How to take lots of photos while abroad for a long trip
April 29, 2006 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to take lots of pictures while travelling in Europe without bringing a laptop to store them?

This summer I will be spending two months travelling around Germany, France, Italy, and maybe a few other countries, staying in youth hostels. I love to take pictures and when I travel I can easily take 100 a day. This is fine as long as I have a computer nearby to dump the photos into every night. But I am not planning on bringing a laptop.

I have never been to Europe but I have heard that internet access is not difficult to find in the places I will be, using internet cafes and hostels and such. But what are the prospects such computers would play nice with my digital camera and allow me to offload photos? And would uploading huge batches of these photos to a remote server be practical?

Alternatives I'm considering are buying a really big memory card (or several big cards), or else using a traditional film camera, which would be an adjustment for sure. Are there other options? What else have people done?
posted by PercussivePaul to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total)
well, you could email them to yourself via gmail every other day or so...
posted by bigmusic at 11:33 AM on April 29, 2006

I'd probably go for film. You can get digital files made when you get it devloped.

The convenince of digital becomes inconvenient when you are worrying about how to dump the pictures. And buying extra cards can be expensive.

For about a couple hundred dollars (US) you can get a full featured Nikon or Canon 35mm camera with a zoom lens.

You won't be able to see the pictures "right now" but you can get 35mm film developed anywhere you happen to be.
posted by The Deej at 11:35 AM on April 29, 2006

It may be cheaper to buy a photo vault (i.e. a portable photo storage device) rather than pricy "really big" flash memory cards. Alternatelly, if a few gigs is enough for you (i.e. you're not shooting in raw mode) and your camera takes CF type II, MicroDrives are your best bang for the buck in the memory department.

If you do try to transmit your photos online, bring a USB card reader (almost all are PnP compatible). Don't expect the Internet places abroad to let you install your camera's software to transfer files.

Lastly, "burn your digital photos on CD" services are becoming more popular in the more touristy areas of the world (as well as on cruise ship, etc).
posted by DaShiv at 11:40 AM on April 29, 2006

just bring along multiple memory chips, and mail them home when they get full.
posted by Sara Anne at 11:42 AM on April 29, 2006

It's been a while since I went to Europe, but in my recent travels in latin America, I found plenty of places that will burn a CD-ROM of pictures from a memory card. Get a few 512MB cards so that they fit neatly on CDs. You can carry the CDs with you or mail them home.

My experience with bringing a card reader and trying to transfer pictures home over the network from internet cafes revealed two problems: driver difficulties because the computers tended to be running ancient versions of Windows, and incredibly slow network speeds. You could deal with the driver problems by taking a recent Linux live CD. That worked for me in some places, but the network was still too slow to send many pictures back. It was fine for adding a few images to my journal but not for letting me offload a memory card's worth. But maybe internet cafes in Europe don't share a 56k modem among a dozen computers.

If you have an iPod or similar, you might try using that as storage. There are also dedicated portable hard drives with card readers meant for this exact purpose.
posted by aneel at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2006

What kind of digital camera do you have now? More specifically, what kind of media does it use?

SD cards are getting dirt cheap these days. You can get a 1GB SD card for under $30 which should be able to hold at least 700 pictures at high resolution. That's cheaper than film.
posted by justkevin at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2006

iPod + Camera Connector.

I doubt you'll have much luck offloading photos to a hostel computer, though non-chain internet cafes might be up for it (and if you can, burning the photos to a couple of CDs and posting one copy home would be a good plan).
posted by cillit bang at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2006

Just stop by an "easy internet" shop every few days and upload the photos to flickr or some other photo repository site.
posted by zia at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2006

Another possibility (along the same lines as the photo vault) is to get an iPod and the camera connector accessory for it. If you've been looking for an excuse to get an iPod, that might be it.

I think the many-cards approach is a good one, though: not too expensive, and you don't have all your eggs in one basket, just in case Something Bad™ happens.
posted by adamrice at 11:57 AM on April 29, 2006

Almost every city has shops that will transfer from your card to a CD. We've done this for several past trips, and while you do have to carry the CDs, they aren't large, and they make a good backup in case your card/photo website/etc should fail. I'd never risk mailing home cards! If it gets lost or damaged, those photos are gone for good. And it would take a while to upload the number of photos I'd typically take on a trip.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:08 PM on April 29, 2006

I just go to internet cafes, download the images and send them to an ftp site I set up earlier. On a tiny flash drive, you can carry around the ftp software and a droplet / script that you can just drag the images onto to automagically upload them to the place of your choice. i was able to shoot several gigs of images without worrying about filling up my 512 meg card or my 256 meg flash drive this way.
posted by luriete at 12:21 PM on April 29, 2006

I would get several 1 GB cards and find a Kinko's type shop in major cities that can copy from your cards to discs. Get 2 copies of each, mail one set home every few weeks, keep the other with you. E-mail photos somewhere if it's convenient.
posted by kdern at 12:29 PM on April 29, 2006

iPod (and you get music too)
posted by caddis at 12:38 PM on April 29, 2006

Thanks for the suggestions!

Can anyone tell me approximately how much I am likely to pay to have a 512Mb card transferred to a CD?
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:48 PM on April 29, 2006

In general, the safest thing to do is to diversify your risk: aka don't put all your eggs in one basket. While I can understand the appeal of a photo-vault (or MP3 player, or whatever) to hold your pictures, if it gets stolen (or broken through the rigors of long travel) you're fucked. All your memories are gone.

That said, I also wouldn't put too much faith in CD's. They scratch too easily during the course of travel. It's a better solution than a single-point of failure like an MP3 player, but now you've got to worry about potential media problems.

You could email yourself the pictures. Gmail gives you something like 3 gigs of storage (which isn't very much, picture-wise); unfortunately JPG's are already compressed, so you'll have to stagger 10 pictures at a time. Plus, a lot of email shops use dodgy connections, which means you could potentially spend hours emailing yourself pictures when you could be out and about taking new pictures. Seems like a waste of precious vacation time to me.

If I were you, I'd use a combination of the above suggestions. Get 3 or 4 one-gig cards. When you've gotten 2 filled up, find a place that will burn them to CD, then mail those CD's to yourself. One CD per envelope, so if (heaven forbid) one of your parcels does get lost in the mail, you won't feel too crushed.

If you'll be away from civilization for extended periods, get a digital storage vault (make sure it works with your memory cards before you leave on the trip). But do not put your faith in it. When you return to civilzation, immediatley empty it to CD and mail 'em. That way, the worst case scenario is that you lose a few days worth of pictures. Always plan for the worst-case scenario.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:37 PM on April 29, 2006

My personal vote has always been to buy extra 1GB memory for the digital camera, as they are cheap now a days - and reusable ! If that costs too much for you, and you intend on going to get your pictures burned to CD during your trip, just make sure the CD's work and are readable in another computer before you delete the pictures on your card. I have personally experienced and heard of horror stories where the CD's were unreadable by any CD player when the person got home from their trip - and of course they had already deleted the pictures from the camera memory card.
posted by jldindc at 1:41 PM on April 29, 2006

As to pricing, expect to pay $5-$10 per CD. You can usually find 1-hour photo shops or internet cafe's that will do it for you (for that kind of money, they'll be happy to do it). As an alternative, you can pick up a portable CD burner that takes CF memory. If you plan on taking hundreds of photos at high resolution, it might be more cost-effective. The model I linked to will automatically verify the disc compilation after burning to make sure the files actually burned properly.

Make sure you pack a USB cable (just in case they can't read your card). I've found that these are absolutely amazing for travel (since the cable auto-retracts). Cheap, too (I have no affiliation with the seller; just a happy customer).

Also, make sure your battery charger can handle the different currents of wherever you're going. It would suck big time if you couldn't charge your (expensive, proprietary) camera battery on the road.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2006

I'd get a bigger memory card, or maybe two.

The 1 GB XD card I bought for my camera is one of the best investments I ever made. I paid about $90 for it last year at Best Buy, and I'm sure there are even better prices than that now. I bet there were even better prices then. The resolution of my camera is a mere 3.2 megapixels (shut up, it's adequate for my needs). Maxing out all the camera settings, that 1 GB card has room for more than 800 shots—almost double that if I wanted to take really crappy-resolution shots. I no longer have to worry about running out of memory if I'm taking pictures somewhere. The closest I've come to filling it up was taking about 500 pictures over the course of a week last summer in Colombia.
posted by emelenjr at 1:55 PM on April 29, 2006

PercussivePaul, I've been in Europe (and Asia) and the going rate for burning a CD is somewhere between $3 and $6 or $7. I guess with the Euro so high, it might get to $10. Some will let you bring your own CDs for a cheaper price. So I guess if you're shooting an entire CD worth everyday, this plan would get pretty expensive. And then there's the problem of storage. 5 CDs are small. 25 starts to get annoying. You could mail home the disks.

It bears mentioning that CDs are not a long term storage solution. For 2 months, you'll be fine. But if it were a year long trip, you'd want to have someone at home copying the files off of the disks as they came in.
posted by zpousman at 2:00 PM on April 29, 2006

When I traveled in Europe, I decided to simply buy enough 1GB cards for my purposes. This ended up working splendidly. I didn't really consider the consequences of losing them, though, but some of the other suggestions in the thread address that.

Not having to lug the laptop around was only part of the reason I did this, though. The main reason was that I never wanted to be out somewhere and run out of memory for a shot. With 1GB cards, that doesn't happen.

In addition to the cards, I bought two extra batteries. I kept one in the room charging, one in the camera, and another fully-charged one in my pocket.
posted by odinsdream at 2:18 PM on April 29, 2006

Oh - and what Civil_Disobedient said about the charger voltage. My charger happens to be rated for everything from 120-240V, so all I needed to pack was tip adapters. Look on your charger for the specifications - there's no sense in using a bulky converter if your charger can take the native voltage.
posted by odinsdream at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2006

I'm going to leave for Europe in a couple months as well, and decided on getting this storage solution. The price seemed absurdly low compared to similar models, but I ordered it 2-day Fedex (which was only marginally more expensive than standard for some reason) and tested it out to make sure it was legitimate.

It seems like a good answer to my needs. It acts as a portable HD or card reader (there's a switch on it to choose), so you could easily take it to someplace with a computer and double-check that the files are there, or burn a CD from it.

I considered getting one huge compact flash card, but the cheaper (large) ones aren't as speedy, which was important to me. While CF is a pretty standard format, I would also not recommend buy lots of media for something proprietary like Sony's Memory Stick. If you switch camera models down the road, you'll need to buy lots of new media all over again.

For the record, I also have an iPod with the memory adapter, and am not satisfied with it. It drains the iPod's battery quickly, and I never felt confident that the pictures were transferred. This experience is for the Belkin one and a 3rd generation iPod.

One more option for you to consider would be something like the Creative Zen Vision. It's a portable media player that has a built in memory card slot that you can use to transfer photos to the device, and actually be able to see them to make sure (check out the 'Plug & View' icon for an example). There are other dedicated storage devices that have screens for viewing, but I considered this as an all-purpose entertainment thing that I could use on the trip (bring a couple videos for the plane ride, delete them to make room for photos, still have a decent mp3 library to have for listening, etc.).
posted by chimmyc at 3:34 PM on April 29, 2006

When I went to Europe (for only two weeks, mind you) last fall i faced this same question. After sitting down and adding up the prices for 1GB memory cards and sticks (I have a Sony that uses both memory sticks and CF cards) I decided that the iPod was a better deal and a better alternative for me. I was quite happy with how it turned out. But yes, you get a little paranoid about losing it once you start putting pictures on it. I rarely used it for music, and remember that you can't easily get music OFF of it if you want to clear up space (you have to get it to a computer, etc.). At the time I paid $299 education for a 20GB iPod color screen. $30 more for the camera connector. That was $330 for 20 gigs of storage. It turned out very well. BUT... keep it charged. Moving a lot of photos from camera to iPod kills the battery. And you can't charge and transfer photos at the same time.

On the whole it worked out very well for me to use the iPod for this purpose, and hey, now I have an iPod I use every day. :)
posted by smallerdemon at 4:11 PM on April 29, 2006

My younger sister is travelling around Europe right now with her digital camera. I bought her a Flickr pro account and once every week or two she sits in an internet cafe for an hour and uploads her latest photos (the bulk upload tool is great). She then transfers them to her iPod, so she has two copies stored away in different places. Even a 1gig photo stick gets filled up pretty quick when you're travelling, and this way she can photograph to her hearts content. She has never had a problem finding a cafe with USB access for her camera, everywhere seems to have it.

The cool thing about flickr is that we get to see the photos back here at home. I consider that worth the $30 or so I spent buying her the account. She's gone for a year or two though, so YMMV.

Film can be a pain to carry around, and doesn't like being heated etc. When my boyfriend travelled in Europe pre-digicam-era he found dealing with the increasing rolls of film the most annoying part of the trip.

So my vote is for a mix of online storage and a portable storage device. Spread your risk and share your photos with your family.
posted by shelleycat at 4:21 PM on April 29, 2006

Thanks, justkevin. I was about to ask a similar question, and now I have two 1 gig cards on their way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:26 PM on April 29, 2006

Some of the previous comments said otherwise, but my personal experience in Europe three years ago (London, Paris, Dublin) was that about half of the internet cafes I went to didn't have usb access on the computers. Often the computer towers were enclosed in some sort of cupboard or cage, or the tower wasn't even located near to the monitor/keyboard so that customers couldn't access it at all.

Just make sure you ask if you will be able to use the usb, before you pay ahead for your internet time.
posted by clarissajoy at 5:43 PM on April 29, 2006

« Older Rent-a-couch: Smart or sketchy?   |   Name of this split-screen movie? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.