When you go on vacation, how much do you pack in your suitcase? As a minimalist, I pack as little as possible, aiming to only bring carry-on baggage, nothing more. The logic is that vacation is for relaxation, and one of the best ways to fully unwind is to resist the urge to pack too much. The only time this packing rule is sometimes broken is when it comes to evaluating my weakness: not shoes, not clothes, but camera equipment.
There was a time when I would pack up an entire carry-on suitcase full of camera gear — multiple camera bodies, 5-7 lenses, a flash, tripod, etc. I wanted to be ready for every possible photo moment that might present itself, even if it meant I was carrying 20+ lbs of gear with me. But in August 2012, all of that changed. I was in San Francisco for a long weekend photographing the Outside Lands Music Festival for Paste Magazine when finally my body gave up. I had been hauling a 27.5 lbs (yes, I weighed it on a scale) bag of camera gear on my back for three days straight when my shoulder gave out. It was the first really long-term upper body injury I’ve ever incurred and it still gives me problems to this day. Talk about a wake up call.
Today, my approach to packing for vacations is as minimal as ever, and this definitely applies to my camera bag as well. I usually bring just two photography items: my smallest DSLR camera body (a Canon 6D at the moment) and my Canon 40mm pancake lens, which effectively makes my camera setup extremely compact and mobile. However, for this recent vacation to Maui, my temptation to pile on the camera gear was huge. Surely I’d need a telephoto lens for whale watching, a wide angle lens for photographing the stars at night, and my chunky but splendid workhorse of a mid-range zoom lens for everything else. In the end, I made a compromise: adding my most compact telephoto lens, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 lens. Not nearly as much range as the 400mm, but it would be significantly lighter and easier to travel with.
Did I end up regretting my photography kit choice? There were a few moments when I did, namely while photographing the sunrise at Haleakala and attempting the capture the incredibly clear and vivid stars in the sky the night before. Both of these scenarios screamed for my wide-angle lens, but lo and behold, I still snapped some shots with my humble 40mm that I was satisfied with.
I wrapped up my recent 10 day vacation in Maui feeling more refreshed than ever before. I was glad with my decision to travel with less. Besides the sun and surf doing my body good, I also have to credit the minimalist approach to packing for helping ease tension. Not only was my body relieved at having to carry less, and my wallet happy for not having to pay for checked baggage, but my mind was also more at ease because I had fewer items to account for and fewer choices to make. The lens I’m carrying can’t capture the photo I had in mind? No problem–I’ll savor the moment and experience it fully rather than spend that time trying to capture the perfect Kodak moment. After all, it’s a vacation souvenir, not a full on paid photo shoot assignment. Eliminating choices helped my mental focus stay clear and really enjoy and savor each moment of vacation.
The next time you start packing for vacation and start worrying about what to pack, relax! Don’t pack more than you really need. Opt for the minimalist approach and see what happens. You might just pleasantly surprise yourself with the results.