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3 Pro Tips for Traveling Video Producers

Several years ago, I wrote an article called How to Pack and Prepare for International Video Shoots. The tips I share in this article build upon that information while covering new items to reflect TSA, security regulations, creating a smooth travel experience, and saving potentially thousands of dollars in budget.

“The journey is my home,” said the well-known American poet Muriel Rukeyser. I chose this quote to start the article because it hits home when traveling for a video project. While it is part of the job for many videographers, traveling can be a blessing and a curse. There are a lot of steps involved in getting from your home, office, or studio to your final shoot destination.

The journey is frequently the most challenging part of these projects. An experienced videographer or filmmaker will know what to do when they get on set. but traveling with your gear is a whole different ballgame.

To clarify, when I say traveling, I am referring to getting video gear on a plane, arriving at your shoot in one piece, both mentally and physically. It is not a pleasant experience when you have broken equipment and a tired crew after flying.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Streaming Media Producer and The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide called How to Pack and Prepare for International Video Shoots. The information in that article came from spending the prior years traveling for video projects across Asia, Europe, and the United States. Most of it remains relevant today, and I encourage you to check it out.

The tips I share in this article build upon that information while covering new items to reflect TSA, security regulations, creating a smooth travel experience, and saving potentially thousands of dollars in budget.

Tip #1: Bring Only the Essential Gear (Lights, Camera, Audio)

Ask anyone who travels for a living about life on the road, and they will tell you the benefits of traveling light. Unfortunately, the definition of traveling light for video professionals is a bit more complicated than for other types of travel. We operate in an industry that is full of just-in-case items. Luckily, professional gear has gotten smaller, lighter, and more modular, while still having the quality we desire.

However, we must be strategic about how we pack in terms of weight and getting around. At Clear Online Video, we usually travel with a crew of three: two videographers, and one audio technician. We can always fit within the standard U.S. domestic airlines’ luggage rules, including checked-in bags under 50 lbs. and two carry-on bags per passenger. However, sometimes a project calls for more gear or items that cannot be rented at your destination. I share a tip below to help you save on extra luggage or overweight luggage fees.

I have traveled this way as a one-person band, and these tips also apply to solo shooters. I strongly suggest budgeting early on for a grip or technical assistant that can travel along. Remind the client that people can get sick, delayed, or experience other problems beyond their control. A second crew member can help with getting around, checking more luggage/gear, and filling in on camera if they have the skill set. At a minimum, you can research hiring local help in the destination of your shoot. Sites like Team People ( can help you find local film and video professionals for hire.

Starting with the camera, I would suggest choosing a modular camera system. Canon, Sony, and Blackmagic Design all have versions of modular camera models, not to mention a whole range of DSLR cameras available on the market (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. The Canon C200 modular camera system

My rule has always been to carry the camera on the plane. Pelican has several versions of carry-on approved cases for cameras. Personally speaking, I have used the same carry-on Pelican case for more than a decade. Their cases are discreet, high quality, and waterproof, and they also have wheels.

In addition to a modular camera system, I have been able to add a lens, DSLR body, batteries, and chargers to a case like the Pelican 1510. I suggest purchasing a pick-and-pluck foam version that will allow you to design a case layout that fits your exact needs (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. A Pelican pick-and-pluck foam carry-on case

The carry-on setup has provided me the comfort of knowing that I will have a capable camera setup upon arriving at a shoot, even if checked luggage gets lost.

In addition to the stowed carry-on luggage, most airlines allow passengers a smaller bag that will fit underneath the seat in front of them. I highly encourage packing this extra bag. While the Pelican carry-ons are industry favorites, the smaller regional jets do not always allow larger carry-ons to be stowed. Therefore, passengers are required to gate-check these larger carry-ons.

Rather than taking a chance and gate-checking the camera, I have removed the main camera parts and added them to the smaller bag that can fit in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of me. A simple bookbag will do the trick. Many videographers already pack a laptop, so leave a little room in case your Pelican case has to be gate-checked.

Another tip is to pack a small foldable bag that you can place inside the smaller carry-on bag. Quickly, you can remove anything fragile from the Pelican and place items in this bag. It may not offer the same protection as a Pelican case, but you will have the camera close at hand.

Lighting has come a long way in the past few years. Like cameras, lighting has become smaller and more robust. I prefer to travel with a basic 3-to-4-piece light kit. This setup provides plenty of light for a formal interview. If I need anything beyond that, I try to rent it locally.

Westcott makes a beautiful foldable light kit with their Flex Cine system. These lights provide powerful output, they’re lightweight, and they travel well. However, the downside I’ve experienced with these lights is that their power supplies are sometimes heavy and bulky. My efforts to address this concern led me to the Genaray Spectro Baton Stick Light System (Figure 3, below). These Stick Lights are skinny enough to pack in checked luggage and can be stacked together to create a more substantial light source.

Figure 3. The Genaray Spectro Baton Stick Light

I like to use a large reflector as part of my light kit. The reflector serves two purposes: one, it can add or subtract light on set; two, it provides extra cushioning for the checked luggage. I carry the Westcott 5-in-1 50" reflector during all travel (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. The Westcott 5-in-1 photo reflector

Regardless of what lighting gear you choose, I highly encourage choosing a light that can run via battery power. In addition, consider choosing a light that can share batteries with other gear such as monitors, additional lights, etc. Having a universal family of batteries allows for a quicker setup and more adaptable kit. Batteries can also avoid running cables, locating power, and generally provide a cleaner setup.

One important note on batteries: The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all Lithium-Ion batteries be packed in carry-on baggage only. When a carry-on bag is checked at the gate or planeside, spare lithium batteries and power banks must be removed from the bag and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin. The battery terminals must be protected from short circuit. It is imperative to keep up with FAA rules and regulations before flying with video gear.

For transporting audio gear, I suggest using the Pelican case described earlier. This case can fit several lavaliere and shotgun microphones, as well as headphones and various audio adapters we use in our setup. Audio equipment is small but fragile, so I encourage carrying on what you can.

Finally, I’ll recommend some items that I have been comfortable packing with checked luggage left at airline check-in counters or TSA.

I have used the HPRC Wheeled Hard Case (Figure 5, below) for more than a decade. I can comfortably pack a large tripod, light stands, gaffers tape, two extension cables, a mobile makeup kit, and other miscellaneous items inside.

Figure 5. The HPRC Wheeled Hard Case

I prefer to use a box-style Pelican case like the iM2950 on the second checked bag. By choosing the foam option, you can add or remove layers as needed. I pack lights, a reflector, gaffers tape, additional gear, and personal items. I use cube organizers to separate personal items from video gear.

One of the most challenging items to travel with on a plane is sandbags used for securing tripods and lightstands. They are heavy and can make a mess if they break. One solution that I have found helpful is to use a carbiner kit with nylon runners. These kits can attach to a backpack or other heavier gear to help secure a stand. It is not the prettiest way to weigh down a stand, but it is effective.

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A veteran producer of video projects on multiple continents offers tips on everything from hard-shelled equipment cases to travel restrictions to international power issues to visas to carnets for videographers who want to book international jobs, make the most of them, and escape the pitfalls that come with being un- or under-prepared.