time to get something fixed or replaced if it is broken.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen people show up for their dream vacation and find out they were missing a critical piece of gear or for some mysterious reason, their camera or video system wasn’t working properly.
Whether I’m shooting video or stills, I walk through the entire process. I think about what I will need to do the actual shooting, then I’m going to download and process it (laptop, cables) then I’m going to share it (power point projector, cables, wireless remote) and then I’m going to do it again the next day (extra batteries, chargers, adaptors for the host country).
A Few Pro Tips
Your packing list is dynamic. If you go on a trip and realize that you needed something that wasn’t on your list, add it immediately. I have AC plug adapters on my list but only took the model I needed for where I was going. Recently, I ran out of battery in a transit airport in a country that used a different plug pattern than the adapters I brought. Now I carry adapters for all countries I will transit through as well as my destination country. Over a short period of time, you list will refine itself using this process.
When you return from a trip take inventory and re-stock immediately! Here’s what I mean...If you step on a pop top and blow out a flip flop, replace it right when you get home. If your battery charger stopped working, replace it immediately! Most people wait to do these things until their next trip but have forgotten by that time.
It will only take you 10-15 minutes to put together your initial list and will save you a ton of time and headaches down the road. The night before a big trip, you can relax knowing you’ve got everything you need.
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