Gear We Like
What’s in your bag, Andrew?
Every few weeks we ask different long term travellers, digital nomads and others all about the technology they take with them on the road.
This month we interview Andrew McGregor, backpacker and documentary film-maker.
So, Andrew … what’s in your bag?
First off, tell us a little about yourself and your travels.
In 2011, I dropped out of university in Sydney, Australia to live an unsustainable lifestyle, launch an unsuccessful business, film a documentary, meet a ton of remarkable people at WDS and develop my writing skills. I sold everything I own that didn’t fit into a messenger bag, then filled up an 18 litre backpack with gear for the documentary I’m filming. Now I’m travelling with both.
I may look like a backpacker when you see me passing through airport security or checking into a $8/night hostel in SE Asia but this is just a facade. Beneath the grey and green surface of my unpadded backpack is everything I need to film a HD documentary and publish it to the web. I don’t have a big shiny case that all of my gear fits inside with black egg carton shaped padding. It doesn’t get checked through security with big yellow warnings "Fragile, handle with care" slapped on the side.
I’m very much a backpacker and filmmaker blended into the same person.
What tech gear do you carry with you, and why?
I carry the minimum amount of gear with me, which always feels like way too much. Nevertheless I always manage to scrape under the carry on requirements for flights.
Laptop - Earlier this year I downgraded from an upgraded 15" Macbook Pro to a basic 11" Macbook Air. Not the smartest decision when working with 10GB+ video files. Despite taking 5+ hours to encode each interview I do and the 60GB hard drive, it’s excellent. If I was only backpacking or working on the road and not filming a documentary this would be the perfect machine: fast, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Camera – I use a Canon T2i (550D for non-US people). This takes some awesome pictures once you throw away the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with the camera. It takes surprisingly good video too, despite the small size. There have been no major issues with it so far, even when recording a 60 minute plus interview. I always have a battery pack attached for extended battery life, to avoid overheating and to make the camera look more pro than prosumer.
Lenses – I found the kit lens for my T2i terrible. The main lens I use is a Sigma 30mm. It’s always attached to my camera and I use this 95% of the time for still photography. I also use a range of vintage lenses which can easily be attached to the T2i with an adaptor (I always have the adaptors attached to the actual lenses to avoid having too many adaptors in my bag). These include Mir 24m, Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm, Helios 44m and a Mamiya Sekor 55mm.
Sound – Since DSLR cameras have terrible audio, I record mine separately on a Tascam DR 100 with 2x Audio Technica lav mics. This ensures only the person’s voice I’m interviewing gets picked up and not the background noise. I also have a Rode Videomic attached to the camera body when doing interviews.
Light - 9 x SIMA LED video lights. This is my pathetic attempt for a lighting kit while using something entirely battery powered and still travelling with carryon. I’ve attached filter paper to each light to reduce the off-color that LED lights tend to produce. I tend to take advantage of natural light in interviews.
Kindle - I started travelling with a Kindle (not the most basic one but the one with the keyboard). This revolutionized my reading over summer but not so much anymore seeing the screen cracked on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore. It’s still usable, but only the bottom left hand corner of the screen changes pages. The rest of the screen is stuck on Jules Vern’s face.
Phone – iPhone 4. Apart from using it only as an alarm clock for the second half of 2011 when travelling in the US and Thailand, I’m starting to take more advantage of what this piece of technology has to offer. It’s also my Kindle now. I’ve downloaded a few apps that streamline my travel, such as Offmaps when arriving in a city without getting lost, which is nearly an inevitability.
Storage – I carry with me 2 x Western Digital 2.5TB hard drives which are clones of each other, with another 2 sitting at home that may be sent to me at a later date. Apart from needed to be plugged into a powerpoint to work, these are great. No issues so far and offer a good dollar to terabyte ratio for anyone with large storage needs.
Pacsafe Exomesh – Even though this is not tech gear, it’s crucially important when backpacking with expensive gear. It fits snuggly around my backpack and can be secured to a bed or other fixed object.
Of those, what is the one thing you couldn’t live without…
It would have to be my 11" Macbook air. Despite the disadvantages, it’s the device I find myself constantly using wherever a wifi connection is available. I use it to write daily. I use it to communicate with family with Skype. I use it to attempt to book flights on AirAsia’s impossible to use website. But since I can’t film a documentary with only my laptop (is this even possible? It would be an interesting project nonetheless), I guess I couldn’t live without all of my gear this year.
Everything serves a purpose other than by broken Kindle which for some reason I’m still carrying with me. Besides, travelling with carryon usually means you become ruthless and eliminate the things you can live without before traveling.
… and the one thing you would / have happily gotten rid of while travelling?
When I traveled for 2 months in 2011 to the US and Thailand, I look hiking boots with me. They were extremely uncomfortable and bulky to carry around and I didn’t end up wearing them once other than on flights.
Now I just have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers with me which easily strap onto the outside of my bag. Other than that nearly everything I own right now I’d need to replace if I lost/got rid of it, except for my Kindle, but hey, maybe there’s a reason it broke after all.
Any travel tech tips you’d like to share?
Don’t waste money on protective cases.
For some reason, as it turns out, the only two devices I have protective casing for have broke so far. The first was my kindle, which had a padded case when it broke in my bag. The second was my 11" Macbook Air which has a plastic outer-cause that allows me to use a laptop lock (from Maclocks).
The other day I accidentally shut my laptop lid with my headphones in between and cracked the screen (cracked screen apparently common with MBA’s). It’s still usable and hardly justifiable to spend $600 replacing the screen. So both of my "protected" devices have broke, while all my camera gear which is shoved into an unpadded backpack has traveled fine.